What Momentum thinks about Brexit matters. But is Momentum prepared to ask its members what it really thinks about Brexit? Not yet is the answer, according to Jon Lansman, the group’s founder. And it’s refusal to do so produces a fudge on the hot topic of the day of which the Labour party itself would be proud.
While the group’s World Transformed festival has been a hotbed of discussion on all kinds of issues – socialism, Marxism, anti-Semitism, climate change, to name a few – there’s one topic that isn’t on the menu: Brexit. At least, that is, in so far as coming to a settled position among Momentum members goes. So is this a failure on Momentum’s part? Far from it, according to Lansman, who said that this prevarication is all part of the plan.
Lansman said that because the Brexit negotiations are still stuck in the 'hypothetical' stage, now is not the time for the organisation to come to a settled position. At a fringe event last night at Labour conference, he said that when it is clear which path Britain will be taking when it comes to Brexit, Momentum will then make sure that it consults its members on the next step.
There are two big problems with this approach. First, the clock towards Brexit is ticking, and while it is possible to have some sympathy with Lansman’s position given how quickly things are changing in Brexit talks, it is impossible not to draw the conclusion that postponing this discussion isn’t really a credible thing to do, when so many of the group's members are so worried about Brexit. Secondly, it is also pretty obvious to most people what Momentum thinks about Brexit. Momentum’s membership is predominantly young and drawn from urban areas: a catchment group which, it is safe to assume, is much more likely to be pro-Remain than pro-Brexit. Yet this matters little, at least for now. Lansman said:
‘I think it is important (at a later stage, when the government has made up its mind) for the whole party to be involved in decision making. Momentum is consulting members – not to create headlines about which way momentum thinks. I think creating headlines is not helpful. What we want to do is understand what our members think so that we can make decisions about the way we will advise our campaigning priorities.’
Yet while Lansman made it clear that everything is still very much up in the air, one thing is certain: any deal the government gets will be rejected by Momentum. ‘There are going to be all sorts of things wrong with it’, said Lansman, it ‘is not going to be anything like as worker friendly as what we would do’. ‘I cannot envisage a stage where we do anything other than vote against any Tory deal,’ he said.
Brexit is clearly no easy topic for either the Labour party or Momentum to make its mind up on. But at least Lansman makes it clear that his organisation is capable of making some decisions.