The decision to conduct a series of elections to Momentum’s National Committee through an online One Member One Vote (OMOV) process has proved controversial.
The elections came as a surprise to most members. It seems that the Steering Committee agreed to conduct them, although there are no minutes. Members were also concerned that the elections would take place just days before the National Committee is due to debate a number of controversial subjects.
Elections were held for two posts each from the Disabled, Women and LGBT and one for the BAME liberation sections and one each from the regions, intended to represent members who are not in a registered branch.
The result has proved entirely predictable; low turnouts, concerns over members not receiving ballots, questions over accountability.
In the elections for members “not covered by a group”, there was a 13 per cent turnout, on an electorate of 3,646. That is roughly 18 per cent of Momentum’s membership. Yet we have repeatedly been told by the office that “at least” one third of our members are not covered by a group. Indeed this was supposedly the conclusion of the “mapping exercise” which was used as a justification for postponing the November NC meeting.
Regardless, even this is riddled with inconsistencies and abuse of process. An email from Momentum stated there would be one delegate for areas with 800 members without a group, i.e. the same ratio as regional NC delegates.
The reality was somewhat different. The South East received one delegate for 1319 members, while ‘London’ received one delegate for 215 members not represented by a group.
It might be assumed that those standing for election as representatives of unorganised members might themselves be members unable to be active in local groups. In fact, at least two of the delegates (London and the North West) are people who have been prominent in Momentum for several months.
Many members have complained they did not receive notice of their eligibility to nominate themselves for election. Others have reported being given ballots for elections they were ineligible for. Members of some registered branches were able to vote to elect a delegate for “unrepresented members”.
The whole exercise not only calls into question the effectiveness of the online voting method advocated by some within Momentum, it forces us to question the judgment and intentions of those who carried it out.
Why the sudden rush to organise new elections to the NC? Organising a national online election involving thousands of people, with many variables, requires time, preparation and trials. The run-up to a conference is not the time for enthusiastic experimentation.
Most importantly it requires a democratic debate as to the election’s purpose, process and oversight. All of these criteria were missing. When do their mandates end? How are they accountable, can they be re-elected? Is the new London delegate accountable to the regional committee or not?
There was no discussion amongst the wider membership that these elections would take place. Only those eligible to vote could read the manifestos. Local groups had no chance to discuss or nominate the candidates. Candidates’ campaigns relied on a) people reading through dozens of manifestos and b) the ability to create a strong social media presence to attract support.
Whatever the merits of online OMOV - and these results don’t bolster the case - it is transparently undemocratic for a group of people to organise an election at a few days’ notice.
Unfortunately, this is part of a pattern of actions by some members of the Steering Committee, abusing their access to the office’s resources, to make ‘facts on the ground’. Furthermore it exploits the commitment of members' willing to contribute to Momentum's development by standing for representative positions - through no fault of their own doubt has understandably been cast on the legitimacy of their places on the NC.
The office workers and volunteers should not be held principally to blame for these political manoeuvres. But they should ensure that there is a democratic basis when they are asked to use the resources of the organisation and carry out activities of such importance.
The conduct of these elections falls far short of the basic democratic norms of the labour movement. In an organisation without a constitution run by an "interim" Steering Committee, the National Committee, as the most representative elected body, might be expected to have a say over how voting members are elected to it.
The National Committee should at the very least conduct a discussion and vote on whether to accept the credentials of the “unrepresented members” delegates, given the serious nature of the problems raised.
It’s clear that organising a democratic national conference that adopts a constitution is the most urgent priority for Momentum. Nobody wants political debate to degenerate into factional infighting, but without a clear process that all members can feel ownership of, we won’t be able to build the trust and comradely spirit necessary to take on our common class enemy.