Momentum in Waltham Forest: the promise and the reality UPDATED

As is well known by now, Momentum promises a ‘new politics’, one characterised by, amongst other things, openness, transparency, and enhanced democratic participation.

Since this blog has always supported such unarguably laudable values, it is worth asking whether the Momentum group here in Waltham Forest is walking the walk, that is living up to the aims of the organisation as a whole.

Predictably, Momentum Waltham Forest communicates most extensively on Facebook, and so an obvious starting point is to look at what it has been posting.

The bulk of the material revolves around calls to support a familiar array of left-wing causes – from the striking rail unions and the junior doctors, via the NHS, to Islamaphobia Awareness Week and the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign.

Otherwise, one or two posts focus, apparently at random, on local Waltham Forest issues (‘Save Higham Hill Library’), and there are similarly scattered items on icons of the left, for example, a sympathetic obituary of Fidel Castro which concludes: ‘Cuban society – and the system of government instituted under Fidel Castro – are far from perfect but the Cuban people’s struggle for a free and just world continues and is an inspiration to many. RIP Fidel Castro; Viva the Cuban people’.

Taken together, the posts are reminiscent of the Communist Party’s Morning Star daily newspaper c. 1980 – fine if you share such tastes, and no doubt comforting to the veteran activists who have flocked to the sainted Jeremy’s side, but unlikely to make much difference to anybody who is not already signed up.

Perhaps more significant (as often tends to be the case) is what’s left out. Most striking is the absence of discussion about how Momentum intends to shape the Labour ascendancy in the Town Hall. According to Labour List, in the 2016 national Labour leadership contest, 12 Waltham Forest councillors (including then Leader Chris Robbins and his successor Clare Coghill) pledged allegiance to Owen Smith. In addition, the Muslim block of councillors, so often the makeweight in inter-party factionalism, is hardly known for its radicalism (indeed one of its members is apparently already threatening to terminate Cllr. Coghill’s career).

On the other side of the equation, while it is said that five current serving Labour members support Momentum, in the recent election for Leader, four failed to vote for the group’s preferred candidate.

So, as all this suggests, replacing the incumbents will be a big challenge. And of course, the comrades recognise this full well, and in their private discussion forums, talk of little else. It is just that they don’t want anything to be said in public.

Again, there is nothing wrong with this as such, the problem is the dissonance with the organisation’s foundation rhetoric. The oft repeated promise is to leave the past behind, and start again, more openly and honestly. But locally, this is not happening. On the contrary, Momentum Waltham Forest is simply aping the modus operandi of dozens of its left-wing progenitors.

Equally absent in the posts is anything significant about Momentum’s wider travails, and the fissures that, as numerous sources confirm, have opened up across the country between its different constituent factions. True, on occasion, one or two of those commenting let loose, berating, for example, the leadership’s ‘Stalinism’, or echoing the traditional left-wing parrot cry of ‘betrayal’. But for the most part anything vaguely unpleasant or troubling to the desired public image is ignored.

So much for Facebook. What about Momentum Waltham Forest’s other public utterances? These are few and far between, but one stands out as especially interesting in terms of the group’s concerns and mode of thinking.

In mid-2016, the Labour Party suspended prominent local Momentum activist, David Watson, pending an investigation by the national party, with an accompanying statement observing: ‘We condemn anti-Semitism and racism of all kinds but cannot comment further until the Party investigation has concluded’.

In response, while Mr. Watson insisted on his innocence, Waltham Forest Momentum was quick to allege foul play:

‘We have seen evidence to suggest that elements within the Labour Party opposed to Jeremy Corbyn generated this campaign against David. When he stated that criticism of Israel was not anti-Semitism, a local Labour member whose abuse of Labour and its leader is incessant, tweeted, “What are you doing about anti-Semites in the Party? This guy is Walthamstow CLP fundraiser”. This started a series of published attacks on various sites based on highly selective quotes trawled from his Facebook and Twitter accounts. The sensationalist article that appeared in the Jewish Chronicle is highly misleading and attributes to David views he has not expressed, including distortion of mainstream media articles posted on his Facebook page. Momentum condemns the conduct of figures in the local Labour Party including that of an MP who reposted the Jewish Chronicle article implying endorsement and its accuracy’.

Waltham Forest Momentum might well deprecate the ‘McCarthyite atmosphere being created by some elements within the Party’, but its own statement, grandiloquent in tone, is hardly cut from a different cloth.

Finally, there is the issue of whom Momentum Waltham Forest is happy to do business with. Two cases are particularly worthy of comment. Cllrs. Saima Mahmud and Shabana Dhedi (sometime Qadir) are both known to be Momentum supporters. Yet as previous posts on this blog have demonstrated (see links below) neither is untainted by controversy.

 To give one example, consider this happy picture from a year or so ago:

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 17.35.55

The event captured for posterity is some kind of award ceremony in the Town Hall Mayor’s Parlour, surrepticiously organised by two private citizens, one the father of a serving councillor. Cllr. Mahmud, then Mayor, is front row, second right, while Cllr. Dhedi is front row, extreme right. The man in the white hat receiving the award (front row, second left) is Pakistani Senator Sirajul Haq, a leader of a political party called Jamaat-e-Islami.

Why exactly there should be such award ceremonies in Waltham Forest Town Hall, why private citizens are allowed to organise them, and why a Pakistani politician should be a beneficiary, are all good questions. Readers will no doubt ask themselves, too, whether they are similarly able to make use of the Mayor’s Parlour (and indeed the Mayor).

But there is worse, because as I have pointed out previously, a quick Google search reveals that not only does Senator Haq articulate unsavoury views (in which ‘the Jews’ are predictably prominent) but Jamaat-e-Islami is a far right-wing organisation which desires a state governed by Islamic law; opposes ‘Westernisation’ in any form, whether capitalist or socialist; abhors birth control, and relaxed social mores in general; and (bizarly) is against images of Christmas trees appearing in schoolbooks. And that is before we even get to the party’s sinister role in attempting to thwart Bangladeshi independence.

It is of course possible that the two councillors did not know who Senator Haq was. Perhaps they just grinned politely at anybody who turned up.

But it is equally possible that they did know who the Senator was, in which case there are serious questions to be asked about their judgement.

However, whichever the case, that they have been so readily welcomed into the boosum of Momentum Waltham Forest again speaks eloquently of that organisation’s current character.

‘Transparent’, ‘open’, or ‘new’ its orientation is not.


More on our two councillor’s favourite, Senator Haq, from Dunya News, dated 07 October 2016:

‘Sirajul Haq stands against bill passed over ‘honour’ killings. PML-N and PPP “did legislation against the Islamic teachings,” alleged the senator

LAHORE (Dunya News) – Sirajul Haq, chief of Jamaat-e-Islami has denounced the bill passed on Thursday in the National Assembly over killings in the country for so-called honour.

Senator Haq branded the law against the Holy Quran and Sunnah and said that any law that was against the teachings of Islam was synonymous to terrorism.

He alleged that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan People’s Party “did legislation against the Islamic teachings” by taking advantage of their majority in the assembly.

Constitutional authority of Council for Islamic Ideology was also challenged by the law, Haq claimed.

He further said that the law did not resonate with the word of Allah Almighty by not providing the sides an opportunity to reconcile. The political party would not tolerate any law that was not in accordance with the teachings of Islam, he said.

Earlier on Thursday, the National Assembly passed a bill that plugged the loophole in cases regarding killings for so-called honour.

Criminals who murdered their women relatives to reclaim ‘honour’ of their families after they had taken a step in life, objectional to them, used to be pardoned off by the survivors of the victim.

The law was unable to nab such criminals however, after the newly passed bill, no such murderer can escape conviction’.

Related Posts

Ex-mayor Cllr. Saima Mahmud and her ‘receptions to honour’ at the Town Hall

Barnett v. Dhedi: councillors scrap

Barnett v. Dhedi: the denouement UPDATED

The Barnett v. Dhedi fallout: things are getting nasty

Cllr. Dhedi