The Battle for The Labour Party: Channel 4 Dispatches
Monday 19th September, Channel 4, 7:25pm
“It’s the best opportunity for the left in Britain in our life time” – Momentum founder Jon Lansman
“Don’t bung Momentum’s name on it – it’s about as helpful as a lobotomy” – Momentum’s youth organiser, Max Shanly
“If you haven’t already joined the Labour Party, then you should join, yeah, if you haven’t already joined Momentum then you must join” – Trotskyist and member of Momentum’s national steering committee, Jill Mountford.
As Jeremy Corbyn looks set to retain his leadership of the Labour Party, Channel 4 Dispatches goes undercover inside Momentum, the army of grassroots supporters backing the Islington MP.
Dispatches discovers a number of hard left revolutionaries inside and influencing Momentum, one of whom advocated a “flood” into the Labour Party and others that want to oust anti-Corbyn MPs and party officials.
The programme’s undercover reporter also hears how Momentum has tried to conceal some of its activities and how campaign funds meant for Corbyn’s leadership campaign may have been misused.
Gavin Millar QC, who has been interviewed for the programme, told Dispatches: “The Labour Party, following this broadcast, should investigate who in the Jeremy for Labour campaign was responsible for overseeing the arrangements for the payment of those staff and their presence in the Unite offices while they were doing Momentum work. Somebody is responsible.”
In addition, Dispatches’ undercover reporter hears how Momentum is harvesting personal data from this leadership campaign which could massively build its own powerbase. Millar stated that if Labour party members had not been explicitly told that their information was being passed to Momentum in this way it would be a “fundamental breach of the Data Protection Act” on the part of the Jeremy Corbyn leadership campaign.
A band of hard-left extremists plotting to take over Labour:
Momentum is not just open to members of the Labour party, but those belonging to far left groups including so called Trotskyists. Tom Watson stated, “There are a small number of members of Trotskyist organisations that have changed their approach and are instructing their members to re-join the labour party.”
Dispatches sent an undercover reporter to a public political meeting where a key Momentum activist was speaking; the event was hosted by the hard left group the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL).
Jill Mountford, sits on the Steering Committee of Momentum, but she’s recently been expelled by the Labour Party for being associated with the AWL – a group that believes in revolutionary socialism. She holds up the AWL newspaper with the headline: Flood into the Labour Party,
“In 30 odd years of being politically active, I don’t think I can remember a time, apart from the miner’s strike, a time as exciting as this. If you haven’t already joined the Labour party, then you should join, yeah, if you haven’t already joined Momentum then you must join. We have to fight to shape the way the Momentum develops and the way the Labour party develops”
Professor Tim Bale,
“Alliance for Workers Liberty and other Trotskyite entryist organisations will try and get their members into the Labour party and attempt to take over branches and take constituency labour parties by becoming officers at local level and once they’ve done that they’re in a position to push the labour party as they see it to a more left wing policy platform”
In July the local Labour Party in Brighton held its AGM, the meeting was packed by Momentum supporters and Momentum’s preferred candidates were elected, including Mark Sandell who was voted chairman. What Mark Sandell hadn’t told the meeting was that he – like Jill Mountford – was linked to the hard left group, the AWL.
After complaints over alleged “abusive behaviour” by some attendees at the Brighton meeting, Labour’s national executive voided the results. Lansman said these allegations “are heavily disputed by those present… Momentum has not received any complaints.”
Later at a Lewisham branch of Momentum Mark Sandell, who is not a member of Momentum but was a guest speaker at the event, denies allegations that there had been any such behaviour in Brighton and says,
“There has to be reckoning – there has to be a reckoning with the people behind these sort of manoeuvres ... Not just MPs like Peter Kyle – and who must be feeling fairly nervous – and live to says he’s got every good reason to be – they’re all fairly nervous.. I won’t say any more about that… I think we should have some redundancy notices ready for some of these people, because it seems to me, that if we don’t change… not just the leadership of the party, we want to keep Corbyn obviously, if we don’t change some of those structural problems, we will be fighting with people at our backs, who are just looking for the first opportunity, to sink the knife in.”
“There’s a genuine concern of course, that if we don’t do as Mark’s just outlined, sort out some of the structures, sort out some of the, you know, the offices inside the Labour Party, if we just…content ourselves with the leadership victory again, that Momentum itself could become a proscribed organisation, right? That’s a real, so, so, whilst this is an election for Jeremy Corbyn for leadership of the Labour Party, we have to acknowledge it’s a big political battle to transform the Labour party, having Jeremy as leader alone is not enough.”
Next to speak at the Momentum meeting is Sacha Ismail. He’s also a member of the AWL and has been banned by the Labour Party.
Sacha: Two other things, one is, a couple of people have used the phrase Trot, okay, I know most people here are not Trotskyists, I am…
Jill: I am.
Sacha: …and I think, um, I don’t think we should say things like, it’s okay, we’re not bad things, we’re not bad things, we’re not Trotskyists, some of us are, it’s fine if you’re not…
Jill: And we’re good.
Sacha: There are many different kinds of socialist in this room I suspect and I think we should all be defending each other against them.
We showed our footage to former Labour leader Lord Kinnock – who battled against the hard left in the 1980s.
Lord Kinnock, “The individuals that I’ve heard speaking provide evidence that their purposes are not those of a democratic Socialist Labour Party, their purposes are those of a sectarian ultra-left... When they manage to secure organisational form, either surreptitiously or in some ways, more in the open in the form of for instance, Momentum, then they become a means of pressure and they actually endanger the standing and appeal of the Labour Party which is why I regard them to be political foes… If there are enough people like that in such an organisation and particularly in the leadership of such an organisation then an enquiry would be certainly appropriate, in order to safeguard the wellbeing and good name of the Labour Party.”
In a statement to Dispatches, Jill Mountford said: “We are open, honest socialists looking to discuss big ideas on how to create a better, fairer world for everyone.
Sacha Ismail said: “I defend socialists' right to join Labour as long as they genuinely support it”
Mark Sandell denies that he mislead anyone. He said: “I am not a member of any organisation other than the Labour Party. Labour Party Members are entitled to vote to select alternative candidates and representatives”
Jon Lansman, who responded on behalf of Momentum and the Jeremy Corbyn leadership campaign, told Dispatches that:
“No entryist plot exists. He said that “Momentum membership is open to those who support the Labour Party…it is not open to those who are hostile to it... Momentum seeks to transform the Labour Party, so that it is a democratic, activist mass party… so that it can transform society in the interests of many.”
Mr Lansman stressed that “Trotskyites are not setting the agenda” and told Dispatches that Jill Mountford was not speaking on behalf of Momentum but in a personal capacity when she addressed the AWL. He also told Dispatches that selections of MPs is a matter for local party members… who are entitled to select their candidates following rules laid out by Conference and the NEC. Momentum was not campaigning nationally for mandatory reselection or deselection of MPs.
The relationship between Corbyn’s campaign and Momentum is confusing – even for its own staff, a Dispatches’ undercover reporter discovers at a team meeting.
Jon Lansman, Campaign Director of the Momentum Campaign, is the veteran left-winger who set up Momentum to capitalise on Corbyn’s victory. Lansman, like Corbyn, has been stressing the need for a more honest, straight-talking, politics. Our reporter was surprised to hear those in the meeting being told that sometimes Momentum’s name needs to be concealed.
Jon Lansman, “Even the local groups should be speaking as the leadership campaign, rather than as Momentum groups.”
National organiser Emma Rees explains how Momentum organised events should not be branded Momentum,
“Jeremy for Labour phone banks, or Jeremy for Labour street stalls, or Jeremy for Labour whatever. Now they might be in reality be in many instances be organised by Momentum Camden and Momentum Tyne and Wear… but I don’t think it’s helpful for Jeremy for those to be labelled on his website as Momentum.”
This Momentum staff meeting was being held at the headquarters of Britain’s largest trade union Unite. Unite have donated office space for the Jeremy for Labour campaign. But our reporter hears this is another area where Momentum’s presence can’t be revealed.
Emma Rees, “Yes. So Unite don’t support Momentum, but they do support Jeremy for Labour. So we are here as Jeremy’s campaign. Of course some people are going to be answering Momentum email. But the whole operation of Momentum operation is the Jeremy for Leader operation.”
At a Momentum staff meeting Adam Klug, national organiser stresses the point,
“We’ve now got this room; this is our room for the campaign for the next month …But one thing on that is that Unite, the union, have given space to the campaign specifically, they haven’t actually donated space to Momentum or The World Transformed, the World Transformed being the festival during the Labour Party fringe in Liverpool. I’m sure no one would have an issue with it informally, but obviously officially that’s not the case, so if we can just be discreet when anyone comes in and say ‘we’re here for Jeremy for Labour’ and the Jeremy for Labour campaign”
Our reporter wanted to know why Momentum needed to conceal their presence from Unite.
She gets a moment with National Organiser Emma Rees
“They don't support Momentum - its stupid politics… My reading of the situation is that they chose not to affiliate because they didn't like the fact we were open to people who weren't in the Labour party.”
Jon Lansman told Dispatches that: “None of Momentum’s functions were carried out from Unite’s offices…. Momentum was not based at the Unite offices…Some campaign volunteers did answer mail sent to Momentum…[and] mobilised Momentum activist.… That work was integral to the leadership campaign.”
Potential Misuse of Jeremy for Labour campaign funds:
A few weeks in and our reporter is now being paid, most of the time she’s working on Momentum activities and other times she is working on the Jeremy for Labour campaign. She asks Adam Klug for clarification who despite is also unclear on the position and suggests she speaks to another member of the campaign team.
Adam: You’re being paid by the campaign. So the donations to the campaign. You are being paid, it’s kind of not been clear… The whole thing’s completely interlinked. You’ve been employed by the campaign, so it’s a temporary campaign, the legality of how the campaign works I don’t know every bit of detail
To double check our reporter calls the finance dept who looks after the Corbyn campaign funds
Undercover: I’m paid for by what is it Jeremy for Labour funds
FINANCE DEPT: Correct you are being paid for Jeremy for Labour
Undercover: Ok I’m being paid for by Jeremy for Labour –and I’m not paid by Momentum at all
FINANCE DEPT: No
Undercover: And for political activities I just put the funding comes from Jeremy for Labour funds
FINANCE DEPT: It comes from donations made by the public to Jeremy for Labour
We showed our footage to Gavin Millar QC – an expert in political law who has advised the Labour Party for many years and questioned whether Momentum have misused campaign funds for its own purposes.
Gavin Millar QC, “Absolutely. Uh, I mean, uh, the, there are two sides to the arrangement, aren't there, there's the, there are the people in the Jeremy for Labour campaign who are allowing these benefits to move to Momentum. Um, the staff, the premises. And there are the people in Momentum who are taking the benefit of them. A-and there's uh, no room for mistake they shouldn't be doing that. Because they know and should know that those resources aren't intended for them. It's devious.”
“The Labour Party, following this broadcast, should investigate who in the Jeremy for Labour campaign was responsible for overseeing the arrangements for the payment of those staff and their presence in the Unite offices while they were doing Momentum work. Somebody is responsible.”
Mr Lansman stated, “The undercover reporter worked on the…Campaign helping organise volunteer activities... That work was integral to the….Campaign and not Momentum work….Any suggestion that the Campaign is funding Momentum is entirely false… Momentum has provided the Campaign with substantial loans, which have been reported in accordance with electoral law and are a matter of public record. No Momentum staff members were being paid out of the Campaign funds for work undertaken on behalf of Momentum.”
Alleged breach of Data Protection Act:
In the office, our Dispatches undercover reporter has been asked to call Momentum supporters to check whether they’re going to vote for Jeremy Corbyn again.
Lansman: “Remember we call it the Momentum database but actually they’re not really necessarily all, they don’t necessarily think of themselves as Momentum supporters. They are people- very often - who supported Jeremy last year- who gave us permission in some way to carry on talking to them but who don’t necessarily come under Momentum...”
Building up Momentum’s database could be vital to the organisation – the more people Momentum can mobilise, the more power it can exert within the Labour Party
Adam: So Jeremy Corbyn Labour Services, is like a super company?
Emma: Yeah, it’s a data company
Adam: The data company is now called Jeremy Corbyn Labour Services
Emma: Something like that
Adam: It’s very very clever.
Emma: This is why Jon Lansman is enjoying the leadership campaign so much. Whenever we send out emails through the campaign, we’re sending out these Labour party emails once a week. So when people say ‘click here for Yes I’m with Jeremy,’ or any of that stuff…when they click that button, they’re actually being consented; becoming members of Momentum as well.
Is this harvesting of personal data in the spirit of the new “straight-talking” politics that Jeremy Corbyn has promised?
Gavin Millar QC, “Yes, it’s a fundamental breach of the Data protection Act… you need explicit consent – that’s the words in the legislation – from the data subject if you’re going to gather that sort of information and make it available to third parties ... so it is a serious breach for the Corbyn campaign to obtain this sort of information and not tell them it’s going to be given to or disclose to Momentum or people associated with Momentum.”
We put these criticisms to Jon Lansman. He insists that the campaign treats its duties under the Data Protection Act with the seriousness they deserve...” And that “data held on behalf of the campaign is held on the basis of explicit and informed consent. Data collected during the campaign is not and will not be shared with momentum.
Mr Lansman said: “Momentum and the Campaign are not coterminous…” He denied that the relationship is “covert or not transparent”. He said the phonebank organisation “was for the campaign, not Momentum.”
Is Momentum promoting mandatory re-selection and influence over CLPs?
Momentum publically denies it endorses the removal of anti-Corbyn MPs but in the head office our reporter hears a different view. Our reporter hears the group’s youth organiser, Max Shanly, giving advice to a local Momentum group.
“I’ve said “are you behind the deseletion meeting? Don’t bung Momentum’s name on it – it’s about as helpful as a lobotomy.”
Some moderate Labour MPs also fear that some prominent Momentum activists are pushing a policy of mandatory reselection, even though this is not official Momentum policy.
At a Momentum meeting in Lewisham, activist Sacha Ismail talks about passing a resolution at another Momentum meeting:
“We passed a resolution about campaign against expulsions … and some stuff about mandatory reselection… Somebody made the point earlier about being involved and taking the initiative.”
The resolution states “we need automatic opening of an open election process for MPs in every constituency before every general election (mandatory reselection).”
Dispatches questioned Lord Kinnock about whether he was concerned that Momentum is open to those who are members of the hard left and not just members of the Labour Party.
Lord Kinnock, “It gives me concern that Momentum is the kind of organisations it is because large numbers of people some of them young who’s purposes are entirely decent and understandable who are capable not because they are stupid but because they really do feel a sense of urgency of being manipulated. And that decent instinct is being abused and misused by people from the hard left organising in a less than transparent way to secure their age old objectives, the control of the Labour Party”
The Battle for The Labour Party: Channel 4 Dispatches
Monday 19th September, Channel 4, 7:25pm
Reporter: Antony Barnett
Prod/Dir: Charles Young
Exec Prod: Neil Grant
Prod Co: Films of Record