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Momentum Labour activists General Election
courtesy of Momentum

I’m a Momentum activist, and smearing us as cultists and thugs won’t work

Our grassroots movement stood for Corbyn and his values, despite misinformation and violence – now, we won’t give up on the politics of hope

Much has been made in the media about the lies and dishonesty surrounding the recent general election, with an investigation by non-profit First Draft finding that 88 per cent of Tory ads fed disinformation to the public.  By putting their fake news factories into overdrive, the Tories and others on the right didn’t just aim to win an election – they made destroying the left as a political force in Britain their mission, and even to destroy the politics of hope. Unfortunately the same journalists decrying Boris Johnson’s disregard for democratic norms too often went along with it.

As a Momentum press officer during the election, the one downside of the job was having to wade through article after article that regurgitated the same hackneyed lines about Momentum, as 'cultists’ and ‘thugs’.

The term ‘Momentum’ has become bizarre shorthand utilised by commentators who wants to inject a little bit of anti-socialist hysteria into their work. I’ve always been amused by the way the press label Momentum members as both middle class snowflakes and ‘thugs’ (a word often used by the upper classes to describe the ‘uncouth’ and the ‘uneducated’), with no sense of irony.

But this election, we’ve seen that these words have consequences, and I’m no longer willing to let it stand. During the election, the violence we saw did not come from the left. Instead, it was directed at the left, whipped up by a barrage of lies across both social and print media convincing people that the Labour Party and its supporters represented a hostile threat to whatever wealth they possessed, as well as the very existence of their country. 

Among the reports of violence was a Labour activist in her 70s who ended up with broken ribs after being pushed into the road by someone shouting about how she wants ‘Marxists’ to ‘get out’ of her country. Then there was a 72 year old man hospitalised with a broken jaw after doorknocking for Labour. Yet, those who condemn the apparent thuggery of the left were silent on these attacks that must be widely condemned.

This aggressive anti-leftism has its roots in the far-right and their antisemitic conspiracy theories about ‘cultural Marxism’ destroying Western civilisation. It has since been hardened by the mainstream press, with every use of ‘Momentum thugs’ and ‘Corbyn cultists’.

The demonisation hasn’t ended since the Tories got their landslide win. On the Sunday after the election, Ian Duncan Smith was given a free run on LBC to spout the rhetoric of the far-right, labelling left-wing groups like Momentum as a ‘cancer’. This being the same IDS who inflicted untold violence upon this country while running the DWP, systematically violating the human rights of the disabled, and contributing to at least 120,000 deaths through the brutal austerity he oversaw.

Since the election, there have been further reports of violence against Labour supporters, and we can no doubt expect more as fears about the ‘hard left’ continue to be stoked. What makes this all the more devastating is that, despite the media narrative, I am convinced that the hundreds of thousands of people I campaigned alongside represent the very best people in our country.

The Momentum activists I spoke with during the election, both on the doorstep and online, were often overworked and underpaid workers in our schools and our hospitals, or full time carers, who gave all they could – whole days and weeks of their time – trying to win a better society for them and their families. Around 1,800 people signed up to Momentum’s ‘Labour Legend’ scheme, using annual leave or moving their commitments around to dedicate an average of two weeks of full time campaigning.

The reality is you’d be hard pressed to find a more compassionate and humane group in society than those who have rallied around Jeremy Corbyn. Those who have become active in the Labour Party since 2015 are people who care deeply about the welfare of the most marginalised in society – the disabled and the sick, migrants and refugees – whose rights have been trampled on by mainstream politicians of all stripes. In Corbyn, they saw a man who had dedicated his life to such causes regardless of whether they were politically popular.

“Hundreds of thousands of us found each other and campaigned together over the past few weeks in ways we never had before, and these experiences and these connections can’t be taken away from us” – Simon Youel

The commentariat, obsessed with the politics of individuals, could only comprehend Momentum as a cult around Corbyn as an individual. But to anyone who had bothered to investigate our movement seriously, it would become clear that it was not driven by a belief in Corbyn’s infallibility as a human being, but by a commitment to what he stood for: the politics of hope, compassion and the belief that a better world is possible. By neutralising Corbyn, his opponents hope to neutralise the ideas he represented.

Looking back, the establishment will likely attempt to rewrite Corbyn’s history with their own smears, casting him as either a naive pacifist or a dangerous racist, perhaps at the same time, with a continued lack of irony. But though they might try, they can’t rewrite the movement he inspired. Hundreds of thousands of us found each other and campaigned together over the past few weeks in ways we never had before, and these experiences and these connections can’t be taken away from us.

The movement we built demonstrated its huge strength in getting out on the doorstep canvassing for Labour. But this is not all we’re here for, and certainly not the only thing people joined Momentum to do. Our focus has always been to build the power of grassroots organising, whether that is in the Labour Party, or wider society. After this huge parliamentary setback, there is still so much more to do, and so much left to win.

The left will stay in Labour, because Labour needs us to. Without the ideas and the people-power we bring, the party would be left intellectually and physically moribund. An argument we’ll hear a lot from those trying to relive the 1990s from their ivory towers is that, by turning to the left, Labour no longer represents the working class. This is rhetoric that needs to be resisted.

Younger people, who are most up against it with insecure work, low pay, and rising rents, overwhelmingly backed Labour over the Tories. While the Tories did much better with those of retirement age and over, Labour were still much more popular with most working-age groups. These people are by definition the working class, and who we are here for and always will be.

But Labour and our movement needs to reach beyond parliament. We need to listen to the communities we’ve lost and rebuild our presence within them, showing the truth behind the headlines and the dark ads: that they have a movement that is on their side. The next five years will be an historic period of rebuilding – rebuilding class power whether that is through the party, the workplace, or the streets. Only through this will we be able to combat the toxic cynicism engineered by the establishment which has allowed the politics of hate and division to prosper at the expense of the politics of hope.