Brent Momentum bonds with Communists. A trip down Memory Lane

by Dave Hill

News that a branch of Momentum in London and the Communist Party of Britain are holding a public discussion about ways to work together “for a socialist future” has triggered another tremor of déjà vu following the many already experienced while writing about Labour’s internal battles in Haringey and the character of the Jeremy Corbyn Left in the capital more generally.

Speakers at the event, to be held at the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell tomorrow evening, will include Sue Michie of the CPB and Michael Calderbank, convenor of Brent Momentum and co-editor of the magazine Red Pepper, which has been home to a spectrum of Left politics for 20-odd years. It opens a window from which a landscape of London political conviction can be surveyed across space and through time.

Calderbank is often busy on Twitter. He mostly comments on media and Labour matters, arguing with members from other sections of the party, and agitating about issues in Brent. He sometimes banters with Seema Chandwani, secretary of Tottenham Labour Party, co-chair of Labour’s powerful conference arrangements committee and procedures secretary of Haringey’s local campaign forum, in which capacity she organised the candidate selection contests there (Calderbank and Chandwani are engaged).

That’s the geographical dimension. The history part concerns Red Pepper and its political and cultural antecedents. The journal’s founding editor is Hilary Wainwright, who I first heard of as the co-author of Beyond the Fragments, a pivotal socialist feminist work originally published in 1981. Her fellow authors were Sheila Rowbotham and Lynne Segal, two outstanding people I am pleased to say I know and from whom I have learned a great deal.

That little cluster of connections explains why learning of the Brent Momentum/Communist Party of Britain gathering has made me feel, once again, as though I’m trapped in Memory Lane.

Being 60 years old and a Londoner since 1979 who spent much of his early adulthood in a North London milieu where hedonistic social deviance met stern, ever-reconfiguring, Left agitation, I’ve been amazed by the frequency with which I have encountered people of similar vintage and experience to me who remain firmly attached to the optimism doing the rounds back then. I’ve also been astonished by the number who are 20, 30 and more years younger who think, believe and even speak in exactly the same way.

Perhaps because of this past familiarity, I’m not horrified by that forthcoming gathering at the Marx Memorial Library (as some Labour Party people certainly are). My guess is that those who attend will be the usual blend of deeply dedicated, rather in-growing ideologues and good-hearted souls who want a better world in search of the sort of broad Left alliance that tends to end in tears. But my conclusion, for what it’s worth, is that the thinking that informs it provides a small, further indication of why Corbynism won’t win national power.

Cast your eye across that part of the political landscape, be it Brent, Haringey, Lambeth or Islington, whether the way it looked back in the 1980s or how it looks today. You will see that little has changed.

You will notice fierce campaigns against academy schools but less concern about how well children are taught. You will see furious opposition to anything that can be damned as privatisation, but not nearly as much passion for improving people’s housing or health. They know what they don’t want and you can glean an abstract sense of what they do want. But do they really know how to get it? And how truly interested are they in the hopes, needs and desires of those whose interests they claim to represent? I doubt those questions will be addressed tomorrow night.

Update, 13:49: Michael Calderbank has said on Twitter that he will be speaking for Red Pepper magazine, not the Labour Party and/or Momentum.

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