Momentum, the leftwing grassroots organisation set up last autumn to support Jeremy Corbyn, is preparing to confront MPs in open revolt against the party’s leader, and throw its weight behind hisre-election in a new leadership contest.
The group deplored what it described as a coup attempt led by a small number of MPs on Sunday, after seven members of the shadow cabinet resigned in a bid to destabilise Corbyn’s position.
Issuing a rallying call to members, the organisation told so-called Corbynistas to gather outside parliament on Monday evening, where the parliamentary Labour party is expected to meet to discuss a vote of no-confidence in the leader.
Momentum said in a statement sent to members on Sunday afternoon: “We cannot let this undemocratic behaviour succeed.”
Key figures in the group, which has been dubbed Corbyn’s shock troops, said they hope another leadership election can be avoided, but if there is one they have a network of activists and a structure in place ready to begin work immediately on his re-election.
Corbyn won in September 2015 with 251,417 out of the 422,871 votes cast. Anti-Corbyn MPs are banking on that support having been eroded through unhappiness with his performance, including the way he conducted the EU referendum campaign, and scepticism about whether he is capable of winning a general election.
But the anti-Corbyn bloc in the parliamentary Labour party could find itself pitted against not only large numbers of party members – making for potentially fraught and daunting appearances by MPs in front of constituency party meetings – but against unions whose financial and organisational muscle helped Corbyn win.
Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unison, expressed renewed support for him and condemned the attempt to remove him.
Manuel Cortes, the general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association, said: “Those looking to unseat him have got nothing to offer. They have been hiding in the shadows looking for any excuse to try and get rid of the Labour party leader who has was the biggest democratic franchise the party has ever seen.”
Jon Lansman, one of Corbyn’s closest advisers who founded Momentum alongside the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, said others in the party would join Momentum supporters in campaigning for an embattled Corbyn.
He said party members across the board would be dismayed by the sight of Labour MPs falling out among themselves at a time when the Conservatives are divided. He expressed hope that another leadership contest could be avoided.
Legal advice had been sought about whether Corbyn could be on a new leadership ballot paper and the advice had been in his favour, Lansman said, predicting he would win again. “Jeremy will stay. He is not going anywhere.”
Momentum, which is made up of a combination of Labour members returning to the fold who had left over Iraq and other issues, and a new generation of young idealists, claims to have a 90,000 to 100,000-strong data base. It is strongest in London, but says it has 130 groups across the country, including at least five in Manchester, four on Merseyside, nine in Yorkshire and two on Humberside.
After an initial surge of enthusiasm, the organisation has been drifting in recent months. Unions that might have provided financial help have withheld funding because of its opposition to the renewal of Trident, but an attempt to remove Corbyn could provide it with renewed impetus.
James Schneider, a Momentum spokesman, said: “If this attempted coup continues, I fear the electorate will judge us very harshly for spending the next three months talking to ourselves in a needless leadership election rather than showing unity.”
Some constituency Labour parties have welcomed members of Momentum. but there has been friction in others between the new generation of activists and long-serving members.
Momentum is identified with Corbyn, having been set up to try to retain the enthusiasm around his appointment as leader. If he were to go, an option would be to continue, possibly switching support behind one of its founders, such as McDonnell.
This article was written by Ewen MacAskill Defence and intelligence correspondent, for theguardian.com on Sunday 26th June 2016 16.06 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010