Murnaghan Interview with James Schneider, leading organiser of Momentum, 18.09.16

Dermot Murnaghan


DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Back to the Labour leadership battle and the leadership challenge Owen Smith has accused Jeremy Corbyn of deepening the divisions in the Labour party by suggesting that party members decide who will be in his Shadow Cabinet.  Mr Smith also accused the pro-Corbyn campaign group Momentum of plotting to deselect some MPs, this is a bit of what he said:

OWEN SMITH: In parts of the country, in most parts of the country, Momentum are seeking in their words, to deselect people, talking about handing out redundancy notices to party staff members. The contrast is they are talking about spending member’s money on redundancy payments to staff members, I’m talking about hiring new staff members, using that money in order to put organisers into the key seats we need to win the next general election. As I pointed out in the last hustings, Jeremy doesn’t even know how many seats we need to win to form a government.

DM: Owen Smith there.  Well James Schneider is leader organiser of the group and he joins me now, a very good morning to you, Mr Schneider.  There are some specific charges there and a general one, let’s start with the specific one and it has been talked about for a while, deselecting MPs who don’t appear loyal to Mr Corbyn.

JAMES SCHNEIDER: Momentum has been extremely clear all the way through, we are not campaigning for any deselections and we are not campaigning for mandatory reselection.  The bit in the clip you don’t see beforehand, Owen Smith is talking about a documentary which is due to air tomorrow which he hasn’t seen and you haven’t seen and I haven’t seen but the allegations that have been put to us are not even what he said there, that we are apparently plotting all over the country for deselections.  It simply isn’t the case.

DM: Well some of the other allegations – and you’re right, it hasn’t been broadcast yet but some of the other allegations that have been released in advance, Mr Smith alluding to them there, that there are parallels with the Militant group in the 1980s, an entryist party that wants to take over the Labour party, to hollow it out and for you to control it.

JAMES SCHNEIDER: No, that’s what Owen said on Friday in a speech which is really unfortunate and some people are upset by it, but what we said is come and meet us, come and meet our members and let’s clear up any misconceptions that you have because a lot of our members weren’t born when Militant was going on, they don’t have the same politics. We’re 18,000 members in Momentum, 150,000 supporters, overwhelmingly are members of the Labour party and if they are not members of the Labour party they are affiliated through their trade union or their supporters. This is a Labour movement organisation which is trying to make the Labour party more participatory, more democratic and more campaigning.

DM: So much looser, not a Trotskyite sect who is plotting to take things over, a looser group coalescing around the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and some of his ideals, is that what you’re telling me?

JAMES SCHNEIDER: I’m not sure how you mean by looser grouping and Trotskyite sect, I’m  not really sure how they work, not part of them I think they are really very marginal to not only the Labour party but to British politics full stop but yes, it is a group of people who are inspired and enthused by Jeremy Corbyn and his ideas, who want to go and take those to make the Labour party a force for change, an even stronger force for change in the country, to win elections and transform society in the interests of ….

DM: Okay but if we take all that out of it, on the issue of deselection individually constituencies may decide that they are going a different way from their MPs beliefs and they’d like a different one.

JAMES SCHNEIDER: Selections are a matter for local party members and affiliates, that’s absolutely right and that’s their right but it is not the role for Momentum to be campaigning for one particular deselection or another.

DM: But then they would have conversations presumably with other activists in other constituencies saying how do you do it, what should we do, who should we get?

JAMES SCHNEIDER: Labour members through rules laid out through party conference and the National Executive Committee have the right through agreed processes to select their candidates, that’s not weird, that’s not strange, that’s not abusive, that’s a cornerstone of representative democracy that you can have some say over who your representatives are.  Now that’s one thing, that’s being suggested because there’s a mechanism …

DM: But just on that, correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t the MPs for a constituency meant to represent all constituents not just the party members that they represent?

JAMES SCHNEIDER: Absolutely.  A Labour MP is a representative of the Labour party, elected by their members and affiliates in their area.  They are also the elected MP for all of their constituents, it’s the same for any Tory MP or any other MP because they come from the party.  They are elected, Jeremy Corbyn when he is elected for Islington North or Owen Smith, whoever is elected is elected as the Labour candidate so they are doing two things.  They are accountable back to their Labour membership, they are accountable to their constituents.

DM: In terms of accountability, what about this hit list?  Just after Jeremy Corbyn had had a very good day it was seen in the House of Commons against the Prime Minister, Theresa May, this list emerges of MPs that aren’t helpful including the Deputy Leader Tom Watson who described Momentum as a rabble.  Is there a hit list?

JAMES SCHNEIDER: No, there is not a hit list, that should definitely not be described as a hit list.  What happened was in the notes to editor of one press release which shouldn’t be sent out, which went to one journalist, there was a list of occasions when MPs had been abusive to Jeremy Corbyn or his supporters.  It is not a hit list, there is not some calculated plan, it was a list of publicly available examples of something which were not meant to be sent out.

DM: You say it shouldn’t be sent out, surely it shouldn’t have been compiled.

JAMES SCHNEIDER: A list of areas where someone has been publicly abusive or just done opposition is not a peculiar thing to have but the idea that that is somehow linked to some plot to remove them as MPs, there’s no evidence of that.  It is just nonsense.

DM: But Mr Schneider what does it exist for then?  Is it just people to look at and go, oh well there they are?

JAMES SCHNEIDER: Look, I don't know …

DM:  Surely you have to act accordingly.

JAMES SCHNEIDER: No, this was not a list that was going to be put out in public, what do you mean act accordingly?  Of course both campaigns will know who is supportive of them, who isn’t supportive of them, the ways in which they are being supportive or not supportive, that’s perfectly normal.

DM: So do you think there will be more lists like this?

JAMES SCHNEIDER: No, I don't think there will be more lists like this.  I mean the campaign apologised for accidentally putting it out, no there are not going to be more lists like this, it is slightly a red herring I think.

DM: Okay and on this, it has been talked about for a while, getting the membership involved in policy and selecting the Shadow Cabinet, do you see that as the right way to go to represent the membership?

JAMES SCHNEIDER: It sounds very democratic to me.  As far as I understand it from the Observer this morning there aren’t any actual proposals that have been put forward, it is something that is going to be discussed at the National Executive Committee and the ideas about how much the leader should be able to do, how much the parliamentary party should be able to do and how much the members should be able to do, that seems like a reasonable balance, a reasonable approach to talk about those things in a democratic party.

DM: We haven’t really talked about the result, the expected result that Mr Corbyn gets back in as leader again, well remains as leader with a bigger majority, a bigger share, do you think that then strengthens his hand and says to those that have opposed him, particularly members of the parliamentary Labour party, shut up, support him, he is your leader?

JAMES SCHNEIDER: No, I wouldn’t say it says shut up, that’s wrong.  I think what it does say, if Jeremy wins what it does say is here is a mandate, this is the direction that the party is going on, the changes that the party is undertaking to change the policy and to become more member led. That’s what the members want and there is I think a duty incumbent on everyone to respect that result in some way. Now that doesn’t mean that you just fall in line and say I agree with everything and everything’s fine but watch the way in which we criticise.  Let’s have debates about policy, let’s say well actually we don’t like this policy and we’d like it to be more like this rather than trying to undermine the whole leadership.  The party needs to come together because when we come together we are able to take on the Tories.

DM: But if the people on this list, those MPs on this list, took the decision to voluntarily leave you wouldn’t oppose them?

JAMES SCHNEIDER: Split and form a new party?  Absolutely we’d oppose that.  It’s a real problem for the Labour party if there’s a split, no one wants to see that.

DM: And you want to see these people stay in the Labour party?

JAMES SCHNEIDER: Yes, I don’t want to see any of them leave the Labour party, of course not.

DM: Okay, Mr Schneider, good to talk to you, thank you very much indeed, James Schneider there.