Momentum founder Jon Lansman refused to apologise for the continued impact and “hatred” of the pressure group’s activists after an intervention from the audience by Labour MP Stella Creasy.
At the Jewish Labour Movement conference on Sunday, Mr Lansman accepted there was a “problem” in some places, particularly local in branches, but said he was proud of Momentum’s record of campaigning in marginal constituencies across the country.
Mr Lansman also accepted that former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could not comprehend that it is possible to be “an anti-racist but still have racist prejudice”, and called the 2015-2019 period “the most traumatic and stressful years of my life”.
In an unexpected intervention from the floor, the sitting Labour MP for Walthamstow, Stella Creasy, said to Mr Lansman: “It is welcome that you are here today, but unity isn’t the same as accountability.”
“I am interested in the impact Momentum had 2017, 2018, 2019, and they are still having, with many of us still dealing with the consequences of these people and the views they have promoted in our local communities and the hatred we are seeing. So, help us out here Jon. Do you want to apologise for what happened and why it carried on?”
Mr Lansman, who resigned as national chair of the pressure group in 2020 but remains a member, did not address Ms Creasy’s question directly, saying: “I am extremely proud of the record of Momentum. We got enormous numbers of people to every marginal constituency in this country, people moving from cities to far-flung marginals. I am very proud of that. There is no need for any apology about that.”
Labour MP Stella Creasy, pictured in a later session discussing Labour's vision for Britain's future relationship with the European Union (Photo: Ian Vogler)
In response to a similar question from Louise Ellman, the Jewish former Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside who has recently re-joined the party, Mr Lansman said: “I do accept that there were antisemitic left activists around the country, and undoubtedly, they were there in Riverside and Liverpool.
“I wish we’d never had Momentum branches. It was never our decision to set them up – they set themselves up. We didn’t have the resources for a compliance unit.”
Speaking to the JC on Monday, Mr Lansman said there was “bad behaviour on both sides” which contributed to divisions, but added: “There were some [issues with antisemitism in local branches] that we investigated when they were brought to our attention.”
He said that Momentum did not have the financial resources to deal with the cases that were raised in that period when local branches were being formed outside of their control.
“There is obviously a continuing impact of the fact that there was antisemitic prejudice within the party, and it took the party too long to adequately deal with it. There are continued repercussions of that, and I totally accept that. But people with antisemitic prejudice are the people who are responsible for that prejudice. I certainly would defend my record in challenging antisemitism, dealing with it, trying to get the Labour Party to deal effectively with it.”
Addressing a packed auditorium for a conversation that re-evaluated the Corbyn years and what went wrong, Mr Lansman also cited the controversial Forde Report in blaming factionalism within the party for many of the issues in that period: “Primarily it was because of the combination of the emergence of antisemitism in the party with a profound factionalism and enmity and hatred on both sides, left and right.”
He added: “I’m still waiting for the conflict resolution process, and I still feel in a lot of places there needs to be one.”
The fiery conversation tackled not just the Corbyn years, but the ongoing ramifications of them (Photo: Ben Bloch / Jewish Chronicle)
He also criticised Mr Corbyn, saying that he did not have the “skills” to lead the party, and also said that he “grew to love the adulation” of activists, which was a reference to the “oh Jeremy Corbyn” song that was sung at Glastonbury and elsewhere.
Mr Lansman also revealed that he has not had spoken at any length with Mr Corbyn since the catastrophic 2019 election defeat: “I think I’ve bumped into Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons twice and exchanged a sentence or two with him. I haven’t had a proper conversation with him since the general election.”
He also rounded on Dame Margaret Hodge, accusing her of being part of the unsuccessful “Chicken coup” in 2016 that he said furthered factional divisions and increased Mr Corbyn’s power.
Dame Hodge, who was shaking her head for much of the time Jon Lansman was speaking, said: “It wasn’t factionalism that made me understand that Jeremy Corbyn was an antisemite and a racist.”
She acknowledged that the 2016 vote of confidence in Mr Corbyn was a mistake, but also said that it would also have been a mistake to have done nothing at all.
She said that she had known Mr Corbyn since 1983 and got along with him fine during that period: “Jeremy never bothered me because he was always more interested in Nicaragua than he was in Islington.”
However, she had changed her mind due to his response to the Tower Hamlets mural and the wreath-laying: “It was only because of his actions and his words that I came to the decision in 2018; this man was an antisemite and a racist.”
Mr Lansman said that one has to be “careful” about labelling someone an antisemite, but added: ”We all have prejudice, we have to be aware of our prejudice. Jeremy doesn’t get that actually, and that’s at the heart of it.”
“Jeremy Corbyn does have a blind spot. I do not believe he’s an antisemite.”
The fiery discussion was the only session that discussed in detail Mr Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, with dozens of sessions dedicated to policy issues such as health and social care, the UK’s relationship with Europe, Middle East politics, Jewish life on university campuses, and much more.
National Chair of Jewish Labour pictured with Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting (Photo: Ian Vogler)
The mood among attendees was extremely positive, with most saying that they felt they had ‘got their party back’ and once again felt safe and comfortable engaging in issues beyond antisemitism. One attendee, Gareth Munden, told the JC that the conference was “healing” for him: “Today, for the first time, I’ve felt like I’m back where I belong.
“I found the Corbyn years very toxic and I stayed away from a lot of Labour things. Coming here and finding so many people with shared values is very moving. It’s inspiring because I’m a man of the left and I felt that I’d been squeezed out and made to feel like I didn’t belong in somewhere that I feel is my home.”
Ticket sales outsold JLM’s last in-person conference in 2018, and national chair Mike Katz praised the “forward-looking” conversations that were taking place, telling the JC: "I think we have genuinely attracted people who are disengaged from the Labour Party, people from the community who are progressive and want to start thinking about those progressive policies and the difference Labour can make in government.”
He says that Labour is now a serious option for Jewish people, in the same was any party should be: “They can vote Labour, they can vote Tory, they can vote for Keir, they can vote for Rishi. But the point is that they're voting on what feels right for them for the country's leadership, what feels right for them in terms of policy. They know they've got a Labour party that's committed to supporting the Jewish community.”
Momentum was approached for comment.