Three years ago Manchester Momentum abandoned status quo organising methods on the left and pivoted towards making a serious political intervention into the city’s cultural scene. Our aim was to make the political normal and the normal political. At the time we were dismissed by many as naive hipsters looking for an excuse to have a party, and even in the years since it has not been uncommon for some quarters to dismiss us as ‘only being able to organise discos’ but falling short on the ‘real’ political work. We believe that this general election campaign has vindicated our strategy, and across our region the entire movement has reaped the rewards as huge numbers begin to recognise the importance of their role in changing the world for our class.
Well-versed in a left that used sectarianism as a mask for its own paranoia and isolated organising, we reinvigorated the cultural formula that had been used by our political ancestors many decades before us. We organised Socialist Clubs to put on gigs with high-profile musicians to profile the importance of the Labour Party, hikes up Kinder Scout to teach people about the historic fight for our land and Italo Disco nights just because we wanted to dance. We would organise a football game on a Tuesday and the same players would turn up to an antifascist demonstration at the weekend. We instilled a responsibility to move as a collective in every person we met.
As our work to build a confident, outward-facing Momentum branch grew we started to make links with other movements in the city. Situating Manchester Momentum as a key node within a wider left social movement, we started to knit together a broad swathe of people and organisations that were fighting for a better world. Over the last few years we have built links with housing movements, movements fighting the oppressive UK border regime, cultural and community centres, trade unionists, movements for abortion rights and the climate justice movement. We demonstrated that as socialists within Labour it wasn’t enough for us to just turn out at election times, or even to see electoral politics as the primary or sole terrain of struggle, but that we were fighting for justice all year round. This helped win trust and respect, especially in quarters previously hostile or ambivalent to Labour—a problem particularly pronounced in Manchester, where a small right-wing clique has ruled the local party for almost 30 years.
Our regular programme of cultural and educational events meant that we provided an easy route for people inspired by our work to get involved and get to know our organisers. Over time these events also provided new activists with opportunities to develop their leadership and organising capacities. While organising politically can often seem daunting and confusing to the inexperienced, running a reading group, organising a red bloc or putting on a Northern Soul night often does not. In reality the skills required are similar, and it is through our open and freewheeling events calendar we were able to develop a skilled and capable cadre of leaders who gradually moved into more political activity.
However, we also knew that a key part of doing all this work was to ready ourselves to make the maximum possible impact in an election all of us knew was coming: between the possibility of socialist renewal and a disaster capitalist future represented by the Tory Party. Anticipation for the fight of our lives has hung heavy over us for the last three years but ultimately worked in our advantage in terms of moving us forward and growing our base. Our constant presence within the city’s cultural scene has kept those within it alert to the continuing urgency of the moment. The intensity of our political education has meant that everybody we meet understands how integral their contribution to the struggle is to winning it.
Ahead of the general election being called, we had spent months collecting information on pledge cards from people about how much time they would be willing to commit should a general election be called. We took a chance and wrote on these cards ‘General Election 2019,’ even though we printed them in August. The entire fabric of our social movement was sewn into this mobilisation strategy, as we handed them out at football matches, gigs, raves, reading groups, book launches and pubs. By the time the general election was announced we already had over 400 people who were ready to go.
Because our social roots spread wide, that number doubled within a short space of time to around 1,000 people in our networks. So many of those involved were ready and prepared to make huge sacrifices of time to campaign for the most radical Labour government of our lifetime. Across the course of the general election Manchester Momentum has emerged as the most powerful mobiliser of activists in the North West — every weekend always turning up 100 plus at our campaign away days, and in some cases topping 200.
Some have been surprised by our organising power, no doubt wondering how we can do this with no paid staff, minimal financial resources and little support from national Momentum. We hope that the answer is now clear — that by building a popular and solid social base within the city we have earned the trust of a huge pool of people who want to see a better world. We’ve shown that politics can be made normal and that the normal can be politicised. This election has proved the strength of our model and in the months and years to come we won’t be going anywhere.