Momentum’s Jon Lansman has hit back after fierce criticism by Labour MPs of his intention to affiliate trade union Unite to his grassroots group as a way to consolidate its power in the party.
The plans for Momentum to affiliate the UK’s biggest union and take full control of Labour’s structures by electing new representatives were described as “entryism” by the party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, and were revealed after Lansman was secretly recorded speaking at a Momentum branch meeting in Richmond, south-west London.
In the recording, the chair of Momentum said the affiliation would require Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, to win his re-election battle against rival Gerard Coyne.
“Assuming that Len McCluskey wins the general secretaryship, which I think he will, Unite will affiliate to Momentum and will fully participate in Momentum, as will the CWU [the Communications Workers’ Union],” he said.
Labour MP Jess Phillips, a member of Unite, said she would quit the union unless it made clear it would not accept affiliation with Momentum.
“McCluskey has to come out and say, ‘This is nothing to do with me,’ and distance himself from it all and say no promise has been made,” she said.
“And if he doesn’t, then there is no way I will continue to pay my subs if it is going to fund an organisation that sends coordinated abuse to my colleagues.”
In a public row with Watson on Twitter, Lansman told Phillips that Momentum had never received a penny in donations from Unite. “And it won’t unless it is agreed through the proper process,” he tweeted.
A new constitution drawn up by Lansman last year made it clear that activists must be members of the Labour party in order to participate in Momentum, but in the recording, he suggested the restriction would not be enforced.
“It was important to require Labour party membership in the rules but it is down to enforcement. No one from the centre is going to tell you to kick people out,” he tells the meeting.
Watson tweeted Lansman on Sunday night, saying the recording was “very clear” in what it meant. “You’ve revealed your plan. If you succeed, you will destroy the Labour party as an electoral force. So you have to be stopped.”
Lansman replied: “We won’t allow non Lab members to hold office or vote (unlike Coop party or Fabians) but we won’t exclude them from activities/meetings. For 20 years the left was denied a voice. We will deny a voice to no one. We face big challenges, & we need our mass membership to win again.”
Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop also tweeted his support for Watson.
After the recording was revealed, a spokesperson for Momentum said Lansman was speaking in an “aspirational manner” about the possibility of Unite and the CWU affiliating to Momentum.
A Unite spokesman said affiliation decisions could not be made by the general secretary alone and were a matter for the executive council. “No discussion on the matter is scheduled,” the spokesman said.
Coyne called the recording a “shocking revelation [which] reveals a secret hard-left plot by Len McCluskey to seize control of the Labour party in perpetuity using cash taken from hard-working members of Unite the union”.
A Momentum spokeswoman also denied members were abusing MPs. “Phillips’ allegations are completely false and not backed up by evidence, despite repeated offers from Momentum to investigate any breaches of our code of ethics.
“Any suggestion that Momentum ‘coordinates abuse’ as an organisation is a political slur, not based in evidence or reality, designed to disempower a section of the membership.”
Voting in the Unite general secretary election takes place between 27 March and 19 April.