Jon Lansman: Momentum chair would 'understand' Labour leadership challenge if party loses general election

The 59-year-old would also like to have a Momentum festival next summer

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Jon Lansman, the architect of Momentum and a key ally of Jeremy Corbyn, has said he would “understand” if there was a challenge to the Labour leadership, if the party failed to win the next general election. 

In an interview with The Independent, shortly after Mr Corbyn’s final speech to the Labour conference in Liverpool, the 59-year-old also set out the future for Momentum, the grassroots organisation he set up in the wake of Mr Corbyn’s 2015 election as leader. In the last week, he added, since Dispatches aired its expose into the group, membership has increased by 1,300. 

His comments come after John McDonnell, the shadow Chancellor,  previously suggested both he and the Labour leader would resign immediately in the event of defeat. But shortly after Mr Corbyn appeared to rebut his ally suggesting “nothing is inevitable”. It has been standard practice at every general election for a quarter of a century for a leader of the losing party to stand down. But they never promise to do so ahead of the contest, as it would appear to be openly admitting they might lose.

Mr Lansman told The Independent: “For all that is said about Jeremy and John McDonnell having rebelled against the whip in the past they didn’t challenge Tony Blair. John McDonnell tried to challenge Gordon Brown at the time when he wasn’t elected – at the time he became leader unopposed. We actually did not challenge the leadership through the Blair years.

He continued: “We challenged Neil Kinnock after he lost an election and because we felt that... that’s different. If we lose in 2020 and there had been a challenge to Jeremy and there was a challenge to Jeremy, I’d understand, of course. That’s a completely different circumstance.”

However, asked whether Mr Corbyn should stand down if he suffers an electoral defeat, Mr Lansman added: “Well, I’m not saying he should stand down. I think let’s review what happens in 2020 when we get there. But it’s a very, very different circumstance.”

“I organised Tony Benn’s campaign… I’ve been doing this for a while and it was the circumstance of having just lost an election on a programme that we weren’t very supportive of. Neil had jettisoned quite a lot of policies to which we were committed to and I think after losing an election it’s a reasonable thing to do. 

“We didn’t do it every year – in Jeremy’s case they were saying they would mount a coup before he was even elected and OK it took them a bit longer to actually mount a coup but fortunately they are not talking about mounting another coup.”

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Mr Lansman, a life-time left-winger, is feared by many in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) as a result of his previous advocacy of mandatory reselection. But in the interview he insisted that he has made it “very clear” Momentum is not going to campaign to reintroduce the controversial rule change that was scrapped by Neil Kinnock in 1990. But, he added, the choice of representative should be made local members.

And in an attempt to help usher in a period of unity in the party’s ranks after a bitter summer, the Momentum chief also said Iain McNicol, Labour’s general secretary, had agreed to meet with him at some point “in the next week or so”. When asked whether Mr McNicol should remain in his position as general secretary Mr Lansman, after a short pause, replied: “Yes, why shouldn’t he stay?”

“I’m clearly not happy with the way the decisions that were taken about the rules and procedures but at the end of the day they were NEC decisions, not Iain’s decisions. I don’t necessarily think he should be blamed for that. It’s a matter for the NEC to judge – it’s not something I want to comment on.”

Mr Lansman, however, is more upbeat about the future of Momentum and of the left. “We have brought in new generations,” he said. 

“It was only seven or eight years ago when I was still attending Labour Party meetings and I was the youngest person in the room. I’m 59 – that should never have happened. We lost generations through the New Labour years and now we’re getting young people back into the party – and you’ve seen them at The World Transformed. I think having brought those people in they are now in it for the long haul as I am. I don’t know how long I’ll live but they will carry on.”

He said he hoped to have events similar to The World Transformed, not just on the fringe of Labour Party conference, but as a free-standing festival. “Perhaps next summer – I’m keen to work on that,” he added.

Although jubilant at Mr Corbyn’s second victory as Labour leader, he had just been deep in conversation with some of Momentum's senior figures – just hours before controversial comments made by his deputy at Momentum, Jackie Walker, had emerged. She had been secretly filmed at a Labour anti-Semitism event appearing to criticise Holocaust Memorial Day for commemorating only Jewish victims. He said, at the time of the interview, he didn't “have the answer” to whether Ms Walker would remain in her position. 

He added: “I spoke to Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Labour Movement this morning, he’s very upset and I can understand that – I work closely with Jeremy, I’ve been meeting with Jewish organisations to talk… I’ve been outspoken. I was very, very unhappy about… and I did comment on it, about it, what she had previously said.

“We have a democratic process. So we’d have to put it to the steering room. We’d have to have a meeting, we had one yesterday, so we’re not going to have another one until next week.” It is now, however, widely expected Momentum will remove Ms Walker from her post on Monday following a meeting of the steering committee.

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