I have just got back from tonight’s Bedford Momentum launch meeting. I didn’t take notes so this is just what I remember (and can extract from the written material we were provided with).
Like ours the Bedford Momentum branch is not restricted to the town, but also covers the rest of Bedford Borough plus NE Beds, Mid Beds and SW Beds constituencies (I hope I haven’t left anything out).
I estimate that attendance was about 100. The venue was about 15min walk from Bedford bus station, which meant that I could easily walk back after the advertised closing time of 21.30 to catch the last bus to Cambridge at 21.56, but I couldn’t stay more than a few minutes longer if the meeting overran (as it did).
The meeting was advertised to start at 18.30, but in fact the speakers weren’t scheduled to start till 19.00. Some leftwing songs were played to fill in the time, followed by a recording of one of Corbyn’s speeches in Dundee when he was on the leadership campaign trail.
The meeting was chaired by Kelvin Hopkins, MP for Luton North and a long time leftwinger. There were 6 speakers, 3 of whom concentrated on economic issues. The others were:
Lily Bell, Bedford Momentum’s youngest member at 14 (but who I thought looked enviably mature), about how her experience of austerity had motivated her to join Momentum and Labour, for which she would be old enough to vote in 2020.
Deidre Murphy, Bedford headteacher who had worked with Corbyn when she was NUT secretary in Islington, about educational issues.
Lynne Townley, barrister working on human rights and women’s issues, on how cuts were threatening the very foundations of justice — not only by introducing barriers for those without means as in employment tribunals, but also by preventing the police from investigating crimes properly even now that it was known how inadequate investigations could lead to miscarriages of justice.
The economic speakers were:
Prof Steve Keen of Kingston University in London, who produced an array of graphs in support of his contention that the cause of the 2008 economic crisis was that the private credit boom that had started worldwide in the Thatcher era had become unsustainable, and that the government deficit had nothing to do with it — far from it, higher government spending was a necessary corrective and far better than quantitative easing.
Ann Pettifor, formerly of Jubilee 2000 now one of Corbyn’s economic advisers, spoke in similar vein, especially on the need to collect taxes from corporations. I have definitely heard her before, and I think it was in Cambridge, but I can’t remember the exact occasion.
And then the star speaker John McDonnell, who needs no introduction, spoke of how as the crisis unfolded he’d urged Gordon Brown to nationalise the banks, which he eventually did, but didn’t use this status to manage them in such a way as to stimulate economic recovery. He went on to describe what he would do if he became Chancellor.
Then it was question time. I managed to get the first question in, which was to flag up the issue of cuts to bus services, mentioning in particular a current consultation on this by Central Beds Council, stated that I was on the committee of the Bedford Area Bus Users Society, and expressed my hope that some Bedford Momentum members might feel inspired to join especially as BABUS is short of activists. John responded by describing how Labour was developing its transport policies.
I can’t remember all the questions, but someone did draw attention to the desperate state of local government. John recalled his time at the GLC as deputy to Ken Livingstone and said that he wanted to move towards a situation like that in the US where local authorities had much greater powers.
Someone asked about Palestine. John said he was satisfied with the way Corbyn had dealt with the anti semitism issue, and said that his credentials as a member of Pelstine Solidarity were impeccable. He said that Labour believed in bringing together those on both sides who wanted peace, and currently supported a 2 state solution but was moving away from this position. Hopefully this will satisfy both me and those who have criticsed me on the Loomio group !
Some of the economic speakers — definitely Ann and I think Steve — had suggested that with current policies the crisis might recur, and there was discussion at what might be done then. The weapon of reducing interest rates wouldn’t be available because they were already at rock bottom levels, and quantitative easing might be difficult with fascism on the march in countries such as France and Austria. One of the questioners said “jail the bankers”. Ann replied by saying that the essential thing was for the Government to manage the banking system in the interests of the economy, mentioning in particular local procurement initiatives. There was also a discussion of the effects of automation, which was now spreading from unskilled to skilled jobs. John said that the effect on jobs could be mitigated by schemes like Basic Income. Ann supplied an important caveat that shortages of key metals might prevent us from going too far on the road to automation, and that a truly green economy would be labour intensive. In this connection John mentioned the Million Climate Jobs scheme developed by the Campaign for Climate Change (who organised the Backwards Climate March on Sun 8 May).
The wrapup speaker was Mamunul Islam, chair of Bedford Momentum, who gave a long list of people and organisations to whom thanks were due. He hadn’t quite finished with that, but I had to leave as I didn’t want to make it too tight to get the last bus home.