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Manchester RESPECT votes for unity

John Nicholson


Sometimes a meeting offers up a little vignette. The unappetising prospect of the "Greater Manchester and Region" meeting of Respect members turned out to produce an entirely unexpected victory - for socialist unity.

 

The meeting was billed to start at 7.00pm. Declan and I arrived, on time. There were six people present (including ourselves). Ameen Hadi (SWP) chaired, with Clive Searle (ex-SWP) sharing the platform. There was no mention of Linda Smith (FBU and Respect Exec, billed to appear). Ameen and Clive quickly admitted that things were a bit ad hoc, the Respect Office wasn't any use at informing branches how to go about their tasks, nor at providing up-to-date membership lists. There was a levy on joining the meeting - 2/1 - perhaps because the meeting was held upstairs (not good for access) at Saffron restaurant in Cheetham Hill (refreshments not included).

 

More people drifted in, and we circulated our unity resolution. A young student asked us if we did the Socialist Unity website - which he really liked. At 7.30 (clearly the time that the SWP core membership had telepathically in their heads as the start) four harder-liners entered. One greeted me with "Surprised to see you here". Somewhat in contrast to the friendly atmosphere prevailing until then. Although a few more people drifted in (and out) from then on, the total attending any part of the meeting was no more than 26 or 27, and SWP membership was about 11-12, with some more close supporters. (25 people voted on resolutions and delegates).  

 

Ameen introduced the meeting by saying that if people had questions they should feel able to ask them. (Not that there is anything top-down about Respect, of course) Clive gave a good introduction. The Blair "trust" public opinion rating is now lower than Thatcher's was in 1990. Respect has over 3,000 members and is bigger than the Green Party (says Clive; I thought the Greens were at 5,000 and certainly I don't remember a big press fanfare about Respect overtaking the Greens, which the leadership promised in the heady days of February this year). Greater Manchester is believed to have 150 members.

 

Meanwhile Steve Wallis (supporter of ISM in Scotland) circulated two resolutions (ID cards and workers wage for MPs). And the list of potential delegates already notified (circulated on a ballot paper) had some surprises. John McDonald is obligatorily written in (RMT Secretary, does Bob Crow approve?) Emma Ginn (of the National Coalition of Anti Deportation Campaigns) and Lynda Shentall (billed as Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit committee and working at George House Trust - Lynda was an active non-aligned member of GMSA) were both listed - neither present - and the meeting was told that they were effectively a job-share; the meeting could vote for one place for the two of them and they would decide who would go. Curiously, the 15 places Greater Manchester could vote for included 3 spaces for North Manchester, who would be meeting next week to decide their delegates (although North Manchester comrades were also present voting for the rest of the county?), one space for Stockport, and one space an unpleasant SWP sectarian from Bolton, who announced that he wanted his name to be replaced by "Bolton"; presumably so that he could meet himself next week in Bolton and select himself as a delegate from there. As Clive had said, there weren't any rules sent out from the National Executive.

 

Kay Phillips (SWP from North Manchester) circulated a good-looking leaflet advertising a street campaign day on Saturday, containing the wonderful re-writing of history: "Respect North Manchester is holding an open day..... over the past two years we have made a great impact in Cheetham Hill".

 

After Clive had spoken there was general discussion, starting with Sell (young anti-war protestor) asking if the report about Bloom and abortion was correct, because he wouldn't have campaigned for him if he'd known. This was echoed by others. Others defended the personal stance of a candidate, given that Respect hasn't got policies. Declan made the point that people should vote for a woman's right to choose at the national conference. That would commit candidates. The SWP full timer garbled the line about a wide coalition and its not the issue. (Much like Lindsay German's awful remarks in response to Bloom.) Steve Wallis wanted Respect to be like the SSP (he is moving to Glasgow, he announced to the meeting; but will be coming back from time to time). Geoff Brown (SWP core member) said that although the left might be weak (Clive's line) there were 50 people in the room (I am sure everyone else thought this exact doubling looked odd) and that everyone knew other people who they could get to join Respect (actually, I don't know anyone who I could). Kay (who is SWP, but liked the Socialist Alliance way of working) wanted campaigning as well as elections, and emphasised street level organising. Tom wanted student groups. Viv (SWP full timer) said that the National Executive had discussed this and was thinking about it (is she now a member of the National Executive perhaps? or does she get minutes that the rest of us don't??) Viv also wanted to send people up to Hartlepool (earlier discussion notwithstanding). Colin Barker (SWP) came in with the well-timed main speech: 92% of Radio 2 listeners don't think we can win in Iraq. Demonstrations are not enough. People are no longer looking to Labour and we need to think about which seats to fight. We should not just be a talking shop or we will miss the boat. (Do you remember when the line was that people "looked to Labour" only at election times? Now, under reconstruction, people will "look to Respect".... only at election times??)

 

Then came resolutions. These were to be taken, it was announced, in the order of Steve Wallis on ID cards, followed by ours, followed by Steve's on MPs workers wage. This was to save Steve's voice. In reality, we were a little lucky in that this meant it was Steve's second one that was the one intended to be opposed at all costs.  Steve won unanimously on ID cards, and then Declan moved ours, very much in the spirit of unity, echoing Respect's attempts to negotiate with the Greens before the Euro elections, and urging a maximising of left presence through an approach to unity. Neil McAlister (Bolton) opposed this, stating that it was "the wrong end of the telescope" and all about the "hard left groups" when we should be looking at the anti-war movement. I seconded Declan, broadening out the campaigns we were all involved in, and mentioning Coventry, Walsall and of course Scotland - we don't want clashes. Viv (SWP full timer) then entered what had been until then a well-conducted and even friendly debate with an unnecessary personal attack on me (saying, "that if he had ever been to National Steering Committee meetings...." - what, and she has?? I remember this exact accusation being levelled last year at another Manchester comrade, who couldn't attend national Stop the War meetings in London, despite her requests for different times and venues). More significantly, for the purpose of understanding where the opposition to our resolution is likely to come, Viv could only target point 2 (committing Respect to working with others), claiming that what this meant was that Respect would not be able to select candidates (not what the resolution said - again tackled immediately by Declan and me). We had the meeting by then. She also claimed that in Chorlton at the last election, "people calling themselves the Democratic Socialist Alliance" were approached by Respect, in the spirit of unity,  but they wouldn't respond. "They wouldn't join Respect." This indicates the still huge gulf to be overcome in the thinking - the "line" on unity is that it means "come over here and join us, you bastards". Which is quite different to agreeing a mutual non-aggression pact (as point 5 of our resolution).

Anyway, Declan summed up excellently, reinforcing the points about broader unity (Respect is not the end of the story and what we are about is building something bigger). And we won 11-7. We couldn't catch all the votes, but there were 11 or 12 SWP members present and what is clear is that some of them voted for us, together with Clive. Conversely, although Neil, Geoff Brown and Viv voted against us, there must have been abstentions (possibly Colin and Eva Barker, though neither of us is sure about this - and equally I didn't see if Ameen put his own hand up from the Chair, as he was counting the votes). Following this, Steve moved his motion on workers wage; we tried to enable it to be taken in parts (to avoid the unnecessary personal attack on Galloway that he had included) but failed, and this motion was clearly defeated.

 

The election for delegates was then chaotic. As well as the listed names, more were put forward. I took the liberty of putting Paul and Ann Gerrard down (GMSA) - Viv objected on the grounds that they had resigned from Respect - the Langleys came in with the clear explanation that Paul had resigned from the Regional Steering Group, not Respect itself. In the event, there were 20 candidates for 15 places, take away the 3 North Manchester, 1 Stockport, 1 "Bolton", leaving everyone voting for 10 out of 15. Within the 10, there were two MAB supporters, "Emma/Lynda", John McDonald, Declan, and three SWP (Ameen, Tony Harper - not present, and Viv - last place elected; good night for her all round). Paul came runner-up. Top of the poll, however, was a young woman called Cheli - whose speech to gain election consisted of saying she had just moved to Manchester, she was enthusiastic, and she wanted to go to conference to learn more and come back and help the community. Ok, I don't want to be churlish (though she and her friend voted against our resolution - reasons not obvious), but it is this sort of over-promotion of non-political newcomers that allowed the SWP to be infiltrated so easily by the two nitwit fascists last year.

 

In conclusion, and to be fair to Colin Barker's initial greeting, I hadn't really expected to be at this meeting either. But I'm glad Declan prevailed on me to do so. In times when any victories are hard to come by, this was a little ray of sunshine. And rather than make some sort of formal complaint about their full-timer, I look forward to the SWP disciplining her severely - for failing to get their own members to win what was, after all, their own meeting.

 

 

October 2004

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