Local RESPECT convention reports
Leeds Respect Convention, March 7th 2004
About 100 comrades came to the 'Convention of the Left' for Yorkshire and
Humberside on Sunday March 7th. The strengths of the meeting were clear. I
don't know if 100 people is comparatively good or bad for one of these
affairs, but the comrades who came were keen on the possibilities and
whatever disagreements we might have about the details we were united by the
desire to see RESPECT mount an effective and successful campaign in the Euro
elections. That means getting roughly 90,000 votes to achieve the 12.2% of
the vote that would have won us a seat last time round. Speakers put this in
terms of the number of people in Yorkshire and Humberside involved in the
anti-war protests or affected by the Tory policies of the Blair government.
And although we might still expect another low turnout the aim of RESPECT is
to reach the parts and the people that the other parties don't reach
Salma Yaqoob spoke very well and convincingly in the opening speech. There
was genuine discussion about the issue of standing local candidates for
June 10th. A member of the British Muslim Network (representing Muslim
professionals he said) argued that there was a danger that RESPECT was
presenting itself as too left-wing and putting others off, which was
answered well by Salma, but was a clear sign of RESPECT having to engage
with people beyond the usual suspects.
We divided into thematic workshops to discuss campaign areas, showing a
strong commitment to getting onto practical and creative ideas about how to
build. Each workshop contributed two people to a Yorkshire and Humberside
Steering Committee, with adjustments and additions to bring on more people
to ensure geographic balance and coverage.
There is still a lot to do to achieve our goals. A lot of money has to be
raised. We only elected three candidates (out of the 6 or 7 we need - the
government hasn't decided exactly!). Gaye Bennett made a great speech about
being the token pensioner and her travels to the various Social Forums. Kath
Owen emphasised her Socialist Alliance and local campaigning credentials.
Thirdly, Joe from South Yorkshire talked about student activism and how it
fits into RESPECT. We are promised further consultation (maybe even a postal
ballot) about other candidates. Another keynote speaker, Chris Bambery spoke
of the urgency of getting this sorted out and made useful suggestions about
the composition of the slate, including the observation that with the
current interest in the twentieth anniversary of the miners strike, an
ex-miner or someone from the miner's wives' support groups would be a good
The tone was one of getting out there to get the name and politics of
RESPECT known. We still need to make it as broad and inclusive as it needs
to be. There are still debates about local candidates to be had. There is
still the question of whether RESPECT will be the only left list in the
area - the Alliance for Green Socialism has been planning to stand for a
while. Can we come together, or will the left still contain
counterproductive divisions? We'll see and we can but try.
North West getting organised
Just as important as decent sized meetings are well organised steering groups and the North West is certainly making good headway in that direction.
Setting up minutes, electing officers (convenor, secretary, treasurer, press, elections and fund raiser), also convenors for students, pensioners, trade unions, mosques have been allocated. The serious, and rather daunting, prospect of money is
It is estimated that it would cost £100,000 for a single election leaflet to go to al houses in the region. This will have to be handled from one regional body rather than having
small pools of funds dotted all over the place.
Getting local branches and fund raising activities going is crucial
at this stage and getting on top of these various tasks is the top
Eastern Region launched
Below is a detailed report but for the impatient the main points in
30 in attendance.
8 people put their names forward as candidates, fairly balanced
geographically, politically and on gender lines.
A steering group was selected of seven people to organise for the next
regional meeting that will select the seven names for our list.
This meeting will take place in Harlow on Sunday the 28th March.
Okay, more detail;
I'll start off by saying that the meeting was so much better than it
could have been. The organising before hand left something to be desired
(due to individuals not organisations t must be said) and personally I feared there might be a
turnout and I certainly had worried our list of potential candidates
would be much, much worse - silly me for worrying.
The other thing that was very good about the meeting is that it had a
good momentum to it, but did not rush to a decision when we can still
further broaden out the central team. I had feared that we might be
pushed into making a decision on the day - once again my fears were
There were 30 people there from various areas of the region (although Southend
were unable to attend due to anti-war activity). Key areas not represented this time (and hopefully the
steering group will make some approaches to make sure this is not the
case next time) were Norwich, Lowestoft and Ipswich.
Originally we had Lindsey German and Alan Thornett down to speak to the
meeting but fortunately both speakers were unable to attend and Rob Hoveman gave a
brief and handy summary to kick us off. This left much more time for
discussion, which, at this kind of meeting was what was needed.
After Rob spoke we moved straight into nominations for candidates to see
where we were at. The following names were put into the hat.
Dean Singleton, Harwich trade unionist.
Shelley Margetson (in her absence!) Cambridge and Respect exec.
Mass Cook, Hoddesdon, anti-war activist.
Jim Rogers, Harlow, FBU and ex-leader of Labour group
Tim Sneller, Southend, trade unionist and anti-war activist
John Coombes, Colchester, ex-labour councillor
Uzma Bashir, Watford, anti-war activist just returned from Iraq.
Paul Turnbell, Cambridge, Postie just recently involved with the strike
Apologies if I've spelt any names wrong. This list is left open for more
names and we currently have eight applications for seven places - people
were very pleased it must be said with the quality of the candidates that we
This list includes 3 women, is fairly politically broad (2 swp, 2
ex-labour, 4 anti-war / less definable)
The next regional meeting will be in Harlow on Sunday the 28th March
(three weeks today) venue/time t.b.c.
There was an excellent discussion of ideas for what to prioritise, how to
raise RESPECT's profile, raising money etc. far too much to list
comprehensively here. Ideas included organising RESPECT for the anti-war
demo (leaflets on buses, get stuck in on the day etc.) and also
'infecting' every campaign with RESPECT (not my term I assure you) for
instance Defend Council Housing.
People also talked about concentrating on unions and in particular CWU,
FBU and RMT. As Richard Alday said every town has a fire station, post
office and train station. Good point.
One person from Watford suggested we have a regional banner drop day on
all the major arterial roads - this was greeted with a great murmuring
of approval. In this region this would particularly effective I think.
The initial estimate for funds in this region was - wait for it....
Rob H said that there were 15 groups in the area that made an average of
£3,000 each. This would be very easy Harwich delegate John Tipple
said. He immediately pledged Harwich to 3,000 IF NOT MORE! "Hopefully
they'll raise Colchester's share" I thought.
Very importantly a steering group was selected which would have a
convenor, fund raiser, membership sec. press officer and treasurer.
It was made clear there was to be no limit to this number and people could be
co-opted where necessary.
The organising group met immediately after the meeting to coordinate
itself and seemed to have good momentum.
The one weakness of this group, (which I've only realised now I come to
write it all up) is that it is clearly heavy weighted towards Cambridge, which is
not necessarily a bad thing for an organising group, and out of all of them
only one is not in the SWP (I could be wrong, but I'm fairly sure) which
will need to be rectified at the Harlow meeting to ensure a political
Lot's of good speeches, I only recognised about 60 - 70% of the people
there, all in all pretty good, all the really bad things that might have
happened didn't and although 30 probably doesn't sound all that many
we've given ourselves a firm footing to have a far more representative
meeting that makes all the major decisions next time.
Jim Jepps, Colchester