A mixed bag of results
Immediate reaction to RESPECT election results: What a mixed bag.
A very strong showing in London. RESPECT actually topped the poll in
Tower Hamlets and came second in Newham. Getting nearly 5% in the Euro
poll (91175 votes) was a fantastic result, beating the BNP. This is much
higher than I was expecting, and also remained undetected by the
professional polling organizations - suggesting that RESPECT's vote was
perhaps demographically weighted to ethnic minorities, the young, and
people who don't normally vote. This level of support for RESPECT was
even missed by those web sites
specializing on predicting election results for betting.
The result of 1.9% across Yorkshire and Humberside was also good,
reflecting the strong lead candidate, Anas Altakriti. Had the left vote
not been split with the Alliance for Green Socialism in this
constituency, a deposit would have been comfortably saved. The West
Midland vote of 2.41% is also very good - reflecting the first class
campaign conducted in that constituency.
Unfortunately, some of the results outside these strong regions are
comparable to (or worse than) those achieved by the Socialist Labour
Party (SLP) in 1999 - who did not produce a leaflet for universal
mailing, but did have the well established brand name "socialist". It is
notable that in the South East RESPECT got less votes than the Senior
Citizens Party and the English Democrats, and did no better than the
In some regions, in electoral terms at least, RESPECT seems to have no
better than the Socialist Alliance might have done. Given that the
launch of RESPECT has been very divisive to the left in the towns and
cities in these regions, it is legitimate to ask whether things could
have been done differently.
Interestingly the RESPECT vote in Wales (0.6%) was no lower than in
South East England (0.6%), suggesting that they may not have been
directly competing with Forward Wales for the same votes.
What does this say about the prospect for a left unity project?
The necessity for left unity arises out of the current state of the
class struggle - in that sense it is independent upon the success or
failure of any particular initiative. We therefore need to look at the
specific circumstances that gave rise to RESPECT.
Across Europe the traditional Social Democratic parties have embraced
neo-liberalism, and the opposition currents within these parties against
open class collaboration are extremely weak. The anti-Globalisation
movement has presented a diverse series of ideological challenges to the
neo-liberal orthodoxies that has opened a space up for the left. In some
countries there has been significant strike action against neo-liberal
policies. As a result
parties to the left of Social Democracy have been able to make modest
but significant and sustained electoral advance, for example in France,
Italy and Scotland.
What is important to understand is that this space can be filled by
those prepared to go beyond left reformism. It can be filled by
class-struggle parties, who in-between and alongside elections involve
themselves in the day-to-day fights to improve conditions for the
working class. These parties can unite those who believe the eventual
overthrow of capitalism may be achievable by constitutional means along
with those from revolutionary
It is this context that provides the significance to a left unity
project to the left of Labour. Indeed the crisis of Labourism is such
that in Wales mainstream Labour politicians John Marek and Ron Davies
have been won to creating a left of Labour party, Forward Wales, that
includes socialists such as Cymru Goch who were previously engaged with
the Welsh Socialist Alliance.
A further factor that indicates it is possible to create a broad, multi
tendency socialist party in England is the evolution of the British
revolutionary left. The organisational model adopted in one form or
another by the WRP, Militant and SWP was to aspire to a relatively
homogenous political party that would seek to build through direct
recruitment to the revolutionary left, although they were also involved
in single issue campaigns and the unions.
This model of working has been left behind completely by some comrades,
by others only partially. The Scottish Socialist Party does not
necessarily represent a blueprint for a party in England, but it must be
recognised that the participation of comrades from both the Militant,
SWP and other traditions in building a broad party that can also provide
a home for non-revolutionaries is a step forward. In England there has
been uneven but very significant involvement from the SWP in building
We must of course recognize that the political context in Scotland is
quite different from England or Wales. We cannot simply assume that
transposing the SSP model to England would be the best way forward. What
is required is a concrete analysis of each different national situation
- accounting for both similarities and differences.
The most significant developments over the last 18 months has been that
the movement against the war in Iraq involved tens of thousands of
activists, and built bridges between socialists and various faith
communities, including not only Moslems but also Christians and others.
Alongside campaigns over the environment and GM crops, and against
racism there are considerable numbers of activists who desire
fundamental social change.
The impetus for RESPECT came specifically from the success of the
anti-war movement, particularly in the experience of close collaboration
between the left and Islamic and green activists.
Furthermore, the Socialist Alliance in England was unable to take
advantage of the opportunities that the anti-war movement afforded.
Although the Socialist Alliance made good early progress, its character
changed over the last few years because it suffered the loss of many of
the original ex-Labour people who got the local SAs going from the
early/mid 90s onwards and who piloted the discussions with the SWP,
locally and nationally which led to the SWP joining the SA, and the SA
extending into London.
My own experience, based upon the experience in Wiltshire, and through
talking to relatives still in the Labour party in other parts of the
country, is that the Labour Left no longer exists at grassroots level.
However a very important question is why the thousands of activists who
used to promote a left social democratic agenda within the party, did
not gravitate towards the SA. To a certain extent the issue of distrust
towards not only the SWP but also historically the Militant probably
played a part.
Certainly the SA project suffered over the last two years from the
defection of the Socialist Party and a rupture with some of the most
significant Labour Lefts in the national (and in some cases, local)
It was also unfortunate that the Socialist Alliance was not allowed to
have a higher profile in the anti-war movement. The decision by the SWP,
as the largest component of the SA, to prioritise their own publications
and prioritise Socialist Worker placards on 15th February meant that the
left made less permanent impact on the anti-war movement than it could
The gap between the 2 million demonstrators and 1000 revolutionaries was
too great, not just numerically, but also politically. The Socialist
Alliance would have been able to act as a cog in between. A united left
could have made a significant impact on the demonstration, however this
opportunity was missed.
However the charge that the SWP deliberately sabotaged the SA during
this period is unfounded. The fact that there is a culture within the SWP of committing comrades for brief spurts of activity, and then going
to do something else has been misinterpreted as lack of commitment, and
in all honesty is very similar to the pattern of activity of many Labour
Party activists who lie fallow between elections.
It is in this context that the 2003 conference of the SA agreed to
explore the possibility of opening out the Alliance, and seeking to
relaunch it in conjunction with wider forces. This was partly in
recognition that the SA had not fulfilled its rich potential, and also
recognition that the war on Iraq, and the friction between the Labour
Party and the trade unions had created a rich opening for the left. Out
of this initiative grew RESPECT.
The Socialist Unity Network believes that the decision made by the 2003
conference was correct. We welcomed the decision to launch RESPECT as a
step towards an inclusive mass socialist party to the left of Labour. In
various parts of Europe there are red-green electoral alliances. If it
is legitimate for socialists to enter structured electoral alliances
with environmentalists then it is equally legitimate to enter structured
alliances with anti-war and anti-imperialist activists.
Nevertheless it is important that the socialist component of such
alliances has an independent and organised voice. For this reason the
Socialist Unity Network was formed to support the maintenance of the
Socialist Alliance as a distinct current within RESPECT.
Was RESPECT the right vehicle?
John Nicholson has already commented that there were a number of
assumptions behind RESPECT that were open to question.
"Of course it could have been predicted that George Monbiot (and any
Greens) would not last the course, and of course it could have been
predicted that only one section of the "Muslim community" would jump in
Respect's direction (it was always tokenist to generalise about the
"Muslims" in this way - and both anachronistic and patronising to assume
that the whole of this population would follow the lead of any one of
its "leaders" - a mistake old Labour has been learning for over 20
years). And it was no real surprise
that the CPB/Morning Star would (through its mass meeting in double
figures) argue for "voting labour with no illusions". And clutching at
the straw of George Galloway was really the very tail-end of the SWP's
15 year long drive to recruit dissident Labour Party members. And so on.
But still, the SWP can be forgiven for trying (wishfully) to construct
something electoral out of the anti-war coalition."
Nevertheless, an organisation combining very varied political,
ideological and even religious components cannot remain static and it
may evolve quite fast under the pressure of events. For example, at its
founding conference in January 2004 RESPECT decided not to back the call
for open borders, but then signed the Anti Capitalist Manifesto for a
Different Europe published on 29th April with the following commitment
to open borders: "We are in favour of the free movement of persons! No
to the Schengen Agreements!"
From the outset therefore RESPECT had the potential to evolve to be a
socialist organisation provided its could create an open and democratic
culture, and build bridges with those socialists outside the project.
The necessity of RESPECT forming alliances with European socialist
groups was one factor influencing its development. Another has been the
active involvement of experienced socialists from various traditions
within the SA.
Unfortunately, within the Socialist Alliance there was opposition to the
2003 conference resolution on broadening the scope of the alliance. This
opposition also ran concurrent with those who wish to see a commitment
from the SA to build a new "Workers Party" and to establish its own
newspaper, which would effectively delimit the appeal of the SA to those
seeking to build a revolutionary party. There was also concern that the
disproportionate ability of the SWP to influence decisions made within
the SA was sometimes counter-productive. These intertwined issues led to
the formation of the Socialist Alliance Democracy Platform in November
2003. The SADP is a diverse group, at one extreme it includes within it
a minority who have never been serious about building the SA; at the
other extreme it includes very committed comrades who wish to use the
SADP to strengthen the socialist unity project. The SADP now exists
effectively as a tiny competitor to RESPECT.
What could have been done differently
The fact that RESPECT was a distinctly different project from the SA,
combined with the particular circumstances in which it was formed, means
that different comrades will come to support RESPECT at different paces.
This was correctly recognized by Simon Joyce of the SWP at the February
2004 SA exec meeting (<Read
the Weekly Worker report here>).
Unfortunately, the majority of the "Task Group", those comrades on the
SA executive responsible for promoting the unity project, did not
acknowledge this unevenness, and forced through a motion at an SA
special conference barring local Socialist Alliances from contesting the
local elections in June as SA candidates.
This was tactically a very bad move, as it meant that a number of
comrades who were simply ambivalent or undecided about RESPECT were
thrown into the same camp as those who, for whatever reason, were
opposed to the project altogether. A manifestation of this was the very
unwise decision of Pete McLaren of the SADP to appear on Radio 4's
Today program criticizing RESPECT. Pete was na´ve to believe that this
came over as anything other than a "life of Brian" squabble, and his
inclusion in the programme was manipulative by the BBC as an attempt to
The decision to block SA local candidates was a strategic mistake by
RESPECT as local elections are extremely significant. One of the reasons
that the Socialist Unity Network sought to avoid this prohibition on
local candidates was that there are a number of activists who are
motivated to campaign in their own communities but are less enthusiastic
about the more impersonal campaign required for a Euro elections. Where
comrades have spent some years
establishing brand recognition for the SA in particular wards they would
prefer to use that banner until RESPECT becomes more widely recognized.
Many of these comrades would have been prepared to publicly endorse
RESPECT for the Euro elections.
As a result of this prohibition on local candidates we believe many
hundreds of SA comrades around the country have been inactive over this
election period, involved neither with the SA nor RESPECT.
In contrast, it is interesting that for these elections the Greens have
made a strategic decision to stand as many local candidates as possible.
Indeed a weakness of RESPECT's campaign was that it did not recognize
that our strength is in face to face work, with people on the streets,
making a campaigning noise, and mobilising those who could be persuaded
To do that effectively means identifying those local areas where we can
concentrate our forces. It is better to build a base and move up from
that (As has been done by the SP for many years - and, tactically
correctly, by the fascists last year). That is what Michael Lavalette
(elected socialist alliance councillor) has done in Preston - to his
credit. The extraordinarily good results achieved by RESPECT in Preston
in the June 2004 local elections show the value of this approach. It is
also right in principle to do this, rather than parachute in from a
parliamentary (or euro
parliamentary) level and hope the support will "trickle down".
Some of the poor regional performances by RESPECT in the Euro ballot
show that it was always optimistic to believe we could change the minds
of millions of people by one leaflet through everyone's letterbox.
Whereas local campaigning does get results, for example, in the South
West Socialist candidates gained 460 votes in 5 town council wards,
whereas RESPECT gained just 10437 votes (22 times more votes) in an
electorate more than 200 times
Indeed the potential support for RESPECT was always exaggerated.
Oftentimes George Galloway would remark that 2 million were on the
streets, but that was over a year ago, and a more significant figure was
the 100000 demonstrating on the first anniversary of the war. In reality
although the RESPECT coalition is socially significant it has narrow
There were other tactical considerations that may have been significant.
Although undoubtedly the Greens displayed organizational conservatism it
was unrealistic to expect them to embrace an alliance with the untested
RESPECT. A more modest proposal to the Greens, for example RESPECT
standing aside altogether in their favour in the South West and North
West and allowing the Greens top spot on a combined London list may have
met with a more favourable response, in exchange for simply a joint
slate for London with Galloway at the number 2 spot. Although this would
have meant foregoing an election broadcast outside London the prize of
even limited participation with the Greens in the project would have
been worth paying, as a marker for future cooperation.
Similarly, RESPECT could have used their London mayoral candidature to
actively promote a Livingstone second preference vote.
Ironically this may have actually increased the number of first
preferences for RESPECT as we would have been demonstrating that we are
different, and also would be honest recognition that Respect would be
squeezed in the Norris/Livingstone battle, and that Livingstone is as
strong an anti-war candidate as Lindsey German. What is more, because
RESPECT would bring out some people to vote
who would have otherwise abstained this approach could have led to a
more convincing Livingstone victory. Of course, nothing should detract
from Lindsey's fantastic performance - I am sure most mainstream
commentators are gobsmacked that she beat both the Greens and the BNP.
Generally a weakness of RESPECT's campaign has been a lack of a thought
out strategy. Having been involved with electoral politics both in the
Labour party and the SA, I have been astounded at how little interest
there has been in debating how likely a good RESPECT vote was, and
therefore how best to effectively campaign. It is not self evident that
a full nationwide mailing was money well spent, and in many of RESPECT's
weaker regions it is not clear how the decision was made to pursue that
aim. Surely it would have
been better to spend money on bill board advertising in London rather
than on a mailing in the Eastern region, South West and Wales? Had this
money been spent in London - as I have been arguing all along- this may
have been enough to get the extra few thousand votes to win a seat in
Unfortunately there is a culture in some quarters that it is better to
get on with activity rather than discuss first what activity needs to be
done. On more than one occasion I was told we should not be having this
sort of tactical discussion, because it was defeatist to suggest we
couldn't win a seat in the South West. This unwillingness to engage in
debate needs to be addressed if RESPECT is to be an attractive political
home for working class militants.
Wales is also a thorny issue. It is regrettable that both Respect and FW
contested the Euro election, being unable to agree a joint slate. The
results achieved by FW in Wrexham are simply brilliant and it should be
noted that had RESPECT's votes gone to FW then the deposit would have
been retained. A combined left vote of 2.5% across Wales is a big
advance, and a solid basis for progress.
Has respect done well enough to continue?
In a word -Yes - but it is going to need some careful thought how
we go about it. I am writing this before all the results are even in -
so this is just a first contribution to the debate, but I think there
are some things we can say.
Firstly, the political context that gave rise to RESPECT and these
fantastic London results is not going to go away. The war is likely to
dominate next year's general election.
Secondly, let us be clear, London is bigger than Scotland, and if London
was a separate country everyone would be saying that RESPECT was a
runaway success. So, a very strong showing in London and reasonable
results in Yorkshire and Humberside and the West Midlands mean that we
have made a small breakthrough. However the unevenness of the result,
alongside some very poor regional showings elsewhere does create
Thirdly, I am only talking about England, not Wales.
The task that faces us now is a possible general election in just one
year's time. If we are going to build on these results and make the most
of our opportunities in the election we need to start work right now.
The very encouraging note is that based on this Euro election then
RESPECT might have won a parliamentary seat in Tower Hamlets, the first
time the left have been in that position in England since Phil Piratin
won Stepney for the CP in 1945. One of the reasons RESPECT is able to
project a high profile is because it has Galloway in Parliament, the
prospect that there is even a
possibility of maintaining that parliamentary presence past another
election is very significant. We must also face up to the fact that
RESPECT represents one particular model that has proven successful in
London. However, the Socialist Party can point to a different model with
8617 votes across Coventry, and Forward Wales have yet another model
with stunning success in Wrexham.
With all these strong results behind us we need to reopen negotiations
over the summer with an aim for a united approach to the Westminster
We know that the Greens will also be amenable to discussing which seats
to stand in - as they do not have the resources to contest every
constituency either. These negotiations need to be conducted locally and
nationally in parallel - locally first.
However, it is vital that RESPECT has something to take to the
negotiating table - and that means a fully functioning and lively party
on the ground. It will be fatal to the project if the separate
components disengage and concentrate on their own campaigns until a few
weeks before the next election.
This is especially important where we have had poor results. There is a
danger, for example, that support from Islamic figures was based upon
RESPECT being an effective way to punish Blair over the war. Where we
have a poor result then that support may waver unless RESPECT actively
works to maintain it. This in turn means that RESPECT must be more than
an electoral organization - it must demonstrate it is different by
involving itself in every campaign in the local communities. But if it
is to be an effective campaigning group it must be allowed to act like a
party. That means members and supporting organizations within RESPECT
working through its structures wherever possible instead of using a
different party banner for campaigns.
To be a party RESPECT needs structure, a constitution and a culture of
democratic debate and accountability. Up until now the Socialist Unity
Network has been arguing that RESPECT needed money, members and
momentum. We have tried to get the best possible result in this
election. After the election the emphasis must change. Now the task is
to ensure that the component parts making up RESPECT stay committed to
the unity project, and to extend the project to include those who have
until now stood aside. We need an honest and open debate about the
lessons of these elections, and we need to start detailed planning for
next year's election.