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Respect campaign in East London starts with big rally

Jane Kelly


 

Wednesday 6 April saw the launch meeting of Respect’s election campaign. Seven hundred people packed into a hall on Bishopsgate: both the main hall and an overflow meeting were full. We heard speeches from candidates George Galloway, Oliur Rahman, Janet Alder, Abdul Khalig Mian and Lindsay German, plus Craig Murray, the sacked ambassador to Uzbekistan, who is standing as an independent against Jack Straw in Blackburn. Significantly Tariq Ali and Hilary Wainright were also on the platform. Significant because both these have refused in the past to endorse Respect. Tariq Ali made a strong anti-war speech, praising Galloway’s steadfast refusal to budge from his position, even when it meant his expulsion from the Labour Party. He argued that his victory in the general election would send an anti-war message, not just to Blair and Co. but across the world. He did not put his ‘Vote anti-war – including Liberal Democrat’ line that appeared in the Guardian last week. The platform had two Afro-Carribean (one as a fund-raising speaker) and three Asian speakers out of a platform of nine, which included three women plus a woman chair – pretty good!


All the speeches were strongly anti-war – seen by everyone as a defining issue in the election – but also opposition to privatisation, defence of housing, education, the NHS, support for asylum seekers and immigrants, women’s rights, opposition to the anti-terror laws and attacks on civil liberties, etc. Galloway went out of his way to praise the women on the platform and the ‘unknown woman’ working in a photographic shop who called the police when she saw the snaps of Abu Ghraib – all an attempt to overcome his image of someone for whom ‘a woman’s right to choose’ is not an essential element of socialist policy! His characterisation of Respect ran something like: ‘We are the memory of Old Labour, or rather we are what people expected of Old Labour’ – which is not a bad summary.

The main missing element was a trade union speaker. Apart from Linda Smith, FBU, who chaired there was no-one of any trade union significance. This was a big problem as there should at least have been someone from the public sector unions to speak on the attacks on pension rights. To some extent this reflects the actual state of the trade union movement, and its leaderships, the refusal of the so-called ‘awkward squad’ to be awkward just before an election – but surely someone from the PCS or UNISON or the FBU could have been persuaded to speak?

Despite this, it was an energetic rally that motivated those present to actively support Respect during the election. Galloway made a rousing speech against poverty, lambasting those in the nearby City whose wealth is made on the backs of labour – as the interesting report linked to the Respect website says, ‘
He made tremendous fun out of the Goldman Sachs banker who was so utterly replete with wealth that he didn't notice his secretary had stolen £3 million from him - even when she went to work in her yacht each day, parking it at St Katherine's docks!’

 

After the end of the meeting I saw and met several people who have not in the past supported Respect, which suggests the election campaign will build its base, which is necessary if it is to have a long-term future: a good start to the campaign. And now the Independent is predicting that Galloway will beat Oona King.

 

 

April 2005

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