Respect Party Forum launched

Statement of objectives

Those of us who have come together to form the Respect Party Forum are fully committed to building Respect. We think it is the most important thing to have happened on the left in England for a very long time. It reflects similar developments across Europe in recent years from the Left Block in Portugal to the SSP in Scotland.

Respect came out of the anti-war movement and was founded on socialist principles. It was a positive response to the relentless rightward march of new Labour and the need for an alternative this created. We have been heartened by the success it has had during its still short existence, in
particular the results it achieved in the general election last year and support it has won in the Muslim community. This shows the kind of long-term potential Respect uniquely has.

We were shocked, however, at the 2005 Respect conference, by the attitude of leading members to resolutions from branches aimed at tackling the problems Respect is experiencing and at improving its functioning - both its democracy and its organisational effectiveness. Most of these resolutions were agreed, yet speeches by leading members were openly dismissive of them. The implication was that the views of these leading members were more important than the decisions of the Respect conference and its elected bodies.

It was argued that Respect is a coalition and not a party, and that coalitions donąt need all this stuff. In the case of a regular publication it was argued that it would actually be wrong to have it. The issue is not what Respect is called. The point is that it is an effective political organisation - both electorally and in campaigning. Any organisation with MPs and councillors, which presents itself as a political alternative at elections, has to have basic democratic structures, procedures, and accountability if it is to go anywhere at all. The other pluralist left organisations in Europe function as parties in this way.

Such organisations have to have procedures to decide policy collectively. Those elected on such policy must be prepared to carry it out, or discuss and find a solution. They must be prepared to be accountable to the organisation for the decisions they take in their elected positions or in the wider movement. Given the range of differences which inevitably exist within Respect there has to be a way to discuss, debate, and develop policy between conferences. There have to be well-organised local branches with their own political life. The elected committees must be the bodies that run the organisation. At the moment there are problems in the way both the officersą committee and the national council function. Respect must be seen as the most democratic, transparent and genuinely pluralist organisation on the left.

Unless Respect is an organisation of this kind it will not be able to hold new members for the long term. It will not be able to attract other sections of the left, established activists, and the trade union left into its ranks. Such activists are committed to democracy and equality and can only be attracted by a party which has its elected leadership operating independently from its affiliated organisations, and which involves its branches in the democratic process throughout the year. Nor will it be able to attract young people from the anti-war or global justice movements unless it functions in this way.

The situation is urgent. If Respect fails it would be a defeat for the whole of the left from which it would be hard to recover. We think the resolutions adopted by conference would develop Respect in this direction. This is why we have established the Respect Party Forum as a network inside Respect to work in an organised way for their implementation.

Our priority proposals are:

* Respect has to be built as a mass membership party. This means a new emphasis on recruitment, and a fresh approach to sections of the left currently not in it.

* Respect needs a stronger national political profile, with its own publications, leaflets, pamphlets, and a manifesto for regular use between elections.

* The national office needs to be strengthened.

* The Officersą Committee and National Council need to be more effective, develop greater authority, and improve their connections to the local branches. Minutes of their meetings should be available to branches and members.

* Structures are needed to ensure the accountability of elected representatives.

* Steps have to be taken to get Respect on a firm financial footing with transparent administrative structures.

* Policy groups and special interest groups need to be established to create more membership involvement in Respect.

* We need an internal bulletin and/or website facilities for discussion and debate so that differences can be discussed and ideas developed.

This statement was agreed prior to the advent of the Big Brother House, but we think that it is an experience which reinforces the arguments we have made above.

We hope that others will come forward and join us in this. We are not interested in destructive criticism divorced from a positive approach to building Respect. We are very interested in uniting with those who share this approach.

Initial participants in the network are:  Alan Thornett (National Council), John Lister (National Council), Michael Coulson, Frances Hook, David Leal, Harold Shalet and Amina Mangera (Greenwhich and Lewisham Respect) Liam McQuade (Tower Hamlets Respect) Sean Thompson (Camden and Barnet Respect), Jim Rogers (Harlow Respect) Bob Whitehead and Manzoor Hussain (Birmingham Respect), Greg Tucker (Lambeth Respect), Jane Kelly, John Mulrenan, Dave
Packer, Duncan Chapple, Karen OąToole (Southwark Respect), Roland Rance and Inbar Tamari (Waltham Forest Respect), Sheila Malone and Fred Leplat (Islington Respect), Piers Mostyn, Sarah Parker and Doug Thorpe (Enfield and Haringey Respect) Norman Traub (South Essex Repect) Tony Traub (Brent and Harrow Respect).

Respect Party Forum, January 2006.

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Jan 2006

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