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Respect's barnstorming rally

Peter Beadle

Several Respect members from Brighton and Hove travelled to London to attend the post election rally at the Friends Meeting House tonight. There was a packed hall with standing room only at the back. A massive roar greeted the arrival of George Galloway, who received a hero's welcome and a standing ovation for his open defiance of the Senate. He was almost buried by the media scrum and was visibly moved by the warmth of his reception by the waiting crowd.

An impressive array of speakers addressed the rally and watching media. Mark Serwotka of the PCS union stressed the need for Respect to broaden  its appeal base from just the anti-war movement. Mark stated that the 'dark days' were over and that Respect had the potential to become the real alternative to New Labour and its "Right wing Law and Order Agenda". He called Labour's attack on the sick and disabled an "absolute  disgrace" and called for indefinite strike action to defend civil servants jobs. To massive applause, Mark called for the end of the first past the post system that so disenfranchises the British electorate.

Abdul Khalik Mian, Respect candidate for East Ham spoke of the need to understand and respect each others cultures. He attacked those fundamentalist Muslims who had threatened George Galloway and Salma Yaqoob during the campaign, stating that Islam was a religion of dialogue and persuasion, and was not spread by intimidation. Abdul called for Respect to become a mass party capable of standing in every seat during the election.

Journalist and activist John Pilger was given a warm welcome by the crowd. He launched a devastating attack on the genocidal UN sanctions regime against the people of Iraq, stating that at its' height it claimed the lives of 5,200 under fives every month. Pilger attacked the 'yellow' journalism of much of the media, particularly the "hand-wringing" of The Guardian, in refusing to report the effect of the sanctions and the lies and hypocrisy of our rulers. Pilger welcomed the large vote for Respect up and down the country, stating that "courage has at last come back into the opposition" and "the fight back has begun  in so many ways". Since the victory of George Galloway in Bethnal Green and Bow "politics from the ground up has a new face, a new heart and a new spirit".

Lindsay German, from the Stop the War Coalition, and Respect candidate for West Ham spoke of a new political culture in East London which has politicised previously marginalised sections of the community. Lindsay, in common with several of the speakers, criticised New Labour's efforts to try and criminalise the young. She rounded on Blairite apologists such as Poly Toynbee, stating that we voted Blair and got Blair. Lindsay suggested people should take off their nose-pegs and "smell the stench of
New Labour". Lindsay claimed that the Labour hierarchy were terrified of Respect, and that there now exists an enormous political vacuum to the left of New Labour. For every 1 vote Blair fractured to the Tories, he lost 5 to Respect / The Greens / The Lib Dems. Lindsay also rounded on the racism within New Labour, pointing out their commitment to ethnic minority candidates did not extend from Tower Hamlets to Newham, which refused to select a black or Asian woman candidate. Lindsay contrasted
the corruption of New Labour with Respect, stating "We stand for the people who have nothing".

John Rees, Respect National Secretary emphasised the enormous task facing Respect. Since the election we have formed a beach head in enemy territory. However, the establishment will do everything in its power to destroy Respect and ensure we make no further progress. Rees likened the smears and lies against Galloway with similar campaigns in the past against Tony Benn, Arthur Scargill and the NUM. He emphasised the need for Respect to sink strong roots in all areas, based on the issues that
concern working class people. We must fight against privatisation in the public services; against attacks on workers pension rights; against attacks on council housing. Rees promised that future Respect councillors must be willing to make personal sacrifices in a principled defence of working class peoples interests.

Salma Yaqoob was given an enthusiastic reception for her brilliant campaign in Birmingham. She described the campaign of personal vilification she experienced during the election. She accused New Labour supporters in being complicit in a racist campaign against her. Salma pointed out that her 10,500 votes were not a Muslim block vote,
but came from all sections of the community. Salma also emphasised the need for Respect to focus more on the domestic agenda, in a time when the gap between rich and poor is wider than in Victorian times. She called for action against the "corporate criminals" who have the ear of New Labour and really run the country.

George Galloway rounded off the rally with an impassioned plea to build Respect in all localities. He called for a "fighting, militant party" that would be "the enemy within" of Blairs increasingly authoritarian domestic agenda. He stated that nothing that Blair can do or say will stop him from opposing Blair with all his strength. Galloway promised a vigourous campaign in the East End to capture Tower Hamlets and Newham Council. He promised a blockade of Bethnal Green fire station to prevent the removal of an appliance on June 6th, and promised that any future Respect council would lead people to Westminster in their thousands to demand the resources to carry out its' programme. Galloway argued that Blair has abdicated it's responsibility to working class people, and that everywhere we must fight to win their allegiance.

My own impression of the rally was that it was one of the best political meetings I have attended in twenty years of political activity. It was encouraging to see the party begin to broaden out its appeal and begin to place more emphasis on addressing the concerns of working class people apart from the war. Galloway's stinging attack on the likes of Nick Cohen, who have compared Galloway to Oswald Mosley, was particularly satisfying. To ringing applause, Galloway stated that unlike the fascists and New Labour, Respect intends to protect the rights of immigrants in the East End and wherever else it has influence. I, for one, can't wait to build such a party.

May 2005


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