The Socialist Unity Network

Swindon RESPECT launch

Andy Newman

26 attended  the launch meeting of Swindon RESPECT on 25th May , 24 of whom were from Swindon, and there were 12 from the Mosque. 5 from the Socialist Alliance (SA )  - one SA member handed out negative information about RESPECT outside the meeting and didn't come in - other SA members opposed to RESPECT  stayed home. This  attendance  was OK, but was only 2/3 the size of the SA launch meeting, and we have had larger SA meetings over the years, including 100 at a joint SA / Islamic Assoc meeting, and 70 plus young people at film shows.   Both the strong point and the weak point of the attendance was that we knew most people there - possibly due to the way it was built.


Admittedly there were some problems advertising the meeting because there was no flyposting (council have threatened to prosecute us if we do it during an election). But word of mouth, local press and e-mail still meant reasonable publicity.  


Paulette North  the  lead candidate spoke very enthusiastically, and with little politics. But she is a good candidate and came over as a genuine person.  She could have come over better had she done some homework about Swindon - she gave the impression that RESPECT would be starting with a blank sheet instead of building on the achievements of the left in Swindon. For example she constantly referred to things the left were doing in Bristol, such as taking up asylum issues, without any recognition that the record in Swindon is just as good, and indeed our relationships with the Islamic community is better than that enjoyed in Bristol. (All this would have needed was a preparatory phone call to me - or one of the other Swindon activists). A big worry  I had about Paulette 's speech was that she kept  talking about how people are "lapping up RESPECT's message", that she is encountering "massive enthusiasm" and that June will be a huge breakthrough.  I would have preferred a more measured assessment of the prospects. 


Nick Wrack spoke powerfully,  in a tub thumping condemnation of the evils of capitalism, and calling for RESPECT to be built as a broad inclusive organisation . He displayed a lot of confidence about the election result and  made a firm prediction that RESPECT would win multiple seats both in Europe and GLA. We will be celebrating after June 10th he said.  One  person from Bath  said that when Alan Simpson MP  spoke  there  he  had predicted RESPECT would get less votes than BNP.  He suggested that when Alan  comes to Swindon in July we could rub his nose in the fact that RESPECT would have done much, much better than the BNP.  I was a little concerned about this, both because I think it is a very unlikely prediction of RESPECT's prospects, but also because I think we should be much more fraternal towards the hard-left in the Labour party, like Alan. 


There were a few very technical questions from  the audience  -  one guy asked Paulette what powers she would have as an MEP, because some of the stuff on the leaflet was in the control of the local council.  Unfortunately Paulette had clearly never checked what an MEP does, or what the powers of the European Parliament are. (For example they have to sign in every day to get paid - so cannot spend their time in the West Country campaigning) . It is perhaps understandable for a new party where most of the members are new to electoral politics, but in the South West at least there has been a general lack of preparedness about these technical aspects. This needs to be improved upon if we are to pose a credible pole of attraction.


One very good contribution from the former chair of Swindon Stop the War, who is in the Labour party pointing out that building the left has to be over the long haul, and discussing the difficulty the left has in engaging with people's day to day concerns - rather than "big politics". I spoke to this explaining the successes we had been able to make over the last few years as SA, and that we could build on that experience .  


On the positive side - the meeting was without any acrimony, and we managed to pull it off without splitting the SA - which still actively includes both the SWP and those opposed to RESPECT. It did consolidate a bit further the existing relationship between the left and the Islamic community.  We had  quite  a good turnout, and no-one was disruptive.


RESPECT has spent 27000 for the deposit and leaflets for the region - the last I heard about the finances means they must be at least 15000 in the red! The regional mailing is a considerable achievement - Quixotic maybe - but an achievement nevertheless. I don't know what impact this will have in terms of votes, but would have though the money would have been better spent in London.  Generally there does not seem to be a considered strategy behind what is being done in the South West. It must surely be one of RESPECT's weakest regions. I have repeatedly pointed out that as we are likely to get a low vote then we need to have clear objectives of what we want to get out of the election, and a realistic understanding of our chances. This approach has met with some hostility so far, using the specious arguments that "no-one is interested" in discussing what sort of vote we could get, and it is impossible to predict such things as how many votes we might get, so it is impossible to plan. Hopefully, after the election is over we will be able to have a constructive discussion about how we build upon RESPECT's vote to strengthen the left throughout the region.


May 2004


For Socialist Unity ~ For Internationalism ~ For Peace ~ For Justice ~ For Unity ~ For Socialism