1.1 There is
an additional last sentence: saying that Respect shall be a political
coalition of groups, parties, organisations and individuals who
support Respect's Founding Declaration and the decisions of its annual
conference. Whether the groups and parties are involved as part of a
coalition is a matter for further consideration (though the existence
of platforms, without the name, is clearly recognised later on).
2.1 The first
two paragraphs of "Aims" are reversed, so that "We believe that there
is an alternative to..... "(descended from the Socialist Alliance
constitutions) comes before "The aim of Respect is...". This seems
sensible: it states the politics right at the start, and then moves on
to the practical.
2.2 The first
line of this paragraph originally read "... to build a broad-based and
inclusive alternative to the betrayals and right wing politics of new
Labour". The new one reads ".... to build a broad based and inclusive
alternative to the parties of privatisation, war and occupation". It
looks like Respect has the Liberals firmly in its sights.
Alternatively, this could be seen as a slight retreat from the focus
on winning the labour movement.
this paragraph arguably needs closer attention. The second line (unamended)
states that "We will do this by intervening in elections...., building
Respect as a campaigning organisation, ..". The biggest criticism of
Respect so far is that this first commitment - the electoral
intervention - has taken all-out precedence over the latter. A better
constitution (and organisation) would put these two the other way
political platform of Respect was set out in the Founding Declaration
to the Convention held in Euston Road in January 2004. The amended
constitution adds that this is "subject to amendment and development
by annual conference". This is no doubt true in practice and sensible
in principle. It does all depend on the composition of the annual
conference, of course.
subsequent clauses of 2.4 a very distinct nuance has crept in. The
original society we are trying to create is defined as including "the
fight against, and ultimate abolition of, racism, sexism, homophobia,
religious discrimination, and discrimination against disability and
age". Clearly the religious angle has moved centre stage since the
days of the Socialist Alliance. This may become a crucial issue at
some point. However, the amended constitution agreed by the National
Executive makes another aspect more obvious, by the change it adopts.
The new wording is "the fight against and ultimate abolition of
racism, sexism and all forms of discrimination on grounds of religion,
disability, age or sexual identity". The very word "homophobia" has
been lost. The assertion of "sexual identity" (whatever polite
political correctness this may embody) has taken its place. The act of
making this change speaks louder than the words themselves.
takes text from the Socialist Alliance, particularly in its
inclusiveness. Religious belief has again been emphasised as no
barrier to membership. (Is atheism a barrier? Or severe secularism??)
The one change to the draft is the addition of the clause:
"Disciplinary issues and disputes relating to membership will be dealt
with by a procedure to be agreed by annual conference." Details
unspecified. This replaces the (Socialist Alliance) formula of an
Appeals Committee (in the original draft).
making and structure.
And here is
where the language starts to go astray and the practical everyday
details come in (many of them not worked through). "Conference will
normally be on a delegate basis." OK. We get the message. And maybe
this is perfectly sensible for a fully-formed organisation. However,
this does not mean that the founding conference that agrees this
constitution should itself be on a delegate basis. This is simply
delegates ratifying their presence as delegates.
looking to the future, the problem here is that there is no indication
in the constitution where these "delegates" are going to come from.
Perhaps, as with President Putin, the delegates will all be decided
from the central office.
Day to day
implementation of policies will be carried out by the National
Committee, which emerges in the final constitution as being between 35
and 50 strong. (There was no number put on this in the draft.) The NC
(confusing called the Executive Council in the Standing Orders) will
be elected by alternative slates. This means a group of members must
put in a slate - of about 40 people - for it to be considered as a
This NC will
have the final decision on where and when to stand candidates in
elections at local and national level. Furthermore, (added to the
final constitution) the selection of candidates for these elections,
by the local branch or constituency organisation, will be "with the
agreement of the National Committee". Enough said.
NC will not meet as often as originally intended (down from 8 times a
year to 6). Like the Socialist Alliance, one may predict that
increasing the size of the Committee and decreasing the meeting
frequencies will lead to lower attendance. So, in practice, the
Executive Committee will take the decisions. This will be elected by
the NC, from its members. So first there is a slate of 35-50, agreed
by conference, then there is a smaller committee elected from this
dissenters? Well, the right to form recognised political platforms has
been changed slightly. Now, "any group of at least 20 members will
have the right to organise within Respect and to present resolutions
to conferences - consistent with the agenda of the conference".
And as for
self-organisers..... the original draft contained a section giving
women, black and ethnic minority members, lesbians and gay men and
disabled people the right to oragnise themselves...... The new and
final constitution doesnt.
this section is the abolition of the simple majority voting on the
constitution. Nothing can be changed (and the organisation cannot be
dissolved) without a two thirds majority of a conference. A
conference, whose decisions are taken by delegates (coming from an
unknown source) and whose actions are implemented by an NC and EC
(originating in a slate of 35-50).
In the spirit
of inclusiveness and coalition-building, the wording is not the issue
here. In a different spirit, of one major faction involved in keeping
control of the essentials, the letter of the wording may be more
already been identified by Socialist Unity, the issue of local
organisation is crucial. In the constitution (following the draft) it
is as if this section was where the authors ran out of steam (or
knowledge of how local activists actually work together). Says the
constitution: "The basic unit of Respect will the the local branch."
Thats it. While all previous sections (1-4) have sub-paragraphs (1.1,
4.3 for example) section 5 just has a few short sentences. And this
first one is the crucial one. But that is all it tells us.
There is a
practical and sensible concession, that the geographical structure
will have to be flexible to take account of new and developing
organisational needs. But whose flexibility is involved here? Is this
the Respect Office telling local members who they have to go in with,
to form a "viable" branch? Again there is a chicken and egg here. The
constitution will be approved by delegates. Delegates will come from
branches. Branches will be formed by ..... the national office, which
is there to implement the decisions of the conference.
But at the
end of all this, the argument is not going to be about the
constitution in reality. This document (even as amended) has much that
socialists would support. Indeed, we have. We voted for it through
generations of Socialist Alliance developments. The key is the way in
which it is operated, in practice, and the willingness of the members
(and their organisations) to build a wider unity rather than keep a