I sometimes feel as though
Respect was made for me providing answers to questions I have been
asking myself since I started thinking about politics.
Part of the reason lies in my
own political story. I am a child of the Communist Party. Both my
parents were CP members, so were other male members of my family and
their close friends. They were part of a tradition of self taught
working class radicals who got their political education on the
shop-floor and at Party meetings.
Aged 15 I got involved with a
Trotskyite organisation, the Militant Tendency. I never had any serious
political disagreements with Militant, but I was never entirely
comfortable with its organisational culture which, with hindsight, I see
as being doctrinaire and exclusive.
It also demanded a level of
commitment from its members that meant many did not stay for long. For a
time I drifted away from active politics, though I have always been an
active union member. I became involved in local, single issue campaigns,
particularly on housing, but my Marxist upbringing told me this wasn't
enough. Eventually I became an enthusiastic member of the Socialist
Alliance, then came the Stop the War movement.
Marching with millions,
instead of hundreds, rekindled the belief that great social movements,
not politicians or journalists, create history. And the anti-war
demonstrations were different.
There were lots of banners
from diverse campaign groups more women, young people, children and
non-white faces. Inevitably the question arose of how to harness this
massive political force. Something was afoot within the Socialist
Alliance. New alliances were being proposed that grew out of the Stop
the War Coalition.
We didn't exactly know the
shape of them, but it was clear from the outset that if we entered into
the new relationships, we would not be in total control and as a result,
we could not preserve our identity as a uniquely socialist organisation.
When the name Respect was
first mentioned, I thought someone was taking the piss! I didn't like it
and I didn't think it would work. One year on, I think it was a
The acronym (.Respect for the
Environment, Socialism, Peace, Equality, Community and Trade Unions.) is
unambiguous, but the name also resonates in everyday use.
It means something that
Socialist Alliance never did. Similarly, when we say Respect for
Pensioners or Respect for Youth, it instantly conveys an idea and a
There are some who question
whether Respect is a workers party. I find this a strange objection, but
it illustrates a type of thinking that is a relic from the past. New
members of Respect don't have to justify themselves or take political
It's enough to be angry about
the current state of political affairs and want to do something about
it. In fact, Respect is far more genuinely working class than any left
organisation I've known.
Some people don't see this
because many Respect members aren't white. Critics jump to the
conclusion that we're a Muslim party, not realising that if you are a
British Muslim, you are almost certainly a member of the British working
This leads me to the
allegation that Respect panders to Muslims.
Many on the left, including
me, are atheists and sometimes overlook the crucial influence of
Christians and Jews in shaping our movement. The position is very clear:
we have respect for Muslims
and for people of all faiths and none.
At Respect meetings, we quite
often have a break for prayers . one of my proudest moments was seeing a
group of our supporters using Respect posters as prayer mats.
While some are praying, others
have a fag. After the meeting, some of us go to the pub and sometimes
.the Muslims. come too! Isn't this what Respect and socialism is
supposed to look like?
The role of the organised
church is a different matter and something I want to discuss within
Respect, but we have to be in the same room first. There are lots of
other issues abortion, capital punishment, animal rights about which I
can't assume what other Respect members think.
I hope to find out, but in the
meantime I want to work with them to fight against bloody wars, the
erosion of civil liberties, privatisation of public services, racism and
attacks on workers. rights. So, I think Respect is the right response to
changes in the international situation, the composition of the working
class and the need for a new language to express them.
Respect is also right because
the war in Iraq is wrong and has established beyond doubt that the
Labour Party is wrong too. The war has made us question the nature
of our political organisations and leaders. For many Respect members,
myself included, the conclusion that the Labour Party is damaged beyond
repair is a painful one, but I believe this is the only conclusion we
can draw from what has happened in the last seven years.
Respect is not even a year old
yet and has no formal party structure, constitution or manifesto . and
maybe a good thing too! The coalition wants to be different and has to
be because it's a direct response to the widespread and growing
disillusionment with the political establishment.
If Respect merely replicates
the rigid hierarchy and sterile debate of other parties it will not
last. It could be that Respect is a prototype for something else and now
is not the time to get hung-up on names and structures. But the
toothpaste is out of the tube.
The millions of people in this
country and others who have demonstrated against war, globalisation,
environmental destruction and racism will not get fooled again. In
Britain, many are considering what to do with their vote at the next
general election and concluding that they cannot vote New Labour. On the
left, we either accept and concede to a two party state, or we build an
alternative. Respect can be that alternative.