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Balanced view of Respect in Red Pepper

Matthew Caygill

Red PepperThe April edition of Red Pepper is pretty good. Great cover with a variety of our favourite politicians in PD style mugshots with the title 'defeat the war criminals' sets the tone. Just time to focus on the pre-election coverage, which includes Tariq Ali's already well-publicized and increasingly threadbare call to 'Punish the warmongers: vote Lib Dem', and a piece by the excellent Craig Murray about his stand against Jack Straw in Blackburn: 'A vote for Labour is a vote for torture'.

But of most interest is an assessment of Respect by Natasha Grzincic: 'Respect where it's due'. This is the best and most balanced piece on Respect that I've seen, capturing both good points and areas of doubt. The focus is on Newham and well displays the enthusiasm and effort that has gone into building Respect out of local anti-war networks. As Newham has a high percentage of ethnic minorities, including Muslims, it's only natural that a high proportion of Respect's support is going to come from those minorities. There is a claim that Respect has 250 - or even 500 - 'dedicated workers' in the borough. If that's right then Respect really has made a big breakthrough. The conclusion is that Respect's strategy in Newham is working.

The article also raises other points: what are the effects of it playing down its 'socialist roots'? Could the dependence of Respect on the Muslim community backfire? The situation in the many parts of the country where 'Respect is still an Aretha Franklin song, not a realistic left challenge to Labour' is mentioned. Grzincic also has an interesting discussion of the campaign for Janet Alder in Tottenham, pointing out the real problems they have in attempting to get anywhere near the level of support in East London, but also the efforts they are making to reach out and build links.

Doubts about Respect by other activists are raised. A Green says "There's a perception that the Socialist Alliance fell apart because of the SWP, so it doesn't give us confidence that Respect would be successful and democratic." And Grzincic raises issues for the future. Is Respect "becoming a single-issue, almost single-constituency party?" What will it do beyond the general election? Can it survive if it doesn't raise its profile elsewhere and on other issues? Can it build wider trust and unity across the left?

Grzincic's final words: "To avoid Newham/Tower Hamlets being a more radical version of the Kidderminster effect, it has to address the problem of building trust among a wide range of independent campaigns and movements, and finding, along with the rest of us, a way of building a united democratic alternative to New Labour" speak to all of us. At last someone has gone beyond the usual dichotomy between Respect as the greatest thing since sliced bread versus the grumpy sectarian write-off. I don't think this is available on the web-site, so you'll have to buy the magazine.

There are other worthwhile things in this latest edition of Red Pepper, including a thoughtful, sympathetic but critical review of Paul Foot's The Vote by left liberal academic David Beetham, a useful introductory guide to the Bolkestein directive on services and a good set of articles on civil liberties issues; but Natasha Grzincic's piece makes this a must-read magazine. The link to the Red Pepper election blog is worth following as well.


April 2005

Red Pepper website

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