We've had the election; now let's build RESPECT
Respect is here and it is here to
stay. That is the message which comes through loud and clear from the
quarter million votes it won for the European Parliament on June 10,
together with 87,000 for the London Assembly and 61,000 votes for the
It came through loud and clear in
the astonishing 19,000 votes Respect won in the City and East
constituency in London. It is spelled out in the fact that Respect
topped the poll in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and it is
spelled out in a range of high scoring results in the West and East
Midlands and in the North West. Respect won over 7 per cent of the vote
across the city of Birmingham.
Respect scored 1.7 per cent of the
national vote (over a quarter million) which is double the vote for the
SLP in 1999, which still had a resonance at that time.
Of course our vote was polarised within this. It was poor in Wales and
the South East. But Respect scored heavily in a number of key inner-city
areas with large working class ethnic minority populations. This was
especially amongst young Muslims, many of whom are vulnerable to
fundamentalist ideas in the absence of a socialist alternative.
Such ethnic minority votes for a
left party are unprecedented in British politics. They represent the
most important breakthrough into ethnic minority communities. Previously
most black and Asian people voted Labour. This change represent a real
opportunity for the left to break out of the largely white sections of
the population which it has been in for a very long time.
Moreover the Respect won its vote
without compromising its politics. Respect was the only party in the
election to openly and clearly defend asylum seekers in its main
election material. It was one of the key demands on the 23.5 million
Respect leaflets delivered by the Post Office. This was not the case
with the Greens. In their mass leaflets the issue was left completely
unclear. This stance made asylum the most disputed issue in the phone
calls into the Respect office throughout the campaign. Callers would say
'I have j! ust got your leaflet and I agree with you on everything but
asylum and immigration - do you really mean what you say on this?'
Respect lost a lot of votes by this stance. It was absolutely right to
Equally Respect was the only party
calling for the immediate withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq -
another constantly raised issue on the phones. Respect was the only
genuinely anti-war party in the election. The Greens were for a UN force
and the Liberal Democrats were for sending even more troops if
So where does this result -
winning a good vote on a principled basis - leave us as far as building
Respect is concerned?
The response to the election
campaign - generated most importantly by the election broadcast and the
postal drop leaflet - exceeded anything those of us working in the
Respect office had ever experienced. Hundreds of positive inquiries came
in by phone every day and hundreds more by post.
Before the first transmission of
the broadcast had faded from the screen all the phones in the office
started ringing and didn't stop for several hours.
Respect now has many hundreds of
new members and thousands of new contacts - all of whom are potential
new members. We now have groups of new members and contacts in dozens of
town and villages where we had nothing before.
All this has to be consolidated
rapidly and forged into active local branches which will engage with the
politics and campaigning activities in their area. New members will not
be won to Respect long-term unless they have a well-organised
organisation to relate to.
Also other elections are
immediately posed. There is a local council by-election in Stepney - in
the City and East Assembly constituency - in three weeks' time which
Respect has decided to contest. Oliur Rahman, the 23 year old
Bangladeshi who was our candidate for the Assembly has been selected as
the candidate for this. There is a real possibility of winning.
There is a Parliamentary
by-election pending in Leicester South which Respect intends to contest
and is currently selecting a candidate. Respect polled 9.5 per cent
across the three Parliamentary constituencies in Leicester and is well
placed for a good result.
The next general election will
probably be next year and Respect is planning a major intervention. In
preparing for this, this campaign and these results have given us a
detailed political map of the country - constituency by constituency -
which will allow us to select the places we contest on a much more
informed basis than before.
George Galloway is keen to put
himself forward for an East London constituency, to start the selection
process as soon as possible and, if he is selected, to get to work in
the constituency well in advance of the election.
Unlike the Socialist Alliance
Respect now has the real possibility of becoming a party of the broadly
the SSP type. This will not happen immediately, but it needs to be the
medium term objective. To prepare for this we have to start building
Respect along the lines of a party right now.
This means maintaining the
momentum we have built up in the election campaign, rather than letting
it dissipate over the summer. It means establishing well-organised local
branches and other structures built on a democratic and inclusive basis.
It means encouraging the local branches to get involved in the local
activities and campaigns, in the name of Respect.
Although Respect has exceeded the
reach of the Socialist Alliance, it has far from reached its potential.
There is a lot more to be gained in the trade unions where anti-new
Labour sentiment continues to grow. The support gained in the RMT and
the CWU needs to be consolidated. Mark Serwotka who spoke strongly for
Respect at its fringe meeting at PCS conference needs to play a more
central role in the organisation. The FBU which has just broken from
Labour at its conference needs to be won to Respect. Other organisations
of the left like the CPB and the Socialist Party need to come into
Respect. It is still insufficiently politically diverse.
Respect is planning a second
conference towards the end of the year. This needs to be a working
conference which will adopt a constitution and an organisational
structure. We need a wider discussion on policy issues beyond the
founding statement adopted in January.
Above all Respect needs to be
developed into an active and campaigning organisation which does not
just exist during elections but is there all the time. We did well in
getting the name recognition we did, given a media blackout for the
first two thirds of the campaign. But our potential will only be
realised when we are widely known amongst the population and seen to be
a permanent feature in the political landscape.