A Respect revival in East London?

It is a brave political gesture for a British political party to organise a public meeting in the ‘twilight zone’ that takes place between the Christmas and New Year public holidays writes Harry Blackwell. Yet that is what Respect did in Newham, East London, on Friday 28th December when it ‘relaunched’ its organisation in the London borough – and they will have been pleased at the results. Over 60 people, mainly local, turned out in the cold and rain to spend a couple of hours discussing local, national and (some) international political issues in a draughty community hall. They represented a significantly broad cross-section of the local population – overwhelmingly working class, a majority Asian and black, with some white, and a particularly remarkably wide age range from those barely in their teens to pensioners.

They had come to hear what were repeatedly described as the ‘top leaders’ of Respect – George Galloway, the party’s MP for Bradford West, and the unsuccessful candidates in the recent by-elections, Yvonne Ridley and Lee Jasper, former adviser to Ken Livingstone when London Mayor. (Abjol Miah former leader of the Respect group on the neighbouring Tower Hamlets council was also billed to speak but never made it to the platform).

However, the overwhelming backdrop to the meeting was anger at decision earlier in the month by Newham Council, led by its Executive Mayor Robin Wales, to refuse planning permission to a new mosque development in the borough (dubbed a ‘super-mosque’ or ‘megamosque’ by its opponents and the media). Over 3,000 supporters of the Mosque had gathered at the Council meeting on 5 December to hear the rejection of plans for the 9,000 capacity Abbey Mills development proposed by Tablighi Jamaat, a relatively conservative Islamic grouping.

Galloway got straight to the point by pointing out that there are 95,000 Muslims in Newham borough “which the Labour Party will be repeatedly reminded of” in the times ahead. Newham council leaders had claimed the proposed mosque was ‘too big’. “It’s big” said Galloway “because so many people want to go”. “I have no doubt”, he told the meeting, reminding them of his Catholic background, “that if 95,000 Catholics had wanted a ‘big’ church to pray in it would have got planning permission”, particularly as it was on disused, unattractive wasteland. Galloway and some other speakers repeatedly pointed to the positive aspects of people wanting to pray, ”in these godless times”, and, at times, the meeting had more than the hint of a religious ‘Revivalist’ meeting, rather than one purely about reviving a political party. Galloway went into a tirade against gambling and alcohol promotions on Christmas Television and Lee Jasper also spoke about how “despite these godless times” the growth of London’s black evangelical Christian churches, who had encountered difficulties with getting new premises, should be supported because they were bringing hope to people. The notion of faith as a centre of resistance for communities facing austerity now seems to be more than a passing part of Respect’s frame of reference following the departure of some key secularist left figures during the recent difficulties over Galloway’s appalling statements on rape.

Galloway developed the ‘Respect Revival’ theme in his potted history of Respect in Newham. In 2006 he pointed out that Respect had won over 40,000 votes in the borough (in fact, because electors have three votes each, this actually represented 16,000 people). Respect had achieved a breakthrough in electing three councillors, in the ward where the meeting took place, and second place ‘just about everywhere else’ (in fact in three quarters of all the wards). One of the former councillors addressed the meeting. Galloway did not develop this further, but it was indeed a much overlooked feature of Respect’s electoral performance 2004-2006, not least within Respect itself, that at borough level it was Newham where it scored its highest vote proportion in the country, and not the neighbouring Tower Hamlets. Tower Hamlets was more in the national spotlight due to Galloway’s election in 2005, and subsequently it became the internal battleground in the crisis that the then ‘Respect Coalition’ went through in 2007. However, due to the overwhelming domination of the Labour vote in Newham, Respect’s better electoral performance did not turn into success in winning seats in the same way that it did in its neighbour, where other parties like the Tories and LibDems also chipped into the Labour vote to win seats. In 2010, the local elections coincided with the General Election benefitting Labour who won every seat on Newham council. Following the 2007 Respect crisis and a very limited intervention in the 2008 London elections, in the 2010 borough elections, Respect only stood in four out of 20 wards in Newham and did not stand in the General Election. Despite modestly encouraging results, Respect subsequently completely abandoned Newham.

It was one of the critiques of Respect put forward by Socialist Resistance at its November 2010 Conference, that Respect suddenly running in the Scottish elections of 2011 would mean abandoning the bases that it had built in England. Respect’s ‘Scottish Folly’ showed that there are no short term solutions to electoral success based purely on Galloway’s celebrity status. Though much is (rightly) made of Galloway’s phenomenal Bradford West by-election victory in 2012, it is also clear, not least from Respect’s low scores in the Croydon North and Manchester Central by-elections, that there are no short cuts to electoral success. Consistent building over time is what is needed and one of the factors in Bradford was that Respect had had a regular local election presence there from its foundation right up to Galloway standing in the by-election.

There were hints of criticism from the floor of the meeting about not wanting to be abandoned again. This came from a number of one-time Respect activists in Newham. Like a certain Shakespearean play in the theatre, the ‘Scottish Folly’ is never mentioned openly as the reason for this. Instead Galloway promised a massive campaign from Respect around the mosque issue, starting with a petition to Number 10 which he urged the refounded Newham Respect to get behind mobilising tens of thousands of local supporters. The petition would in effect demand the ‘recall’ of the entire council and Executive Mayor and attempt to force elections. In fact there is no real legal basis in the UK for recalling elected representatives by a petition to the Prime Minister, and so Galloway also promised that “if this is unsuccessful”, Respect would be standing candidates in every one of the wards in Newham in the next borough and mayoral elections in May 2014. Galloway appealed to the meeting for candidates for 2014 to come forward and promised one of the ‘top leaders’ of Respect would stand as Mayor (though here Galloway did seem to be unaware that to stand as an Executive Mayor you have to actually live in the Borough and that unlike parliamentary elections and by-elections you cannot parachute in candidates living elsewhere in the country or even from neighbouring boroughs). He also promised Respect candidates in the General Election in 2015.

Respect has a very ‘top-down’ approach that seems to have increased following the recent departures, but it does not seem to have realised fully that success in local and general elections is mainly about building from the base up, and that means having a democratic culture and internal local life through organised branches, not all decisions being made at the ‘centre’. Otherwise, history is likely to be repeated.

Galloway also announced, with some fanfare, that Respect is now in the process of establishing a ‘London Office’ in premises in Brixton provided through a new supporter, who was at the meeting and spoke from the floor. Lee Jasper will be taking up a new role of London organiser, based in Brixton, and Newham would be the first priority. Hopefully, following the difficulties in 2007, Respect’s current leadership will remember that all donations, ‘in kind’ as well as cash, have to be reported properly to the Electoral Commission. The ‘dirty tricks’ brigade in the London Labour Party in particular will at the first sign of a threat be poring over every aspect of Respect’s finance and organisation in the capital to try to trip them up.

Much was made at the meeting of the allegedly dictatorial relationship between Newham’s Executive Mayor and the elected councillors. The Mayor appoints the cabinet from the councillors and has tremendous powers of patronage in assigning and controlling portfolios. It was repeatedly claimed from the floor of the meeting that many local councillors had claimed to support the Abbey Mills mosque’s planning application, but had been pressured into voting against for fear of losing positions in the council’s structure. In a ‘one-party state’ like Newham where every single councillor and the Executive Mayor is from the Labour Party, Galloway rightly made the point, originally made by Lord Acton, that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” and promised a campaign to attack and unseat the Mayor. Respect has a short memory on this one though; another of the critiques Socialist Resistance put forward in 2010 was that the campaign for an Executive Mayor in Tower Hamlets, led and won by Respect members and endorsed by the then leadership, had not been discussed properly and had all the dangers of creating an unaccountable force over local democracy. In Newham we now see the undemocratic chickens of Executive Mayors coming home to roost. Respect would be much more effective on this issue if it had consistently opposed the undemocratic powers of Executive Mayors over local councillors and campaigned for their abolition rather than being so enthusiastic about their extension to other areas.

Galloway also claimed that Respect had consulted lawyers on the legal issues of the Newham case, though he was coy over where this might lead (especially as it may involve the Government’s recent Localism Act, sponsored and overseen by the right wing Tory minister Eric Pickles). It has certainly been the case for many decades that in English local government law, councillors are meant to consider issues on their merits rather than based on external issues of pressure (the so-called ‘Wednesbury principles’). However, one of the key legal cases that led to the establishment of these principles was the local East London case of George Lansbury and the Poplar councillors, who defied the law over both rate collection and equal pay for women workers and were defeated in the courts. Using very biased laws to try to intervene on local democratic issues may seem convenient at this point in time, but if were ever the case that Respect or other radical left wingers won control of the Council and attempted to implement their manifestos, they would encounter a myriad of similar legal challenges against them (there is a long litany of English courts intervening against left wing councils, including Poplar in the 1920s, St Pancras in the 1950s, Clay Cross in the 1970s and the Greater London Council, Liverpool and Lambeth in the 1980s). The only effective solution to this is the creation of a mass movement outside the narrow confines of electoralism to back an elected council challenging the law to implement a radical and progressive programme. Respect is a long way from embracing this as a strategy.

Much of the earlier speeches concentrated on positive challenges to Labour’s abandonment of its traditional working class base. Both Lee Jasper and Yvonne Ridley invoking their background as former Labour members, made strong indictments of Labour’s failure to support the working class and their support for austerity (dubbed ‘Tory-Lite’ by Ridley, though she did also say there was “nothing wrong with profit”). Labour’s policy on race was ridiculed by all the speakers, particularly Ed Miliband’s recent embrace of the Tory ‘One Nation’ policies, originally developed by Disraeli. Both Jasper and Galloway pointed out how Labour had cut spending on English teaching in colleges and they attacked Miliband for criticising family homes where English was not the dominant language. Jasper pointed to the importance of language development and how multi-lingualism was an asset not a bad thing, especially given traditional British attitudes toward languages. Galloway highlighted the inherent racism in Labour’s approach, claiming that in the letters sent while he was working for the TalkSport radio channel, the more ‘British’ the writers claimed to be, the worse their grasp of the English language. (He could have made the point that in Disraeli’s time there was one family where English was not the main language spoken in the home – that of Queen Victoria, where German was the dominant language and most of her children spoke with a very heavy German accent, a fact overlooked in most of the ‘period dramas’ of the time on current film and TV where they are all portrayed with an impeccably ‘plummy’ English accent.)

Galloway rightly pointed to the importance of independent organisation and an electoral challenge to Labour. It is often speculated that he is preparing his way back to Labour, but there was no evidence of that perspective in this speech. Instead he invoked the spirit of Keir Hardie, who stood and won as ‘Independent Labour’ in nearby West Ham South constituency (in the General Election of 1892). Galloway argued a comparison between the position of Respect and Labour today, and Labour and the Liberals then. Hardie would have no truck with the Liberals, Galloway claimed. In fact, in West Ham Hardie was elected without a Liberal opponent, who unexpectedly died before the election, and Hardie’s manifesto explicitly supported the Liberal Party programme. However Hardie’s success in West Ham was in part due to his strong support for the Dockers Strike of 1889 with many local dock workers living the constituency. Hardie went on to found the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1893 in Bradford, and there is a small element of Respect’s position that perhaps sees itself as the reincarnation of the ILP. However the comparison is very superficial, as Hardie strongly favoured unity of left wing groups and was constantly urging the then small socialist organisations to collaborate and establish a broader national Labour party. This is the very opposite of Respect’s current policy, which sees itself as ‘THE’ radical and left wing alternative to Labour. Respect could do far more, if, as urged by Socialist Resistance after his by-election victory, Galloway and Respect tried to work with other forces and encouraged left wing unity rather than pure growth of their own small forces.

Regrettably there was no discussion about ecological dimensions of the current crisis and the focus on austerity was exclusively on Britain, with no mention of the massive wave of action across southern Europe culminating in general strike action on 14 November. Nor was there any mention of Greece, or the rise of Syriza as a model for how a left wing and radical alternative can be built.
In some parts, this meeting was incredibly positive, not least that it took place at this time and was a well-attended and diverse meeting campaigning against austerity. People at the meeting seemed very hopeful for the re-establishment of Respect in Newham and establishing a serious challenge to Labour’s domination of the Borough. However there are problems: the ‘top-down’ model of organisation that led to Respect abandoning Newham does not seem to have gone away; the emphasis on the mosque and religious issues, while a key issue of democracy, may also alienate some progressive support; and, most importantly, Respect has still not evolved a position on building a broader left party. Respect may well be here to stay and part of the wider solution, particularly in electoral successes, but on the evidence so far it does not seem to ‘the’ sole solution to building a broad left party.

References:

http://socialistresistance.org/4029/on-leaving-respect

http://socialistresistance.org/1159/why-we-had-to-leave-respect

http://socialistresistance.org/1122/we-wish-respect-well-say-resigning-leaders

For Keir Hardie. his election in West Ham South and the origins of the ILP, see: ‘Origins of the Labour Party 1880 – 1900’ by Henry Pelling, pub 1954 and 1965, Oxford University Press

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19 Comments

  1. dave says:

    A useful and broad summary, its depressing to see how low Respect stoop thesedays when you think of what could have been. This appeal to religion is pure electoral opportunism. Lee Jasper ought to take a trip here to Kenya if he thinks there is anything progressive about evangelical churches btw!

  2. Jay Stewart says:

    I cant understand why bloggers and lefty writers attack, or at least portray Respect in the negative when they are the only political party left of labour in over 100 years that have had any political electoral success. Respect right or wrong in their approach are out there DOING, while bedroom bloggers, and armchair warriors just sit about moaning and complaining like little girls.Respect is DOING. This article is s*** and the author should get a grip and get involved with the only credible left alternative.

    • jq mark says:

      hello jay, i just want to take issue with respect being the only left of labour party to have any success in a hundred years you are missing out both the communist party and the common weal party as well as the ilp who all had mps. in recent times despite the hostility towards them by some the green party and plaid cymru are both to the left of labour. i would argue the greens are a left wing party but with their own tradition. if i were being more pedantic i could also point out the scot socialists that are mentioned in the article were successful for a time.
      i think the main weakness of respect is also its strenght that is that it is a highly localised party that is unlikely to be able to operate on the national or regional level.

  3. Michael Chewter says:

    How much choice is there ? I’m in the (LRC) Labour Party myself, but recognise that its politics is still largely New Labour and there is no democratic means available of changing that. To the left there are just a number of fragments, largely in the Trotskyist tradition, who are unable to combine with each other, let alone anyone else.

  4. Becky says:

    How important is it to be DOING what Respect do? Who thinks now is a good time to promote faith based politics? 2012 wasn’t a very good year for that sort of thing, at least for the left. We can get that people may turn to religion when times are tough, but i dont see any signs of radical faith movements at the moment (please correct me if you know better). Respect doesn’t even promote reforming currents within religions (far from it); their involvement in the mega mosque issue is purely opportunistic.
    Are they even left wing? The Muslim Brotherhood, Ennhada, Jamaat e Islami are all political movents that Respect and Galloway have promoted; all have been in open conflict with leftists and trade unions in recent months. Ridley is certainly no leftist. Time for something new.

  5. Liam says:

    Jay, defending Respect by saying people who offer a point of view on it are “complaining like little girls” is not a comment that his going to help undo any of the damage done to the party by George Galloway’s comments on rape which obliged Salma Yaqoob to resign.

    In terms of levels of political activity I think SR’s compares very favourably with that of Respect. Our members are expected to participate in our own internal events, be active in their union; take part in campaigns; attend demos and labour movement events. We also produce a magazine, run a website, organise two or three conferences a year and publish books.

    We follow what is happening with Respect closely because we appreciate that it has had significant electoral success and we were part of it for quite a long time. When we were in it we argued forcefully that it should aim to develop into a national party with a year round campaigning profile and a democratic internal culture. We failed to do this and the party increasingly resembles a leader’s personality vehicle.

    It’s clear to most people who want to build a party to the left of Labour that simply planting the flag and saying, as Respect or TUSC do, that they are the actually existing alternative isn’t viable. They are components of such a party but they are not it.

    From our point of view two essential elements of a new party are a strong commitment to feminism – something that is incompatible with remarks about little girls and a commitment to democracy and plurality of opinions – something that is incompatible with vulgar abuse in political discussions.

    For the record it’s clear that the case for a mosque in Newham is one that socialists must strongly support.

  6. Becky says:

    Why is it clear, Liam?

  7. PhilW says:

    I also want to question Liam’s confidence that it is clear that socialists should strongly support the case for “a mosque in Newham”.

    Firstly, it is not simply “a mosque in Newham”: it is one for “Tablighi Jamaat, a relatively conservative Islamic grouping”, as the author of the post describes it. Perhaps an “ecumenical mosque”, or better still “secular” meeting place, usable by all in the borough, could be acceptable, but I don’t think socialists should give automatic support to all plans for places of worship for religious organisations, however large their base (and I don’t believe Galloway’s claim that it it supported by, or will serve all 95,000 muslims in the borough).

    Leaving aside the principle of the matter – how much socialists’ support for freedom of religious expression has to be manifest in support for religious infrastructure – there are practical issues, like how such a decision would affect local schools, traffic etc., which may really have been part of the council’s decision. I don’t suppose the council is able to use planning law to oppose discrimination against women in religious buildings, but perhaps that should also be a consideration for socialists.

  8. Becky says:

    It’s true that the EDL opposes the new big mosque but so do lots of other people including Muslims, both from other conservative sects, esp more activist ones who hate the TJ and also the more secular groups, who haven’t campaigned against any of the other dozens of mosques in newham as far as I know. So no clear socialist position there.
    Also, I think the campaign against the mosque is headed by Alan Craig who is a Christian fundamentalist whom most socialists would want to oppose, but Craig himself is happy to go into alliance with Muslims who share his anti-choice views. The pickets of the Stratford BPAS were organised by a coalition that included prominent Muslim figures, presumably local (anti-choice and anti sex education activism is also bringing together SPUC and the East London Mosque -something that ought to embarrass Respect supporters). So when Galloway starts to cry Islamophobia we shouldn’t discard our critical faculties.

  9. prianikoff says:

    “….they are the only political party left of labour in over 100 years that have had any political electoral success.”

    Not true.

    CPGB
    The rather peculiar figure of Cecil John L’Estrange Malone is regarded as the first Communist MP in Britain.
    He first became the MP for Leyton East as a ‘Social Liberal’ in 1918.
    The following year he visited the fledgling Soviet Union where he took a trip on Trotsky’s train.
    Back in Britain, he joined the BSP, which soon fused with the CPGB.
    In 1922 Shapurji Saklatvala was elected for Battersea North, with the endorsement of the local Labour Party.
    In the same election Walton Newbold was elected as a Communist MP for Motherwell.
    Willie Gallacher was elected as the Communist MP for West Fife from 1935-1950
    Phil Piratin was elected as the Communist MP for Mile End in Stepney in 1945.

    ILP
    Between 1929-31, 37 Labour MP’s were sponsored by the ILP.
    In the 1931 election the ILP refused to accept the standing orders of the parliamentary Labour Party.
    Five ILP members were returned to Westminster and the the party officially disaffiliated the following year.
    This proved to be a case of very bad timing since ILP membership fell by 75% within 3 years.

    Although they were still in the Labour Party as an organised left wing tendency,”Militant” had 4 MP’s and controlled Liverpool Council.

    • Edmund Potts says:

      And don’t forget the Common Wealth Party http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_Wealth_Party

      They had (I think) around 3 or 4 MPs at various times in the war and postwar years…and were unlucky not to have more.

      Also, isn’t the original claim a bit bizarre only 2 years after Caroline Lucas got elected? I thought Respect and GPEW were meant to be relatively chummy?

  10. The report has provoked some interesting comments and feedback so I hope the editors will allow me some leeway in coming back at length with a rejoinder as there are important issues here.

    1. The Abbey Mills Mosque Planning Application
    —————————————————-

    There are two competing truths here.

    Firstly, there is no doubt that the application to build one of the largest mosques in Europe has attracted islamaphobic and racist reaction and hostility, particularly from the likes of the Daily Mail and the right wing Christian organisations who have fronted the opposition. Respect are right to highlight this as unacceptable and socialists should stand in solidarity with what is an undoubtedly oppressed minority of muslims in campaigning for their democratic rights.

    Secondly, Newham Council has to exercise its planning powers responsibly on behalf of the whole community of Newham.
    A few facts help put this in context for those who do not know the Newham council area: it has witnessed one of the biggest phases of development of any area of the country – including the Olympic Park and related infrastructure at Stratford, a new airport, the Excel exhibition centre and a new University Campus in the docks area, and numerous other major developments around the borough (there’s a map of them on the Newham Council website under ‘Regeneration’). Many of these buildings are ugly and functional, and the Airport, in particular, is an environmentally damaging development that ecosocialists do not support. The legacy of the Olympic site is debatable in terms of long term sustainability too.

    The Council’s official reasons for rejection of the Mosque development are also on their website and they basically fall into two issues – 1) it does not have the right mix of employment, housing and community use envisaged in the Council’s master plan for the area ; 2) the mosque itself is just ‘too big’, impacting on traffic and parking.

    To be fair to the Respect meeting there was some discussion there on the rejection; Yvonne Ridley opening the meeting made it clear that Respect believed it was necessary to go back to the proposers and discuss modifications – particularly to include a social housing development and ‘tweak’ the size of the mosque to meet the traffic objections. She also stated that Respect would be trying to use Galloway’s office at the House of Commons to arrange meetings to discuss this option.

    From the standpoint of ecosocialists, our position should be that we support the democratic rights of people to worship in adequate spaces. I’ve stood and marvelled on the Registan at Samarkand, which has the largest and greatest collection of historic Islamic buildings in the world, indeed any type of building. While the Bolsheviks may have burned the veil in public ceremonies to symbolise the ending of the oppression of women, they also preserved and restored these historic Islamic buildings to their former glory after centuries of capitalist neglect.

    It is a fact of life that in many areas of Britain with a large muslim population there is an inadequate provision of mosques, while across the country there are Christian churches lying empty (for example in the city with the largest proportion of atheists in country, Norwich, many former churches have had to be closed and turned into community and other facilities).

    The way to establish the deficit in buildings and change it is through a ‘democratic audit’ of provision and future demand, and to set up the sorts of participative planning techniques that Fourth International councillors/Mayors and others on the left pioneered in Brazilian cities during the development period of the Workers Party in the 1980s and 1990s. The role of an unaccountable Executive Mayor with privilege and patronage in British cities is inimical to that type of democratic planning. That is why for SR, in particular, the campaign by Respect for an Executive Mayor in Tower Hamlets without proper discussion and resolution inside the organisation was one of the matters we felt strongly about while in Respect. It was an opportunistic and badly thought out tactic by the leadership of Respect that we were unable even to discuss changing due to the poor democratic culture inside the organisation.

    So, a modified Mosque proposal in Newham engaging in dialogue and debate with relevant communities is the way forward and Respect did discuss doing this. It is certainly right for Respect to put at the centre of its activity a campaign to highlight the nature of islamaphobia and racism in Newham. The nature of decision-making in the ‘one party state’ of Newham by Labour is rightfully also a key campaigning priority.
    But the danger for Respect is in being seen to have a completely uncritical and opportunistic attitude towards the mosque proposal. I don’t believe that they have such an attitude completely, they do have some differences but it is far too low key at present and the danger is they are seen solely as the champions of muslims, not the whole population.
    While Respect are right to point out that 95,000 muslims have rights to adequate places of worship, the other 68% of the population of Newham also have rights too. I checked the latest census data – there are actually 98,000 muslims in Newham, but a further 123,000 people declaring themselves Christian, also a sizable minority, not to mention 29,000 people of no religion and 27,000 Hindus, all of whom should have a say on major developments.

    A second danger for Respect is not having any proposals at all on how to develop democratic and sustainable development in Newham. Respect’s solution to the current unaccountable Labour Executive Mayor controlling an appointed council cabinet and portfolio holders, is to have … a Respect Mayor with the same dictatorial powers! Come the local elections people will see the hypocrisy of that for what it’s worth.

    2 Respect’s Position
    ————————
    As Liam rightly says, we in Socialist Resistance are an activist organisation with many members engaging in daily political activity in campaigns and around their workplace (far from sitting in my armchair, I was actually at my workplace yesterday so couldn’t reply in detail until this morning). We follow Respect closely because we were an important part of it in the past and stood by it when the SWP engaged on their disastrous wrecking tactic. We gave up our newspaper-publishing operation to Respect in the hope that it could act as centralising force nationally and encourage the development of many more local branches. Unfortunately that was squandered in what I described as the disastrous ‘Scottish Folly’. We did the movement a valuable favour by publishing all the ‘Documents of the Crisis’ in a book (still available) and have since produced a further book on ‘New Parties of the Left’ (also available) with a chapter on Respect that deserve study by our critics. The Fourth International’s support for new parties across the world is a sustained and ongoing part of our tactics and ecosocialist outlook, including in Britain where we have received setback after setback due to the lack of understanding among other major forces of the left. Outside of Britain, the significant development of the Left Bloc in Portugal and the spectacular growth of SYRIZA in Greece show what can be achieved.

    Jay is right to say that Respect has achieved significant electoral success, though as Prianikoff points out he is wrong to say that it is the best of the left in a century. Leaving aside the issue of socialists standing with Labour Party endorsement, which I think is fundamentally a different case, in the period before and after the second world war, the Independent Labour Party (after its disaffiliation from the Labour Party in 1932), the Communist Party and the short-lived Common Wealth Party all achieved considerable greater electoral success than Respect (eg in 1946 the Communists had 215 councillors and 2 MPs, while the ILP had 4 MPs elected under their own programme).

    In addition in terms of the current situation, the British Green Parties have many left wing policies, and have 1 MP, 2 MEPs, 2 MSPs and around 150 odd councillors. While their approach is turning to disaster in the one Council they currently have leadership of (Brighton), on balance and particularly compared to the Labour Party, they must be considered one of the more successful left-of-Labour electoral forces and it is wrong for Respect to ignore them. Respect are also wrong to ignore and refuse and talk to TUSC as well. During the early days of Respect, when the boot was on the other foot, Respect criticised other left forces that refused to talk to it.

    Finally in relation to Becky’s comments about Yvonne Ridley, she made a very pro-socialist/pro-working class speech at the meeting, talking about the reasons why she joined the Labour Party and how the Blair government had attacked the working class and dismantled the welfare state. Her enthusiasm for converting to Islam and her background as a journalist (rather than an industrial/white collar worker), sometimes leads people to conclude that she is naturally right wing, but on the occasions I have seen her speak this is not true at all. The new broad party of the left that SR wants to build will encompass people from many different backgrounds and perspectives including those that can loosely be termed ‘left social democratic’. Ridley will be one of those and I have no problem with her being in such a party.

    • Becky says:

      To Harry, a quick reply about Yvonne Ridley – it isn’t her background (I’m white collar myself) or her religion that makes me suggest she’s right wing. Muslims are part of many different political tendencies just like everybody else.
      The political movements Ridley support in South Asia and the Arab world are those seeking to establish theocratic governance, for example the JI. I would call these Islamic Right movements, others might prefer different terms. They may well oppose western imperialism, but they also have their own agendas, and the people they oppress are mostly other Muslims.
      Some socialists still need to get their heads around the fact that people they lump together as ‘oppressed Muslims’ in the West are often part of transnational political movements that deserve our attention. Just as some Jews/synogogues in Britain support (ideologically and financially) brutal zionism, some Hindus in Britain promote Hindu Nationalism in India and can be implicated in providing funding for genocidal Hindutva projects, and some Christians/churches spread rightwing influence abroad, some Muslims support conservative movements or clerical fascism abroad. Yvonne Ridley is one of them. So call her left wing if you like but nobody in Pakistan or Egypt would.
      The divisions between secularists and authoritarian religious/political movements are growing, not shrinking in South Asia and the Middle East. Rather than face this fact and come clean about which side they are actually on, Respect is trying to breathe life into the dated, dubious idea that ‘Muslims’ form a political category.
      Respect is finished in Tower Hamlets but they did a lot of damage. I hope their divisive communalism doesn’t make things worse in Newham too.

      • Becky – over the years there have been many left wing figures in Britain who have had extremely dodgy positions on the situation in other countries, particularly in relation to Ireland, towards reactionary arab/nationalist regimes and over repression in the Soviet Union, China etc. I’m not just talking about Galloway or Ridley, but people like Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone and the Militant Tendency have all had major weaknesses. Throughout their history Stalinist Communist Parties have also supported reactionary forces across the world, but we don’t call them ‘fascists’ or deny they are part of the left or labour movement. It’s also why we in SR are proud to be part of the Fourth International, which supports the struggle for socialism and workers rights worldwide. For example, our comrades in Pakistan have been very active in opposing reactionary Islamic forces on a principled and socialist basis, and SR has supported their efforts and regularly organised meetings/speaker tours in the UK for their representatives such as Farooq Tariq.

  11. TG says:

    Also I disagree with Liam’s view we must support mega mosques and mega churches in East London – e.g I dont believe religious bodies should get huge tax concessions to build huge churches. I oppose their conservative religious views. Also in religious communities itself (e.g 17th century England) there has often been opposition to such huge developments in favour of small churches

  12. Duncan says:

    You don’t stop religious fundamentalism by selectively opposing the building of mosques.

    • Becky says:

      I don’t know enough about it to oppose or support the planning application. I haven’t commented here about the planning application or the Tablighi Jamaat. I’ve been expressing dismay at the presence of Respect in Newham, and questioning Liam’s assertion that socialists must clearly support the ‘building of a mosque in Newham’. Unless you think that the council really is attacking Muslims with its decision (as Respect sees it and many others don’t) then surely there’s no clear socialist position on this building project.

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