We are posting this statement by Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson as a contribution to the debate on what sort of left party we need to build. Comments are welcome. Having joined and become active in Respect as a result of George Galloway’s recent election win, they’ve found themselves being in the position of being forced to leave the organisation without any explanation why.
We joined Respect two days after George Galloway’s outstanding victory in Bradford, in March 2012. In our estimate, this by-election victory indicated both the support for a clear anti-cuts politics to the left of Labour, and the viability of Respect as a political party which could inhabit that political space. Respect’s election result, across all wards in Bradford, indicated the resonance of the party’s politics across the city’s diverse communities, transcending the wrongly perceived limits of Respect’s political appeal and re-establishing the party on the political map.
Having recently returned from a solidarity delegation to Greece, where Syriza was gaining political ground with a similar politics, we were convinced of the need to advance a left political and economic alternative at a time when social democratic parties have abandoned their redistributive credentials and continue to opt for the failed policies of neo-liberalism. We remain convinced of that need but find that we are no longer able to fight for that alternative through the Respect party.
The Manchester candidacy
In July, Kate accepted nomination as Respect Party parliamentary candidate for the Manchester Central by-election in November 2012. Campaigning in Manchester over the subsequent weeks, it became clear that there was strong local support for a Respect candidacy based on opposing austerity, backing investment, fighting racism and working to end poverty in some of the most deprived wards in Britain. As a safe Labour seat, but with the lowest turnout of any constituency in the country, Manchester Central was a very clear example of how Labour no longer stands for the interests of the working class. Most people saw no point in voting at all. But the support on the doorstep for the Respect campaign demonstrated more clearly than any amount of theorising, that ordinary people want an alternative, that Respect’s political and economic platform provided a popular basis from which to build an electoral alternative. The campaign also demonstrated how political support from outside Respect could also be built for an anti-cuts candidacy and support for Kate’s campaign came from across a range of parties and political organisations which shared the values fought for within the campaign.
The decision to stand down as candidate was not one taken lightly. But it was one which became impossible to avoid, after the deeply regrettable comments by George Galloway about the nature of rape, in the context of the attempts to extradite Assange. There is no doubt in our minds that there are attempts to extradite Assange to Sweden, outside of that country’s normal legal procedures, to facilitate his extradition to the US to face charges over Wikileaks. But opposing such practices does not require extemporisation by Respect’s MP on the nature of rape which at the very least exposed his lack of understanding with regard to the legal definition of that crime.
The condemnation of George Galloway’s comments by party leader Salma Yaqoob are well-known and went some way to redeeming the honour of Respect and we wholeheartedly supported them and welcomed Salma’s principled stance. However, the failure of George Galloway to retract his remarks on rape and apologise for them ultimately made it impossible for Kate to continue to stand for Respect in Manchester Central. As she stated at the time, “To continue as Respect Party candidate in this situation, no matter how much I object to and oppose his statements personally, would be in effect to condone what he has said. That is something I am not prepared to do.”
The identification of George Galloway with the Respect party is such that many perceive them to be synonymous. This meant that unless the party itself was prepared to state that it did not support George’s position on rape, and to ask him to retract his statements, it could reasonably be assumed by non-members that the party tolerated George’s position. Apart from Salma’s statement, and Kate’s public support for that, we are not aware of any condemnation by the party of George’s position. Indeed, Salma’s statement was not published on the party website, in spite of the fact that she was leader of the party, and Kate was initially asked by the National Secretary to remove Salma’s statement from her Manchester campaign Facebook page, which she refused to do.
Staying in Respect
Nevertheless, taking into account that we consider the politics of Respect to be essential in the struggle for a left alternative, and that we were aware of strong opposition to George’s position within Respect – even though it was not given expression by the party apparatus and media – we decided not to leave Respect. As Kate put it in her statement on standing down, “I will continue to work within the Respect Party to ensure that our values and principles with regard to women’s rights match up to the Party’s – and George Galloway’s – outstanding record in these other areas.”
Resignations from Respect
In the wake of the Galloway comments and his refusal to apologise, Salma Yaqoob decided to stand down as party leader and resigned from Respect. At the National Council in September, it was announced that a number of long-standing senior party figures had also resigned, including a majority of its national officers. However, we decided to stay in the party and its leadership to work for a party with a life of its own, properly expressing the policies so urgently needed.
Unfortunately, to continue to work politically within Respect is no longer possible. Last week we discovered that we have both been removed from Respect’s National Council. We received no official notification of this, rather, we discovered this when Andrew attempted to post a request for a Respect delegate to the Coalition of Resistance Europe against Austerity Conference on the NC google group. The message bounced back. On enquiring of the Respect National Secretary, Andrew was informed that he had been removed from the NC because he had missed two consecutive meetings of the NC and under the constitution this meant that he would be removed and replaced by a co-opted member. In fact, no such provision exists in the copy of the constitution that we received at this year’s Respect party conference. We have not been supplied, despite Andrew’s repeated requests, with a copy that includes that provision. Subsequently Kate attempted to post on the NC google group and again it bounced back. Her enquiry to the National Secretary about her NC status has received no reply, and she has had to assume that she has also been removed from that body.
There are numerous other National Council members who have missed two meetings and have not been removed from the NC. It is clear that we have been purged from the party leadership for political reasons: because we publicly condemned George’s rape comments and backed the position of our party leader, and because we refused to be silenced over the fall-out from the issue within the party. This is in spite of the fact that we have been amongst the party’s most active members over the last six months: we participated in the party’s annual conference in Bradford where we were elected as NC members, we organized a successful London Respect meeting in July involving representatives from Syriza and Front de Gauche, we revived the North London branch and helped to convene a meeting of the London Respect Committee – as well as committing to the Manchester Central candidacy.
Speaking out in Respect
As we have been excluded from the NC by the National Secretary, we have no way of knowing if other comrades are raising these issues too, or share our concerns about the lack of an independent political life on the part of the Respect party, as distinct from that of its MP. We have informed others of our concerns where we have contact details. The silence in the face of our struggle has been disconcerting. We hope that other comrades recognize that speaking out on matters of political principle must be a basic democratic right within any political party.
At the moment there is no place for us in the Respect party. Those that control the party and its apparatus have seen fit to remove us from any possibility of active work because our political principles led us to speak out against a wrong position and wrong practice. We continue to support the political and economic alternative which the Respect party espouses but we will look for a framework within which to fight for it elsewhere.
The peoples of Europe – and beyond – are facing an unprecedented social, political and economic crisis. Here in Britain, our government is implementing the most savage spending cuts designed to destroy all the social gains of the postwar period. They are damaging the lives of millions.
Throughout Europe people are fighting back. Every day we hear of strikes, mass mobilizations and protest as people fight to defend their societies and reject the barbarism of austerity. The urgent need is for unity of the left, within Britain, and across Europe, to meet these challenges together, to maximize our forces and build a common solidarity that will enable the victory of ordinary people over the brutality of a failed economic system.
That is what we are committed to.
Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson
8 October 2012