Around seventy people attended the inaugural meeting of London Respect in Conway Hall on July 19th. The meeting was Respect’s first major public event in the city for some time and was presented as relaunch of the party in the capital following George Galloway’s election victory in Bradford.
The meeting represented something of a shift in emphasis for Respect. Chair Andrew Burgin pointed to the emerging new left in Europe and said that this is where the organisation now wants to situate itself. Philippe Nadouce of the Front de Gauche squarely placed responsibility for austerity and the capitalist crisis on ideological driven right wingers who want to transfer states’ assets to the private sector. Sinn Fein’s Daithi Doolan explained how sharing power with the hard right, homophobic, creationist DUP is a transitional stage to an Irish socialist republic. Speaking for Syriza Dimitris Tzanakopoulos emphasised the importance of parties being integral to movements of struggle.
The political keynote speech for Respect was given by Kate Hudson who was also launching her new book The New European Left. Kate drew very similar conclusions about the need for working class parties to the left of Labour and social democracy that Socialist Resistance has been arguing for. The need for such parties, she argued, has been particularly necessary since the collapse of the Berlin Wall as many social-democratic parties and even some communist ones have embraced neo-liberalism, and that unity of the left was possible as to achieve this. She also argued that these parties be based on inflexibility on questions of principle; absolute opposition to capitalist austerity; no coalitions with parties that make cuts and the need for political pluralism inside these organisations. Salma Yaqoob announced at the meeting that Kate will be contesting a vacant parliamentary seat in November in Manchester and predicted that the result would be very close.
Since George Galloway’s election Respect has attracted some new members, a number of whom have real experience on the radical left. The challenge that now faces the party is how it makes itself attractive to activists and working class voters who want a party that articulates their own opposition to austerity, ecological destruction and imperialist war. The answer on offer in Conway Hall was that they should join Respect and that’s an answer that poses more questions than solutions.
We would agree with Kate that the need for a broad socialist party is as necessary in Britain as it is elsewhere. But the most successful experiences indicate that these parties were achieved by the coming together of several political forces working together over a period of time and attracting new militants. Respect should be part of a political recomposition to help achieve this.