Saturday, February 2, 2008

Respect GLA election bid

On Thursday I went to the SWP-Respect's pre-election rally and candidate selection meeting with my comrade Martin Thomas. Although the purpose of the event was supposedly to choose Respect's candidates for the Greater London Assembly list, there was no hustings, the scope of the meeting confined to a long series of speeches from SWP-Respect leaders to fill time as people filled out their ballots.

Just 15 minutes was allowed for "debate", during which time only one contribution from the floor, by leading SWP teacher Sean Purnell, was permitted to speak. No discussion or dissent was allowed to rock the boat.

The SWP-Respect have obviously been shaken by the split with Galloway and his allies, and seemed barely able to bring themselves to refer to their rival "Respect Renewal" by name. Oli Rahman (a leading Respect councillor - not a member of the SWP) said that the party is "psychologically and physically stronger than the other side" and alleged that, far from losing support since the split, SWP-Respect was going from strength to strength. Yet mayoral candidate Lindsey German and SWP leader John Rees' call for the assembled activists to work harder, campaign more and sign up members carried a tone of desperation rather than optimism.

Only around 150 people had attended the meeting, almost exclusively members of the Socialist Workers' Party. Attempting to save face after Galloway's departure, the SWP leadership seem happy to maintain the illusion that Lindsey German might be elected to the GLA, even though this is patently impossible as Respect's, and indeed the SWP's, activist base has narrowed and its support in East End mosques has collapsed.

Rees, German et al are throwing money, resources and their members' efforts into a futile campaign, and at the same time are too prim and sectarian to make a turn to the rest of the left or the broader labour movement. The SWP moved to stop the RMT railworkers' union from standing a slate. Calling for the organisation to give up this ridiculous charade, Martin Thomas and I handed out the following leaflet;

On Thursday 27 September the London Transport Regional Council of the rail union RMT voted to call on the union to "draw up lists of candidates to stand in the London mayoral elections and GLA elections in 2008.

"These lists should be drawn from RMT members, socialists, anti-capitalists, local campaign groups, etc...[and] speak to the many different issues facing workers, working-class communities and oppressed groups in London, such as education, the health service, housing, a living wage and trade union rights - while of course making the demand for a 100% publicly owned, democratically controlled, integrated and cheap public transport system central".

In the event, the RMT union executive decided not to go ahead with the plan. It concluded that there wasn't enough momentum of support from the labour movement and left.

Part of the reason is that there had been a vocal minority in the Regional Council arguing against the RMT initiating a list. That minority was led by the SWP, saying that the electoral arena was already "full up" because of Respect's plans to stand.

In the wake of the Galloway split, Respect should reconsider this stance.

It should approach the RMT, say that it was wrong back in September, and ask the RMT executive to reconsider the issue on the basis that Respect and the SWP will participate in a joint list energetically and enthusiastically.

It should put out an appeal to other trade-union and left organisations to join in this call on the RMT to reconsider.

Respect should do this:

* Because it is the right thing. Trade-unionists striving to regain a political voice after the disenfranchisement which New Labour has forced on them should be supported and encouraged, not opposed.
* Because it would open the possibility of a genuine broad working-class and left-wing challenge (within which, of course, Marxists could make clear their own ideas). Realistically, a Respect-only effort will amount to the SWP and a few allies "pretending" to be a broad front, and thus have as its main result only a blurring of socialist political profile.
* Because it would win more support against Livingstone and New Labour.
* Because it would turn Respect in the direction of a proper left-wing and working-class alliance - a fresh direction after the debacle of the alliance with Galloway to develop a "party for Muslims" (as Respect described itself in 2004 election leaflets).
* Because a Mayor/GLA challenge will cost about £30,000. To do it just as a publicity stunt is not a good use of resources.

Lindsay German was right to restate the need for a left challenge to Ken Livingstone. Contrast George Galloway's defence of "Red Ken" (as he still calls him) and his appeal for a "Progressive List" (the title the Liberals formerly used in local government) on the vaguest basis to contest GLA seats but back Livingstone.

But let's do the job seriously, on a genuine working-class and socialist basis.

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