Dead Men Left

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

May next year almost upon us

George Galloway, writing in Socialist Worker this week, makes two important points. The first:

I am honoured to accept the nomination from Respect in east London to stand as the candidate in the next general election in the seat of Bethnal Green & Bow.

One hundred years ago a new force broke through in London’s East End.

It shattered the stranglehold of the Liberals and said that working people, who create the wealth and provide every service, deserve their own, independent political voice.

Today we in Respect are saying the same as Keir Hardie and the Labour pioneers back then.

They too were attacked for building a political movement in the poverty-stricken streets of east London and also among immigrants—Jewish people from Eastern Europe.

Keir Hardie’s movement aimed to represent all working people, and that’s true of us.

But just as the left was proud to stand up for the Jews of east London a century ago, so are we proud of the support and affection held for us in the hearts of the Muslim population of east London.

Oona King, currently MP for Galloway's target seat in Bethnal Green and Bow, has, of late, been shameless indulging in "communalist" politics, sending Eid greetings cards to members of her constituency Labour Party with "Muslim-sounding" names. The stunt backfired, obviously. On the other side, there has been something a little peculiar in the discounting of Respect's support, amongst some on the Left, as being only "amongst Muslims": as if Muslim votes counted for less. In contrast, Respect has always had a very clear position on its support for the most oppressed: rather than shoddy political tricks, or equally shoddy demands for secularims, I'm rather pleased that we've offered a consistent socialist platform that aims to tackle not just the overt Islamophobia British Muslims face but to address some of its root causes: namely, the "war on terror", the disintegration of public services, and the widening inequality.

Galloway's second point:

Respect has already had considerable success. We were only 20 weeks old at the 10 June elections when we topped the poll in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets.

We came second in the neighbouring borough of Newham, but were first in 40 percent of the wards in that borough too.

No one should take success at next May’s expected general election for granted.


The 10 June elections revealed concentrations of support for Respect, even though we were all but ignored by the media. Our strategy for the general election needs to take account of that.

Our recent conference discussed how we can make an impact on what will otherwise be a tediously dull event by concentrating our forces.

I think of it as three concentric circles. First, there are those seats where we have a definite chance, in east London and in Birmingham.

Second, there are some seats where our intervention can have a decisive impact in turfing out the most hated New Labour warmongers and privatisers.

Third, we may decide to stand in a few areas not covered by the above, but where we can focus our supporters.

Urgent discussions will be taking place in Respect nationally and in local groups over the coming weeks to identify where to stand.

Of course, this does not mean Respect will be limited to only those areas.

We are enjoying a series of successful local events. These are vital to building up the base of the organisation.

This is a move away from the propagandistic politics of standing everywhere - even in no-hope seats - to make a political point. Respect - indeed, the entire British Left - cannot afford to continue the run of 1% or 2% results: the only "point" such things make is how weak electorally we are: and it is to electoral politics that most people will look first to judge us. I'm reasonably confident, proceeding on the lines agreed at conference, and described by Galloway, that we are in with a fighting chance in a few areas.