:: Friday, July 30, 2004 ::

Respect wins council seat

From the Respect Website RESPECT - The Unity Coalition - Respect reports

Oliur Rahman has won the St Dunstan's and Stepney Green ward by-election to gain a place on Tower Hamlets Council.

Oliur Rahman, Respect - 878
Jalal Uddin, Liberal Democrats - 754
Shah Habibur Rahman, Labour - 578
Alexander Patrick Story, Conservative - 445
Lynda Miller, National Front - 172


This is good news for the controversial Respect Coalition although it will cause apoplexy amongst the liberal imperialists and ultra-secularists. There is no doubt that Respect has cast a broader net than the Socialist Alliance before it did. It has become an all-embracing anti-war party and as such has particularly gained ground amongst muslim voters. This in itself is no bad thing, the left in Britain has never been good at connecting with black and asian voters. What will be interesting to see is if Respect can play a part in the development of a bigger and stronger socialist party in conjunction with the rest of the socialist left and the trade unions.

For more debate on the future of the left see the new article The European Elections and the Anti-Capitalist Left at Frontline's website. It is a reply to another recent article by Alex Callinicos of the SWP and takes up the question of Respect, the SSP and what kind of party we need today.


:: Alister | 11:05 am | save this page to del.icio.us Save This Page | permalink⊕ | |

15 Comments:

It's a good resuly, obviously, and I agree broadly with your assesment; I think the main problem Respect has is in moving beyond the "anti-war party" tag - of course we're anti-war, but unless it becomes pretty clear we're about anything else, it's not going to reach its potential. I think our voters are already treating it as an "anti-war plus" party, or they presumably they wouldn't vote for us in FPTP elections, but we've got to seriously crack into the trade unions, the white council estates, and so on... (the SSP are a long way ahead of us here.)

By Blogger Meaders, at 11:53 am  

I agree with James' points above in general, but the campaign we fought in East London for this by-election was much broader than simply the war.

What is interesting though is that all the other parties (with the exception of the Nazis) campaigned around the war as well. (Labour even claimed on one leaflet that their's was the only anti-war candidate)

Labour lost for two reasons, the crisis around the war and because of what the Labour council has been doing (and the alleged corruption that forced the councillor to resign).

The issues Respect addressed - housing, PFI in education and local amenities, as well as the war, are what lost Labour the election.

Having a candidate that knew the area, was an active trade unionist and well known local campaigner is what enabled us to beat the Liberals.

Finally, having a campaign that involved many people from all sections of the community and addressing the real concerns of local people are what gave us victory.

By Blogger RC, at 1:42 pm  

I don't want bullshit here, but can anyone tell me, in non-patronising terms please cos I like to think of myself as being semi-intelligent, what is so "left wing" and progressive about a coalition that contains as one of its main constituent parts an anti-materialist single-faith religious lobby?
There wouldn't be a whiff of opportunism here by any chance, would there? It's just that the SWP are involved........

By Blogger Reidski, at 11:23 pm  

Speaking as a relatively unbiased outsider, the answer is it doesn't. The Muslim Association of Britain decided not to become a formal part of Respect. It did recommend a vote for Respect in 3 regions. Elsewhere it recommended votes for other parties, who had opposed the Iraq war.
There is only a small MAB presence in Scotland, but in Edinburgh the Muslim Voting Council recommended votes for the SSP on the list and the SNP in the FPTP section of the vote for the Scottish Parliament. It didn't make it an affiliate of either.
That is not to dodge the issue of whether Respect is appealing to a "communalist" vote. Whilst this phrase implies a conflict between ethnicity's which I am sure Respect are not involved in, they do need to begin to win over white working class areas too. Poor white people and poor black and asian people have the same essential problems and Respect could be well placed to take up a common fight over issues like the council tax, housing etc. It does need to fight over the smaller local issues as well as the big questions of war. From what other commentators have said it seems that this was a factor in the Stepney win.

By Blogger Alister, at 10:05 am  

The main issue here is that, generally speaking, the trade union and labour movement hasn't touched Respect with a barge pole for a very simple reason and it is what I mentioned above - opportunism.
And also because they have as much to say about class politics as the queen mum! But, then again, not many on the left (whatever that means) actually discuss economics and redistribution of wealth these days.

By Blogger Reidski, at 9:01 pm  

Not so much "opportunism", as various union leaderships being quite painfully, embarrassingly tied to New Labour - hence all that excitable crowing recently about Blair's supposedly big climbdown. Tony Woodley et al base their entire hopes on either "reclaiming" the Labour Party for the left, or, failing that, on appealing to New Labour's better nature for concessions.

Where unions have democratised their political funds - that is, where they are not simply handing over the whole lot to the Labour Party - it is noticeable that individual branches have been keen to support Respect. The various RMT and FBU branches (and the solitary CWU branch) now offering support are indicative of that. (Details on the Respect website.) This is, however, only individual branches: both FBU and RMT leaderships remain very quiet about the whole thing.

As for class politics: have a look at the founding declaration. On all the electoral publicity I've seen (which I think is quite bit by now), Respect describes itself as a socialist organisation, and generally it reproduces in condensed form that declaration. (Detailed policy is somewhat dependent on Respect's first conference, in October.)

By Blogger Meaders, at 8:29 pm  

What a load of old bollocks. One or two individual branches supporting some bullshit organisation does not mean mass sympathy which has only been denied on account of "the leadership" you stupid idiot. And again, I ask, what is "socialist" or "left wing" about a coalition that has at its core an anti-materialist religious group. Why the fascination with Muslims? Why the fascination with any religious group whatsoever.

By Blogger Reidski, at 8:42 am  

Mass sympathy hasn't only been denied because of union leadership - clearly, very large numbers of workers continue - and will continue for some time - to look to Labour (even New Labour) as their political home. However, it is significant that where it has been possible for union branches to support Respect, that support has been forthcoming in some cases. This is something the Left has never been able to achieve before. If you want an immediate explanation as to why more obvious union support has not come forward (seven months after Respect's launch...), then the rampantly Labour-til-I-die sympathies of the union leaderships are the place to start looking.

There is no "anti-materialist religious group" at the core of Respect: MAB did not join, no other Muslim group has. The platform Respect presented was quite clearly based on class politics (go and check the founding declaration, if you like): if someone is a Muslim, it does not preclude them also being a socialist (maybe not a Marxist, but a socialist nonetheless). I'm proud of the support Respect has received from Muslims (an overwhelmingly working class constituency, by the way) because they are the single most overtly oppressed group in Britsh society, and I'm glad Respect has taken its socialist commitment to anti-racism seriously. If we can win large chunks of Labour's inner-city votes over to a radical alternative, this is progress; a significant break with Labour does not necessarily occur on distinct class lines - I would be surprised if it did, as it would make socialists' jobs enormously easier - but has taken place in elements of that class. The challenge now (as Alister points out) is to pull further sections of the working class towards a left alternative to Labour.

By Blogger Meaders, at 9:50 am  

"The single most overtly oppressed group in British society"! Says who, is there some sort of league table of oppression that's been published?
"An overwhelmingly working class constituency, by the way"! So give us the figures for those muslims in England and Wales (cause that is what we are discussing here) who exploit labour and those who sell their labour and show me how this makes muslims "more" working class than the rest of us?
"Socialist commitment to anti racism". Why put the tag socialist on any fight against racism. Yes, capitalism breeds racism, but you don't have to prove any socialist credentials to fight the scourge of racism. I've been involved in single issue anti-racist groups with people who are far from being socialist - including people from many different religions - but it wasn't their ideologies or religions that were important, rather it was their willingess to fight racism.
"The challenge now". For whom? Certainly not I.
And, before I sign off, what is the reference to "ultra secularists" in the main post here?
A traditional left demand was always for a secular state with a secular education system. Of course, the SSP has one again distanced itself from such demands as a result of its new-found love affair with the catholic school system. And what was the reason given during the conference debate on this one? Along the lines of: "coz if we don't, we'll lose votes." High principles indeed.

By Blogger Reidski, at 5:36 pm  

"More oppressed": Who have been the main targets, since the declaration of the "war on terror", for harassment by everyone from Blunkett downwards? Who are at the most risk of being dragged out of their bed by the cops in a dawn raid? Check the Runymede Trust's inquiry (summarised here) on the rise in Islamophobia, if you like.

You don't have to be a Muslim to be face this sort of abuse; simply looking like you might be is enough - look at the huge increase in stop and searches for British Asians relative to the rest of the population (up 41% over the last year) - which does illustrate the need for unity here. And no, there's no index of oppression. In the case of Islamophobia, you don't need one - it's quite clear what's going on.

"More working class": if you face all this systematic discrimination, you're going to find it damn hard to become director of ICI or whatever. The ODPM's "Neighbourhood Renewal Unit" reckons 70% of all English ethnic minority residents live in the country's 88 most deprived wards; equivalent for the white population is 37%. If you're not white, you're more likely to be working class - significantly so. This applies to British Muslims (overwhelmingly not white) just as much as any other group facing racism; with the addition of the Islamophobia generated by the "war on terror", the evidence is pretty clear. (I've not seen any figures on Muslims specifically, but I will be absolutely confident and say that they do not buck the general trend for all non-white groups in England and Wales.) The real point is that someone who says they are a Muslim can also be a worker; despite harrumphing from certain quarters, any individual Muslim is much more likely to be a worker relative to the white population. (This doesn't mean some aren't company directors or something, just that a few exceptions don't buck the general trend.) Working class Muslims in England and Wales are the section of that working class that has broken most decisively with Labour. "The challenge" for Respect is build out from that into a mass working class base.

"Anti-racist": absolutely right it's possible to anti-racist and not a socialist. But you'd be a pretty crap socialist if you weren't anti-racist, and if a large group in British society is facing the sort of discrimination Muslims do face, you do what you can to combat it as part of a principled socialist programme.

By Blogger Meaders, at 8:49 pm  

James, dear boy, you really do get yourself into a tizzy. Maybe if you spent more time fighting racism and less time selling newspapers the world would be a better place. And if you spent more time fighting for a secularist society rather than defending the religious "rights" of one religious group the world would be an even better place.
When the founders of Respect - Galloway, German, Rees, et al - sent out the initial invitations - did they also go to the catholic church, the church of england and sikh, jewish, hindu and buddhist organisations? Don't bother posting a comment, because I can presume the answer will be in the negative.
As I said, opportunism!

By Blogger Reidski, at 8:56 am  

"Of course, the SSP has one again distanced itself from such demands as a result of its new-found love affair with the catholic school system."

Dude, you obviously didn't read Tommy Sheridan's column in the Scottish Daily Mirror a couple of weeks ago.

By Blogger Alister, at 10:18 am  

("Don't bother posting"?) Opportunism, or principled anti-racism? I'm extremely suspicious of appeals to abstract "secularism" when women's rights in France are being denied under this guise; any real secularism means the right to follow or not follow whatever religious beliefs you may or may not hold. (As for "other religions": you know, I think we actually had a Black vicar standing in north-west London, tsk tsk... whatever would fine socialists like - to pick a completely random example - James Connolly say?)

Respect stands on a clear socialist platform and wins highly significant support from a section of the working class in this country that has broken with Labour like no other - a section, incidentally, that's currently under a barrage of essentially racist abuse - for which support it is then criticised. Go figure.

By Blogger Meaders, at 10:32 am  

I'm resorting to name-calling. You're a tosser, James.
And, as for Tommy's article, didn't see it, but is this the way the SSP changes its policies, through newspapers like the Daily Hun, rather than debating them at your conference?

By Blogger Reidski, at 3:15 pm  

Sorry, but I cannot let go of you liberals for some reason.
Jamesy, honey, this religious thing has gone to your head. You are now seriously telling us what the likes of James Connolly would be saying if they were alive today. I used to be like that - coming out with bollocks about what Marx or Lenin or whatever dead decent philosopher would be up to should they have lived in our times. I was, like you James, incredibly stupid. Crystal ball political philosophising indeed.
I think you should leave this thread to Alister, cos, unlike you , I imagine that he doesn't work in the public sector enjoying quite decent terms and conditions or still a student with his upper middle-class parents funding him through his life.
You do love your identity politics, don't you? I thought we had got rid of all that individualist anti-class bollox with the demise of Eurocommunism, but obviously not.

By Blogger Reidski, at 12:39 am  

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