Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Respect Has Had It's Time!

Respect' the party founded by the maverick MP George Galloway seems to have run it's sordid course, now heading to the waterfall's and subsequent decent ultimately crashing onto the rock's of vaporisation and oblivion.

The recent defection of yet another Tower Hamlets councillor from Galloway's side directly this time to New Labour is certainly the sour taste incarnate of reformism !
Of the four councillors who defected to the SWP Left List, one has gone to the Tories and the other three have moved over with Councillor Shahed Ali to New Labour, Cllr Ali was Respect deputy group leader in the Town hall and is said to have been Respects' strongest performer.

Businessman, restaurateur' and Tower Hamlets Respect chair Azmal Hussain said of the latest defection; "Respect election results in May and the ever-growing unpopularity of New Labour show we still stand a very good chance of getting New Labour out in 2010 taking both parliamentary seats and winning the council". However further investigation into the respect performance during the GLA elections tells a different story to the yarn spun by the Respect spin-doctors congregated around Galloway.
It's important to understand who this group are and note their Leninist vanguard pretensions; staring with Kevin Overden he's on the far left of the above photograph, walking along side Newham Cllr Hanif Abdulmuhit and Galloway, next to him is Carole Swords from Tower Hamlets. Kevin Overden along with Rob Hoveman work for Galloway as parliamentary assistants, both expelled from the SWP along with Nick Wrack the Respect National Secretary and incidentally brother of firefighters leader Mat Wrack.
Following the acrimonious separation from Respect of the SWP; Overden and Hoveman assumed a greater influence in the running of the project; I say project as it's not like any other political party in the sense that it has any rules or constitution and membership is open to other political groups like the International Socialist Group (ISG) who's leading members Alan Thornnet and John Lister both sit on the national council more or less favored for the time being by Galloway, others include Yvonne Ridley the journalist who made international headlines in 2001 when she was arrested by the Taliban after going on an undercover assignment in Afghanistan, released on humanitarian grounds after which she converted to Islam, amongst the other prominent members are film Director, Ken Loach and Journalist Victoria Britain.

Respects was only ever an election facility for the opportunist politician George Galloway, and his self-serving, self-seeking advancement. Whilst it is true that the SWP as always had their own agenda in partnering the venture i.e. the recruitment of new members to its own organization, it still remains the case that the Respect concept would not have been as successful without its active participation and manpower, indeed reward and recognition was given when Lindsey German became one of the East London Respect candidates in the 2005 General Election.

It's been subsequently claimed that Respect grew out of mass opposition to the war on Iraq, that it was not just an anti-war party, that it represents a comprehensive political alternative to New Labour and the other establishment parties. I would dispute the claim that Respect grew out of the opposition to war, and its an alternative to New Labour only in as far as occupying a different place on the ballot paper during elections other than that it supports a reformist agenda not to dissimilar to a manifesto that Tony Benn would have supported way back in the 70s and who has recently given support to the Tory David Davis's return to the Commons with his one-man crusade to protect civil liberties at the Haltemprice and Howden by-election.

The birth of Respect is far from organic or did it evolve from groups of individuals engaged in anti-war protest from around the country, instead it was the schemed creation of leading figures in Stop the War Coalition (StWC) namely George Galloway, Lindsey German and John Rees, the latter both leaders of the SWP whilst Galloway being recently expelled from the Labour Party agreed to start Respect the Unity Coalition, concentrating and targeting efforts in East London, in particular Tower Hamlets where in 2004 Oliur Rahman became Respect's fist ever elected councillor. Then in 2005 General Election Respect put up four candidates across East London, and Salama Yaqoob in Birmingham who is now one of three city councillors, she came very close to unseating Labour's Roger Godstiff MP in the Sparbrook and Small Heath constituency. In East London Galloway won Bethnal Green and Bow from New Labour's Oona King, with a majority of 823 becoming the first Respect MP. Since then Respect has won council seats in Tower Hamlets, Newham and Birmingham and recently contested elections to the London Assembly (GLA) only managing to stand in one constituency (City and East London), with Galloway heading a list of party candidate's on the London wide list. Attending a meeting regarding the election; I got the distinct impression that he (Galloway) was of the opinion that sufficient voters across London would vote for him and Respect, simply because he was heading the list, he boasted that one quarter of a million people tuned into his radio show every week and read his newspaper articles, how was he going to fail?

It soon became very apparent to me that this election was more to do with Galloway's ego and what seemed to be a desperate but miscalculated bid to be elected to the assembly. Meanwhile Cllr Hanif Abdulmuhit the City and East London candidate was merely nothing more than a support act, with this the deliberate intention on Galloway's part. However Cllr Hanif Abdulmuhit and his team in Newham intended to seriously contest the election, and that's what they did working round the clock for six weeks they raised thousands of pounds, delivered over 60,000 leaflet's and held a public meeting on child poverty, whilst Galloway travelled around London on an open deck bus handing out post cards proclaiming; "that what he had done in the US senate, he would do in city hall".

Originally Galloway proposed to field a "Progressive List" that would back Livingstone and in the Guardian he wrote "what London Needs is an assembly worthy of one of the world's greatest capitals. And one strong enough that the mayor would ignore it at his peril. That's why, I'm currently involved in trying to put together a progressive list for the May elections to renew London's democracy. I will be a candidate somewhere on that list myself! If I'm elected you can be sure Livingstone won't be able to ignore me!
The progressive list failed to materialise, it was rumored that approaches to organisations like Trade Unions and CPB had been made but with no common ground found, or did it have something to do with what Bob Crow of the RMT had to say on the 29 June, "what our members don't want to see is another Respect or Socialist Labour Party".
Cllr Ali on leaving Respect said; "the GLA elections came up, and once again Mr Galloway decided he was going to be heading the list. I don't know which meeting or what membership actually made that decision; I certainly wasn't part of it. And then they decided that they would be backing Ken Livingstone as well. All these decisions made by one individual or by the party? I felt really frustrated and by this time the GLA elections came round I had decided I had to get out".

Twelve years ago the then President of the NUM Arthur Scargill launched a new political party, the Socialist Labour Party, the first and only left wing breakaway from Labour at national level since the old ILP disaffiliated itself in 1932. Although smaller and still in existence and with Scargill as its leader some comparisons can be made in regard to Respect. First there's the top heavy leadership and control structure of both organisations with it's (Scargill and Galloway) domineering cult personality disorder, inflexible and maladaptive patterns of behaviour. Another similarity is the use and involvement of Trotskyite, Leninist groups and activists to start up the organisations until it was time to purge them from the membership one way or another so as to have total control.

And then there's the 'Reformist' pipe dream which Labour once held close to it's bosom, that the effects of capitalism can be overcome by state intervention if resolute and far-reaching. In it's 2005 manifesto introduction 'Against War And Privation' Respect called for the organisation of society in the most open, democratic, participative, and accountable way practicable based on common ownership and democratic control.

The fact is that you can't change the black spots of a leopard, its been proven no matter how hard you try to buck the capitalist system by choosing to work within it - as the the Labour Party has always done and as Scargill and now Galloway says Respect will be doing-then you have to accept that that profits have to be made and that profit-making has to be given priority over meeting peoples needs. Unemployment, poverty, bad housing and inadequate heath service cannot be solved within the capitalist system, not even by the most ruthless left of New Labour governments. Only the establishment of a socialist society of common ownership and democratic control with production solely for use can provide the framework for solving these problems.

Winning a seat in parliament these days is a bit like winning the lottery. MPs like Galloway have a pay package worth quarter of a million pounds. On top of that they can rake in a fortune from second homes and first class travel expenses.Many put their relatives on the payroll and have other jobs like presenting TV and radio shows or consultancies with banks and private company's in the city. In the words of Harold Macmillan "they've never had it so good". What has become known as the Westminster village one thing in particular has struck me - the vast gulf between the Westminster village bubble and the real world, its not, or has it ever been the place where careerist politicians like Galloway, grow a spine attached to there heads and stand up firmly for what the vast majority need a peaceful, democratic society serving the welfare of all its members by ensuring that we have no worries over satisfying our material needs.

This post on my blog has been sent out to various members of Respect; so please feel free to post a reply ?

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