Four Tower Hamlets Respect councillors resigned the Respect group whip last week.
They explained their position at a press conference on Monday.
The press conference was chaired by Kumar Murshid from Tower Hamlets Respect. Councillors Oliur Rahman, Lutfa Begum, and Ahmed Hussain spoke. Councillor Rania Khan sent her apologies.
In their joint statement resigning the group whip, Councillors Oliur Rahman, Lutfa Begum, Rania Khan and Ahmed Hussain, said, “We remain loyal Respect members and will participate in the council chambers and attend to the community in Tower Hamlets. We remain loyal to the original policies and principles on which Respect was founded.”
The councillors reiterated at the press conference that they are still members of Respect and acting as Respect councillors. They all spoke of their disappointment at the way the council group had been run and the leadership of the council group in particular.
They were asked if they had resigned the whip because the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) told them to, and all said no. Oliur Rahman said, “We haven't taken instruction from the SWP or George Galloway. It is all our own decision. I don’t like being told what to do.”
The issue of the “Respect Independent” label was raised. The councillors explained that this was a technical requirement in order for them to act as a group within the council. Indeed, they had insisted on Respect being kept as part of the name.
Both Kumar Murshid and Oliur Rahman asked that the press conference to focus on the issue of the councillors resigning the group whip, rather than national discussions in Respect.
Councillor Oliur Rahman was asked what his political differences were with George Galloway. He declined to discuss them, but said that they agreed on national and international issues.
Asked whether he was planning to stand in the parliamentary seat of Poplar and Limehouse, he responded that his current focus was his work as a local councillor and the run up to standing for the Greater London Authority (GLA) elections next May.
The issue of George Galloway’s declared interest in the seat was raised. Oliur replied that there had been no candidate selection meeting as Gordon Brown had not called a general election.
Pressed on whether he would contest the seat, he reiterated his commitment to next year's GLA election and representing his current constituents. He added, that it would make more sense to discuss this issue once a general election was called – whenever that was.
A journalist enquired if the councillors would be happy to call themselves SWP/Respect. They all said no and repeated that they were Respect councillors.
The issue of being 'Independent Respect' councillors was raised again. In response to a question directed at him, Respect National Secretary John Rees spoke from the floor, pointing out that the councillors had not resigned from Respect but merely the Tower Hamlets councillors’ whip. Therefore they could stand – if selected – as Respect candidates. That selection could be decided by the appropriate Respect groups – for instance at a London level for the GLA.
One journalist raised the question of the SWP leaving Respect. Asked if the SWP were splitting from Respect John Rees replied, “Of course not. We founded Respect along with others.”
When the idea of “a divorce” was ruled out the journalist said, “That isn’t what the other side are saying.”
Asked directly about George Galloway, John Rees pointed to George’s positive role as an anti-war MP and the role George and others had played in the campaign against stock transfer in Tower Hamlets.
He added that all the leading figures in Respect, including George Galloway, had been at the Stop the War conference over the weekend. And that unlike the recent Labour party conference, Respect members had the opportunity at their conference to discuss their differences.