Around 80 Respect supporters in Tower Hamlets, east London met on Monday of this week to discuss the way forward for the organisation in the wake of George Galloway’s decision to split.
London mayoral candidate Lindsey German and local Respect councillors Oliur Rahman and Rania Khan spoke to outline their vision for Respect.
“I joined Respect straight after its birth and spent two years building it,” said Rania Khan. “It’s still the only party that stands against the war and for anti-capitalism, that fights with trade unions and grassroots organisations for community justice.
“But some people have been using Respect as a platform for their own selfish ambitions and have become career politicians.
“Others don’t want to see what’s happening and I don’t understand why.
“People used to tell me that politics was a dirty business – and I can see why they say that now. But Respect wasn’t like that when I joined, and I’m determined that we can now go back to how it was originally.
“My vision for Respect is about Muslims, non-Muslims, black, white, socialist, everyone – all united, fighting together for peace, justice and equality, fighting against oppression in this community and across the world.”
The discussion that followed – conducted in English and Bengali – saw contributions from a wide variety of people who live or work in Tower Hamlets.
Several people put forward issues and campaigns that Respect should take up.
There was also discussion of plans to build the London Assembly and mayoral election campaigns in the area.
Many pointed out that our vision for Respect should be an optimistic one that reaches out to all elements of the working class, rather than the pessimism of narrowing the focus of Respect to one particular section of one particular community.
Some people said they were angry and disoriented by what had happened.
“I’m really upset that this schism has erupted out of nowhere,” said Bodrul Islam, a local Respect supporter. “I subscribe to the view that there is a real gap to the left of Labour.
“But my concern is what does this split mean pragmatically?
“Will there be a Respect from one side fighting another Respect from the other? And Galloway has got the recognition – how do we deal with that?”
Others responded by pointing out that Respect had made its initial breakthrough in Tower Hamlets before Galloway had arrived on the scene – and that Respect’s reputation ultimately rests on activists campaigning on the ground over housing, health, education and the war.
Graham Mantle from the Poplar Harca residents’ association spoke about how he helped campaign to get Rania elected in Bromley-by-Bow. “We voted for this Respect in here – this is the party we support, not the hijackers,” he said.
Local teacher Sheila McGregor talked about the importance of hard-hitting campaigns on wider issues such as the threats against Iran.
She was cheered when she called for the resignation of Metropolitan Police chief Ian Blair over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.
After the meeting many people commented that it had been one of the biggest, most vibrant and most politically serious gatherings of local people seen in Tower Hamlets recently – and how it had inspired them as to what Respect could achieve.
Over 80 people attended a Respect meeting in Islington last week to launch the London Assembly and mayoral election campaign in north east London.
Respect’s mayoral candidate Lindsey German outlined some of the key issues for London, spelling out Respect’s vision on public transport, combatting racism and on issues around young people.
She also explained why supporters of George Galloway had split to call a separate conference in opposition to Respect’s annual delegate conference.
In the discussion, many emphasised the need for Respect to remain a principled organisation that campaigns over working class issues.
Several people raised issues around cuts and privatisation in education and mental health services.
The impact of the Olympics on arts funding and local facilities was another concern raised from the floor.
Councillor Oliur Rahman from Tower Hamlets pointed out that New Labour politicians complain about young people but don’t ever go and talk to them about their concerns.