George Galloway MP opened the launch rally for his Respect Renewal organisation with personal attacks on John Rees, the national secretary of Respect, and Lindsey German, Respect candidate for London mayor and convenor of the Stop the War Coalition.
Both are members of the central committee of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP).
The rally was called on Saturday to clash with Respect's annual delegate conference in central London. Some 250 people attended the Respect Renewal event in Bishopsgate, east London. Cards to join the new Respect Renewal organisation were placed on every seat.
In an often vitriolic speech Galloway defended himself against accusations that he represented a “right wing” within Respect, and accused the SWP of being hostile to “those closest to you, but over whom you have no control”.
He continued, “It is undignified to slander those with whom you had close relations” and declared he would no longer mention the letters S W P again, before launching into a renewed attack on the organisation that helped to found the coalition.
He accused John Rees of “driving away members” and running “a pure sect” that wanted to dominate Respect.
Addressing members of the SWP who had come to the rally to put the case for unity, he said, “This central committee of yours is out to destroy the SWP in order to protect their own positions”.
He said ordinary members of the SWP “have been deceived by the leadership' over disagreements in Respect and described those who remained part of the official Respect coalition as “juvenile dwarfs”.
Linda Smith, the former chair of Respect and now part of the split, declared in her opening statement to the rally that the Respect Renewal group would not recognise the decisions taken by the elected delegates at the official conference.
Nick Wrack, a former member of the Respect national committee, said that they would challenge for the right to the name Respect “in other arenas”. He did not specify what these would be.
Many of the contributions from the floor accused the SWP of “attempting to dominate Respect”, while others claimed that the party did not “put in enough resources” and “did not take the project seriously”. One contributor went as far as to say she would rather vote for Tory Boris Johnson than Lindsey German in London's mayoral election next May.
The rally was divided into three sessions, all dominated by platform speakers. No resolutions were presented and there was no vote on any question of policy.
A decision to launch a “Respect newspaper” was announced, following a declaration by the editor of the monthly Socialist Resistance paper that they would hand over the resources that had been producing their publication to Respect Renewal.
There were, however, voices of moderation. Some speakers from the floor were at pains to point out that – despite the split – they would continue to work alongside Respect and the SWP. Many pledged support for victimised health worker Karen Reissmann and others talked of continuing to organise together in the anti-war movement.
Unfortunately the desire to keep working with Respect and the SWP was not repeated from the platform.
Andrew Murray, the chair of the Stop the War Coalition was invited to address the rally. He called for unity on the left and praised John Rees and Lindsey German for their outstanding contribution to building the movement against the war. He cautioned against bringing the disagreements in Respect into the Stop the War Coalition.