“We are not only about elections, but the elections matter,” said Respect national secretary John Rees in the discussion on electoral strategy.
There followed a serious discussion which reflected both the areas where the organisation is particularly strong, such as east London and Birmingham, and those where it has not yet broken through at that level.
Abdul Khaliq Mian, who came second in the East Ham constituency at the general election, said Respect intends to challenge for all 60 council seats in the London borough of Newham.
Until recently all but one of those councillors had been New Labour. But after battling against Blairism for many years councillor Sarah Ruiz recently joined Respect.
“In May this year Abdul Khaliq Mian and Lindsey German showed us the way,” she said. “They showed us we can beat New Labour and gave us the impetus to work hard, knock on every door and stand in the local elections next year.
“The Tories and Liberal Democrats are a joke in east London. We are the only alternative to New Labour and I look forward to being joined by a considerable number of colleagues in May.”
A resolution from Newham put forward a strategy detailing how local branches should begin now to circulate material and build up support in areas where they intend to stand.
“We will be challenging for all 51 seats in Tower Hamlets,” said George Galloway. “And were we to win, we would put an end to the drive to hand over hundreds of millions of pounds of public assets in the form of council housing to unelected housing associations and private companies.
“We are about making a difference. In some wards in Britain 300 or 400 votes are enough to win a seat. In others 800 virtually guarantees winning a seat. So every vote really does count.”
Outside areas such as Tower Hamlets and Newham the focus must be on carefully targeting resources.
“We are not in the game of standing for propaganda purposes,” said John Rees. “We won in Bethnal Green & Bow because we had built up networks of support.
“We handed out three newsletters to every household in the constituency, each of four pages, in the course of the campaign. We knocked on every door twice and spoke to 20,000 people. If the choice in your area is between doing that kind of operation in one ward or failing to do it in more than one, then don’t stand in more than one.
“Ask yourself what’s better on election night — to have come second or third in three wards, or to have won in one.”
That approach was endorsed unanimously. Within the conference and in informal discussions there was widespread recognition that starting with even one Respect councillor, as in Preston, means the organisation has a significant impact in local campaigns.