Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Look, I don't want to spend my time writing posts about the crisis in Respect, even though the argument is already spiralling out into the stratosphere (thence, appropriately regurgitated by lunatics) because I want to see that crisis resolved. The only way it can be resolved is at the National Conference where issues are debated and voted on. That is the proper way to conduct this discussion. Unfortunately, from the start, the issue has been characterised by leaks, and at that leaks of inflammatory claims designed to polarise the debate rather than pacify it. In particular, certain blogs have been supplied with daily, inaccurate ballast. So, against the slogan "Let the Bloggers Decide", the correct and more obvious slogan would be "Let the Members Decide". Unfortunately, not all share this view. I received in my inbox an e-mail sent from the national office of Respect claiming that the SWP were splitting from Respect: quite why we should wish to do so when we think we can win the members on this question is mysterious to me, but the claim was flatly false, and relied on fictitious quotes from the National Secretary (who, while he is routinely attacked, oversaw some of Respect's most successful campaigns and also worked energetically to defend George Galloway from attack when the media were out for his blood over Big Brother). The Morning Star's report of the press conference in question correctly recorded that when asked whether the Socialist Workers Party would split from Respect, John Rees said: "Of course not. We founded Respect - with others." The SWP are not considering a split. It was also alleged that the SWP would consider standing candidates against Respect, which is also false. Aside from the signatories to this remarkable falsification (in truth, I doubt many of them had even read it or knew much about it), there were contact details for some people who used to be members of the SWP.

Why should this be? Why should it be that unambiguously untrue claims are being bruited by an official spokesman for George Galloway MP, who after all knows a thing or two about being lied about? Why try to declare a de facto split (in fact, an attempted mass expulsion based on a minority's say-so), I can only conclude that it is because some fear that the SWP may in fact win the argument at the National Conference. The recent Tower Hamlets meeting of Respect that precipitated the decision of a number of Respect councillors to resign the whip is a case in point. The reason given for resigning the whip was the appalling behaviour of Tower Hamlets chair and George Galloway's ally Azmal Hussain, who, having been unable to win more than a small minority for a resolution on conference delegates, abruptly terminated the meeting and left, insisting that everyone else evacuate the building. There had been an attempt by some people to prevent the entry of a number of Bengali women to the meeting, despite the fact that they were members (ie, no one had to buy their membership en masse that night). So, it being decided that a) the refusal to vote on all motions or even to inform people on what they were voting for was a flagrant breach of the democratic norms of the labour movement, and b) Abjol Miah's claimed refusal to work with others was obviously a huge and unfortunate obstacle to cooperation (consider this a 'circular argument'), four councillors including Oliur Rahman decided to resign the whip. (The claim that Miah cannot work with others has apparently produced a threat of legal action). Now, whatever else may be said about this decision, this kind of thing is a reality in UK politics: people resign the whip of a parliamentary or representative group when they can no longer abide its position. It is a decisive gesture, but it is not a repudiation of the party. However, it was then decided by Mr Hussain, in a fashion entirely external to normal constitutional procedures, that this amounted to self-expulsion. Having lost the argument and wrecked the meeting, it seemed to Mr Galloway's supporters that the constitution of Respect could be dispensed with at will.

Of course, it is true that in a coalition like Respect, people have different visions and ideas about how to win important political struggles. But what unites us, aside from our constitution, are the positions agreed in our democratic structures. The attempt to sidestep these is surely indicative of a deep-seated fear of losing the argument.