"Tower Hamlets Respect hosted its first public meeting since George Galloway's followers changed the locks on our constituency office, effectively splitting the organisation. Around 80 people packed into the historic Kingsley Hall - Gandhi's home on his visit to East London - in the middle of councillor Rania Khan's ward, to hear her and councillor Oliur Rahman, alongside Respect mayoral candidate Lindsey German, described their vision for Respect. Former advisor to Ken Livingstone, and former senior Labour councillor, Kumar Murshid, made an excellent chair - something Tower Hamlets Respect had unfortunately not seen during recent misrule. Equally it was a pleasure to attend a meeting where young Bengali women were not barracked and harrassed at the door.
"I was reminded of the first meetings Respect had in the area, and it was a relief - another sign that those members of Respect supporting democracy are gaining the upper hand in Tower Hamlets. The atmosphere was electric. Rumours had been circulated by George Galloway's followers that our meeting was cancelled, apparently making the extraordinary claim that councillors could not hold public meetings in their own wards! But nontheless, we packed the Hall to the rafters with local residents (the estates next to the hall had been leafletted over the weekend), trade unionists, community activists and Respect members, old and new.
"Oli, Rania and Lindsey all laid out their vision for Respect as a democratic, plural organisation of the Left, as it was when the organisation was launched four years ago. Councillor Rahman's speech was particularly impressive: having been attacked, within yards of his own home, by unkown assailants the night before, he assured us that the threatening emails, the sinister phone calls and now the apparent physical assaults would not deter him. Contributions from the floor showed the impressive range of political forces Respect has been able to mobilise locally: an FBU member from Whitechapel talked, with regret, about how Galloway had 'cut himself off' from the working class locally; a local teacher described the area's anti-fascist traditions, and how fighting the BNP in the early 1990s had paved the way for Respect today. It was reminder of just how far we've travelled, whatever the current difficulties. The audience was around 50% Bengali, 50% everyone else. Someone had the bright idea of phoning Bangla TV when they realised the meeting was a success, so they turned up and filmed the last twenty minutes or so.
"A few questions were rightly raised about where Respect should go now. There was a general sadness that it should've come to this sorry situation, but it was impossible not to feel a little more optimistic afterwards. Plans were made to launch a series of local meetings, across the borough, reaching places we've never really touched before, and to mobilise as many observers as we could for the democratic Respect conference on 17 November.
"We're not out of the woods yet. But the momentum in Tower Hamlets is shifting towards those who support the original Respect vision of an organisation that fights for peace and social justice."
About the attack on Oli Rahman, I can furnish the following details: three men kicked Oli to the ground, tearing his clothes and inflicting internal bruising last night, outside his home. Some weeks ago, Oli's windows were bricked. Separately, a threatening e-mail has been sent to Respect member Mehdi Hassan, which is as follows:
Date: Sat, 10 Nov 2007 17:16:02 +0000
Subject: (no subject)
medi you and fucking oli are traitors you owe your careers to george,
without george you will all be signing on soon and if i see the pair of you im
gonna kick the shit out of you both.
I don't know exactly what this thuggishness is supposed to achieve or who is behind it, but it doesn't exactly point to confidence in open argument and debate. But then, that hasn't exactly been abundantly in evidence from day one of this dispute.