Respect - The Unity Coalition

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RESPECT The Unity Coalition
Image:Respect logo.png
Leader John Rees (National Secretary)
Founded 25 January, 2004
Headquarters 9 Club Row
Whitechapel
London
E1 6JX 1
Political Ideology Socialism, Environmentalism
Political Position Left Wing
International Affiliation none
European Affiliation European Anticapitalist Left
European Parliament Group n/a
Colours Red/Green
Website www.respectcoalition.org
See also Politics of the UK

Political parties
Elections

RESPECT The Unity Coalition is a left wing political party in England and Wales founded on January 25, 2004 in London. Its name is a pseudo-recursive backronym standing for Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environmentalism, Community, and Trade Unionism. It is often referred to simply as Respect or as the Respect Party.

Contents

[edit] Policies

Many mainstream commentators present Respect as a single-issue party focusing on its opposition to the war in Iraq. However, it claims to "provide a broad-based and inclusive alternative to the parties of privatisation, war, and occupation" and have a broad progressive agenda.

Some of the policies on which it has also campaigned include:

Image:GhaziandBlair.jpg
Respect Candidate, Ghazi Khan with someone dressed as Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, at the 18th March Anti-War Protest in London
  • The repeal of the industrial relations legislation brought in by the Conservative Party in the 1980s.
  • The defence of the rights of refugees and other asylum-seekers.
  • Opposition to the "stability pact" that the European Union seeks to impose on all those who join the euro.
  • Support for the Palestinian people and ending British tolerance of various Israeli policies regarding the Palestinians.
  • Support for Kashmiri self-determination and recognition of the status of Kashmir as an unresolved or "Unfinished business of Partition" or a merger with unionist Pakistan[citation needed].
  • Support for the British environmental movement.

In their founding constitution the founding parties state their overall aim as to "help create a socially just and ecologically sustainable society", giving a definition of social justice that includes "the organisation of society in the most open, participative, and accountable way practicable based on common ownership and democratic control"[1]

[edit] Composition

Image:Respect ESF Fringe meeting.jpg
Respect fringe meeting at the 2004 ESF

Respect allows its members to hold membership of other political organisations.
It includes:

Other notable supporters include:

The coalition also has the support of:

Respect co-initiator George Monbiot, a left-wing writer and activist, resigned from Respect before its launch, because Respect intended to stand members of its party against existing Green Party members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Respect had offered to form a pact with the Green Party to stand down in each other's favoured seats, but this was rejected by the Greens. This may have proved problematic as both groups favoured standing in London, where Respect has received its highest votes and the Green Party holds seats.

For the 2004 Euro elections, an attempt was made by Respect to present a joint slate with the Green Party as articulated in a letter by Michael Lavalette in the Guardian (5 May 2005). However, the response from Prof John Whitelegg (Guardian, May 6 2004) claims that this would not have been legally possible as electoral law does not allow for joint slates. The Greens have also said that they had selected their candidates months previously by postal ballot, and were sceptical of the SWP influence[2]. In a newspaper interview Hugo Charlton, Green party chair, said that he had "... always argued for some sort of understanding with them, not least because we are both "fellow travellers" on the left"; however he also noted that "any agreement at a local level, in the Green spirit of devolution, is up to local parties, but a formal, national alliance is out of the question"[3]

After the 2005 results, Respect reported that the Greens' election co-ordinator - impressed with their results - had called for further discussion about how to further build the left of Labour vote.

Although the leader of Respect is listed in the register of political parties as Linda Smith (until November 22, 2004 Nick Wrack), George Galloway is often assumed to be its leader by the mainstream media. In fact, Respect does not have a leader as such and is run by an elected "national council", a full list of whom can be found on their website. The party was originally launched by The Guardian journalist George Monbiot and Birmingham Stop the War Coalition chair Salma Yaqoob who is said to have thought up the coalition at her West Midlands home.

In its 2005 accounts filed with the Electoral Commission, it noted it has three paid employees including John Rees, and had 5674 members on December 31, 2005 (2004 - 3751). It has 25 branches, and had a total income of £434,654. [4]

[edit] History and electoral performance

Image:RESPECT Bus manchester.jpg
Respect campaigners decorating a bus in Manchester for the 2005 elections

The coalition sought to challenge Tony Blair from the left at the London Assembly and European Parliament elections in 2004, and gained a quarter of a million votes. This is the best result, in aggregate, ever achieved by the socialist left outside of the Labour Party. The party claims that these votes have been achieved primarily by capitalising on the 2003 anti-war protests and by attracting the votes of "Old Labour" supporters who feel Blair has moved the party too far to the right of their socialist beliefs. The correlation between the performance of Respect and the Muslim population of an area suggests that it has succeeded in attracting the votes of some Muslims who feel alienated by Labour's support for the war. It almost immediately had a councillor in Preston, Michael Lavalette who was elected as a Socialist Alliance candidate in 2003, who was joined by a former labour councillor, Steve Brooks.

Respect candidate Lindsey German came fifth in the 2004 London mayoral election. Its largest constituency vote in the 2004 assembly elections was in City and East London, where it polled 13.46%, reaching third place.

In their first European Parliament elections (also in 2004), Respect's proportion of the national vote was 1.7%, and they failed to win any seats. Their best result was in London itself, with a relatively strong 4.8%, and their worst was in Wales and the South West, with 0.6% and 0.7% respectively. Their strongest borough was Newham, London, with 21.41% of the vote. Respect finished behind the Green Party in every region where both ran, and behind the BNP everywhere but London. However, in Tower Hamlets, Respect received more votes than any other party.

The results at the Birmingham Hodge Hill and Leicester South by-elections in 2004, were 6.3% and 12.7% of the vote respectively — enough to retain its deposit in both seats (which requires a minimum of 5% of the vote). However, in Birmingham Hodge Hill the vote "anti-war" was split between Respect and the Liberal Democrats; anti-Labour parties claim that, as a result, the Labour candidate won the seat.

In the Hartlepool by-election (September 30, 2004), Respect only came fifth with 572 votes and lost their deposit. Hartlepool does not have a large Muslim community and the result may be indicative of the very low underlying support it has within the non-Muslim communities that predominate in the UK.

It won its first election on July 29, 2004, when Oli Rahman won a ward for Respect from Labour in Tower Hamlets. The election was called after a Labour councillor was expelled for alleged corruption. In September 2004, Respect candidate Paul McGarr stood in the Tower Hamlets Millwall ward by-election and came second, pushing Labour into third place [5].

[edit] 2005 general election

In the 2005 general election Respect ran candidates in 26 constituencies and it secured its first MP in George Galloway, who overturned the large majority of Oona King in Bethnal Green and Bow. It came second in three constituencies: Birmingham Sparkbrook and Small Heath, East Ham and West Ham. By far their best result outside London was in Birmingham Sparkbrook and Small Heath, where Respect candidate Salma Yaqoob came second with 27.5% of the vote. Again claims were made that the anti-Labour vote was split by the Respect vote allowing Labour to keep the seat. This is consistent with the mathematics of the results as the Liberal Democrat and Respect vote would have beaten the Labour Vote - assuming that all those who voted for Respect would have voted for the Lib Dems or vice versa.

Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University described Respect's overall results as "easily the best performance by a far-left party in British electoral history." However, both the Communist Party of Great Britain and Independent Labour Party received far more votes and won several seats in elections from the 1920s to the 1950s.

There is a strong correlation with the Respect vote and the Muslim population. Respect breakthroughs in areas without a significant Muslim vote were not demonstrated.

[edit] 2006 local elections

Respect stood a limited number of candidates nationally and concentrated on Tower Hamlets, where it stood a full slate of candidates and managed to win twelve seats. Although Respect defeated several high-profile Labour councillors including council leader Michael Keith and Cabinet member for Housing David Edgar, its performance wasn't as good as the party had hoped and the council remained in Labour control.

The party also had a full slate in Newham but won only one ward there despite winning 26% of the total vote, a greater proportion than that gained in Tower Hamlets. In total Respect gained fifteen new councillors including Salma Yaqoob in Birmingham who won 49% of the vote[6]. Respect narrowly missed winning another council seat in Preston by seven votes where they already have Michael Lavalette as a councillor, some members noting that a Green candidate in the ward had taken 82 votes, possibly splitting Respect's vote [7]. Other second places were achieved in Preston and wards in Sheffield, Bristol, and several London councils.

[edit] 2006 by-elections

Respect stood Dave Ellis, a trade unionist who organised one of the largest continuous strikes in recent years at Huddersfield Technical College, in the Greenhead ward by-election on 27 July in the district of Kirklees. Ellis got 3.9 percent of the vote, coming fourth and narrowly beating the British National Party's candidate who finished last. [8]

In the Metropolitan Borough of Barnsley Worsborough by-election on 16 November, Respect polled 91 votes, 5.5%

[edit] Future prospects

Respect has suggested in the recent past that it may stand for the Scottish Parliament in future if the SSP's internal crisis continues, which now seems likely. However, the new party Solidarity founded by Tommy Sheridan, former convenor of the SSP, has the backing of Respect's prominent element, the Socialist Workers' Party and the Socialist Party, in the past a critic of Respect. As of November 2006, Respect has not commented on these developments. Meanwhile, George Galloway has also suggested he would like to stand for the Scottish parliament in future having stated that he will not restand in his current seat personally (Respect obviously still will, possibly with a local candidate). [9]

There has also been suggestion from some in the party of standing the party against far-right parties' target seats because some feel that they can make sure that any anti-establishment votes that will not go towards a mainstream political party, go towards a left-wing party rather then a far-right one.

The party's policy of standing in only a few seats per area is likely to stand, however branches are more likely to stand in every area in which they operate. Galloway has suggested on his radio show that he thinks in the next general election Respect will win several inner city seats both in and out of London where they currently hold a seat.

[edit] International affiliation

While Respect is not part of any international organisation and has no formal links to any party from other countries, it does have fraternal links with various organisations. Respect participates however in the European Anticapitalist Left.

Respect is registered as a political party in Scotland but have claimed that this is just so no one else uses their name in Scotland. They have not stood in Scotland and have in the past urged voters to support the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP).

In 2005, Respect took part in the second congress of the European Left. Respect's participation in this event was welcomed by the Left Party's chair Fausto Bertinotti in his closing speech.[10]

[edit] Criticisms of Respect

[edit] Democratic process

Critics of Respect such as the Socialist Party, as well as the Alliance for Workers' Liberty and Workers Power, former members of the Socialist Alliance, claim that it is undemocratic and has an overly London-centric, top-down approach, its initial programme having been created largely by negotiations between the SWP and George Galloway. Respect has countered this claim by stating that it is simply false, that the Respect programme was formed as an "emergency response" to the June 10 European and local elections, and that a full constitution will be developed democratically through elections at its annual conferences. Respect's policies were fleshed out to a large extent at its first national conference which took place in 2004, the resolutions passed can be found on their website.

[edit] Equality and gay rights

Respect has also been accused of abandoning the left-wing issues of women's rights, gay rights and fighting homophobia in order to attract Muslim support. While Respect included opposition to discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation in its founding declaration [11], critics claim Galloway has tended to avoid Commons votes involving equal rights for gay people - although he did vote to lower the age of consent for gay people in England and Wales to sixteen in 2000, earning him an invitation to open a new Lesbian and Gay centre in Glasgow. He has also praised New Labour's record on improving gay rights, and says of his absence from one vote that "there was never any doubt about the passage of the civil partnerships [bill], I wholly support it".[12] Respect's 2005 conference resolved that explicit defence of equal rights and calls for the end to all discrimination against lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people would be made in all of its manifestos and principal election materials.[13]

Respect and elements of the LGBT community have clashed on two other notable occasions. In November 2005, Respect's largest single financial donor, Dr Mohammad Naseem, was accused in an article by Peter Tatchell of being homophobic due to his senior position in the Islamic Party of Britain, which he claimed advocated the "banning of gay organisations" and the "execution of homosexuals" [14]. Naseem, however, stated that the Islamic Party was now little more than a thinktank, and furthermore, disagreed with the statements on the Islamic Party website which Tatchell pointed to, stating his views on homosexuality as follows: "These things are a matter of personal choice...I am not concerned with what people do in their bedrooms."[15] Naseem was also present at Respect's 2005 conference, where the vote to reaffirm Respect's support of LGBT rights was passed unanimously.[16]

In January 2006, an article attacking Tatchell's opposition to the party was written by Respect member and journalist Adam Yosef. Writing for Desi Xpress, Yosef accused Tatchell of Islamophobia but was attacked by gay organisations for "encouraging violence against Tatchell" and for using "xenophobic" and "homophobic" language. Yosef also used other articles to attack same-sex unions, describing them as a front for "tax fraud". Tatchell called on Respect to expel Yosef but the party responded with the following statement: "Adam Yosef has the right to voice his own opinions in his own column – they range from an ecstatic review of Birmingham’s gay pride to venting his thoughts about Peter Tatchell." [17].

[edit] Communalism

The British journalist Nick Cohen, writing for The Observer, has accused Respect of attempting to exploit in the Muslim community what he sees as "the sectarian identities multiculturalism inevitably promotes "[18] by affirming prejudices, particularly about Israel, which have widespread influence across the Islamic world. As an example Cohen cites the declaration by Respect's candidate for the mayorship of Newham: 'Israel has been formulating and directing UK and US foreign policy.' [19] as affirming beliefs in a conspiracy theory.

Jacob Middleton, responding in the Socialist Review, notes Respect's success in certain areas with very small Muslim populations, such as Councillor Elaine Abbott's Respect campaign for the May 4th (2006) local elections in which the Respect party achieved second place by around 150 votes in the solidly white working class area of Riversway, Preston. They also came second in the Bristol Lockleaze ward in the same elections, in an area which is 86% white. In the areas in which they were most successful, Newnham and Tower Hamlets, Muslims form a minority (24% and 36% respectively), with a higher proportion of Christians in both districts (48% and 40% respectively) according to Middleton's statistics.[20]

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

Respect publications

Articles

Political parties in the United Kingdom
Represented in the House of Commons (646) :

Labour (354) | Conservatives (198) | Liberal Democrats (63) | DUP (9) | SNP (6) | Sinn Féin (0#) | Plaid Cymru (3) | SDLP (3) | Ind KHHC (1) | Independent (1) | Independent Labour (1) | Respect (1) | UUP (1)

Represented in the House of Lords (741) :

Labour (213) | Conservatives (210) | Cross-bencher (196) | Liberal Democrats (79) | Greens (E&W) (1) | Bishops (26) | Non affiliated (13) | Conservative Independent (1) | Independent Labour (1) | Independent (1)

Represented in the Scottish Parliament (129):

Labour (50) | SNP (27) | Conservative and Unionists (17) | Liberal Democrats (17) | Scottish Greens (7) | SSP (4) | Solidarity (2) | SSCUP (1) | Independent (5)

Represented in the National Assembly for Wales (60):

Labour (29) | Plaid Cymru (12) | Conservatives (11) | Liberal Democrats (6) | Forward Wales (1) | Independent (1)

Represented in the Northern Ireland Assembly (108) [Suspended]

DUP (32) | UUP (24) | Sinn Féin (24) | SDLP (18) | Alliance (6) | PUP (1) | UKUP (1) | Independent (2)

Represented in the London Assembly (25):

Conservatives (9) | Labour (7) | Liberal Democrats (5) | Greens (E&W) (2) | One London (2)

Represented in the European Parliament (72 out of 732):

Conservatives (ED, 26) | Labour (PES, 19) | Liberal Democrats (ELDR, 12) | UKIP (ID, 10) | Greens (E&W) (EGP, 2) | SNP (EFA, 2) | DUP (ED, 1) | Plaid Cymru (EFA, 1) | Sinn Féin (EUL, 2) | UUP (ED, 1) | Independent (NA, 2)

Notes #Sinn Féin have six elected members, but as abstentionist have no representation
Sinn Féin's second seat is held in the Republic of Ireland
Minor parties:

BNP | Socialist Labour | Liberal | English Democrats

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Respect - The Unity Coalition

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