[Marxism] Respect conference

Jim Monaghan jbm7 at tutor.open.ac.uk
Thu Nov 24 04:47:27 MST 2005




Dear Comrades

A brief initial report on the weekend's Respect conference. 

We had a very successful intervention which combined a positive input into
the discussions around key issues with debates around the more
controversial areas of Respect's politics. We were a factor in every
section of the agenda except youth and students and all but one of our
comrades spoke in debates - some several times. And they all spoke
extremely well. 

Fred spoke in the first session on affiliation to Hands off Venezuela.
Jane spoke in the section on civil liberties on the 'anti-terror laws and
the Incitement to Religious Hatred Bill. Andy spoke on the right to
protest. Both myself and Greg spoke in the trade union section. The social
policy section was introduced by John L on behalf of the national council.
John also introduced the Oxford resolution on the NHS. Fred introduced the
amendment on pensions, Tony F introduced the Sandwell amendment on
education and Norman the resolution on LGBT rights. Greg introduced the
Lambeth resolution on homophobic attacks. Sheila spoke in the debate on
climate change.

In the Building Respect section I moved the Southwark resolution -
immediately following an introduction to the session by John Rees. John L
moved the Oxford resolution on a Respect newspaper and Stuart moved the
North B/Ham resolution on a general manifesto. If I haven't missed any out
that is 12 interventions. The comrade from the LCR also spoke - as did the
SSP, the Italian RC, the German Left Party and the Portuguese Left Block.

We had 40 people at our fringe meeting on the Saturday evening. It was a
very good discussion and there were good comments around the conference
about it next morning. The LCR comrade spoke as well.

The reaction by the SWP and George G to our interventions in the
conference, however, was heavy and rather sectarian. Failure by the SWP to
deal with our interventions politically led to demagogy and denunciation.
It got worse as the conference went on - as our intervention became more
effective. The SWP opposed our resolution on the Incitement to Religious
Hatred Bill with predictable arguments. They supported our resolution on
LGBT rights but Lindsey German spoke to say that it was unnecessary and in
bad faith. Norman, who introduced the LGBT resolution uncontroversially
had his arguments grotesquely characatured.

The worst, however, came in the debate on Building Respect. John Rees's
introduction was a crude appeal to loyalty to SWP members. He said the
issue was 'political leadership' and he and others were giving it to
Respect. he said proposals in some of the resolution were Ok but they were
not the point. The point was to give political leadership and this meant
travelling the country and doing meetings. If the resolutions meant that
he would have to be tied to a desk (which no one had proposed of course)
Respect would have to find another National Secretary. Others came in to
say how very correct this was - including George G (who said it was
"brilliant").

I responded by pointing to the gains Respect had made in the general
election but argued that we had to take a much more sober view of what has
been achieved since - which has been a period of high opportunity for
Respect. I argued that the commonalty between the other left parties which
had spoken at the conference was that they organised themselves as parties
- with all the mechanisms and attributes of parties in order to organise
their work. Respect was trying to do it without most of these attributes -
consequently its branches were under resourced and it had no means of
political debate or regularly publishing its political views. Over the
past 6 months the membership has remained the same and no new section of
the left has joined.

Our resolution on building Respect was carried, but the Oxford Resolution
on a newspaper was lost - though by a surprisingly narrow vote. It has
received the support of independents in the course of the debate. The
North B/Ham resolution on a general manifesto was carried. The Greewich
and Lewisham resolution was lost (again quite narrowly) but Camden and
Barnet was carried. The Milton Keys resolution - which called for an
unacceptable form of accountability was lost with us voting against it. In
the end, although some important Resolutions were lost there is a lot of
substance in the resolutions which were carried - which would take things
in the direct we are arguing for Respect. The trick now is to get them
implemented. 

The most remarkable event in all this, however, was George Galloway's
close-of-conference speech. Instead of summing up the conference - which
is what it should have been about - he launched a big attack on me, and
us, and on our SR broad sheet, which we had distributed. He quoted from
the broad sheet and my speech and reopened the debates around the Respect
newspaper and whether Respect should be a party or a coalition. All this
took the bulk of his closing speech. Every independent I spoke to before
the hall cleared were seething about it. 

The reasons for these attacks were clear enough in my view. We were
getting a hearing in the conference amongst the independents and, I
suspect, even amongst some SWP members. This was shown in our fringe
meeting and in some of the votes.

How we respond to all this will have to be the result of a lot more
discussion. My initial reaction is that we have to sharply up our profile,
engage the debate, and consolidate and organise the support we had in the
conference - and SR is exactly the framework we need for this. In fact  a
lot of independents will be looking for a collective response to all this.
We should make sure we provide it.

Also this year we were the only credible organised alternative. The SUN
were not there and the CPGB were hardly there having been half in and half
out of Respect for the past year. We could not therefore be lumped
together with anyone else, we had to be taken on head-on.

One problem we should brace ourselves for is probable friendly coverage in
the Weekly Worker (they made an appeal for unity in our fringe meeting)
but we should be able to survive it.





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