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Respect & UKIP after Rotherham & Croydon: Part 1 – Respect’s last gasp

Last week, Labour, under Iain McNicol’s effective management, mounted an impressive campaign to defeat the perceived threat in Croydon and Rotherham by-elections from Respect. Though Labour’s continuing failure to develop an anti-austerity strategy and thoroughly reconnect with working class voters still leaves it exposed to some future threat from the left, it won’t come from Respect. This was their last shout. They will pose no credible threat again in any by-election in this parliament and they know it.

On the other hand, the disastrous and shambolic handling of Labour’s selection process in Rotherham, and Ed Miliband’s subsequent handling of the UKIP fostering row, have left UKIP looking like a credible and legitimate mainstream party that can provide a suitable home for working class voters. Behind the very plausible face of Nigel Farage, however, lurk a bunch of dodgy characters with dangerous views whose brand of nasty right-wing populism now poses an even more serious threat.

We shall return to an analysis of UKIP later this week, but today Respect effectively publicly acknowledged their demise:

The general context of this Parliament remains one in which Labour is viewed as the instinctive vote of opposition with the Condem government despised. Progressive and disaffected voters will tend to rally to Labour as the party which can get the Condems out. The rapid erosion of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat voting base has created a larger pool of right leaning voters for right wing parties and above all UKIP to pick up. Left and progressive parties, on the other hand, always face a squeeze in these circumstances.

They show no remorse for the way in which George Galloway and Respect themselves contributed to the hype (described on Left Futures last week by Phil Burton-Cartledge) which gave UKIP the enormous fillip in Rotherham, as indicated by tweets such as this:

This was, unsuprisingly retweeted by a number of the racists and homophobes who were out campaigning for UKIP.

And though Respect take take some sectarian comfort in the admittedly far worse performance of those they describe as their “opponents on the left”  –  arguing that the “ludicrous nature of the Communist Party’s electoral profile was exposed again in Croydon,” and knocking the “absurdly sectarian” TUSC’s vote in Rotherham  –  they still delude themselves about their own longer term prospects, believing they are “increasingly well placed to be the credible progressive left alternative when Labour comes back into government.”

They are right, unfortunately, that Labour appears to be following the course recently charted by François Hollande – securing election on the back of an ambiguous stance that declares opposition to austerity without proposing any real alternative. And we agree that this would most likely result in a rapid fall from popularity, and inevitable confrontation with trade union and community opposition to the massive cuts that George Osborne has built into post-2015 budgets. However, George Galloway is in no position to rally the forces of the Left in the way that Mélenchon has done in France.

It could have been different. Respect has shown, most notably in Tower Hamlets and even more so in Bradford, that it is possible for a social democratic party to the left of Labour to successfully challenge Labour where Labour has detached itself from core voters. Although Respect’s successes were in areas with large Asian communities, the experience in Bradford lead Labour to recognise the possibility of a challenge where the alienation from Labour had different roots, and rise to it.

If there was to be a successful challenge from the Left outside Labour to a future Labour government over austerity, it would have to come from an alliance with a similarly social democratic programme, capable of uniting a very broad section of the community and Labour movement.  Although George Galloway will undoubtedly continue to provide a loud and articulate voice of dissent, he has become an obstacle to any form of Left unity, not a force for achieving it.

5 Comments

  1. Imran Khan says:

    A good analysis of what is happening except that you still remain blinkered about what happened in Tower Hamlets and to a certain extent my own neighbouring borough of Newham with regards to the election of Respect councillors.

    The election campaigns in both places I witnessed at first hand. The only non Asians who worked for and voted Respect were members of the far left. The biggest far left group the SWP were of course in en mass followed by members of the other groupescules.

    Asian politics is dominated by family, regional and religious loyalties. Groups of powerful local political figures have control of blocks of votes and can swing them behind whoever can pay either in cash or kind.

    In Newham Respect was always small because the communities are much more diverse than in Tower Hamlets. There are large Hindu and Sikh groups as well as Pakistani and Bangladeshi Muslims.

    In Tower Hamlets the dominant ethnic minority is Bangladeshi and from one area of that country. A deal was done between the powerbrokers, restaurant owners, travel agents, the owners of TV stations and an emerging class of property dealers and Islamic Forum Europe, and the SWP.

    The opposition to the Iraq and Afganistan affairs and the left programme was essentially for the left. For the Bangladeshis it was all about business, getting control of the council and through that jobs and contracts.

    The Bangladeshis voted as they were told and not a single non Bangladeshi Respect candidate was elected. From the moment the polls closed the left had lost control and Tower Hamlets Respect was an entirely Bangladeshi/Islamist/business project.

    I think it didn’t even last two years before the defections started and the left watched in amazement as the whole thing, the biggest single chance for a mass left project, or so they thought, collapsed before their eyes.

    Respect has damaged the far left and left it more fragmented than at any time that I can recall in the last thirty years.

    It has also strengthened the hand of Milliband and the mainstream left of centre social democrats who are now the only place for any anti Tory activist to go.

    I don’t know how many Respect councillors there are across the country, the two in Tower Hamlets support the Islamic Forum Europe backed Independent group of Mayor Lutfur Rahman.

    In respect of the latter gentleman his support for Rahman and not the official Labour candidate for Mayor cost Livingstone his own political ambitions. I know long time Labour members who refused to campaign for him and that included full time officials.

    The far left across the country but particularly in London must be ruing the day they ever got involved in Respect as it has put them back a generation and more.

    Livingstone may have been elected to the NEC, I think he topped the poll, but the CP and Trotskyists in and around the party are history and quite rightly so.

  2. Imran Khan says:

    Just had a look at the Respect take on what happened and it is clear that they ran a totally shambolic campaign with them not even organised enough to take advantage of the free election mail out of literature.

    The article by Chris Chilvers, whoever he is, is pathetic, a real swansong. I think that there now has to be some real analysis of what Respect was and what actually happened but as I have pointed out above there has to be a reality check by whoever writes it.

  3. Jim Denham says:

    Hopefully, the humiliations in Rotherham and Croydon North (coming hard on the heels of the resignation of Salma Yaqoob), will kill off Respect once and for all – or at least leave it exposed as what it always was, a vanity project for the mighty ego of Galloway.

    I do not agree that Respect was ever a “social democratic party to the left of Labour.” As well as being a vanity project for the Dictators’ Friend it was also a vile, communalist obstacle to working class unity. Good riddence!

  4. Jonny Morris says:

    Please do read the “analysis” by Respect linked to in the article. It’s hilarious, like a slightly more grammatically correct BNP or EDL posting.

  5. john reid says:

    when the police inquiry into whether it was repect who sent letter to all saian families saying labour are closet racists comes out, it,ll be the time for such an article,

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