We need to sit down and say that there is far more that unites us than divides us, and we must come to an agreement – even if it’s just agreeing not to stand against each other in seats where one of us has a good chance of winning. We need to talk about endorsing and supporting candidates in those areas. There are serious discussions to be had. But it’s not positive to dismiss the possibility of such cooperation so quickly; that attitude has damaged the left for the past 20 years.
Respect will look to deepen its roots in all communities by working on bread and butter issues, and not just at election time. If we want to build a genuine left, it must come from the bottom up. I”m confident that such grass-roots building will take place before the next general election. In east London, for example, Respect is already creating alliances around housing and social deprivation.
There has been a lot of criticism of Respect. But the organisation is only in its infancy. Our party convention in the autumn will clarify and develop our policies and structures. We hope that it will be attended by people from outside Respect, who will be able to engage in critical discussions with lots of different perspectives. I want our structures to mirror those of other parties so that we have branches in constituencies and wards and the leadership is directly elected and accountable to its members.
People are also concerned that Respect exploited the “Muslim vote”, but really that vote is of ordinary people. We need to deal with different sectors of society to make a proper coalition; who is really aiming to do that in your community? I don’t want Muslims to be used by the Trots, but I don’t want them to sit at home, either. Our candidates were the most diverse of any party, ever. There were women, black and Asian candidates, young people. The Green Party, in contrast, is mostly white and middle class.
There’s also an issue of the role the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) plays in Respect. The SWP is a significant force in the coalition, but it is only one element. If people are concerned about its influence they should make the SWP even more of a minority by joining Respect. Come and be involved. Respect wants to be open and transparent.
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