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Saturday, November 17, 2007

The RESPECT split and its impact in Newham

For those who are still unaware, one of Newham’s two opposition parties, RESPECT, has split nationally into two factions, one led by George Galloway and the other by the Socialist Workers Party.

Following an emergency meeting of Newham RESPECT on 26th October, a statement was issued that strongly opposed any split in the party and called upon the leadership “to pause and refrain from any move to divide us.” The statement adds that “Newham members are united in believing that everything that brought us together still exists and more so now” and that the party locally “appreciate our weaknesses and resolve to move forward and manifest the nation's desire for a political organisation that reflects the most important aspirations for a just society.”

What is interesting about this statement, as with much of the sudden and acrimonious collapse of RESPECT as a political project, is who has signed it and where it has appeared. It is posted on the ‘official’ RESPECT website, which is controlled by the SWP faction, but a number of the signatories were most definitely not SWP members, including Sabia Kamali, the unsuccessful candidate for councillor in Plaistow North, or the Mayoral candidate Abdurahman Jafar, or branch chair Michael Gavan, or Sarah Ruiz, a former Labour councillor who lost her seat after standing as a RESPECT candidate for councillor in East Ham North. But the names very obviously missing included the three RESPECT councillors who were elected - Hanif Abdulmuhit, Asif Karim and Abdul Karim Sheikh. Hanif was also RESPECT's chosen candidate for the Greater London Assembly (GLA) constituency of City and East.

Since the end of October, however, a number of the signatories of the ‘unity’ statement have chosen sides. SWP members, unsurprisingly, have opted for their party's 'Continuity Respect', whilst Abdurahman Jafar and Sabia Kamali have chosen Galloway’s “Respect Renewal” camp. Michael Gavan understandably has more pressing concerns to worry about than which of the two competing conferences on 17 November to attend. Meanwhile Cllr Hanif Abdulmuhit in particular has become very close to George Galloway, hosting a “members” meeting at his home after Galloway refused to attend one at the local RESPECT office whilst SWP members were present (reported in the SWP's internal bulletin Party Notes as “further evidence of a declaration of war against us”).

But others are torn, between the deeply sectarian SWP and the faction led by an MP who has not turned up to a single constituency surgery in 10 months, hardly ever enters Parliament, but is the fifth richest MP in Britain though TV work (that the SWP faction allege includes forthcoming, lucrative adverts for... Domestos).

With the SWP fairly weak in Newham and the Galloway faction more likely to prevail, the likelihood is that a number of these independents, especially those who have never been particularly enamoured with Galloway's raging ego, will drop out completely.

Meanwhile, the local New Labour councillors can barely restrain their glee at the rupture within RESPECT. Many were genuinely concerned at the last local council elections that they might lose their seats and there was a sigh of relief when RESPECT failed to capture more wards.

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