In October the five Bradford Respect councillors announced their resignation from their party to now sit as independents.
Less than a year and a half ago, Respect was riding high, after George Galloway had won the Bradford West seat from Labour by a landslide.
He received more votes than all the other candidates put together and attracted over 1,000 people to a pre-election rally.
This had an initial energising effect on the city and was followed by Respect winning five council seats in last May’s election, including defeating the then Labour leader of Bradford council.
A number of youth politicised by Galloway’s campaign went on to occupy the Bradford Westfield site, known locally as ‘the hole’ after Westfield abandoned the site almost a decade ago to take up more lucrative projects in London in the run up to the 2012 Olympics.
The potential for anti-austerity and anti-war campaigning was shown further in several high profile demonstrations: over the massacre of the Rohinya people in Burma, drone strikes in Pakistan/Afghanistan and the crumbling Bradford Odeon; although such events have been one-offs and few and far between.
Yet tensions within Respect over a whole series of issues have seen it shed a number of high-profile members over that period.
Some of these resignations were due to comments made by Galloway. The resignations of then-leader of Respect Salma Yaqoob and Manchester byelection candidate Kate Hudson a year ago, were over Galloway’s ill-informed and reprehensible comments about rape and consent.
The recent resignations initially stemmed from Galloway’s announcement that he was considering standing for London Mayor in 2016.
This fed in to an image that Galloway doesn’t care about Bradford, spending time presenting TV and radio shows.
Indeed, not one person from Respect turned up to the anti-war protest over Syria it was supposed to have organised in Bradford at the end of August.
Despite Respect’s initial impact in Bradford, it has not been able to build a substantial activist base in the city.
This was evident when its much publicised conference in Bradford after the elections only attracted less than half of the 200 attendees it had expected.
Then national secretary, Chris Chilvers, commented that the party had been on the verge of winding up before Galloway’s election, with only two functioning branches in the country and £170 a month in standing orders.
It announced a Jarrow-style march from the city for later that year which it has been unable to organise.
Abstention on cuts
Respect’s failure is partly due to the unprincipled stands it has taken. For example, rather than following the anti-cuts example of the Southampton two, Hull three and Warrington one rebel Labour councillors, Respect councillors in Bradford abstained on Labour’s cuts budgets and their council group leader Alyas Karmani gave an atrocious speech, in effect attempting to justify Labour’s budget and accepting the need for ‘difficult decisions’, ie cuts.
In the election to the Yorkshire section of their national committee there were 14 candidates for the six available positions.
Only four of them had been involved in Respect for over two years and five described themselves as ‘business people’ or CEOs.
The electoral description of one, Qurban Malik, was:
“I have been a Tory for most of my political career. I was a candidate for Tories in the last local elections but recently joined Respect publicly. I have various and vast experience.
“I am a business man in Bradford and would like to get involved with the building of Respect in Bradford”.
He is one of a layer of political opportunists who moved towards Respect in the aftermath of Galloway’s Bradford victory.
Indeed Galloway seems to have surrounded himself with ‘yes-men’ and turned Respect more and more into a vehicle purely for his own promotion.
If Respect is to live up to its self-description as a ‘left-wing alternative’, instead of unprincipled blocs, it should recognise the need to build up powerful campaigns based on trade unionists and youth.
Contrast Respect in Bradford with the approach of the Yorkshire Socialist Party in the Doncaster mayoral election where our local candidate Mary Jackson won a respectable vote, but crucially built up important links with the RMT and other trade unions.
Only on the basis of building such campaigns, linked to publicising the ideas of socialism as an alternative to capitalism, can a sustained political alternative be built to the main political parties that Galloway once described, correctly, as ‘three cheeks of the same backside’.