Monday, June 02, 2008

Respect: What do we do next?

Receiving a surprising lack of attention (even among the regular carriers of news from Respect like Socialist Unity and Liam Mac Uaid's blog) is thism discussion document from Nick Wrack, which seems focussed on ways to make Respect more like a party.

Respect: What do we do next?
Now that the elections are out of the way we need to consider how we can strengthen the organisation.

Below are some brief outlines of proposals we put forward for discussion.

Respect is still in its infancy. We are still not even five years from our birth. Yet we have achieved successes beyond those of any other organisation to the left of Labour, with the election of George Galloway and our 13 councillors. Respect remains the only organisation on the left with the remotest chance at this stage of winning seats in the Westminster parliament and making serious advances in local elections. We congratulate Nahim Ullah Khan on his victory in Sparkbrook and welcome him as our newest councillor.

A key task for the next period is to ensure the re-election of George Galloway, albeit in the different seat of Poplar and Limehouse, and to send him reinforcements in the House of Commons. We have already selected Salma Yaqoob to stand in Birmingham Sparkbrook (where she polled 10,498 votes (27.5%) in 2005, coming second to Labour on 13,787) and Abjol Miah to stand in Bethnal Green and Bow. We need to win new councillors and have real possibilities of success in Tower Hamlets, Birmingham and Newham in 2010.

The recent election results show that we have the capacity to win extra parliamentary and council representation. But victories in elections are not automatic or easy, especially for a small, newish party like Respect. We also need to build where there is not, as yet, the prospect of early electoral success. In most areas of the country we are starting from nothing and it will take time and energy to win the support of large numbers of working-class people.

Our growth will not be even, or in a straight line. There may also be electoral set-backs. This only demonstrates the importance of having a long-term perspective for developing Respect as a party that has a completely different vision for society from that of the other parties – a society run by and in the interests of working-class people.

We must have two things in mind. First is our vision, second is a ‘plan’ for turning our vision into reality.

As yet we do not have a ‘national’ organisation in terms of branches across the country. But we do have a national profile through our MP George Galloway and his association to the name Respect. We need to map a way forward that takes us over time towards a party with a reputation and presence across the country.

We need to build our own party, Respect. At the same time we must present ourselves as willing to work with all others who want to build a left-wing alternative to New Labour. In this way, over time, we will win a reputation for being serious about building an open and pluralistic broad left party for working-class people.

So, our task is twofold. One is to strengthen Respect. Two is to build links with others. Maintaining a balance between the two will need constant review and reappraisal of how we are performing.

Everything that follows is premised on a need to tackle the key political issues facing working-class communities, from the economic to the social.

1. Building the branches
We should organise regular monthly local branch meetings on the same day of the month (e.g. third Thursday) to give a routine around which activity can be organised. The monthly members meeting should be advertised on the national and local websites and in the paper. We should have regular newsletters to communicate to all members and supporters. Public meetings and social activities should be organised to draw people in and to raise funds. Each branch should map out a strategy for building: where does it want to be in 6 months/12 months time; what geographical areas are going to be targeted, which communities? Progress towards the targets should be reviewed and the strategy revised as necessary.

2. Communication between National Office and members
We propose that the paper is sent to every member every month. In addition, there will be a national members’ bulletin. This will be sent in PDF format to everyone with e-mail and in hard copy form to everyone without.

3. Membership
We need to have a drive to recruit, both in areas where we are already established but also in other areas, trying to get members in areas where we currently have none. Membership will be one of the most important ways of gauging our successes as well as weaknesses.There should be a membership pack, sent to every new member. This will have a welcome letter, membership card, pamphlet on Respect with our policies, any current material and details of local and national events. Every new member should receive a telephone call from the office or local Respect contact within one week of joining and be allocated to a branch. We currently have branches in Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Stockport, Bradford, Dorset, Milton Keynes, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Southwark, Haringey, Islington, Oxford and Cambridge. There are other areas where we have members but no branch. Our aim should be to consolidate the existing branches, to organise new branches around existing members where we have no branch and to create completely new branches in areas where we currently have no members. In London we aim to use the information about our votes in different wards to organise public meetings with GG, concentrating initially on where we did best. We need to do the same in each inner London borough, pulling new people around us and then giving support to those who attend to set up a branch.Our aim should be to establish new branches in Waltham Forest, Redbridge, Lewisham & Greenwich (where we already have a good nucleus), Wandsworth, Lambeth, Hackney, Camden, Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea. This has to be done patiently and systematically without running the risk of overstretching the organisation. Progress must be reviewed regularly.

NC members and branch membership secretaries should receive a regular update on membership figures – both nationally and locally. Branches should set reasonable targets for recruitment. We should have one national membership system – though local branches may wish to have a parallel membership number for their own records. Students should be recruited to the national organisation – regardless of whether they need a local college membership of a society. We should investigate a method a renewing annual memberships via Direct Debit.

4. Public profile
We can do a lot to develop our profile by participating in broad campaigns and initiating them ourselves. Initiatives such as the ‘Charter for East London’ and a campaign around the Olympics are important in this respect. Getting our point of view across in the media by developing spokespersons on issues will be one way to achieve this.

The website: This needs to be become the main public face of the party. This means making it much more attractive, lively and interesting. We need a website editor with a team to help her/him. This is a political issue rather than a technical one. At present we have limited human resources but we must attend to this urgently. Today, without a well-designed, lively website we will not reach our potential audience, especially among young people. We must pay attention to having material translated to cater for immigrant communities.

We also need to develop the use of video to present our ideas, with short clips of Respect’s leaders and members presenting our ideas in a simple and accessible manner.

The Paper: We need to maintain and develop the paper. To achieve a national paper was a success of the split. It demonstrates our serious approach to developing a national profile. However, it needs time to evolve and to become the property of the members so that it becomes a really useful tool in building Respect. It needs to become more accessible and relevant both in its content and language. Regularity of production, which is now agreed, should help branches use the paper more effectively. The paper can be one of our tools in recruiting and building our membership, reputation and influence by spreading our ideas to a wider audience. We must also make the content available online between issues.

Pamphlets: We should produce a series of cheap, short, simple pamphlets on key aspects of our policies, e.g. Housing, Health, Education, Transport, etc. We could produce 10 -12 pamphlets over a short period of time to cover most of what we stand for.

Press and media: we do remarkably well given our lack of personnel dedicated solely to this aspect of work but we should find ways of gaining more access to the TV, radio and newspapers. Local papers are an important medium for us to use more.We need to project ourselves across the county in a way that matches our larger name recognition, intervening in events in an upbeat way. Once we have a new logo we should have that prominently displayed wherever we do our work – banners, flags, etc. On demonstrations and protests we need to be more visible, including using placards. Our publicity on public events should be innovative and accessible. We need to plan our interventions in national events as soon as we know they are happening so we don’t miss out. Our stand alone publicity should complement the paper but also seek out the non-paper-buying audience.

5. Translations
We should give more thought to creating a bank of translated material – in pdf form – on the website. We are proud to be a party that supports, and is supported by, migrants – translations show we are serious about engaging the whole community in our politics. We should aim to have leaflets setting our basic ideas and policies in as many languages as possible. These should be on the website and advertised in our publications.

6. Elections 2009:
There are European elections across the country in June next year. Consideration is already being given to standing in London. This needs to be decided quickly. It would give a focus to our work in London, allowing us to consolidate our position in East London while building outwards across the rest of London.

2010: General Election and local elections
2012: GLA elections
Elections give us the opportunity to present ourselves to vast numbers of people. But we have to utilise the time in between to carry out regular activity to demonstrate who we are and what we are about. We cannot just turn up at an election and expect to get a good vote.We reiterate our commitment to stand in Birmingham and Tower Hamlets x 2 in the General Election. We now need to consider Newham and other areas.

7. Finance
All of the above costs money, and lots of it. We currently have an office and one part-time member of staff and some volunteers. We must build fund-raising into our activities. Fund-raising gigs/events such as the Manchester united nations meal, the London Burns night, the Mark Steel gigs on the French Revolution in Bristol and Southwark are examples of how political events can be fun and raise money and attract new people. Party, party, party! We need to build up the regular income on standing orders.

8. National Conference
We now need to plan for a conference in the autumn to launch our party. The name should be discussed. We suggest ‘the Respect Party’. We should aim to use the conference to involve as many of our existing members as possible and to bring new people to it.It would also be an opportunity to reach out to many others on the left by inviting them to attend as observers, if they do not want to join us at this stage. This Conference would agree a Political Programme and Constitution and elect a leadership for the next year. The conference and the launch of ‘the Respect party’ would give us the opportunity to revamp the website, redesign the logo and our ‘corporate’ image and generally re-launch ourselves.

9. Reaching out
Whilst we must emphasise building our own forces we must not lose sight of the need to make links with others on the left. Having a sign board which states our openness to work with others for common goals is vital for the longer term building of a bigger left-wing party, involving others who may be reluctant to join Respect but who in the future would be prepared to build something new together with us.We should, therefore, maintain links already established and seek to establish new ones with those opposed to New Labour. We need to have an orientation towards the trade unions, establishing links wherever possible.

10. Young people
This must be a central aspect to all our work. Without new young members Respect will not grow. We must develop young leaders of Respect, giving assistance when needed. We have already a layer of young activists who should be nurtured and promoted within Respect. Work amongst young people in the communities, in schools, FE colleges and universities will bring in a new layer of energetic and imaginative members, impatient for things to happen. We must develop strategies to attract students and young workers.

11. Leadership
The leadership of Respect should reflect its members and supporters. We have tremendous capital in the young Asian women and men who are leading our work in Birmingham, Tower Hamlets and Newham. There has to be a conscious emphasis on promoting new leaders from within Respect’s ranks.

12. Local Government
We should work to create and publish a detailed alternative plan for Tower Hamlets, explaining how we would run the council. We should aim to do this in consultation with trade unions and community groups. This plan should differentiate between what we can achieve with existing powers and levels of funding, and those that require extra powers and funding that we would campaign to force the government to provide.The leadership, knowledge and expertise of the activists and councillors in Tower Hamlets will be crucial in the success of such a plan, but they should not be saddled with the whole responsibility, and should be given practical support and advice from the party at a national level.

13. Respect in the political landscape
Spreading out from our existing strongholds in terms of electoral success could be a very long process. However, we should seek to gain leverage from our advantage of having an MP and several prominent councillors to place ourselves more quickly within the mainstream political landscape in terms of policy development and debate. We should explore opportunities to develop joint position papers with left Labour MPs, for example in Compass or the LRC, or with Plaid Cymru or the Green party, or with single-issue think-tanks and charities, on social issues where we have very similar policies. To facilitate this, Respect should encourage members to participate in party policy sub-committees on issues such as crime, women’s rights, climate change, etc.We have achieved a lot in just four years. Our achievements are even more impressive when we consider the recent split. In that respect, our recent election results are very encouraging. But we are only at the beginning. Over the next 12 months we must put our organisation on a firmer footing: better organised, more widely located and more deeply rooted.

Agreed by Respect National Council 17 May 2008
Paper presented by Linda Smith and Nick Wrack incorporating amendments from Clive Searle and Andy Newman



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