A delegates conference means more influence for outside London
There is a nice idea going around that a delegate basis for
Respect's Founding Conference would avoid domination by London (and
It is a nice idea.
But it is sadly not true in fact.
The membership of Respect is highest in London. The branches exist in
London. The Conference is being held in London. The majority of the
Conference delegates (and therefore of the Conference participants) will
therefore be in
The fact that the rest of the country has a spread out membership which
wont all be in branches or able to get to branches at which delegates
may or may not be elected means that there will be both comparatively
and actually fewer people from outside London. And in any case there's
no incentive to travel any great distance to London, especially if you
are trying to return home on a Sunday on a Virgin "train"....
Anyone who has ever organised a Conference of any sort knows this will
be the case.
Meanwhile the recent SWP Party Notes' description of forthcoming SWP /
Respect structures makes for fascinating reading.
"Respect: We want to argue for a strategy inside local Respect groups.
We may or may not win this but we think it's a sensible position.
Firstly we want to argue for a representative, elected committee to run
Respect. We should try to pull together the key anti-war, trade union,
Muslim activists who were involved in the Euro/GLA/by-elections to give
a lead to the work of the organisation in each area. Secondly we want to
argue for a big monthly Respect event (film showing, meal, party, public
meeting) to boost the public face of the organisation. Of course
alongside all this we need Respect to be a campaigning organisation
taking up local and national issue"
While the SWP has the following structure:
"Socialist Worker district forums: We want to create a big, lively,
political face for the SWP. ...
District Committee: ... The district committee can give an overall
lead, supporting and directing the work of comrades in united front
activity. ... and giving direction to the build up to district SW
Local Socialist Worker forums. This should be the basic unit of
the party. .. ... The branch doesn't need a top-heavy structure but it
does need a branch secretary and a branch Socialist Worker organiser."
On the one hand the SWP will have a monthly public forum and another SWP
forum (implying an SWP branch within this) - and (echoing the line in
Respect's recently published Constitution) the latter will be the
"basic" unit of the party organisation.
On the other hand, Respect is to have a monthly public event and a
However, it is not obvious where the Respect branch will be in all this
(this is the equally "basic" unit, according to the Respect
I may be missing something, but doesn't this imply that in reality
respect will have an open-type meeting or event (monthly or similar;
possibly overlapping/duplicating with the monthly swp event) and then
there will be a committee taking the decisions for the area. But
actually the ordinary membership may be looking around for an ordinary
The oft-quoted retrospect by SWP members, about their local Socialist
Alliance branch meetings, was that these represented what was most
hateful about the Socialist Alliance - the boring business of having to
discuss things with ordinary non-aligned (or non-SWP) common or garden
I must admit that it is possible that members who have joined just to
show support for the anti-war movement (and who are not going to
anti-war meetings or activities any longer) may in fact not be bothered
about participating in meetings. But the point about any democratic,
unity-seeking, broad coalition of different interests, is that a regular
meeting where discussion and debate take place is the only way in which
the ordinary membership can influence the policy and practice of the
organisation. (Or can elect delegates who will determine the composition
of the National Committee and Executive Committee.)
Leaving the ordinary business of the local branch up to a
"representative" committee - busy fitting its priority between the
broad-front-of-a-special-kind and the party - and flitting between
monthly forums and monthly events (including picnicking in the late
summer sunshine) - means leaving the (non-ruling party) membership in
Don't say we're just going the same way all over again?
If Respect is, as some feel, the only (game?) show in town, the trouble
is that a lot of people have already been to see it and aren't going
back for a second performance ........