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Blame the members, blame the activists.



The SWP's Party Notes writes:
"there is no objective reason why the Respect vote differed so much. In Sheffield we could get 18% in Central ward & 12.7% in Burngreave but much less in areas where we have more ... members. Respect got 8% in Slough, 4.68% & 3.65% in Middlesbrough where we are weak."

Well the first thing to say is that Respect did not get 8% in Slough, they got 5.8%. What is more, according to the report in June's Socialist Resistance there was no campaign in Slough before a public meeting 4 days before the poll.

This is strong evidence that there is indeed an objective reason - where there were more Moslems Respect got more votes. Look at Tower Hamlets, where Respect topped the poll, and the population has much greater racial and religious diversity than the national average. With 48.66% of the population describing themselves as non-white and 36.4% being Moslems, compared to a national average of 8.7% being non-white and 3% Moslem.


 

So it is nonsense for our friend to write "The answer lies with [us]. Whether [we] were operating with a sense of what was possible ... or stuck in old ways."

Now the comrades deserve better than that. All around the country Respect members were running round like blue arsed flies. In some areas this got results in some it didn't.

Big urban centres like London and the West Midlands are really quite different from other parts of the country. Look at the South West region, with 2.3 million households, but the biggest city is Bristol with a population of only 380000, only 2% of which are Moslem, and is 91.8% white. Although Bristol is less ethnically diverse than the national average it is more ethnically diverse than any other district in the South West.

Given that Respect appealed more to Moslem voters, surely areas with small Moslem populations were always going to get smaller votes. It is also true that largely urban constituencies made it much easier to achieve a specific weight by campaigning. As Michael Lavallette insightfully pointed out in his account of how he won a Preston seat last year, there came a "tipping point" where people simply started to believe he could win due to the momentum of the Campaign. It was always impossible for Respect to achieve that in big, largely rural constituencies spotted with small towns like the South East or Eastern region.

The full national mailing of a postal leaflet was never going to achieve a big vote, partly because in most cases it will have gone straight in the bin, but also because of the eccentric decision to come up with a name, that had no voter recognition. The key concept here is brand loyalty, that is why Manchester United don't change their name every season.

Perhaps it is unfair to quote our friend again, but when he says: "There are those who accept the left will always get a Monster Raving Looney Party vote & those who look at Respect's performance in places like much of London, Birmingham, Preston, Neath, Dudley, Luton, Peterborough, Slough, Middlesbrough, parts of Sheffield (see below), Walsall etc. & draw the conclusion we could win (!)."

The implication is that somehow Respect did  much better than the left has ever done before, and those ambivalent or opposed to Respect have no ambition. Surely it is only fair to point out that many socialists who stood in the June 10th elections under various labels got votes as good and in some cases better than Respect. That Socialists did in fact win in Wrexham and Coventry, and left community activists won in Oxford and Flintshire, whereas Respect won nothing. Is it unfair to point out that in 4 regions Respect got votes hardly better than the Natural Law Party received in 1999, who based their appeal on Yogic flying and cheesy George Harrison music.

Respect had better recognise that it has had only regional success, and it has succeeded where objective circumstances were more favourable. In the days when Marxism was still fashionable we used to talk about "combined and uneven development". One size does not fit all.

 

 

 

July 2004

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