Two-ward timid token

Stan Keable attended the latest meeting of Respect West London - and was surprised by the pessimistic mood of the comrades

A pessimistic mood characterised SWP activists at West London Respect's post-conference meeting in Hounslow Community Centre on December 6. The main agenda item was announced as "electoral strategy", in preparation for the May 2006 local elections, but the comrades were focussed on technical details, not strategy. They wanted to play very safe in order to avoid overstretching their perceived small numbers. Respect in the two Euro constituencies - Ealing/Hillingdon, and Hounslow/Richmond/Kingston - has fallen into inactivity because of the SWP's on-off electoralism. The meeting had been put together to make a token show now that another election is round the corner. Indeed, the seven SWPers plus one ex-member were on message in keeping the local effort token: most forces will be mobilised to Bethnal Green and Tower Hamlets, where Respect hopes to make big inroads. The meeting turned down my proposal for an optimistic call to muster candidates in as many wards as possible across the branch's five boroughs. Likewise, my suggestion of a series of open forums to discuss each aspect of Respect's election manifesto fell on deaf ears. That way, I believe, we would be able to use the election campaign to build the organisation, recruiting and politically consolidating at the same time. SWPers countered that we needed more street stalls to get to more people before we could aspire to involve them in meetings. It is hard enough trying to mobilise for SWP forums, moaned one comrade. Out of 80 known members emailed, only 10 were present, and the SWP's revolving door syndrome evidently also afflicts Respect. Comrades were worried about the tedious task of contacting lapsed as well as inactive members, and scaled down our local election plans. In the only vote of the evening, by nine to one it was resolved to limit our contests to two wards: Southall Green in Hounslow, where the probable candidate is Respect national council member Salvinder Dhillon of the Indian Workers Association, who was our candidate for the European parliament; and Hounslow Heath, where we achieved 11.4% in May 2004. Salvinder Dhillon voted with the SWPers. A brief conference report from secretary Richard Brackenbury gave rise to a short discussion on the government's religious hatred legislation, which had caused the conference delegation some heart-searching before they were persuaded to reluctantly vote down the CPGB motion condemning it. Opinion in the meeting was divided - after all "we couldn't send George into the voting chamber naked", unable to defend himself from the charge of not standing up for muslims - but a minority supported the CPGB defence of free speech. Salvinder Dhillon reported that the sacked Gate Gourmet workers have now established their own independent committee and fund. This was followed by discussion of recruitment (street stalls and telephone lists) and fundraising. At my suggestion a target election fund of £1,000 per contested ward was adopted. Although weekly Saturday street stalls are planned in Hounslow and Southall Green, no such frequency is intended for meetings. It was agreed, however, that hustings meetings will be announced to select a candidate for each of the two contested wards, probably in January - so would-be candidates, who must live or work in the respective borough, should announce themselves now.