Hidden controversy

Dave Landau, a representative of the Jewish Socialist Group, attended the Unite Against Fascism conference on February 18

There were about 350 people present, and some of them, like myself, were delegated by organisations. However, in reality, the only thing that distinguished delegates from individuals attending was that delegates had to pay more money to get in.

There are no democratic structures in Unite Against Fascism, which means there are no conference resolutions. All the decisions are taken by a steering committee, which has never been elected by a conference. Therefore, there is no actual need to have 'delegates'.

In reality, it was a rally, not a conference, and there were no contributions from the floor in the main sessions. We basically went there to listen to speeches. Some of them were really interesting, some weren't. There were also a number of good workshops and discussions, so I wouldn't say that it was a total waste of time.

But I believe the lack of democratic structures is becoming a real problem - and I am not saying that because I want to slag UAF off, but because UAF will suffer because of it. We have already seen Searchlight leaving in disgust, while many local groups never joined, because it is such a top-down organisation.

If events like this conference had been put on with the real involvement of grassroots organisations, I think this split could possibly have been avoided. But this conference, as with most other UAF events, had been arranged by the National Assembly Against Racism and the Socialist Workers Party's Anti-Nazi League, and in quite a sectarian way.

I and the Jewish Socialist Group believe that there is actually very little difference between UAF and Searchlight and we are concerned that both sides tend to talk up the 'hideous' sides of the other in order to remain disunited. The worst thing of all is that in some areas there are rival campaigns duplicating each other's work.

We were trying to push a unity project forward at conference and handed out leaflets to this effect. Some of the speakers picked up on this question and supported our position, even if most of the contributions were a bit mealy-mouthed. However, many of the local UAF and Searchlight groups have no desire to follow this split and they are working together on the ground in a really good and practical way.

As I say, in general there was very little debate at conference. However, there was a sort of hidden controversy, which not all those present were fully aware of. This was brought out in a speech by Ben Summerskill of the gay rights group, Stonewall, who raised the issue that if we are standing shoulder to shoulder with oppressed communities against fascism, then there should be a "two-way street" in terms of respect for each other.

He specifically criticised Iqbal Sacranie, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, who had said in a radio interview that homosexuality was "not acceptable" and a health risk. Interestingly, Sacranie did not appear on the platform of the UAF conference, although he had been advertised as a speaker months ago. Instead, he was quietly dropped and replaced by a more moderate MCB speaker after Stonewall and other LGBT groups had criticised his inclusion on the top table. I very much got the feeling that Summerskill was wholeheartedly supported for his views by the rest of the platform.

Ken Livingstone also made an interesting speech on how to relate to muslim forces. He basically said that working with these forces does not mean that we cannot challenge them and fight them on a range of issues like homosexuality. He said we would raise the same issues with the "pope and the chief rabbi". If you compare that to Respect's attitude and practice, I think Livingstone came out well to the left of them and with a much stronger position on the question. John Rees and George Galloway would not have been able to respond properly to Summerskill's comments.