Shambolic scramble for candidates

Cameron Richards reports on the March 6 election meeting of Respect Wales, which was attended by the grand total of 13 people

Sometimes one approaches writing for the Weekly Worker with some excitement. Other times a sense of anxiety may occur, whilst, just occasionally, a little diffidence is apparent when carrying out the task. Yet, after attending the Respect selection meeting for the Welsh assembly elections on March 6 in Swansea, the feeling confronting one is of sheer bewilderment.

Quite frankly, the meeting was probably the most shambolic gathering of the left that this journalist has ever witnessed. Hurriedly brought forward, apparently not to clash with events on International Women's Day on March 8 and to enable Respect members from across Wales to attend, the meeting attracted the grand total of ... 13 people.

Yet the paltry turnout is, in some senses, the very least of one's concerns. From start to finish, it proceeded in a way that indicates that Respect in Wales is a complete disaster area. A few examples will illustrate the point.

Although an agenda had been sent out previously, it seemed that almost everyone in the room was in the dark about where Respect wanted to stand, who would be nominated and what Respect's election strategy would be. It appeared that when the chair opened proceedings, only he was aware of what Respect's intentions were.

Immediately he kicked off by stating that a vote would take place on the candidates to be selected for the South Wales West region. No attempt was even made to explain Respect's election strategy to deal the dilemmas faced by an already cluttered list of left parties already committed to stand in the region (Socialist Party, Communist Party of Britain, Socialist Labour Party, Forward Wales) and the announcement a few days earlier that one Nick Griffin would also be standing on the British National Party list in this region.

He stated that only two nominations had been received for the regional slate of up to four candidates - one for Paul Lynch, apparently a non-aligned trade unionist, and the other for a member called Ahmed, who was not even in attendance. Of course, the nomination for CPGB member Bob Davies had not been received. Surprise, surprise.

In fact, there was a perfectly innocent explanation. The person responsible for taking nominations had not turned up or even bothered to inform anyone of those he had received. Eventually, it was agreed that comrade Davies could stand.

Comrade Lynch did not even attempt to make a speech, while a Socialist Workers Party member from the floor informed us that Ahmed, a young student, was a muslim and a socialist. Yet despite there being two spare places on the list, comrade Davies's nomination was predictably contested by the SWP. Consequently, only the names of comrades Ahmed and Lynch went forward, though who would head the list was not discussed.

Then the chair moved on to the South Wales Central list (also likely to be contested by SPEW, the CPB, SLP and Forward Wales). The same saga ensued, except that this time only one person was being recommended - that of comrade Karen, an SWP member in Cardiff. Although she too was not in attendance, the nomination of Ethan Grech of the CPGB was predictably defeated.

After the meeting selected a steering committee, the chair seemed in a rush to close proceedings. When it was put to him that the revised agenda had asked for "policy suggestions", he was inclined to the view that such an item was out of order. Only after some debate with other SWPers, did he relent and allow the CPGB to put a motion that contained proposals on the national question and called for a democratic and secular republic.

Of course, the motion was met with incredulity by SWP comrades, who seemed to believe that our proposals were akin to some of the wackier ideas of David Icke. Obviously it is much more sensible for socialists to call for victory to Hezbollah or demand the closure of lap-dancing clubs.

The most revealing aspect of all this is what it tells us about Respect in Wales. Having been almost completely inactive since the general election, Respect seems to have lost the support of every candidate who stood then and in the European and local elections in 2004. So isolated is it that Respect now resorts to a nominating a set of lists so unimpressive that even those selected cannot be bothered to turn up.

The really interesting question about Respect in Wales is why it is not standing a list of candidates which unite 'secular socialists' with non-working class forces? The answer is simple - it is actually incapable of finding candidates to fulfil its cross-class popular frontist strategy.

So after this spectacularly lacklustre meeting Respect enters the elections no better placed that any of the other left parties - although the comrades did take heart from the fact that Arthur Scargill had apparently attracted even fewer people to a recent meeting in the area. One doubts whether even George Galloway's visit to Swansea next week is likely to give the Respect election campaign any momentum.

Still lacking any policies to deal with the national and language questions in Wales, Respect here is a joke organisation. Against this background, one is hard pressed to put any positive arguments why voters in south Wales should vote for it, as opposed to any of the other contesting sects.