Saturday, 16 March 2013

Stakes rise in British society

British politics is now firmly cast upon the sea of uncertainty where ongoing economic crisis and political disaffection are leading to rapidly changing waters. The Respect Party is capable of playing a significant role in political developments in the next few years if it can reach out to construct an activist and membership base now. This was the message from discussions at the Respect Party National Council last Saturday (9 March).

Lessons from November
The November by-elections demonstrated both the possibilities and the difficulties involved in trying to articulate the call for social and political change that challenges the austerity and drive to increase inequality among the three major parties. The elections took place in areas where Respect had no effective presence prior to the campaign. The elections were called at short notice by the Labour Party, mainly for fear of Respect repeating the unprecedented victory of George Galloway in the Bradford West by-election in March 2012. Labour was able to pour resources and party workers from across the country into these elections, making it difficult for Respect to compete with limited resources. 

The elections confirmed that there remains a sharp squeeze of votes for Respect due to Labour being the automatic and instinctive vote of opposition to the ConDems. This is happening no matter how Labour behaves or positions itself in reality. The Conservative vote is being split to the right by UKIP while the Liberal Democrats are collapsing in urban areas. This creates a great deal of electoral volatility that is likely to grow if Labour wins the next general election. 

The economic situation in Britain edges towards a third recession in five years as Gideon Osborne’s desire to destroy the NHS, comprehensive education and state benefits is reaping its predictable reward. Far from cutting public sector borrowing, it is mushrooming as tax is avoided, the richest are given handouts while the rest of the population is unable to spend so jobs are lost. Wages are falling at a rate unseen since the Great Depression while basic services are being strangled by underfunding or closed altogether. The thousands of jobs that rely on these services are lost while new employment is becoming part-time and temporary. The sense of poverty and instability that most people feel as a result is feeding into every corner of British society. 

In each of the November by-elections, Respect had good candidates and high profile campaigns. However, the campaigns demonstrated the shortcomings in the Respect Party’s organization. The party was unable to create electoral machines capable of delivering either allocation of volunteers effectively or translate the immense support we experienced into votes. The party completely missed the postal vote in all three by-elections it contested. There needs to be a more systematic strategy that allows for effective canvassing, compiling of returns and delivering the postal vote. 

The political disconnection
The most positive aspect of the campaigns is the emergence of new branches and party groups in the constituencies. While there is undoubtedly a scramble for votes in opposition to the ConDems that pits Respect against a far larger Labour Party, there is also enormous disquiet about the politics of the modern Labour Party that shares little with its founding principles or allegiance with working people. They feel forgotten and ignored in the pursuit of powerful media support. Labour continues to support disastrous benefit changes, was responsible for introducing the horrific ATOS into Disability Living Allowance assessments and fails to grasp the evasion of tax by the richest that is at the heart of public spending problems. Labour continues to fan the flames of racism by blaming immigrants that had nothing to do with the great bank rip off. 

The result is that there is a political need for Respect’s politics that is leading to a wave of new members and groups being established by the party. In Newham, 2,000 attended a meeting with George Galloway, Yvonne Ridley and Lee Jasper. To build on this political support, there need to be three strands to party development over 2013: a) policy development; b) membership drive; c) national fundraising campaign. 

Developing our policies in preparation for the coming elections, local, European and national, is leading to a review and the drafting of new and exciting solutions to the crisis in education, health, welfare, black civil rights and immigration. Respect’s economic policy is being updated to propose a series of public programmes to rebuild the economic infrastructure of the UK and to reorient the economy towards green technologies and public services. Economics based upon the needs of people and communities rather than the profits of the rich. 

There are many suggestions for campaigns that Respect should initiate or be involved with. 
  • Opposing the housing benefit changes including the bedroom tax and for under 25s;
  • opposing the DLA cuts;
  • opposition to the universal credit system;
  • council house building;
  • People’s Assembly against Austerity;
  • black civil rights;
  • opposition to growing immigration frenzy;
  • prioritize young with a New Deal on employment, education (EMA, tuition fees) and the workfare programme;
  • a campaign against corporate tax avoidance.

All of these need urgent attention and development. The Respect Party wants to work with other progressively minded people in building these campaigns and supporting those that exist. If we come together to campaign, we will all be stronger and have a chance of stopping the break up of the modern welfare state that so many need. 

The Respect Party intends to hold a series of public meetings around Britain in order to explain its reasons for wanting to see a political uprising at the ballot box. There urgently needs to be a dialogue about how this can best be achieved and what we can all do to help make it happen. The Respect Party has a historic task before it but one that it cannot reach for at the present time as it does not have the resources or the members. If we are to bring about the kind of impacts that can reshape British politics in a positive direction, these resources and members need to be brought forth. The last three years show that the stakes are rising sharply and we need Respect to meet the challenge.

Chris Chilvers
Respect Party National Secretary