Kath Owen was a candidate on the Respect list for Yorkshire and Humberside in the Euro-elections. She has now left Respect, and explained why to Lesley Smallwood.
Despite sharing some of the AWL’s criticisms you decided to join Respect at its launch. What did you hope it would achieve?
I thought it would be the electoral representative of the anti-war movement, that it would build that movement into a political force which would link together other wider political issues such as racism and the backlash against civil liberties. I expected it to have a socialist direction.
The emergence of New Labour had left a gap for radical politics locally and nationally, which Respect could fill.
Though I had criticisms of Respect from the beginning, I believed that by being involved I could change some of those things.
Why have you decided to resign?
Respect was formed hastily, at the height of the anti-war protests and in the run-up to the European elections. It was not set up in a measured, thought-out way. I hoped it would develop and grow democratically. Though its original programme was vague, its title was an acronym which included the words “socialist” and “equality” which I believed gave it pretty clear guidelines.
The conference last weekend [30–31 October] proved me wrong.
I saw the conference as a test of policy, the first real opportunity to discuss Respect’s politics and programme. By the end of the weekend I did not feel comfortable with the policy decisions, and I was particularly upset by the manner in which the conference was conducted.
Minority motions based upon strongly held, principled beliefs were dismissed by the leadership as “politically motivated” and “deliberately divisive”. These issues were markers for my own political beliefs.
Michael Lavalette argued against elected representatives taking a worker’s wage as “most people wouldn’t understand it” — though the Scottish Socialist Party use it — and because it was only there “to target George Galloway”. A motion calling for a non-racist immigration policy and “open borders” was again blocked by the SWP as “not a logical extension of anti-racism” and “never likely to be implemented”. A moderate abortion rights motion which simply called for a defence of the current legislation and “a woman’s right to choose” was not supported by the SWP majority, on the grounds that it was “divisive”.
That the SWP leadership argued and voted against policies which in other forums they would vociferously support was bizarre. The manner in which they attacked and jeered those who did not agree with them was particularly upsetting.
Where does the left go from here?
It is sad that my involvement with Respect has ended so negatively. It is a wasted opportunity. I will continue to work with individuals and organisations on the left and attempt to build alliances around existing campaigns, particularly the Social Forums.
Elements from the Socialist Alliance are still active and it may be possible to resurrect some form of that organisation.