Reflections on Respect and the recent elections

I wasn’t able to blog the last few days, because of long work hours and being too tired yesterday (after a run to Milton Keynes on Friday evening, not getting back until after 11pm, and having to deliver a van back to my work site early yesterday morning). By yesterday it was clear that Respect had failed to gain a single seat in any local authority, including the London assembly. The party gained 15% of the vote in the City and East constituency (which includes the two boroughs with the biggest Muslim population, Tower Hamlets and Newham) and 8.7% in the north-east constituency (which includes Walthamstow), in places coming above the major parties but also in places coming below the far-right parties including the BNP. This is a disappointing result; I was expecting the party to get at least one seat if only in the top-up seats. Both the BNP and the UKIP won council seats (alhamdu lillah, the BNP got none here in London). The European election results have yet to be declared. Respect have jumped to blame the poor showing on unclear ballot paper instructions and on poor media coverage. In particular, they have issued a call to boycott the Independent because “they refused to print our news and even letters to the editor despite promising to, the new Labour lickspittle in charge did not respond to a letter from George Galloway asking for fair coverage, columnists like Johann Hari and Nick Cohen poured on vitriol, and on the morning of the election the paper described us as ‘a motley collection of extremists’”. This is absolute rubbish! The Independent always opposed the war, it gave substantial coverage to anti-war rallies, and while Hari may have written articles against Respect, he also attacked right-wing extremist parties including the UKIP. They then go on to announce that they are in the process of having T-shirts, badges and stickers printed urging people to boycott the paper - “its finances are fragile enough” - and if they succeed (which I’m sure they won’t), it would certainly be a victory for the right-wing press and no-one else. It actually demonstrates who is really running Respect.

I also strongly suspect that the party didn’t get as much of the Muslim vote as it hoped. Even the MAB, a partner with the Stop the War coalition in organising the marches, did not support all of the coalition’s candidates. One of the rallies I attended featured George Galloway alleging that any Muslim voting Labour would be putting a bullet in an Iraqi (or some phrase like that). A few years ago scholars started issuing fatwas that Muslims must stop buying produce coming from the USA or Israel, particularly US-imported foodstuffs in the Middle East but also the products of known pro-Israeli companies like Coca-cola, but Muslims still continue to buy these products, and in some cases these include religious organisations. Virtually every single Muslim catering business sells Coke or Pepsi, including businesses run by religious Muslims. Sales have gone down in response to alternatives being produced by Muslim companies (Qibla Cola, Mecca Cola etc), but most Muslim shops and restaurants still don’t sell these drinks. If Muslim scholars cannot persuade the community by telling them that they are contributing to the killing of Muslims, what chance has George Galloway?

Respect’s tactics may well have cost it a lot of support - it has regularly been accused of pursuing straightforward communal politics, appealing only to Asian (i.e. Muslim) voters, yet it puts up Socialist Worker members as candidates. Worse, in north London it fielded Sait Akgul, a Kurdish “community activist”. Is this the same man who was at the Hyde Park rally who got in a “Free Abdullah Ocalan” in his speech? Putting him up as a candidate in Haringey is highly unlikely to win over Turkish voters, whether they are secularists or Muslims. I hope that insha Allah some of the party’s candidate’s win a seat in the European parliament, but I’m not betting on it and I can’t see the party lasting much longer. It’s primary policy is pulling the troops out, but once this is done, the voter is presented with a series of policies which are as undesirable to Muslims as to other voters.

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