The first act of the four SWP-allied councillors who have split away from the main Respect opposition group in Tower Hamlets was not to launch a high-profile campaign aimed on any of the many issues which affecting workers in the borough — for instance the threatened transfer of council housing to an ALMO. After the SWP’s noises about breaking from the “ineffectiveness” and “communalism” of Respect in Tower Hamlets, surely this would have been an appropriate course.
Instead it has been widely reported that the new group of Respect (Independent) councillors — Ahmed Hussain, Lutfa Begun, Oli Rahman and Rania Khan — have begun talks with the Liberal-Democrat councillors to form a new opposition coalition! So the theory goes, the Respect (Independent) four, together with the Liberal-Democrat’s six councillors would then become the largest opposition group inside the council replacing the old Respect group, and with this would be entitled to a publicly funded political worker. It is claimed that a Liberal Democrat councillor would lead the group.
However, Rahman denies that any coalition is on the cards, and says that he has only met with the Liberal Democrats in order to ensure “effective” council functioning.
The Respect council group were first elected in May 2006 and it was always a politically incoherent combination, with some people clearly joining Respect in order to become councillors. In the course of the first 18 months one of their councillors resigned and another defected to New Labour. It was also a group exclusively based on the Bengali community and dominated by communal politics.
It followed directly from the politics of Galloway’s election campaign, with its courting of Bengali businesses and emphasis on getting out the Bengali vote and being the “best fighters for Muslims”.
The background explains the total lack of profile and effectiveness of Respect as a group.
As individuals the councillors may have done good work for particular constistuents — as any political party! — but as a group they were never to be seen working consistently and with any drive on any particular campaign. Their main public face came through the letter-writing skills of Rob Hoveman who would regularly dash off missives to the local press attacking New Labour on national issues such as Iraq and defending Galloway’s record.
I am involved in an important dispute between the council and council house leaseholders (50% of all council properties are leasehold). Respect has turned up now and then, made some promises, but have then been conspicuous by their absence. Even within the Council Chamber they cannot deliver on a promise to expose the details of what New Labour lavishes on private consultants. They said they would and then nothing more was heard.
There will be more of the same from the seven remaining Respect councillors closely allied with Galloway. And the four Respect (Independent) councillors? Being a socialist councillor and upholding socialist values means first and foremost getting stuck into working class campaigns and acting as a clear tribune for that class. The Respect (Independents) will presumably have less communalism than the old Respect group, but their track record in the council inspires little confidence.