Respect was formed in January last year as a coalition of socialists, anti-war activists, Muslims and disillusioned Labour supporters, including the expelled MP George Galloway. Centrally it is opposed to Bush and Blair’s war, to the neo-liberal attacks on workers and their rights, and to racism.
Its first challenge to New Labour was in June’s elections to the European parliament and for the London Mayor and London Assembly—the only elections in England with a degree of proportional representation.
It got more Euro votes than any other party in the inner-London borough of Tower Hamlets, and came second in neighbouring Newham. It also did well in inner-city areas of Birmingham, Leicester, Preston and north east London, although its national Euro vote was damaged, as with the left elsewhere in Europe, by the huge, dispersed constituencies.
In the Assembly elections, across the whole of London (which includes big middle class areas) it got 4.57 percent of the vote—with 14.9 percent in east London and 8.3 percent in north east London.
It built on these results to get 6.3 and 12.7 percent of the votes in first past the post parliamentary by-elections in Birmingham and Leicester in July. It stunned New Labour by winning a council seat in a predominantly Bengali area of Tower Hamlets and then by beating New Labour to come second in one of the borough’s ethnically mixed areas. More recently, it picked up 15 percent of the vote in a council by-election in nearby Hackney.
Respect entered the election campaign better placed to challenge Labour’s stranglehold over working class votes than the left has been at any time since the Communist Party lost its last two MPs in 1950. But a general election—on the first past the post system— presents special difficulties, given a virtual blackout by the national media.
Respect has for this reason concentrated its forces on about 30 constituencies, expecting to do best in east London, where it has the possibility of emerging as a central political force.