The Respect experiment
in Class, ethnicity and religion in the Bengali East End
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Chapter 9 looks at the attempt by some on the left (especially the Socialist Workers’ Party) to build on the movement against the Iraq war and create a new political party combining socialists and Muslims. It looks at the rise and fall of Respect in its power base of Tower Hamlets, including George Galloway’s defeat of Labour’s pro-war Oona King in the 2005 general election and more limited electoral successes in the local council. It argues that Respect was a coalition based on opportunism, and another example of the failure of popular front politics. It was conceived by a weakening left, prepared to compromise its socialist programme to make links with a strengthening Islamic movement. It made the left even weaker and strengthened religious organisations. The chapter examines at length whether religious and socialist organisations can work together beyond single issue campaigns. It concludes that while non-political Muslims might practise forms of socialism, Marxists and Islamists hold incompatible world views and any attempt at a more general coalition between the two would be bound to result in unacceptable compromise.

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