About an hour and a half into the "Respect Renewal" conference held by George Galloway and his allies on 17 September (at which point I left), there were about 200 people present. So the widely cited figure of 250 is probably about right.
“The hall was packed out with a genuinely diverse crowd - young and old, men and women, black and white, Asian, Muslim, Christian and those of no faith, plus trade unionists and socialists from different traditions,” enthused the next day's Morning Star.
There were certainly a variety of people there. However, my impression of the mix was rather different. In contrast to the SWP-Respect conference which we had leafleted earlier that morning, the audience was overwhelmingly late middle-aged and overwhelmingly male. (There was, however, a fair degree of ethnic diversity, with many participants who looked Bengali.) And politically, the mix was toxic.
Outside, in addition to the eager opportunists of the International Socialist Group, were sellers of the Morning Star, Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!, and various other Stalinist journals. Best of all, I recognised at least six members of Socialist Action, evidently attracted to the event like rats to a polluted water source.
There was also a small, but only very small, smattering of ex-Socialist Alliance-type lefties, so desperate for a political home not linked to an organised tendency that they have flung themselves into Galloway's icky embrace. I'm not sure how many ex-SWPers were present, but I did see a few familiar faces that were pointedly not distributing the (very poor, totally apolitical) SWP/official Respect materials calling for unity.
The conference was, in fact, more of a rally, with long lists of speakers in each session; there was no space for motions or elections and, although I left almost as soon as Galloway had finished speaking, I can't imagine the "plenty of time for questions or contributions from the floor" amounted to much. Socialist Worker reports that a committee to run the organisation, including expelled SWPers Nick Wrack, Kevin Ovenden and Rob Hoveman, was simply announced.
It's tempting to discuss Galloway's speech at length, but not really worth it. Suffice to say that, while he scored a number of points against the SWP with regards to their anti-democratic behaviour and political dishonesty, every blow he landed was doubly an indictment of himself. The whole thing was dressed up with liberal helpings of his typical demagogy and self-aggrandisement. ("Would the ordinary man or woman on the street call George Galloway right-wing? Would the US Senate? Would the anti-war movement?")
The other notable thing was the ISG's announcement, now confirmed on their website, that they will be handing over their monthly paper for the new organisation's use. For a self-styled revolutionary socialist organisation to ally with Galloway is bad enough; but to hand over - freely, enthusiastically, with nothing in return - their public mouthpiece is qualitatively worse.
Goodness knows how Respect Renewal will develop, but the constituent elements mean that, whatever the result, it will not be good.