By Brian Wheeler
VENUE: Friends Meeting House, Manchester.
Respect wants an end to public service cuts (pic: Richard Searle)
A suitably pacifist-setting for an anti-war party. "Help us not to despise or oppose what we do not understand," it says on a board outside in the inevitable Manchester drizzle. Long-neglected left wing outfits, such as the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Socialist Party, were booked into other rooms at the Quaker venue.
ATMOSPHERE: Fervent. The party feels it is getting a raw deal from the media at this election. It is only fielding 11 Parliamentary candidates but it believes it deserves more attention. So as the only representative of the national media at the event, it fell to me to soak up some of their frustration (as well as ample supplies of coffee and biscuits). Mohammed Zulfikar, who is taking on Gerald Kaufmann in Manchester Gorton, was particularly exercised by what he saw as the media's bias against Respect. He says he was turned away from the first prime ministerial debate at the Granada studios two weeks ago. He has complained to Ofcom. There was also much righteous anger about "greedy bankers" in the City. There were murmurs of outrage when someone quoted the Sunday Times Rich List statistic that the most wealthy 100 people in the UK had £330bn between them.
VISUAL STYLE: Colourful.
Respect's green and red palette reflects its socialist/environmentalist stance. The purple background to its poster could be borrowed from UKIP. Party leader Salma Yaqoob, who will be the first scarf-wearing Muslim MP if she is elected in Birmingham Hall Green, has replaced George Galloway as its media-friendly face. Her picture adorns the "Manifesto for Peace, Justice and Equality". Could this be a legacy of Mr Galloway's Big Brother antics, which still divides opinion in this party? National chair Kay Phillips told me she did not agree with his decision to appear on the reality show, but then again his appearance before the US Senate was a "moment of pure genius", she adds.
STAR TURN: George Galloway was the ghost at this particular feast. He is holding a separate event in London on Tuesday setting out Respect's terms for a hung Parliament.
They missed his blood-curdling rhetoric (he would support a Labour government in the Commons "as a rope supports a hanging man," he told me when I met him last week on the campaign trail in Poplar and Limehouse). Stand-in master of ceremonies John Nicholson did his best to make up the deficit, with an attack on Labour's "shocking and appalling" immigration minister Phil Woolas and the way Labour had, in his view, "legitimised racist and fascist ideology".
The Friends Meeting House played host to the Respect launch
An unlikely-looking Parliamentary candidate, in his grey tracksuit bottoms and T-shirt, former youth worker David Henry is the self-styled Hazelmustgo candidate in Salford and Eccles. He is not a Respect member, he tells me, but they are backing his campaign against Ms Blears. With eight candidates standing, it has turned into a bit of a circus, he admits, but is hopeful of causing an upset.
DO SAY: Respect are New Labour's worst nightmare - especially if they end up holding the balance of power.
DON'T SAY: They should not get their hopes up - the Iraq war is not a big issue at this election.
KEY SOUNDBITE: "There is an alternative to cuts and privatisation. There is an alternative to war and racism."
TELLING MOMENT: In the North-West of England, Respect are targeting the same disillusioned former Labour voters as the British National Party, Kay Phillips and council candidate Paul Kelly both tell me. The two parties may detest each other's policies but they do share one key aim: immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.