Socialist Worker

Crisis of mainstream parties highlights need for Respect

Issue No. 2049

The May 2007 election results have underlined the urgent need to create a radical alternative to the party of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Neither the retiring prime minister nor his successor can take much solace from these results. In the English council selections, New Labour took just 27 percent of the vote.

But the other establishment parties also failed to register the successes they had hoped for. David Cameron signally failed to overturn the legacy of the Thatcher years that still haunts the Tories. The Liberal Democrats have no reason to cheer either.

On the far right, the fascist British National Party looks to have fallen far short of their hoped for advance to 100 council seats nationwide.

In Scotland the final outcome will only be known later today (Friday 4 May). New Labour is fighting to hold on as the largest party in one of its historic strongholds.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) has won core Labour seats such as Fife Central, Kilmarnock & Loudon and Glasgow Govan. This is a humiliation for Blair and Brown.

The SNP has benefited from its strong anti-war stance and its attempt to seize the 'Old Labour' mantle. The battle in Scotland narrowed to a clash between New Labour and the SNP.

This dynamic squeezed out the smaller parties. Tragically that meant that Solidarity's Tommy Sheridan narrowly failed to retain his place in the Scottish parliament.

Radical

In England it is clear that many traditional Labour voters and many of those who opposed the Iraq war were not attracted to the established parties as an alternative to New Labour. In the absence of a strong radical challenge, they will either stick with Labour or simply not vote.

Respect has shown that such a challenge can succeed. Respect registered significant gains in the English local elections, broadening its support and winning seats.

Sitting Preston councillor Michael Lavalette stormed to victory in Town Centre ward with over 50 percent of the vote, taking 1,179 votes ahead of Labour's 717, the Liberal Democrat's 206, the Conservative's 87 and the Green's 63.

In Birmingham, Britain's second city, Respect won a second city council seat with Mohammed Ishtiaq defeating New Labour by over 1,000 votes in Sparkbrook ward. Respect came second to New Labour in another Birmingham seat and third in four more.

In a straight two party fight, former miner Ray Holmes defeated New Labour to win a council seat for Respect in Bolsover. The ward is in the centre of the historic Derbyshire coalfield and the parliamentary seat of veteran Labour left winger Dennis Skinner.

In Cambridge, Tom Woodcock, a local teacher and chair of the city's trades council, won nearly 20 percent of the vote for Respect, coming well ahead of the Tories and the Greens.

Respect also came third in both Bristol's Easton ward and Rusholme in Manchester. These are both inner city wards where Respect polled ahead of the Conservatives and the Greens.

Counting resumes this morning, with Respect anticipating strong results in a number of cities.

Grassroots

The 'first past the post' electoral system means that even when Respect polls 20 or 30 percent of the vote, it does not win representation.

Nevertheless, consistent work at grassroots level points the way to yet further advances. That was what lay behind last night's successes, together with Respect's central role in campaigning against Blair's wars, in defence of the NHS and much else.

Next year will see mayoral and assembly elections in London and Respect's campaigning is underway even now.

We can say, proudly, that Respect has become a force in England, a radical voice standing for equality, peace, justice and socialism.


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