RESPECT SUPPORTERS turned out in force last weekend to campaign in the St Dunstan’s and Stepney Green council by-election in Tower Hamlets, east London.
With the election set to take place on Thursday of this week, Labour and the Lib Dems have been campaigning hard. They know that Respect is mounting a serious challenge.
Keith Prince was one of those out canvassing the ward on Sunday. He said, “Some people know Respect and say they will vote for us. But there is a lot of despair on the big estates. People ask what Respect can do for them. You have to convince some people that voting Respect can make a difference. I met a single parent stuck in a tiny flat with two kids. She had waited years to be rehoused. She started off saying politicians were all the same but, after a chat, she said she would vote for us and give us a chance. I met a disabled guy stuck in a second floor flat. His neighbour was furious that he hadn’t been rehoused. He said Asian people had been given the good flats. After a long discussion he changed his mind. He said if he voted for anyone it would be us. I think if the BNP had knocked on his door he might have been persuaded by them. But we got there first.”
Diana, another Respect canvasser, reported, “I met this 81 year old woman who was fed up with politicians and at first she didn’t want to talk.
“She had voted Labour all her life until the last elections. She told me, ‘You have no idea how many wars I have lived through. How many more does that man Blair want to lead us into? ‘He was supposed to be different, but even now he won’t admit he was wrong and bring the boys home. ‘My dad always told me that Labour was the party for the poor—well, not any more they’re not.’
“I explained to her how Respect had come out of the anti-war movement and that we really did have a chance of winning, and how that would upset New Labour much more than her not voting. She said she liked the idea that we were new and had lots of young people and weren’t part of the corrupt political machine. She said she would vote for us and hoped we won.”
Steve had come to canvass from Brixton. He said, “The response has been great. Lots of people know Respect. They have already voted for us once, so it’s much easier to ask them to vote for us again. I was in the Labour Party for 24 years and now I am proud to be out canvassing for Respect. The final straw for me was the war. All you get from Blair is promises and twisting the truth. He is a dictator now. He doesn’t care about his cabinet or his party and he certainly doesn’t care about us. Respect is different because it is against the war and it means what it says. I want to get everyone I know involved in Respect. I have lived in Brixton for 27 years so I know a lot of people.”
Monica joined the canvassing on Sunday. She said, “I met a whole house of people who are voting Respect.
“But they needed some advice about where to go and what to do to vote. I met one young guy who hadn’t heard of us. But he really agreed that Labour locally was disgraceful to push the local community groups out of the local community centre. Kids were all messing around his motorbike while we were talking. He said it was terrible that they had nowhere else to go. He said he would vote for us.”
‘People are really responding to us’
Oliur Rahman is the Respect candidate in the St Dunstan’s and Stepney Green by-election.
He works as a civil servant in a local job centre, and stood as a candidate in the 10 June elections for the London Assembly.
Oliur spoke to Socialist Worker about his campaign:
“We are getting a very good response in the ward. I topped the ballot in this council ward in the London Assembly election in June. Lots of people have already heard of us.
“Labour and the Lib Dems are campaigning very, very hard. There is a lot of anti-Labour feeling because of the war, and because the old Labour councillor got mixed up in a scandal and had to resign.
“The Private Finance Initiative is being introduced in local schools, which people are angry about. And we have been raising the issue of the firefighters.
“Two firefighters were killed in Bethnal Green last week but the government still won’t give them a decent wage.
“We say the government has money for wars and not for firefighters and schools. People really respond to that.”
More voices from the doorstep
BERNIE, FROM west London, said he had a long discussion with one man: “He said he voted for us last time but he wasn’t sure this time because of law and order.
“A local police station, where his wife worked, had been earmarked for closure.
“He was thinking about voting Tory, just because of that issue.
“He wanted to know what Respect was going to do about crime.
“I talked to him about the hypocrisy of Blair and Blunkett, who bang on about yobs and yob culture, but who leave young people with no hope and no opportunities.
“He ended up saying he would consider voting for us again.”
Gareth reported on another doorstep debate: “We met a 64 year old man who was visiting his mother in sheltered accommodation.
“He was so angry with the lack of respite care and how the council had messed him about.
“They only bothered to stir themselves to help when he made a huge fuss.
“He didn’t know we were from Respect at first.
“He started telling us that he was voting for Respect, just as he did in the London Assembly elections, because Respect was about ordinary people.”