Respect activists in Tower Hamlets, east London, are hard at work campaigning in a crucial council by-election in Shadwell ward that is due to take place on Thursday 9 August.
New Labour is using the by-election to try and get its former council leader Michael Keith back into the council chamber.
Michael Keith was ejected in May last year when Respect won all three seats in the former safe Labour ward.
“This is Labour’s attempt at making a comeback in Tower Hamlets,” says John Rees, national secretary of Respect. “We need to make every effort to ensure that the anti-war and anti-privatisation vote prevails in the borough.”
Respect’s candidate is Harun Miah, a well-known community activist in the area.
His campaign is focusing on social issues that have a major impact in the area such as the need for decent council housing and opposition to heavy-handed policing tactics in the area.
These are issues that distinguish Respect from the rotten track record of New Labour.
The Shadwell by-election is also a chance to deliver a blow to Gordon Brown. Many in Labour are hoping to see the party revitalised by the “Brown bounce” and hope to win back voters now there is a new prime minister.
Yet in all policy areas – civil liberites, pay, housing, foreign policy, education – Gordon Brown has continued Blair’s commitment to war and neoliberal policies.
Harun told Socialist Worker, “There is a lot of poverty in Shadwell. The biggest issues that people raise are around housing and new developments.
“There are also problems because of the lack of facilities for young people. There are no open spaces in the ward or things for children to do.”
“There is a lot of anger against the Labour candidate,” says Maggie Falshaw, Harun’s election agent.
“Michael Keith is making lots of promises about improving the area, yet he had eight years on the council and didn’t do these things.
“Housing and the state of repairs are very big issues in the ward. There is a growing contrast between the new developments springing up and the state of existing housing in Shadwell.”
John Rees notes that these issues are mirrored throughout east London.
He says, “Property developers are on the offensive across east London in the run up to the Olympics – and Respect is the only organisation that puts the interests of the people who live here above those of the property developers.”
The Respect councillors in Tower Hamlets have been at the forefront of fighting cuts and the privatisation of council housing in the borough.
In March the Labour council pushed through £3.8 million of cuts to frontline services at the same time as raising the council tax by 5 percent.
The Respect group were the only councillors to oppose all the cuts. They argued instead that budget savings should be made by capping the huge salaries of senior managers and council consultants.
Respect councillors have also been involved in a series of battles against council housing sell-offs in the area.
Last October, Respect members were part of campaigns on four estates in Tower Hamlets that won a vote against sell-offs in the face of a huge and expensive pro-privatisation campaign from the Labour council.
A Respect win in the seat will send a message to Labour that the issues of war and privatisation have not gone away just because Gordon Brown is now the prime minister.
It would also set Respect up well for next year’s Greater London Assembly and mayoral elections. Respect is calling for supporters from across London to help out in the last few days of the campaign.
Maggie says, “We have leafleted the entire ward and we are now focusing on canvassing as well as street stalls.
“We are asking as many people as possible to come to Shadwell to help with our election campaign.”
There’s a lot to fight for
Elaine Graham-Leigh is on the Respect list for the Greater London Assembly (GLA) elections next year. She told Socialist Worker, “Shadwell is a key by-election.
“A victory would show that Respect is a long term political force in Tower Hamlets. It would also have an effect beyond east London, in the GLA elections.
“New Labour are looking for a resounding victory to kick-off Gordon Brown’s premiership.
“We’re supposed to believe that a Brown government will be different from Tony Blair’s, when it’s a continuation of the policies of war and privatisation.
“The collapse of the Metronet consortium on the tube is just the latest example of how Brown’s privatisation policies are destroying our public services. Londoners deserve better.
“A win for Respect would underline the fact that we can mount a real challenge to New Labour next year and stand up for ordinary Londoners.”
How you can get involved
Respect is calling for supporters to come to Shadwell to help get Harun Miah elected. This weekend there will be a final push before the by-election on Thursday of next week.
- Saturday 4 August – meet at the Respect stall in Watney Market between 11am and 2pm.
- Sunday 5 August – Respect campaigners are meeting at 2pm outside Shadwell tube station.
- Every weekday – campaigners will meet at 6.30pm outside Shadwell tube station to canvas the ward.
Supporters are encouraged to come and help campaign whenever able.
Call Maggie on 07960 349 290 for campaign details or more information about getting involved.