Socialist Worker

Historic victory in London by-election

Issue No. 1913

A HUGE cheer went up outside the election count as the full scale of Respect’s victory in Tower Hamlets, east London, became known.

The cheering continued in homes, cafes and on the streets over the weekend as newly elected councillor Oliur Rahman and supporters toured the St Dunstan’s and Stepney Green ward to thank voters.

Van driver Alan Cooper said, “It’s great you’re out here AFTER the election to talk to people, not just going out before to get their votes. So many of us who have voted Labour all our lives can’t stand what they are doing now. Ten years ago it was the British National Party that was going round here trying to get votes—only from white people of course. That was a terrible time. Now there’s something positive to vote for, something all communities can vote for and be proud to support. If you carry on listening to people and showing you’re different, there’ll be even more respect for you round here.”

There is shock and turmoil in Tower Hamlets Labour Party after its candidate, Shah Habibur Rahman, crashed to third place in what was Labour’s third safest seat on the council.

New Labour’s head office was on the phone to leading party figures in Tower Hamlets the morning after the result to find out what had gone wrong.

Some Labour activists blame the tactic of sending the two Tower Hamlets Labour MPs—Oona King and Jim Fitzpatrick—into the ward to canvass. “They both supported the war and having them going door to door cost us votes,” said one.

Respect candidate Oliur Rahman topped the poll with 878 votes, 31 percent.

“This was an informed vote,” says Respect supporter Nur Monie. “The Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats fought very hard. So people knew what they were voting for when they voted for us in this historic election.

“This is a huge step towards getting some representation for working people.”

The election has also shaken the Liberal Democrats who sent their “big hitter” Simon Hughes MP into the ward to canvass.

Their usual trick of embellishing their fake anti-war credentials did not con most people this time, and they came second with 27 percent of the poll.

“We know Oliur was in the stop the war campaign in Tower Hamlets,” said 21 year old Bilal Uddin.

“He put the work into stopping the war on Iraq. We know he’ll put the work into exposing corruption on the council.

“It’s not only the war. It’s the closures by the Labour council. The Liberals were as bad when they ran it.”

“You won! That’s delightful,” said 84 year old pensioner Mildred Baker. “I’ve always voted Labour—but not now. I hope the big parties are shocked.”

Instead well known New Labour councillor in Tower Hamlets Kevin Morton shocked voters when he said that Respect’s victory “has echoes of the BNP victory in 1993.

“We should not pander to the bigotry behind this new victory for the forces of extremism and division.”

This disgraceful slur cannot mask Respect’s wide popularity.

Respect MP George Galloway was inundated with calls for him to stand against Oona King at the next general election when he took part in the victory tour on Sunday.

He said, “Just 100 years ago, a new political force was born in the East End of London. But Tony Blair and his clique have flown that vehicle to destruction.

“Now, a century later, a new political force has been born in the same place—Respect.

“We will do what New Labour no longer does. We will fight for working people, for the poor, for asylum seekers, and against war and imperialism across the globe.”

Respect is to select a candidate to stand in a second council by-election in Tower Hamlets due in September. It is in the Millwall ward, where the BNP held a seat 10 years ago.

Response from the unions

‘We were crying out for this’

‘RESPECT’S VICTORY is terrific news. It shows there really is a credible alternative to Labour.

My members have been crying out for that, particularly since our dispute over pay began two years ago.

Sure, when we were on strike there were people in Bethnal Green Labour Party who supported us, but not Oona King.

It’s one council by-election, but you’ve got to start somewhere. I’m really pleased the start has been made in east London.’
Karl Haider secretary Tower Hamlets and Hackney Fire Brigades Union

‘A dozen RMT branches backed Respect’s challenge in the London and European elections.

Now there’s a clear-cut victory to show for that support. Labour expelled us for deciding what to do with our members’ political fund money.

Oliur’s victory really strengthens the case for the activists in the RMT, and in other unions, to back Respect.

None of the London Assembly members have come out in our support after Ken Livingstone encouraged scabbing on our recent strike.

We need representatives who will support the unions and stand up for working people.’
Unjum Mirza, political officer RMT London Transport Regional Council


St Dunstan’s & Stepney Green

Oliur Rahman Respect 878 votes (31%)

Jalal Uddin Liberal Democrats 754 votes (27%)

Shah Habibur Rahman Labour 578 votes (20%)

Alexander Story Conservative 445 votes (16 %)

Lynda Miller National Front 172 votes (6%)

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Article information

Sat 7 Aug 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1913
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