Socialist Worker

Who would you choose? Louise Christian takes on Barbara Roche

Issue No. 1735

Louise Christian

  • A former Labour Party left winger who kept her principles.
  • Represented miners who were arrested and faced police harassment during the 1984-5 miners' strike.
  • Represented the family of Hornsey resident Joy Gardner, who died when she was restrained by immigration officials and police trying to deport her. Also lawyer for the families of Wayne Douglas, who died in police custody, and Ricky Reel, whose death was ignored by the police.
  • Successfully forced the Director of Public Prosecutions to announce a prosecution in the case of Simon Jones, who was killed in Shoreham docks after a crane collapsed on top of him.
  • Acted for Southall and Paddington rail crash victims. An outspoken critic of privatisation, she supports London tube workers and others fighting privatisation.

Barbara Roche

  • A former Labour Party left winger who sold out her principles.
  • Voted for tuition fees for students.
  • Backed the government's cuts to benefits for single parents.
  • Defended the insulting 75p increase for pensioners last year.
  • Supports moves to privatise air traffic control and is for the privatisation of London Underground.
  • As Home Office minister she deports an average 855 people a week and has pledged to deport over 40,000 asylum seekers in the next two years.
  • Detains over 1,000 asylum seekers on any one day. She has implemented the government's forced dispersal of refugees.
  • Hired a private jet costing £30,000 to deport a Ghanaian refugee who was forcibly parted from her sick son.

Louise Christian spoke to Socialist Worker after she was unanimously selected to be a prospective parliamentary Socialist Alliance candidate at a 90-strong meeting in north London last week. She will take on Barbara Roche in Hornsey and Wood Green.

'I was in the Labour Party for 20 years from 1976 until 1996. I stood for parliament for the Labour Party in the 1987 general election for Hendon South. In the 1980s I spoke at the Labour Party conference in support of the miners' strike and also in support of gay rights. The reason I want to stand as a Socialist Alliance candidate for Hornsey and Wood Green is because I am disgusted by what Barbara Roche represents. When I worked at the GLC with Barbara Roche in the early 1980s we both agreed with each other. We were on the same side.

But so many of the people I worked alongside in my 20 years in the Labour Party have been incorporated and silenced. I want to shame those people who desert their principles, who think that office and position is more important than speaking out. This government is doing things that before it was elected seemed inconceivable.

It is attacking jury trials so that people will face the unfairness, class injustice and race bias in a magistrates' court. The public transport system is collapsing around our ears. The railways are near meltdown.

I have been involved in the public inquiry into Paddington for the last year but it will not produce an answer, and is incapable of producing one because the ownership and structure of the railway is outside its terms of reference.

But it is the ownership and structure of the railways that is the problem, that means billions of pounds end up in the pockets of shareholders and company directors rather than invested in making the railways safe to travel on. In 1995 John Prescott promised to take the railways back into public ownership. Not only has he reneged, but he has now grasped hook, line and sinker all the Thatcherite private dogmatism.

Yet this is at the same time when more people than ever recognise that privatisation Thatcherite-style sold people down the river. At the Home Office Barbara Roche and Jack Straw are doing what even the Tories never dared to do. They want to tear up the 1951 United Nations convention on refugees and lead a movement in Europe to convince other countries to turn their backs on people fleeing persecution.

What this government is doing makes my blood boil. It makes me ashamed to be a citizen of this country. I had supposed that the Labour government would be fairer and give people more human rights than the Tories. I was outraged when the Tories tried to withdraw benefits from some asylum seekers.

I was at a rally in Hyde Park when Jack Straw made a pledge that Labour would reverse this. Instead Labour withdrew benefits from all asylum seekers. They have made all asylum seekers subsist on vouchers. Asylum seekers are stigmatised, treated with indignity and humiliation comparable to that in Nazi Germany. They are expected to live on less than £35 a week.

In a society which depends on money, it is an abrogation of human rights to let a person live without money in their pockets. On top of that the dispersal system sends people to places where they may be racially attacked, where they have no friends and family and have to subsist on their own without any support.

I feel incredibly strongly about this. In our practice we act for a large number of asylum seekers who suffer from a distressing level of stress and anxiety. One of our clients committed suicide by setting fire to himself in Hyde Park. The Labour Party has made things worse for people who have already been persecuted, often locked up in prison with medical problems arising from that persecution, separated from their families and often not able to speak English. I cannot believe a Labour government is doing this. I want to stand against Barbara Roche, put my hand up and say I do not agree with this as loudly and clearly as possible.

There is a huge gap between New Labour and what ordinary people want. The things we are demanding are not way-out left wing policies. They would have been taken as given, as the consensus in the Labour Party of the 1980s I was in.

If we get a large protest vote in Hornsey and Wood Green it will send a message to the government that not everyone is a racist Daily Mail reader. We are on the verge of an about-turn and we can get big support. We have to find ways of getting out and reaching people who feel abandoned by New Labour.'

Over 130 socialist candidates have now been selected to stand in Scotland, England and Wales. There are more selections to come in different parts of the country. To get involved in the campaign to build a socialist electoral challenge to New Labour in your area phone the National Network of Socialist Alliances on 020 7536 9696, or the Scottish Socialist Party on 0141 221 7714.

Discuss the new book Imagine with authors, Tommy Sheridan, Alan McCombes and solicitor Louise Christian Friday 23 February 6.30pm, Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, 235 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2

Hosted by Bookmarks Tickets £1 Phone 020 7637 1848

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Sat 17 Feb 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1735
Share this article

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.