Exeter, in the south west of England, is the kind of Middle England town so beloved of Tony Blair and New Labour. Labour won the seat from the Tories in 1997, with a swing of nearly 12 percent. Many cheered when Labour's Ben Bradshaw, who is openly gay, beat Tory bigot Adrian Rogers.
But New Labour has let people down. Exeter Socialist Alliance was launched only a few weeks ago, yet already it is attracting support. There were 55 people at its launch rally last month, and since then between 25 and 30 people attend weekly organising meetings. They have selected postal worker and Communication Workers Union rep FRAN CHOULES, who left the Labour Party in October of last year, to be their candidate.
'I always voted Labour,' says Fran, 'although I didn't get actively involved with Labour until I became a CWU union rep for the Exeter Constituency Labour Party general committee about four years ago. New Labour's adherence to the privatisation ideology has been shocking for me. Gradually I saw how the Labour Party has overtaken the Tories on their neo-liberal principles. This is the right time for the Socialist Alliance. There are lots of people like me who have seen what's happened to Labour and who are looking for an alternative.'
Postal worker PAUL BARBOUR adds, 'I think Labour are getting scared that the Socialist Alliance will start eating away at their traditional vote. 'The Socialist Alliance is putting out a signpost that this is where all those people who believe in social justice and accountability should stand. 'The grassroots is starting to get angry.'
Writer ALEXIS LYKIARD is an enthusiastic member of the Exeter Socialist Alliance. He says, 'I've never until now belonged to a political party, although I always voted Labour and was a member of CND. We need some voice of dissent. The Socialist Alliance is asking all the right questions, like why is Blair going along with Bush's new missile system which will cost the taxpayer billions?'
Electrical engineer PAUL HARDING says, 'I assumed the Labour Party would do a lot of good stuff when they were elected. They need a reminder that they are not there to take the place of the Conservative Party they were meant to have thrown out.'
Theatre director MAGGIE FISHER says, 'I joined the Socialist Alliance because they are the only ones standing up against racism and what is happening to asylum seekers. The Socialist Alliance is asking awkward questions. It is about not being passive. It is about saying it is not OK to bomb Yugoslavia or to bomb Iraq. The Socialist Alliance is a group of people coming together and doing something about it. It is a vote for change.'
JOHN MAUNDER is a student who joined the Labour Party briefly in 1998. He says, 'I got interested in politics when I heard Tony Benn speak and joined the Labour Party. But I got so fed up with their right wing policies and the attacks on asylum seekers. I was really excited by Seattle, and I think it is brilliant that a young generation can see things changing. The Socialist Alliance can bring together people, and unite disillusioned Labour people with the new anti-capitalist discontent.'
'I'm disillusioned with Labour because you feel that you're voting for a party, but you're really voting for privatisation. It's a different suit but the same policies. They're doing the same things on an international scale, not just in Britain.
Privatisation is causing suffering and misery in Third World countries. Why are they bombing Iraq? It's disgusting. Blair's like Thatcher's little child. I'm definitely voting socialist.'
JOHDA SINGH, member of the Birmingham Sikh Council