‘LABOUR FACES catastrophe at election, warn MPs”. That was the headline in the Independent on Sunday last week. Last Saturday’s Daily Mirror, reporting the result of the Millwall by-election, also described Labour’s crisis.
Both papers reported Respect’s growing challenge to New Labour.
Support for Blair’s government is collapsing. And many traditional Labour voters are finding that there is another party they can vote for—Respect.
Respect has had another excellent week. Following the victory of Oliur Rahman in one Tower Hamlets council by-election, Respect candidate Paul McGarr pushed Labour into third place in the neighbouring Millwall seat (see report on page 5).
In Buxton, in the Derbyshire Peaks, county councillor Lynton Bennett has resigned from Labour and is sitting as a Respect councillor. Respect now has five local councillors around the country.
In Hartlepool, as the parliamentary by-election gets underway, leading trade unionists and former Labour councillors are lending their support to Respect.
Now is the moment for Respect to capitalise on this success—and not just in areas where there are currently elections.
Respect has always done best where it has reached beyond its own membership and tapped into wider networks of support in the mass movements and in the labour movement. And Respect has also done best when it organises in ways that the traditional left has not.
In Hartlepool football fans are organising to hold up “Vote John Bloom” placards at the match. In Islington, north London, Respect is sponsoring a showing of Ken Loach’s Navigators at the Screen on the Green to help moblise for the European Social Forum.
In Birmingham during the June elections Respect organised a highly successful Picnic for Peace in a local park which attracted 400 people to its stalls, barbecue and inflatable castle. Some Respect groups are planning to use the battle bus to organise tours of sites of radical and working class history in their towns.
The Italian left has long had a tradition of street festivals and cultural activities that Respect can replicate in this country. Alongside the normal political meetings and campaigning work of Respect, this helps to reach out to those disillusioned with New Labour in new ways.
It’s especially important to see local firefighters and rail workers, whose unions have broken from New Labour. With civil service workers in the PCS facing an onslaught from New Labour it should be a matter of urgency that Respect branches link up with these trade unionists.
The Labour Party used to make these connections and tap into local networks of trade unionists, tenants, campaigners and community groups. Now all that is withering and New Labour politicians can hardly face the people they are asking to vote for them. Now is the time to use all the methods available to us and turn Respect into a genuinely popular, radical alternative to neo-liberalism and war.
To help out in Hartlepool phone 01429 224 405/6. The Respect national conference is on 30-31 October in central London.