Socialist Worker

It was a stunning result for Respect in Millwall

by Paul McGarr, Respect candidate Millwall by-election, Tower Hamlets
Issue No. 1919

RESPECT STUNNED New Labour in an election in the east London borough of Tower Hamlets last week.

In a council by-election in the previously Labour-held Millwall ward, Respect emerged from nowhere to beat New Labour, pushing them into third place.

This is the third election in the borough over the summer months, and together they reveal a transformed political landscape, one which is terrifying New Labour locally.

The Millwall result comes after Respect topped the poll in Tower Hamlets in the 10 June European elections.

It also follows the victory by Respect’s Oliur Rahman at the end of July, winning a previously Labour-held council seat in the St Dunstan’s and Stepney Green ward.

Three times now Respect has taken on New Labour in the east London borough, and three times Respect has beaten them.

If you rank the 17 wards in Tower Hamlets in terms of how well Respect did in the 10 June European elections, Millwall was 15th out of 17 for us.

To go from that to more than double our vote and beat New Labour has scared local Labour figures rigid.

It means we can beat them anywhere in the borough.

Local pro-war New Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick attended last week’s Millwall count, and looked like a man being handed a death sentence as the result emerged.

His parliamentary seat, as well as that of fellow pro-war Tower Hamlets New Labour MP Oona King, is at risk.

Every Labour councillor in the borough now knows that Respect can unseat them at the next full council elections due in just over 18 months time.

What makes the result even more significant was that New Labour threw everything it had into the Millwall by-election.

Incredibly for such an election, you had the MP, Fitzpatrick, out night after night until late into the evening personally knocking on doors, desperately trying to shore up New Labour’s vote.

The leader of Tower Hamlets’ New Labour council and half the council cabinet did the same.

All were there too on polling day pleading with people to back New Labour.

They sought to draw on strong traditional loyalties, which have an extra resonance in Millwall.

Millwall became nationally notorious 11 years ago when the Nazi BNP won a council seat there. A vibrant local campaign, and the rise of a powerful national anti-Nazi movement, defeated the BNP back then.

The scale of the defeat suffered by the Nazis, and the continuing work done since to undermine their base, was underlined by the fact that they could not even field a candidate in last week’s election.

Labour won a huge majority in Millwall when the BNP were kicked out, as the party was the recipient of the anti-Nazi sentiment among the majority of local people.

That anti-Nazi aura of a decade ago still has echoes today in Millwall.

Labour had only one real argument in this election. They pointed to the real chance that the Tories could win.

The huge expansion of luxury developments in the ward along the riverside over recent years has created large pools of very wealthy people who are a natural Tory base.

Labour argued that Respect had no chance in this election and that, even if you didn’t like Blair or the local council, you had to vote New Labour to stop the Tories.

That lie has been shattered by the result.

Labour’s campaign did persuade some people to stick with them instead of switching to Respect.

This didn’t help Labour much, but it did help prevent Respect from beating the Tories. New Labour split the working class vote and let the Tories in.

A lot of traditional Labour supporters who basically agree with Respect will not be fooled a second time.

Millwall also nails another lie. Some have sought to portray Respect’s success in east London and elsewhere as just down to winning votes from Muslims.

In Tower Hamlets Respect is proud that we have many supporters, activists and voters among the large proportion of working class people who are Bengali or Somali Muslims.

And in Millwall too we are proud that many of our activists and voters came from the area’s Muslim community—who have faced racism and discrimination over many years.

But Millwall is still one of the whitest areas in east London. Four in five people are white in the ward.

You cannot do well electorally in Millwall without winning significant support from the white working class.

That is precisely what Respect did.

Our local activists have been at the centre of a series of successful campaigns over the years, saving a local health centre, post office and community centre.

We made the issue of the lack of affordable housing amid a sea of luxury development for the rich a key element in our campaign, and we also fought over the appalling lack of facilities for young people.

This won us backing from working class people of all colours and religions.

The New Labour administration in Tower Hamlets is falling apart.

There are with strong rumours of more by-elections soon, including another in Millwall.

“Bring it on” is the attitude of local Respect supporters.

We are confident that we can take on New Labour anywhere in the borough and beat them.

And in the few areas where the Tories have a base, we are now more certain we can win over Labour voters to back Respect as the best chance to beat the Tories too.

‘WE HAVE beaten Labour again. That means we are now the unofficial opposition to Labour in Tower Hamlets.

It is a great beginning for us. We are a new party, we don’t have the resources of the others, but people made the positive choice to vote for us.’

Nur Monie, Respect election agent for the Millwall by-election

‘I VOTED for Paul because Respect is for the workers and the working class. He has put loads of work into campaigns, like the one to keep our local health centre open, which we won.

People always knew what he stood for and where they could get hold of him if they needed help. I have always been a Labour voter, but not this time. Labour is the warmongers’ party, and Blair has just told too many lies. I have lived on the Isle of Dogs for 21 years. It is great that there is a new party, one that stands up for us.’

Joyce Weir pensioner

‘The Tories did well because of all the new developments, and because a lot of working class families have moved out and rich people have their homes.

People round here voted for Respect because they are fed up with Labour.

We have had problems with racism in this area. Ten years ago the BNP took this seat. This time they didn’t even stand.

This vote shows that now ordinary people are united with each other. They can see the rich people who live across the street and they know they are the cause of the problem.’

Sue Gibson, born and brought up on the Isle of Dogs

‘There are 80 households in my block. About 20 of the families are Asian.

I know that about 40 or 50 people voted for Respect. That included an Irish family upstairs, and two ex-Labour voters on this landing.

Some people were scared to not vote Labour. I told them that Respect wanted the soldiers home from Iraq and all the money wasted on war spent on finding a cure for cancer, on schools and transport.’

Ted Jacks, pensioner and activist

The result

Lib Dems1506%

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Article information

Sat 18 Sep 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1919
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