THE LABOUR Party has called the by-election in Brent East, west London, for 18 September. It will be a key test for New Labour, taking place in the middle of the Hutton inquiry.
In the last election the Labour candidate got 60 percent of the vote. The Tories came second with just 13 percent and the Liberal Democrats came in third with 10 percent of the vote. Things could be very different this time around. The Liberal Democrats are seeking to boost their chances by posing as an anti-war party, even though their opposition to war lasted only until it started.
Some in the Labour Party have tried to suggest Labour candidate Robert Evans opposed the war. But Labour have taken a Basil Fawlty approach-they don't mention the war in any of their literature. Evans's campaign manager is New Labour bruiser Jim Fitzpatrick, MP for Poplar & Canning Town and ex-firefighter.
Fitzpatrick's old workmates widely condemned him during the firefighters' dispute for his enthusiastic support for government attacks on them.
Brian Butterworth is standing for the Socialist Alliance. Alf Filer, former Brent Labour branch secretary and an organiser of Brian's campaign, explained why Brian is different from the other candidates: 'The campaign around Socialist Alliance supporter Brian Butterworth is attracting growing support in Brent. The three establishment parties make counter-claims against each other over who can clean up the streets. They all voted for privatising and contracting out the street cleaning services along with nearly everything else. We are raising the issues they would prefer everyone to forget. The illegal occupation of Iraq and the injustices dealt out to the Palestinians go hand in hand with our campaign against privatisation, in defence of asylum seekers, and against racism and fascism. The message is clear-Brent East Socialist Alliance and Brian Butterworth stand for justice for all, the defence of public services and no to war. We agree with Tony Benn when he suggested that all campaigning groups should come into Brent East to raise all these issues and others. Brent East used to be one of the safest Labour seats. Well, we will see about that on 18 September, the election night. In the meantime, people who previously felt that elections were a waste of time are out campaigning enthusiastically for us. Stop the war activists, ex Labour Party members, trade unionists and many others representing the broad make-up of the area are determined to show you can fight back. We have already leafleted nearly the whole constituency. Now we are planning to hit the workplaces, like North West London College, the bus garages, the schools and the post offices. There is a campaign against the closure of Brondesbury post office. We want to throw ourselves into that and the question of decent pay for postal workers. We are going to make contact with pensioners' groups and tenants' associations. We may not have the finance and admin back-up of the big party machines, but we do have people who are growing in confidence in this election. Whatever happens on election night, we will not be going away. The Brent and Harrow Socialist Alliance will be building for the forthcoming Greater London Assembly and European Parliament elections. Nor are we intending to just be an electoral machine. We will continue to build the anti-war movement, campaign in defence of asylum seekers, and seek wider support through trade union and community activities.'
Not afraid to speak truth
THE Socialist Alliance is refusing to go along with a scare whipped up by the mainstream parties about young people causing trouble on local estates. The promises on Labour's website are about increasing the powers of the police and beating the 'yob culture'. It accuses the Liberal Democrats of being 'soft on yobs'.
Cheryl Townsend is a community leader who is speaking at a rally for Brian Butterworth. She explained the need for a campaign that does not scapegoat young black people:
'I want a campaign which puts forward alternatives to current policies on crime-better youth facilities, better pensions. The mainstream parties have created the situation of crime on our estates. They call young people 'yobs', which is an insult. I call them hard to reach. The system creates 'failures' by excluding pupils from school when they have problems. Racism plays a strong role in how people are treated. I have seen mixed race children get treated differently according to whether their black parent or their white parent turns up to school. It is society that creates the 'yob culture'. Black, white and Asian youngsters dress the same and listen to the same music-but they don't get treated the same. I know youngsters who never thought of street life or gang culture before they were excluded from school. The mainstream parties don't offer us anything on youth facilities, pensions or housing. Labour keep praising themselves and not facing the reality. It is time for a party which is not afraid to say there is race discrimination and there is class discrimination in this country. Brian Butterworth can do very well. He needs to keep asking the right questions-why are so many young black in prison and so few in college? Why do people who need the most get the least? The Socialist Alliance has to reach out to people who don't usually vote, to make them feel empowered, and that it is worthwhile making the effort.'
THE SOCIALIST Alliance has called a national day of action in Brent this Sunday, 31 August. Some Socialist Alliance supporters who were out campaigning last weekend told Socialist Worker why people should come and campaign in Brent. Charlie Pottins, a porter and TGWU union member, says:
'We have to make a start in showing an alternative to New Labour. This area has been so let down by them. After the huge movement on the streets against the war, we cannot let Labour go unchallenged in this election. I remember in the 1960s this was an industrial area and the trade unions were strong. We have to rebuild some of that confidence, and this campaign can help do that.'
Andy Lau, a student, says: 'It is good to take part and give a voice to ordinary people. Labour have done nothing for poor people, just for big business. They have got a second term, but they still haven't done anything for ordinary people. They say a lot but do little. We have less freedoms today than we used to have.'
James, who is also a student, says: 'One of the first things Labour did when they got into office was bring in tuition fees. Now they want to bring in top-up fees of £3,000, and that's just in the first instance. It is elitism. it will mean a good education for the rich and a worse education for the poor. Young people should get involved with the Socialist Alliance.'
National day of action Sunday 31 August Come to upstairs room, Ceilidh on the Green, Walm Lane, opposite Willesden Green tube, any time between 11.30am and 4pm. For more information phone 020 7609 2999
Rally for Brian Butterworth Monday 15 September Pakistan Community Centre, 7.30pm Paul Foot, Ken Loach, Louise Christian, Eamonn McCann, Cheryl Townsend, Asad Rehman, Linda Smith and Brian Butterworth