Socialist Worker

Seize the chance to land a left hook on Tony Blair

Issue No. 1901

"I'VE BEEN waiting for someone to stand against Blair." So said Harold, one of the shoppers in Ridley Road market in Dalston, east London, to campaigners for Respect: The Unity Coalition last week.

Local Respect supporters were joined by Lindsey German, Respect's candidate for London mayor and the London Assembly, and Dean Ryan, the local Respect candidate for the Assembly election. They were warmly greeted by shoppers, and many stallholders.

"Around 20 of us local activists accompanied them, with Respect anti-war postcards, leaflets and a megaphone and placards to make ourselves noticed in this really busy market," said Diana Swingler.

"We also had the enormous Respect ad-van going round the nearby shopping streets, with people leafleting alongside. People raised things from local issues to the war. Harold said, 'I always thought there were other ways to sort out Iraq but Bush and Blair chose to do it the way they wanted to. It's about brute force and ignorance, which means its about showing power.' Hassan, a stallholder, explained that he made around £120 a week for working six days. He said it was made more difficult by people not being able to park and asked why there couldn't be more parking provided or better public transport."

Lindsey was also out campaigning around Haringey, north London, on Friday of last week.

"She received a huge welcome from a wide range of community and trade union activists," said Keith Flett. The day started as Lindsey met Muswell Hill pensioners' leader Bob Cottingham. Bob pointed out that local pensioners had been active in the local anti-war movement, and drew her attention to the decline in the value of the state pension, and how New Labour had failed to act on this. Lindsey then went to an Asian centre in Wood Green, where she met Asian community leaders and heard that council cuts threatened provision of vital services for the elderly. At lunch, in a restaurant on Green Lanes, she spent time in discussion with Kurdish community activists. This was covered by a TV crew from the BBC's The Politics Show, which went out on Sunday lunchtime. In the afternoon Lindsey addressed a crowd of 50 people in a mosque on Turnpike Lane who had stayed behind after Friday prayers. The call was made for all those at the mosque who had marched against the war to make sure that they voted against it on 10 June by supporting Respect. This was followed by meetings with anti-war school students from several local schools, where top-up fees were a big issue, and a discussion at Wood Green Labour Club with tenants' activists from Defend Council Housing. The day ended with Lindsey and local Respect candidate Sait Akgul addressing a meeting of Hornsey firefighters."

Steve Cracknell, branch secretary of Hornsey FBU, told Socialist Worker, "At the FBU branch meeting Lindsey made it clear she opposed cuts in the fire service and supported an increase in the London weighting allowance. Also she said she supported the fight against co-responding (where firefighters are sent out to attend ambulance calls). Lindsey got a very good reception. The branch agreed unanimously that pending the decision on our union's political fund at this week's annual conference the London Region should donate £500 to Respect. I would urge other union branches to invite a Respect speaker too."

Many of the thousands who flocked to Brick Lane's Mela celebrations on Sunday gave a warm reception to Respect supporters, who campaigned throughout the day. Lindsey German and local Respect candidate Oliur Rahman made their way through the crowds with supporters carrying balloons and placards, and handing out leaflets and a special tabloid newspaper.

Labour MP Oona King beat a hasty retreat when Respect supporters challenged her for backing the Iraq war. Later, Respect MP George Galloway drew a big crowd when he gave an impromptu meeting. He had rushed to the Mela from a 5,000-strong meeting at Waltham Forest town hall.

The meeting came after a procession to mark the birthday of the prophet Mohammed. The largely Muslim audience listened patiently to two local Labour MPs but stood to give George by far the most rousing reception.

Respect campaigners have also been using imaginative ways to attract attention. "Shoppers in Harrow's central precinct were taken aback when their Sunday afternoon retail therapy was interrupted by the sight of a coffin carried by young people and bearing the legend 'Truth: the first casualty of war'," said Sarah Cox. "It was accompanied by the Reverend Albert Harriott, Brent & Harrow candidate for Respect, and other campaigners seeking votes for Respect in the elections on 10 June. By the time the cortege had processed through the precinct, almost every shopper was holding leaflets explaining the coalition's policies of peace and social justice, and the complex voting system of the European and London Assembly elections.

"Respect supporters were out campaigning the day before in the market on Church Road in Willesden. In spite of his 72 years candidate Albert Harriott appears indefatigable. Attempts by Labour Party members to dissuade him from joining Respect have only made him more determined. 'I could not stay with Labour when they took us into this wicked war,' he said. 'People can live together in unity and peace'."

Deni Kittay from Portsmouth said, "Local Respect artist and activist Duncan has made a fantastic three-headed monster sculpture of Blair, Howard and Kennedy! "The monster was in Portsmouth's Guildhall Square for a recent leafleting session, accompanied by Sally Watkins and John Molyneux, two of the Respect candidates for the South East. Further leafleting sessions and cavalcades around the area have received a really good response."

"East London shoppers became the jury in a trial of Tony Blair that took place in Ilford High Road on Saturday," said Yuri Prasad. "I was Respect's prosecution barrister and accused the prime minister of war crimes, to loud applause. By unanimous verdict Blair was found guilty as charged. While the street theatre drew a crowd, Respect was able to give out hundreds of leaflets and 15 people asked to join the campaign. "In the evening George Galloway addressed a meeting at Ilford mosque made up of several hundred community representatives from across Britain. He had just returned from Palestine and was greeted with a standing ovation."

"Some 2,000 leaflets were given out by Respect supporters in Ashton-under-Lyne, Mossley and Stalybridge over the weekend," said Tony Wilson. "This included a leafleting of two mosques in Ashton-under-Lyne following Friday prayers. Hundreds of leaflets were given out at Tameside council offices in Ashton that morning to workers going in. The Ashton fire station was also visited with leaflets and the Respect open letter to FBU members was taken in for the watch office. Shoppers were leafleted in Ashton-under-Lyne on Saturday morning and petitioned over the torture of Iraqi prisoners. We are building support for a Respect public meeting with Michael Lavalette and Mulana Saeed Ahmed from the Preston mosque on Thursday in Ashton-under-Lyne. Local general stores and takeaways were also visited and we left leaflets."

Respect supporters have also been out campaigning in Luton, where the Respect candidate Hasna Matin has been explaining why she is standing and urging people to vote Respect. With just four weeks to go Respect is asking all its supporters to redouble their effects to raise Respect's profile and boost the vote.


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Sat 15 May 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1901
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