THE Socialist Alliance has called a national day of action in Brent, north west London, on Sunday 31 August. We are urging activists from across England to come into the constituency on that day to help campaign for our candidate in the forthcoming Brent East by-election.
We hope that as many Socialist Alliance members and supporters will be coming to the People's Assembly the day before and will then stay over for the day of action on the Sunday. We will be starting at 11am and running on through the afternoon.
The by-election is going to be a very important test for Blair and New Labour. This has been in recent years a safe Labour seat. At the last election the Labour candidate took over 60 percent of the vote. His closest challenger, the Tory, took 13 percent and the Lib Dems were in third place with 10 percent.
But this by-election is coming at the most difficult period so far for Blair since he became prime minister. New Labour therefore has a dilemma. It has not yet moved the writ to establish the date of the election but by convention it cannot delay too long. The Lib Dems certainly smell blood. They have done well in recent Brent local elections.
In some areas of the constituency, even though the election has not yet been called, the Lib Dems have put in five different leaflets and a colour tabloid.
They are resorting to their usual tactics of trying to say different things to different voters. The Lib Dems make play of their supposed opposition to the war on Iraq (which crumbled at the first test). But the main thrust of their attacks on New Labour has been from the right. They have attacked Labour on crime, despite Brent not having an exceptional crime problem.
Some on the left in the local Labour Party have tried to establish the Labour candidate, MEP Robert Evans, as opposed to the Blair agenda in the party. But he was shortlisted in a process which ensured that anyone not entirely acceptable to Blair was weeded out. The war has not featured in Labour literature. Instead Evans has produced a leaflet saying he has set up a freephone 'anti-yob' hotline.
If Brent East is a severe test for Blair, it is also a very significant test for the Socialist Alliance. The Alliance is standing a very credible local candidate, Brian Butterworth, following the successful 90-strong convention of the left in Brent.
Brian is chair of Brent Stop the War Coalition and secretary of the biggest trade union in Brent, Brent Unison. He has lived and campaigned in Brent for the last 20 years. The challenge for us is to establish credibility and a profile for the Socialist Alliance and Brian in the space of just a few weeks.
We have built up a name for campaigning and contesting elections among a layer of activists. We know there is a huge number of people opposed to the war on Iraq and disillusioned with New Labour. But we are too little known by the majority of electors.
Despite it being the height of summer we have already leafleted over half of the constituency. We intend to finish distributing the first leaflet soon. We have also received a very good reception at two big local mosques. We will follow up the day of action with a major rally in the constituency in the middle of September. Eamonn McCann and Louise Christian are already confirmed as speakers.
We know we are in for a hard fight to stop the Socialist Alliance being squeezed by the Lib Dems and Labour. But we are firmly convinced that we can get a good result.
On 31 August come to the upstairs room, Ceilidh on the Green, Walm Lane, opposite Willesden Green tube station, 11am-4pm.