A LEFT challenge to New Labour was launched at a vibrant convention of the left in the Brent East constituency last week. Over 90 people attended the meeting in west London in the run-up to a by-election in the area. Everyone there was determined to build an alternative to Tony Blair's pro-war, pro-privatisation policies.
New Labour has selected Blairite MEP Robert Evans to stand in the by-election, which could take place in September. The convention of the left reflected the multiracial area and the feeling of the anti-war movement. It brought together young, old, black, white, Asian local trade unionists, campaigners and former Labour Party members.
It was organised by the Socialist Alliance to allow activists who want to stand against Blair and the war to put forward their reasons for standing. Campaigner and writer Tariq Ali, and the national chair of the Socialist Alliance Matt Wrack introduced the meeting.
'We have to campaign on the basis of building something new,' said Tariq Ali. 'Things will not change immediately, but I am pleased with the number of people here. We have to unite all those to the left of New Labour. Who is in favour of privatised hospitals, railways, pensions? We have to build a unified struggle.' Over 20 people spoke in the meeting and many more wanted to. Everyone spoke out against Labour and in favour of an electoral challenge to Blair.
Socialist Alliance candidate, local trade unionist and anti-war campaigner Brian Butterworth told the meeting: 'We need an alternative like never before. Ordinary people are having to pay the price for New Labour's obsession with free market policies and war. I have been involved in politics for 20 years. I am the trade union branch secretary of Unison in Brent. I am a committed anti-racist campaigning to stop the vilification of asylum seekers. I was prominent in the Stop the War Coalition. It forged unity across communities, including Muslims. We have to go on the streets together to fight racism and war. I will try to give people hope and a voice, to get them active. If people vote for me I am not saying that everything is going to be okay, but that I will lead campaigns to make sure people get what they want.Please help to support the Socialist Alliance. It is not the finished article, but you are part of the solution to that.'
'I was a member of the Labour Party for 33 years,' said Arvind Jadhav. 'But now it is closing schools, getting rid of teachers. Things have changed in the Labour Party since Tony Blair. We don't want MPs doing whatever Tony Blair wants, we want an MP batting for the people.'
'Brent deserves better than it gets under New Labour,' said Lila Patel. 'Our schools, hospitals and other services don't get the funding they need. There is plenty of money. I walked through the City of London today and I was gobsmacked at the enormous wealth that resides in such a small area. People like us suffer because the system doesn't give us what it can afford to.'
Rowena Davies, from the anti-war school student group Hands Up, which led some of the walk-outs against the war, told the meeting: 'Young people have got a lot to say. We need an MP who will engage with young people. We need an MP who supports multiculturalism, who will combat pollution. Politics is about more than a bunch of old, white men making a noise in parliament. We need to hear about alternative policies. We need an MP to restore our faith.'
'I was pleased and liberated when I tore up my Labour Party membership card,' Alf Finer said. 'I am now back amongst friends in the Socialist Alliance. 'Differences are respected. We are building a united force to challenge in future elections. We want to give Blair a bloody nose. This by-election is not about Robert Evans. It's about a Blairite government and its betrayal.'
'As a young person I want an MP who supports an equal minimum wage for young people,' said Thomas. 'I want an MP who opposes the Criminal Justice Act, supports the legalisation of drugs and stands up for vulnerable people, like asylum seekers.'
'Brian Butterworth is one of the best candidates we can possibly have,' said pensioner activist Austin Burnett. 'If we don't win we can give a good account of the Socialist Alliance in Brent East.' 'One of the key messages of the Socialist Alliance is that we should cut military spending,' said Teresa Brennan.
'They have a war chest, but there's not enough money for schools or hospitals. They're spending it on killing people like us in Iraq. If we cut defence spending we could have a convention like this to decide how it was spent. We have to build a better future. The stakes are high. We can shape the future.'
Several issues: one united campaign
THE overwhelming consensus was to back Brian Butterworth in a united, collective campaign which takes up all the issues that affect people in Brent East and Britain.
A lay union official at the local college, Ibrahim Fawzi, said he was going to stand as an individual anti-war candidate. Many people spoke about how opposition to the war should be part of a wider platform of challenging Blair.
The majority of people left the meeting determined to build a vibrant opposition to Tony Blair over everything he stands for, not just in the by-election, but campaigning systematically in the area.
If you want to get involved in the Socialist Alliance campaign phone 07940 510 906 or the national office on 020 7609 2999.