RESPECT CAMPAIGNERS in the West Midlands are having a big impact in the local media. They have shown Respect supporters everywhere how to get the message across. The Birmingham Post is the city's daily morning newspaper. The paper was forced to publish a letter by two leading Respect candidates in the West Midlands, John Rees and Salma Yaqoob, on Thursday of last week.
This was after an article in the Birmingham Post attacking Respect. "The new Respect coalition emerges as barely recognisable from the portrait of your political editor Jonathan Walker," wrote John and Salma. The letter highlighted Respect's opposition to the war on Iraq and privatisation at home. It went on, "We are by far the most diverse organisation that has ever stood on such a progressive platform. Democratic politics is finally being widened and not simply reduced to a choice between identical policies and faceless politicians."
The Coventry Evening Telegraph ran a half-page article on Respect candidate Penny Hicks, written by the paper's political editor. It was headlined, "Activist In Bid To Gain Respect Seat". "We used the launch of the Respect billboard last week to attract press coverage," says Penny. "It was in the heart of Warwick University, where I work. We had Respect balloons and handed out leaflets to staff and students. We were helped by two sixth form students from Alderman and Callow school. The local press came down to take pictures and the Warwick Boar, the popular student union newspaper with a circulation of 10,000, covered the event. I have also been interviewed on BBC radio West Midlands breakfast show. They asked about what Respect stands for, how we will fund our policies and who our candidates are. It's important that when something happens in the news, say over Iraq, you ring up local radio and ask if they want to get a comment from the Respect candidate. That is how I got on the news bulletin of the independent radio station Kix96."
Salma Yaqoob added, "I was on BBC's Asian network drive-time show on the radio on all the bulletins on Monday of last week. I was also on a two-hour slot where I was interviewed and then people phoned in. Their comments were all positive and they were very sympathetic to Respect. We also held a press reception to publicise that Respect now has a political alliance with the People's Justice Party, which has councillors in Birmingham. They have a platform of anti-privatisation and anti-war. Our press release about the protest against Le Pen coming to Birmingham ensured we got on radio West Midlands' drive-time show and we were interviewed for Sky News and Heart FM. The Daily Jang, read by many Pakistanis, also carried an article about Respect."
Success at union hustings
SOME 12 stewards from the North Warwickshire region of the FBU firefighters' union had a lively discussion with two Respect candidates at a hustings last week. Penny Hicks explained, "I know Norman Henderson, the FBU secretary for North Warwickshire, from raising solidarity work for the firefighters' dispute.
"He is an independent councillor himself and against the war. He thinks they should consider where the union's political fund money goes. He jumped at the chance of getting Respect to address stewards. They put loads of questions to myself and John Rees. They asked things like, can we go the distance in such a short time? They were perplexed that Labour MPs like Jeremy Corbyn weren't coming over to Respect. There was a lovely atmosphere in the meeting. They were grumbling over why they would have to sit through a meeting with the Labour and Tory candidates!"
Respect a winner after Muslim voters slam Labour and Lib Dems
AN ANGRY audience of 70 Muslims savaged Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates at a hustings in central London on Friday of last week. City Circle, a progressive Muslim group, invited candidates to debate where the Muslim vote should go.
Salma Yaqoob addressed the meeting and Lindsey German, who heads the Respect list for the London Assembly elections, also spoke when Salma Yaqoob's train was delayed. They were both warmly applauded. Lindsey German explained that the Respect coalition evolved out of the anti-war movement and had put together the "most racially diverse list of candidates" of any of the parties.
She said, "I believe that in London only two out of 14 Respect assembly candidates in the constituencies are white." Liberal Democrat MEP Sarah Ludford won few friends when she said in her opening remarks that she was a member of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. In the discussion speakers attacked the Liberals' half-hearted opposition to the war.
Murad Qureshi, a Labour councillor who is standing for the London Assembly, said that he opposed the war but it was not the central issue for most people. He was greeted with howls of derision. The results of an informal vote at the end of the meeting were: Respect 42, Green Party 11, Labour Party 4, Liberals 0, Tories 0.
News and views
Respect wins more support
RESPECT candidates spoke at a range of other meetings across the West Midlands last week. Jerry Langford reports, "Around 50 people attended a Respect meeting in Lye last week. "It took place in the hall attached to the Ghausia Jamia mosque. This mosque was raided by the police in July 2002 to snatch the refugee family, the Ahmadis, who were taking refuge there. The meeting was a good mix of people. One of them was a former Labour councillor who resigned last year and is now backing Respect."
Salma Yaqoob reports that at a 70-strong meeting in one Birmingham mosque people took away Respect posters. "There were two other big meetings in Birmingham last Wednesday," Salma said. "One was at the central mosque, where 120 saw a documentary film showing for Stop the War and heard John Rees speak. Then the People's Justice Party had a meeting of 150 people, which was really good. I was invited to that and they fully endorsed Respect."
Labour voters were duped
'I'VE BEEN a Labour supporter all my life. After the euphoria when they got elected I realise I was duped. As I have watched the government in action I have got more politically active and savvy. They are a total con.
I'm a fourth generation railway man. I've just been made redundant. It's like musical chairs on the rail. We all shuffle round and some of us don't have a job when the music stops. But I feel it's important to finance Respect. They are listening to people and have their beliefs-and they stick to those beliefs.'
Ian Newbold, Birmingham, who donated £100 last week
'Storming event' raises funds
'IT'S A privilege to be the treasurer for Respect in the West Midlands. Without really trying in just over a week we sold 150 tickets for the fundraiser for Respect on Tuesday. The tickets were £30 a head. I thought it would be a mammoth task but we had a great response.
What a storming event-a dinner of traditional Asian food with George Galloway. The Respect coalition is something magical. It's a real buzz seeing different people come together.'
Amir Karim, Birmingham
Your candidates in West Midlands