By-election fight enters final week
Labour wears left face in Tottenham
LSA candidate's good response
By Hazel Croft
THE BATTLE for the parliamentary seat held by black Labour MP Bernie Grant, who died earlier this year, has entered its final week. The by-election in Tottenham, north London, takes place next Thursday, 22 June.
Labour's candidate for the working class and multiracial seat is black barrister and Tony Blair supporter David Lammy. He is being challenged by the London Socialist Alliance's Weyman Bennett, who has a proud record of fighting racism and injustice in Tottenham.
In stark contrast to last month's elections for the London mayor and Greater London Assembly, the Labour Party is running a lively campaign. Labour Party members were out campaigning on the streets of Tottenham last Saturday, running stalls across the constituency. Black Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Oona King enthusiastically toured the area for David Lammy.
Labour campaigners are emphasising policies very different to those of Tony Blair. They know that many voters and Labour supporters are disillusioned with the government.
They also know Labour suffered from a low turnout and vote in the GLA elections because people were sick of Blair and the Millbank machine. That is why this time Lammy stresses his working class upbringing in Tottenham, even though he went to boarding school and the elite Harvard University in the United States.
That is also why Lammy has promised to "constructively criticise" the government. On a Labour stall in the Bruce Grove area, Labour Party members talked about helping the unemployed, and admitted the government "had a lot more to do".
Some of the Labour activists were clearly unhappy with the government's scapegoating of refugees. They appealed to voters to stick loyally with Labour. But the reality of three years of continued poverty, racism, and cuts in services meant that many Labour supporters were torn.
Many of those who spoke to London Socialist Alliance (LSA) campaigners said they would be voting Labour. But they also agreed that the government had let them down over the disgraceful 75p a week rise for pensioners and that it hadn't done enough to improve the lives of working class people.
Others were angry at the way local services had been run down by Haringey Labour council and said they would consider voting for the LSA.
When trade and industry secretary Stephen Byers visited Tottenham with Lammy last week, one man was quoted in the local paper as shouting at them, "I am a Labour Party member, but I won't be voting Labour again because of this council's appalling service."
Everywhere LSA supporters canvassed and leafleted they found people who wanted to listen and talk about an alternative to New Labour. Dora, a postal worker, told Socialist Worker that she had voted for Weyman in the Greater London Assembly election.
"A group of us at work voted for the LSA then and will do again," she told Socialist Worker. "People are dissatisfied with the government. You hear people complaining about the NHS, pensions, the minimum wage. Labour isn't representing working class people".
'People can be convinced'
"THIS ELECTION is very different to when I stood as LSA candidate for the London Assembly just one month ago," Weyman Bennett told Socialist Worker. "Then Labour couldn't get people to go out canvassing and run stalls. You didn't see Labour posters in the windows. Now they are confident of winning, but they need to get a good vote. That's why they talk positively about Bernie Grant and put on a left face. Many people will vote Labour out of loyalty to Bernie Grant, but Lammy will betray that legacy. Bernie Grant was on the side of working class people. He stood up to racism and injustice. Lammy is a Blairite through and through. He is a million miles away from the lives of working class black and white people in Tottenham."
"Wherever I have been canvassing, I meet people who feel that the Labour government has let them down. I have had a similar reception when I've visited local workplaces. For example, I spoke to a group of 20 rail workers at Seven Sisters station. They are angry about privatisation and have organised a meeting next week about transport, inviting all the candidates. I also spoke to library workers, who were furious that they are suffering 50 percent cuts in the service.
They held a protest, which I supported, outside the library last week. They are so angry they too have called a meeting with all the candidates. Many people are willing to listen to socialist arguments and can be convinced of a left wing alternative. That is why I urge as many people who can to come and help the LSA campaign in Tottenham over the next few days."
- If you want to help with the London Socialist Alliance campaign in Tottenham please phone 020 8981 9243.
ABOUT 300 people attended a conference of the London Socialist Alliance on Sunday. They met against the backdrop of the Tottenham by-election. There was an overwhelming desire to build on the activity which united thousands of socialists in the recent elections for the Greater London Assembly.
The conference attracted a significant number of individuals who had left the Labour Party in disgust at Blair's policies or who had become enthused by a united socialist challenge to New Labour. A postal worker described how the decision of his union's conference not to raise its donation to the Labour Party reflected the depth of people's feeling of betrayal by the government.
Speakers emphasised that the LSA had attracted support because it did not merely seek to challenge New Labour at elections but has also thrown itself into campaigns such as defending asylum seekers and fighting job losses.
The meeting voted to put such campaigns at the centre of the LSA's work. It also threw its weight behind a campaign launched by the RMT rail union against tube privatisation. The conference also set up new structures for the LSA, expanding the steering committee to involve wider layers of people.
- LSA candidate Pete Alder was standing in the council election for Havering's Rise Park ward, which was to be held this Thursday.