Socialist Worker

Blairite yuppy clone...

Issue No. 1699

Tottenham by-election

Blairite yuppy clone...

By Kevin Ovenden

"NEW LABOUR'S leaders must think we are absolutely stupid if they imagine we are going to cheer just because they have levered in a black candidate to stand in the seat Bernie Grant represented." With those words Linda Bellos, a former leading figure in the Labour Party Black Sections, summed up the feelings of wide layers of Labour activists over the selection of the party's candidate to stand in the Tottenham by-election. The seat became vacant following the death of Bernie Grant, who had won enormous respect in the north London constituency for his stand against racism and injustice.

The Labour Party selected David Lammy, a barrister, last week over Bernie's widow, Sharon, as its candidate in one of its safest seats in Britain. The decision has ruptured the Labour Party in the area and heightened the feeling among most active members nationally that their leaders are determined to stamp out any left wing voices in the party.

David Lammy is Blairite to the core and was New Labour leaders' favoured candidate. He was born in Tottenham but went to a private boarding school. He got a law degree from Harvard, the elite US university. As a high-flying barrister he has everything in common with the kind of yuppies who take pride of place in Blair's Labour Party.

He is so thoroughly New Labour that he made it through the selection process for Labour's candidates for the Greater London Assembly. No one who has played a leading role in anti-racist struggles over the last decade has heard of David Lammy.

Well known black activist Lee Jasper had never heard of him until he popped up as a Greater London Assembly member. There has been a series of battles over racism and injustice in north London-from the defence of the Broadwater Farm estate against police attack through to the campaign over the police killing of black man Roger Sylvester.

No campaigner contacted by Socialist Worker can recall Lammy playing any role in the dozens of marches, public meetings and protests that thousands of black and white people in the area have taken part in. Sharon Lawrence, however, is well respected. People in Tottenham know that she worked alongside Bernie over these and other issues.

She has made no secret of her socialist views. That is why New Labour spin doctors tried to smear her as a "dangerous extremist".

...versus the LSA

SUPPORTERS OF the London Socialist Alliance (LSA) were to meet in Tottenham this week to discuss standing a socialist candidate in the by-election. The LSA fought last month's elections to the Greater London Assembly. Its candidate in the constituency that included Tottenham was Weyman Bennett, who won 3,671 votes. Weyman was seeking to be the LSA candidate in the Tottenham by-election as Socialist Worker went to press. He has been involved in all the fights that David Lammy has not. Weyman helped set up the campaign for justice for Joy Gardner, who was killed while being deported. He was the chair of the Stephen Lawrence support group in Tottenham. He organised the first march over the police killing of Roger Sylvester, and the local meeting to free Kurdish leader Abdullah �calan. He was the publicity officer for the campaign in Tottenham against the scapegoating of single parents, and he organised solidarity with the Rover workers facing mass redundancies this year. Weyman is currently organising a rally in Tottenham in defence of asylum seekers. He told Socialist Worker, "Of course, many people around here have voted Labour. But growing numbers want to see a principled left wing alternative. One of those people is actor Gary Williams. He told Socialist Worker: I've been in the Labour Party since I was 18. But I've had enough of all these Blairite policies and people. We could do with someone independent from the left standing here. I want to see socialist policies as part of this election, and I want to be able to vote for someone and something I can take pride in. And the more people who seize the chance to do that, the more we can stand up to this appalling right wing drift in politics."

'We don't want New Labour'

ONE TRICK New Labour used to get Lammy in was to play up the fact that he is black and Sharon Lawrence is white. The cynicism is almost beyond belief. The lack of black representation in the Labour Party is so great that even Trevor Phillips, the Blairite chair of the Greater London Assembly, condemned it two weeks ago.

"Lammy is black, but who is he representing?" Ray Dobson told Socialist Worker. He is the convenor of the black and ethnic minorities group for council workers in Haringey, the London borough surrounding Tottenham. "He certainly is not representing the community here. He is representing New Labour. I, like most black Labour voters, and most white ones for that matter, stand in the Old Labour tradition. This man will be a puppet for Millbank." Linda Bellos told Socialist Worker, "They say he will be a role model for unemployed black youth on the Broadwater Farm Estate.Doubtless he will repeat the New Labour message that these young people lack motivation. They don't lack motivation. They lack decent jobs and they face institutionalised racism. They don't need a middle class barrister telling them that they have an attitude problem. I backed Sharon. I certainly won't be lifting a finger to get him elected."

Slick but empty

LAMMY WON the nomination at a packed meeting of Tottenham Constituency Labour Party last week. He felt forced to distance himself from the government at the 500-strong meeting for fear that he might lose support if he was seen to be pro-Blair.

He said he disagreed with the introduction of vouchers for asylum seekers. But he supported dispersing refugees across the country. He said he would not support privatisation of education "if it damaged children". But he refused to admit that all the sell offs that are taking place hit working class children.

He even refused to specify which privatisations he thought might damage pupils. The bulk of Lammy's support, however, came from pro-Blair better off party members. Local Labour activists say that most black people at the selection meeting supported Sharon Lawrence. One of them told Socialist Worker, "It was fairly clear that if you were working class, and especially if you were also black, then you were likely to vote for Sharon."

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Article information

Sat 3 Jun 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1699
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