NEW LABOUR has called snap by-elections in Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill for 15 July. The government is desperate to minimise the damage to its vote.
The Liberal Democrats are throwing everything into winning both seats. They hope to pick up on people’s disillusion with New Labour.
But in both areas the Liberals rely on the Tories to run the council.
Respect has selected candidates in both areas to challenge the major parties. Respect won over 9 percent of the vote in Leicester and 7 percent across Birmingham in the 10 June elections.
Yvonne Ridley is the anti-war campaigner who as a journalist was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan. She was selected for the Leicester constituency on Friday of last week.
Respect activists had already got a campaign office in the area. They have begun leafleting every house and have mapped out a lively, high-profile campaign.
Yvonne Ridley spoke to Socialist Worker last Sunday, saying, “Respect had an impressive result in the European elections—especially in this constituency area. I have hit the ground running since I got here. I have met many people in the local community—Somali, Indian, Asian and white. The response has been overwhelming on the first day.
“Right throughout the day people have been asking if they can help. We have an office up and running. Education is a big issue. Leicester education authority plans to close six special schools.
“One of the things that has come through is the cuts being made by the Lib Dem council. A number of women’s groups have been targeted. As the only female candidate this is something that I am going to highlight.
“A lot of voluntary initiatives are facing the axe from the Liberal Democrat council, in league with their Tory allies. Community projects are under attack.
“I spoke at a meeting of 60 sisters of the Friends of Al-Aqsa. It went very well. We’ve got teams of fundraisers, events organisers, canvassers and telephone canvassers now.
“They had great ideas. Now they’re turning them into reality. They are very committed to sending the Respect message to their menfolk. Supporters from Milton Keynes, London, Barnsley and other areas have been out leafleting. We have a very active team of people who live here. George Galloway MP has committed himself to the entire campaign. It is great having someone as high-profile as him.
“I don’t think we have anything to fear from the other candidates. Labour have selected a ‘white knight’, Sir Peter Soulsby, who will be a turn-off to ordinary working class voters.
“The Liberal Democrats have no credibility as an anti-war party. One of my jobs is to reveal them for what they are. They are certainly not friends of Palestine, and I don’t hear them calling for the troops to get out of Iraq.
“Respect is filling the vacuum left when New Labour went charging off to the right. People are clearly disillusioned with New Labour and suspicious of the Liberal Democrats, and the Tories are a spent force.”
Respect MP George Galloway says, “We find ourselves in another test in Leicester South. We have to build on the foundations laid—the public recognition of our name, our profile and our activists. We have to turn this into a by-election machine. With 40 or 50 activists you can have a fantastic campaign in one parliamentary constituency. We have a style, a campaigning zest and an elan that other parties simply won’t have. We’re fighting for the right cause. I will stay here in this constituency until polling day to bring my experience as an election fighter.”