RESPECT SUPPORTERS gathered full of determination and enthusiasm last Sunday to select their candidate for the Hodge Hill by-election.
The Hodge Hill constituency is in east Birmingham. It includes a ward where Respect polled 26 percent of the vote in the 10 June European elections.
Labour has a huge majority in the constituency, winning nearly 17,000 votes or 64 percent of the vote at the last general election. And Labour holds eight out of the nine wards in the area.
Yet such is the opposition to New Labour that they openly acknowledge they will struggle to hold on to the seat.
The by-election has been caused by sitting MP Terry Davis resigning his seat to get on the European gravy train as secretary general of the Council of Europe.
The 50-strong Respect meeting unanimously selected John Rees, who headed the West Midlands list for the European Elections.
John Rees told the meeting, “Labour have called these by-elections so quickly as a damage limitation exercise.
“During the European election campaign we spread far beyond the networks we are personally involved in.
“On the day before the election I had a call from people in the Somali community, saying, ‘We have been out campaigning for you for three weeks—would you like to meet up?’
“This by-election gives us another chance to go back to those people. We can consolidate our support and push out to new areas. In Birmingham and nationally Respect did fantastically well in some areas.
“This is exactly how the Labour Party itself was built, starting in a few areas like Stepney in east London. This is the very area where we are now establishing a base.”
John Rees told the meeting about the sort of campaign New Labour would run in the city.
“I saw a letter from retiring MP Terry Davis. The form attached to it has six questions all about crime.
“The address to send the form back to is ‘Help us beat the yobs’. That’s the official address of their campaign.
“If there were more park keepers, more station staff on public transport, more caretakers, that would do a lot more to stop crime than locking people away for years.
“Working class people’s lives are deteriorating because things that have always been there, like park keepers, have been privatised and cut.”
Respect MP George Galloway told the meeting it was vital that they stood in the seat.
“Every day, every hour, counts. We want to consolidate what we achieved in Birmingham and Leicester, and we want to push into new areas.
“During the European election we concentrated on areas where the ethnic minorities are concentrated. We scarcely ventured into other areas.
“Now we are going to make good that gap.
“A party that stands and does well in a constituency, as we did in Hodge Hill, and then does not turn up for the next fight, is consigning itself to the margins.
“You can’t turn a political party on and off like a light bulb—you have to be there.”
In the discussion Andy, a teacher, suggested visiting workplaces in, or very near, the constituency. Louise, a nurse, offered to ask the union at Heartlands Hospital to invite Respect in to address health workers.
A lecturer from East Birmingham College, one of the biggest in the city, volunteered to try and arrange a hustings for all the candidates at the college.
The fire station in the area was due to be visited along with other key workplaces including the Jaguar car factory, and Alstom and Leyland DAF engineering plants.
Cheryl Garvey, the chair of the meeting, suggested doing as many stalls as possible.
She said these didn’t have to just be on Saturdays, but could be timed to catch the school run or shift changes at big workplaces, or outside supermarkets after work.
John Rees said the first priority was to get the Respect leaflet out to every household.
The leaflet exposes how the Liberal Democrats, who are hoping to take votes from Labour, have entered a coalition with the Tories on Birmingham City Council.
“Ninety percent of the people who voted Lib Dem didn’t vote for this,” John said.
“They voted to protest against the war, to punish New Labour, not to get the Tories.”
The Lib Dem candidate, Nicola Davies, has been accused of helping to get mobile phone masts built against the wishes of local residents. Davies describes herself as a “local government affairs manager in the telecoms industry”.