Socialist Worker

Respect is our best chance to hit back at Blair

Councillor Oliur Rahman explains what’s at stake as Respect gears up for the expected general election

Issue No. 1943

Tanks for the memory: This Respect billboard poster, featuring Bethnal Green’s pro-war Labour MP, won’t be gracing the streets of east London after all. Along with other designs by anti-war artist Leon Kuhn, it has been banned by all three major firms tha

Tanks for the memory: This Respect billboard poster, featuring Bethnal Green’s pro-war Labour MP, won’t be gracing the streets of east London after all. Along with other designs by anti-war artist Leon Kuhn, it has been banned by all three major firms tha

Respect was formed out of the anti-war movement — but anyone who thinks Respect is just a single issue party about Iraq is very much mistaken.

We are campaigning over a whole range of issues affecting working people today. We stand against privatisation of public services and against tuition fees. We want to raise the minimum wage to the European Union decency threshold. We want to link state pensions to earnings.

These are issues that New Labour isn’t looking at. Tony Blair can find £6 billion to fund the war, but he can’t find the money to invest in our community and public services.

Many different kinds of people are involved in Respect — trade unionists, office workers, unemployed people, Muslims — people who believe in peace, justice and equality. We have former Labour councillors and former Labour members who have joined Respect.

Respect will work with a whole range of people and organisations interested in benefiting the wider community and society. But unlike the Labour Party, no big business figures are funding us.

As an organisation we are only just over a year old, but in that short time we have scored a number of successes. In the June elections we were only a few thousand votes from getting Lindsey German elected to the London Assembly.

There are now more than half a dozen Respect councillors across the country, most of whom left Labour to join Respect. I was elected as a Respect councillor in Tower Hamlets, east London, in July. In September, Respect pushed Labour into third place in another Tower Hamlets by-election.

Now we are preparing for the forthcoming general election, with Respect standing as an alternative to all the major parties.

Because we are so new it would be wrong for us to stand in every constituency in the country. We would not be able to cope financially, nor would we have enough activists to run an effective campaign.

It is better for us to focus on our stronger constituencies. Respect is going to stand in around 30 seats in England and Wales. That will give us a good opportunity to concentrate on particular areas where we did really well in the European elections last June.

If Respect members and supporters don’t have a candidate in their area, it is absolutely vital that they go and support a candidate who is standing in a nearby constituency.

If we can get one or two Respect candidates elected to parliament it will have a huge impact — not just on that constituency, but across the whole country. Every single person on the left will be watching us.

We have to score a success and then build on that. But we can’t do that without your support and help. It is vital that people spend as much of their spare time as possible in the run-up to the election campaigning for Respect.

This is a great opportunity. But we don’t want to wake up after the general election and discover we didn’t get George Galloway elected because of 2,000 votes. We have to put the work in now. Myself and other Respect officers have been going round Britain speaking at meetings, urging people to come and help in east London.

George Galloway is standing in Bethnal Green & Bow against Oona King, the New Labour MP who supports the war and privatisation. I am standing against New Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick in the neighbouring constituency of Poplar & Canning Town.

We genuinely believe that we can make a breakthrough in east London. And others agree. A recent article in the Times newspaper predicted that New Labour would lose both seats in Tower Hamlets.

National and local journalists are thinking that Respect could win. The Labour national executive has acknowledged that Oona King could lose her seat to George Galloway.

In the 10 June European elections we beat every single establishment party in Tower Hamlets and came top of the poll. The seat I won had been held by Labour for 40 years.

Keir Hardie, the founder of the Labour Party, won a parliamentary election in east London 100 years ago. Now Respect can make a similar political breakthrough in east London. We can have decent Respect MPs in east London who will put people’s interests before their careers.

This election is an opportunity to vote to stop the war and occupation of Iraq, to vote for peace and justice and to end poverty. Most importantly it is a chance to vote to teach Tony Blair a lesson. My message to people is that they have the biggest power there is. Don’t just vote on the basis that you’ve always been loyal to Labour.

To get involved phone the Respect national office on 020 8980 3507

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Sat 19 Mar 2005, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1943
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