Jill Russell, Respect’s parliamentary candidate for Tyne Bridge constituency, took part in a question and answer session at a school recently in the north east of England.
The session, which took place at Ponteland High School just north of Newcastle, also included the Labour and Liberal Democrats candidates for the Hexham constituency, as well as the Tory MP for Hexham, Peter Atkinson.
The New Labour representative gave robotic responses, inducing many a sceptical look from the audience as he talked about how democracy was being spread around the Middle East as a result of the illegal war and occupation of Iraq.
Jill Russell lambasted New Labour’s disastrous foreign policy and asked the pivotal question if there is money for war then why is there no money to give students a free education. This drew an enthusiastic round of applause.
A question was raised about the ethics of letting a private company provide school meals given that their primary objective is profit, and not the health of the students. New Labour and the Tories leapt to the defence of private involvement in public services.
For many students the Liberal Democrats seem to offer an alternative to the two main parties. However, the Lib Dem said, “There is a place for the private sector in public services.”
Jill Russell condemned the use of private contractors in providing substandard food. She outlined Respect’s commitment to a child’s right to nutritious school meals. Once again, this drew a round of applause, a gesture not repeated for the other candidates.
After the session was complete, several people approached Jill Russell, wanting to know more about Respect.
A mock election was held the Monday after the debate. Respect gained just under 30 percent of the votes cast by the upper 6th form students, finishing second behind the Liberal Democrats.
New Labour came last with a miserable 12.5 percent. This election shows that there is a big appetite for a peoples’ alternative, especially amongst the young. That alternative is Respect.
Hanif Leylai, Deputy head boy, Ponteland High School
Young give politicians a roasting
A youth forum was held on Tuesday of last week, attracting many young people from Brent, west London. The forum was organised to allow young people to express their views on their lives.
At the end of the evening there was an opportunity to question local councillors and local MPs, including minister Paul Boateng.
Questions covered the price of public transport, crime and housing. Anti Social Behaviour Orders (Asbos) were raised as being a method of victimising young people. Councillors received an angry response when they claimed Asbos were a successful way of dealing with social problems.
Paul Boateng mentioned the importance of role models and finding out about what young people want in politics. It was put to him that young people want truth and justice and that MPs were not being positive role models. Take the example of Tony Blair lying to go to war in Iraq and spending £6 billion.
That money could have been spent on youth projects, transport and schools. This point was applauded by the audience.
This fantastic event showed how young people are engaging in politics but that there is a rift with established political parties. This is an opportunity for Respect.
John Connolly, West London
Villains not welcome in Sheffield
David Blunkett’s departure as home secretary was met with cheers in Sheffield, where he is an MP.
Sadly, one of his legacies is to have invited a villainous bunch of friends and cohorts to a G8 pre-summit meeting here on 16 and 17 June.
The meeting is for G8 Justice and Interior Ministers, which will probably mean that we are graced with the presence US attorney general Alberto Gonzales.
Gonzales gave the go-ahead for torture at Guantanamo Bay. Also coming should be Michael Chertoff, author of the US Patriot Act.
US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice may attend. Italian interior minister Giuseppe Pisanu said of anti-war protesters, “We will resort to using the just repressive force of the state.”
The German interior minister Otto Schily has openly defended the Israeli apartheid wall.
Who can spot the difference between new home secretary Charles Clarke, who is responsible for the latest round of attacks on civil liberties, and his predecessor?
A bigger bunch of warmongers, torturers and jailers may never before have met in Sheffield. They are not welcome here.
Alan Kenny, Sheffield
World on the march
It is safe to say that at least one million people around the world marched against the occupation of Iraq two weekends ago. I did a brief survey of 60 separate protests around the world and the numbers add up to 500,000.
And we know that there were 765 planned demonstrations in the US alone. It may not be another 15 February 2003, but this was still a huge achievement.
Copies of my survey can be downloaded from www3.sympatico.ca/djnesbitt
Doug Nesbitt, Ottawa, Canada
Election campaigning can improve your health
If it wasn’t for the Respect coalition’s decision to stand candidates in the general election, the build-up to the election would be an extremely tedious affair.
Like many readers of Socialist Worker I will not have the opportunity to vote or campaign for Respect at a local level as we are not standing a candidate.
Also, I will be damned if I will support the opportunistic Liberal Democrats who have stood shoulder to shoulder with our Blairite New Labour MP in privatising council assets.
Although voter apathy is at an all-time high, there are many people who are still very interested in politics and desperately want to give Blair a good hiding.
But even if you haven’t got a Respect candidate in your area it doesn’t mean you can’t go out campaigning for Respect.
Several weeks ago, we held a Respect meeting in our local area and 50 people turned out to hear the Respect national secretary, John Rees, speak.
In the weeks to come we will be sending car loads of people to campaign in Tower Hamlets, where George Galloway is standing.
Not only will this help to wipe the smiles off the warmongers’ faces, but it should help establish Respect in our local area for future election battles and help alleviate the boredom, which can seriously damage your health.
Nathan Servini, South London
Judge makes the wrong decision
An unelected judge has backed up the police’s attack on the right to protest. The police coralled thousands of anti-capitalist protesters, including myself, in Oxford Circus, central London, for over seven hours on May Day 2001.
Lois Austin, a protester, and Geoffrey Saxby, an office worker who was not demonstrating, claimed damages against the Metropolitan Police for its actions.
But high court judge Tugendhat, last week said that, “There was a real risk of serious injury and even death, as well as damage to property, if the police did not control the crowd.”
He said the organisers’ literature could be seen as incitement to violence. He then ruled that the police’s actions were justified.
But the only thing that was being justified was the media hype about protesters and the huge numbers of police on the streets of London. Even though people were trapped without toilet facilities there was an entirely peaceful atmosphere.
This disgraceful judgement cannot be allowed to stand. I, and many others trapped on May Day, will show our disgust at the decision when we demonstrate against the G8 leaders when they come to Britain in July.
Despina Mavrou, North London
Delighted to meet you
I met Socialist Worker sellers when I joined the peace rally two weekends ago in London. I was delighted to talk to people with similar ideals and I am really glad that I was there.
I believe that international peace can be achieved when people of all nations start to accept their differences and look for the similarities in us all.
Annette Spendlove, Maidstone
Can you help me film?
I’m a Spanish socialist and a member of the SWP’s sister organisation En Lucha. I am working on a documentary about the anti-G8 protest in Scotland in July.
I would like to contact any readers of Socialist Worker who can help with filming, or in any other way.
If you have footage of previous protests, such as Genoa or Prague, or if you’re thinking of doing a video report of the Scotland summit, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Carlus Jove, Barcelona
Pullout shows action works
The news that Italy has decided to pull its 3,000 troops out of Iraq should cheer all anti-war activists and socialists. It shows that pressure from demonstrations can change things.
Above all, it should motivate everyone to ensure the G8 demo in Scotland this summer keeps the pressure on.
Steve Brown, Reading
Redressing the balance
I am currently in Venezuela on holiday. Nevertheless, I would like to add my support to those of you who demonstrated on Saturday 19 March.
Iraq was an illegal war, justified by a pack of lies. I foolishly voted for Blair last time and in the forthcoming election I am looking forward to my chance to redress the balance.
Christopher Burke, Slinfold, West Sussex
Exploiting the poor
With talk about Gordon Brown’s “incredible” budget, full employment and a “stable” economy, it should be noted that most of the jobs in Britain create nothing of any value (excluding our lucrative arms industry).
We are largely dependent on the extraction of wealth by multinational corporations from the productive poor Third World to the unproductive but very rich “developed” world.
John Butler, Kidderminster
No benefit to the jobless
Yogesh Raja asks for readers’ comments on his proposal to help the jobless (Letters, Socialist Worker, 19 March).
In my opinion his proposal would undermine workers’ rights and wages, whilst forcing the unemployed into poverty pay.
Such a system would benefit employers, who could hire people on £3 an hour “training” schemes instead of paying them a decent wage.
I find Yogesh’s proposals for single parents equally worrying. Working from home for £2-3 an hour whilst also trying to look after children could only alienate and impoverish single parent families.
Jo Dyer, East London
No union cash for Labour
I agree with Belinda Affat’s call for our Amicus union subs to stop being wasted on promoting New Labour (Socialist Worker, 26 March).
General secretary Derek Simpson has proved to be a huge disappointment to those on the left in Amicus who were hoping for a change to pro-Labour former leaders Roger Lyons and Ken Jackson.
Labour has done little for trade unionists. It is time for Amicus to follow the example of the FBU and RMT unions and cut itself off from New Labour.
Amicus branch chair, by email