Activists were campaigning for Respect up and down England and Wales even before the general election was announced on Tuesday this week.
“Our campaign is really building momentum,” says Hafsha Ali, campaign manager for Mohammed Ilyas in Luton South. Luton Respect organised a launch weekend on Friday, Saturday and Sunday last week. We leafleted all the mosques in Luton on Friday.
“We invited people from across the region to join a ‘mega stall’ in the town centre on Saturday. There were over 30 people there. We got a fantastic response — it was electric.
“It was a lovely day. People dressed up as Tony Blair and George Bush and took part in street theatre. There was a great mix of people on the stall and a carnival atmosphere.
“We had another stall in Bury Park, the main Asian area of Luton, on Sunday. After that we had a fundraising dinner where over £400 was raised.”
Tom Woodcock, the Respect candidate in Cambridge, said, “A Respect member organised a protest against a mobile phone mast in Haverhill last Saturday. Because of that Respect was mentioned in the local paper.
“We have won support among the trade union movement because we were at the forefront of the campaign over pensions.
“When people meet us they say, ‘Thank god, there is a voice of reason in the election,’ because of how we have been defending Travellers and criticising anti-social behaviour orders.
“The Labour MP won’t say these things. I’ve been invited to speak at six hustings, including the NUT teachers’ union, the Make Poverty History campaign, the local college and the local anti-war group.”
Simon Hester is campaign coordinator for Janet Alder in Tottenham, north London. He said, “Over 60 people came together for a campaign activists’ meeting last Sunday.
“It was a really great meeting. Our campaigners have now distributed 45,000 Respect postcards through doors in Tottenham.
“Janet Alder is set to speak at a showing of Injustice, a film about deaths in police custody, on Thursday this week. The writer Benjamin Zephaniah has expressed his support for Janet’s campaign.
“We plan to leaflet all the tube stations in the constituency on Friday and have four stalls across Tottenham on Saturday.”
Dick Duane, a Respect supporter from Basildon in Essex and former fire station officer, spent last Saturday afternoon on a Respect stall in West Ham, east London.
Dick says, “I thought it was brilliant — people were so friendly. And they knew about Respect, perhaps not much, but we weren’t an unknown.
“People stopped and talked to us — it was a nice shock when you come from Basildon! It made me realise that Respect was much better known than I thought.
“Compared to the Labour Party we were really lively. We had a stall, a megaphone and all our campaign material. They were just handing out leaflets.
“A number of people said that they had voted for Respect in the European elections, and they would be voting for Respect this time as well.”
Respect activists have already started canvassing door to door in West Ham, where Lindsey German is challenging New Labour.
And initial responses have been stronger than expected, reports Elane Heffernan from Lindsey’s campaign team.
“Some 25 per cent of those we canvassed in Green Street West ward last Saturday said they would be voting Respect,” she says.
“Twenty people took window posters to put up. People also offered to help — altogether we got 12 new supporters. One family invited Lindsey to come and talk to them and their neighbours.
“Obviously this is a limited sample, but it still represents something of a breakthrough. And our support is coming from all sorts of people.
“Lots of people told us that they had always voted Labour, but would not do so this time. They need to be convinced that Respect is the only alternative.”