Socialist Worker

With Respect’s victory ‘a new dawn has truly broken over the east end’

Success in Bethnal Green & Bow and a strong showing in other areas is only the begining of Respect's political challenge, says Respect MP George Galloway

Issue No. 1950a

Respect supporters celebrate 
on hearing the result in Bethnal Green & Bow (Pic: Guy Smallman)
Picture:

Respect supporters celebrate on hearing the result in Bethnal Green & Bow (Pic: Guy Smallman) Picture:


As the sun came up over Brick Lane on Friday a new dawn had truly broken over the East End of London — and over British politics.

The impact of Respect’s victory in Bethnal Green & Bow and our spectacular results elsewhere will only fully become apparent in the weeks and months to come.

But already we have some of the measure of it. This is one of the most historic victories in British politics.

Not since 1945 has a party to the left of Labour in England won a seat in parliament. Then it was Phil Piratin, Communist hero of the Jewish East End. Today it is Respect, standing in his old constituency.

Sixty years ago Piratin’s victory came as the Labour Party was cementing its hegemony over the British working class.

Bitter tears

Today it comes as New Labour is shredding those bonds, leaving in its wake the bitter tears of those it has taken for granted for far too long. The meaning of our victory is that those people can no longer be taken for granted.

With one blow we have shattered the cynical policy of triangulation, which Tony Blair imported from the US Democrats.

According to that strategy he felt free to seek the votes of Tories on Tory terms, while assuming that Labour’s core support would have to back him, because there was nowhere else to go.

Now there is somewhere else to go. Our ideals, the ideals of generations of activists who built and sustained the Labour Party, have taken organised form.

And that organisation has reached into every corner of Bethnal Green & Bow. We piled up votes in every ward and within every community.

A wave of enthusiasm swept from Brick Lane — the first port of call for almost every group of newcomers to this country — through to the housing estates in the shadow of Bryant & May factory in Bow, where young women heroically struck in 1888.

Our support was concentrated on the housing estates that have been left to rot, their occupants blackmailed by a corrupt council that says no repairs will be made unless tenants vote for their homes to be privatised.

As our battle bus toured east London the waves and cheers of support came in their majority from those who have nothing to sell but their capacity to work and whose work produces everything we see around us and every service we avail ourselves of.

Badge of honour

Our vote was particularly strong among the Bengali community and other immigrants.

We wear that as a badge of honour — for it used to be a point of pride that the left could rally to its banner those who are most downtrodden.

In Bethnal Green & Bow some 25 percent of the population are living in overcrowded conditions. Among immigrant communities, the figure is 50 percent.

The climate of Islamophobia nurtured by New Labour over the last four years has fuelled a 300 percent increase in the number of young Muslim men stopped and searched.

The response from Hazel Blears, home office minister in the last parliament, was to say Muslims should get used to being targeted by the police.

Then there is Blair’s decision to go to war against Iraq, and the support he received in doing that from his two MPs in Tower Hamlets, Oona King and Jim Fitzpatrick, against the wishes of the vast majority of their constituents.

There can be only one reason why they felt they could back the war in Iraq. They thought that whatever they did, however they voted in parliament, they would be re-elected.

Smear campaign

The result in Bethnal Green & Bow buried that complacency. It should also bury the slur that people who have solidly backed Labour in the past, as most immigrants have, suddenly become “communalist” when they feel the sting of betrayal and vote for an alternative.

That was just one of the smears and dirty tricks that formed part of New Labour’s campaign against us.

An utterly incredible “poll” appeared on election day purporting to show that the Tories were the ones who were threatening to take the seat.

All who read that fabrication now have another reason not to believe a single thing New Labour says.

And then there is the conduct of the vote itself. Respect has uncovered ghost voters on the electoral register, people turning up to vote to find that a postal vote has already been cast in their name without their knowledge, and malpractice that would disgrace a banana republic.

This is one thing we intend to clear away at the council elections next May. The campaign to take control of the London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham begins on Monday.

Abdul Khaliq Mian and Lindsey German have already shaken up the New Labour councillors in Newham by taking one in five of the votes in a borough where all but one of the councillors is New Labour.

Oliur Rahman, the first councillor elected under the Respect banner, has done the same in Poplar & Canning Town.

New broom

Respect intends to be the stiff new broom that will sweep away those New Labour councils that feel they are above answering to their electors.

We aim to launch a charter for the people of east London, reaching out to those areas where we have only begun to make inroads, and to organise around it to politically lay siege to the seats of power in Westminster and the City of London.

And the impact of our breakthrough is not confined to east London. Salma Yaqoob’s breathtaking vote in Birmingham, just 3,000 votes short of taking the seat, shows we have the capacity to become a national force.

The repercussions are already national. In the Stop the War movement, out of which Respect emerged, we worked with many people of good will from the Labour Party, from other progressive parties, the Green Party and people of no party at all.

We will continue to do so. At the same time we appeal to those people to join us and help us build Respect on the solid foundation we have already laid down.

Respect brings to the discussions and debates that will inevitably follow this general election a method of working that has served us well and that fits the mood of the moment.

All the different components of Respect thrive on mutual respect and a recognition that we have so much in common which unites us.

It is a winning combination, at elections, certainly, but also in the campaigning work to which we are committed.

Ray of hope

Finally, our victory on Thursday has an international dimension too. The news was flashed around the world. Within minutes the voicemail and text memory of my mobile phone were full with messages of congratulation from Fallujah, Baghdad, Lebanon and many other places that have so much reason to detest what Blair has done in our name.

We have shone out a ray of hope into the corners of Britain long abandoned by New Labour to the darkness Blair and his friend George Bush have cast across the globe.

Respect has dealt Blair a mortal blow. He’d have rather lost another dozen seats to the Tories than just one to us.

For our victory is unambiguously a victory for the anti-war movement and for the real Labour people whom Blair has tried to silence.

It has altered the political landscape and created new possibilities for the left and for progressive people.

For us last Friday morning, bliss was it that dawn to be alive. For Blair’s New Labour, it will never be glad confident morning again.


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Features
Sat 7 May 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1950a
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