In Birmingham and other areas Respect got a significant vote. Activists explain why
JOHN REES headed the list for the European elections in the West Midlands, where Respect won nearly 35,000 votes, scoring over 7 percent in the city of Birmingham and 2.4 percent across the region. He spoke to Socialist Worker:
'Respect came top in Bordesley Green and Springfield wards. We came second in three other wards. Nowhere in Birmingham's inner city did our vote fall below 8 percent, and it averaged around 20 percent.
'The key word is roots. Wherever campaigners got out and organised serious activity, we got serious results. We did much better in the inner city than in the suburbs and the countryside. For parties trying to reach beyond their core areas, the media makes a huge difference and we were completely blanked.
'Our vote was not just a Muslim vote. There is a massive political battle going on among Muslims, just as there is in the trade unions and other groups. Muslims have a class identity as well as a religious identity. Now we have to build on the success we've had and generalise from it. Activists should ask, can I go into my workplace, the local mosque or Sikh temple, the community centre, and set up a political meeting? If you haven't done it already, then get moving. The doors are open to us but we have to take the small steps necessary. Every activist who builds now can make a huge difference in the future.'
James Eaden, the election agent for Respect's candidate in the East Midlands, says, 'We got over 9 percent of the vote across Leicester. This includes three different parliamentary constituencies. We think our vote was concentrated in Leicester South, where there is a by-election coming up. We did well in cities like Nottingham and Derby. But large sections of the constituency centred on the decimated mining areas, where people are very bitter and angry. There are areas we can seriously build on after the Leicester result.'
Tony Phillips from Waltham Forest in north east London, where Respect won 9.6 percent, described how 'we found that many people from the mosques and our Stop the War Coalition wanted to build Respect. Some firefighters came along to the rally with Linda Smith from the FBU, which got Lindsey German invited into a fire station. We also targeted wards where we knew there were lots of disaffected Labour voters.'
Yuri Prasad was the election agent for Abdurahman Jafar in the Havering & Redbridge constituency. Respect won 5,185 votes, 4 percent of the total. 'Although our constituency has a Tory majority we found there was a big audience for Respect. This time round we were just too small to cover the whole constituency. But where people got to meet us, we won votes.'
A missed opportunity
IT IS a tragedy that the Green Party and Respect were not in a united campaign. In the Euro elections the Greens polled 6.2 percent- almost the same percentage as in 1999-and retained their two MEPs. But if they had worked more closely with Respect then together we would have been headline news.
The strongest case comes from London. Together the Green Party and Respect polled 13.2 percent in the European election-more than three times as many as the BNP, more than the UKIP and challenging the Liberals (15.3 percent). In the West Midlands the combined vote was 7.6 percent-greater than the BNP. Again, in the North West the combined vote was higher than the BNP's. But this gives only part of the picture.
If the Greens and Respect had come together in a united campaign with a single candidate in each area, it would have galvanised bigger numbers than each can achieve alone. Every anti-war activist, trade unionist and all those angry about environmental destruction would see that there was a truly credible force.
Nobody can be sure how many extra votes this would have gathered. But such a coalition might well have drawn ahead of the Lib Dems in London and certainly it would have won extra seats in the European and London elections. The failure to unite was not Respect's fault. Several attempts to work out a joint approach were snubbed by the Green Party's national officers. Instead of exploring how we could cooperate, Green leaders turned to verbal assaults.
A press release echoed the worst form of witch-hunting by falsely claiming that George Galloway was 'a maverick representing the Socialist Workers Party'. The only people who have benefited from such absurd taunts are New Labour. It will be important to explore electoral unity next time.