It’s an exciting and very busy time for the left in Tower Hamlets. Having George Galloway as our MP has galvanised opposition to New Labour. He has become a lightning rod for anger across the East End.
During the past week we’ve been involved in six public meetings or events, attended by about 700 people in all. Three of them were about the future of council housing — Tower Hamlets council is trying to blackmail tenants into transferring to housing associations.
We have worked alongside local tenant groups to make sure that people hear both sides of the argument, and to encourage them to vote no.
On the Ocean estate there is a plan that would demolish council housing and community centres, and build 700 flats for private sale, while the council sits on at least £50 million that could be spent on repairs now.
This is the area where Oliur Rahman became our first elected Respect councillor.
George called a debate that was attended by 300 people. Later he went to meet around 60, mainly white, tenants on the Cranbrook estate. It was a smaller meeting, but a significant one — we are steadily unwinding the myth that Respect only appeals to Muslims.
During the week we also had a role in a rally to support Defend Council Housing activist Eileen Short as she camaigns against political victimisation by the council, her employer. And we sold every ticket for the launch of a film, Election East, about our general election victory in May.
George spoke at three public meetings in the constituency during the week, more than former MP Oona King did in a year. The third was about a council-led plan to allow a building development in Weavers Fields, one of our scarce open spaces.
Local people are very angry about the way the council pretends to “consult” us but never actually listens. George spoke about the council’s plans for gentrification and social engineering, allowing more offices and luxury housing, and driving local people out.
We are making the link between this and New Labour’s privatisation agenda. Local people are looking to Respect as the only voice of opposition — and in May they will have a chance to vote for us as the political alternative.