The left challenge to New Labour received a boost in Newham, east London, last week when a Labour councillor and the secretary of the Liberal Democrats in the area joined Respect.
Councillor Abdul Kalim Sheik and Hanif Abdulmuhit announced their decision at a meeting in Newham on Thursday of last week.
Councillor Sheik is the second Labour councillor to join Respect in Newham in the last few months. Councillor Sarah Ruiz joined Respect in September.
Councillor Sheik told Socialist Worker, “I felt it is the right time to leave Labour. I have lived in Newham for 35 years and been a Labour councillor since 1990.
“Sir Robin Wales, New Labour mayor of Newham, is carrying out policies without democratically listening to anyone.
“Labour completely dominates the council and members’ voices are being suppressed. You don’t feel that you are able to challenge the policies.
“The council wants to redevelop Queen’s Market, reducing the number of stalls and putting an Asda supermarket there.
“Nobody is happy with this and 12,000 people have signed a petition against it. Some of the traders have been there for three or four generations. There is discontent in the community.
“The government is also refusing to bring the troops home from Iraq. There is discontent about this. Respect is an alternative. All of the other parties support the policies of central government. But Respect is working for social justice.
“When George Galloway won in Bethnal Green & Bow for Respect, change appeared before people’s eyes. But in Newham, where not as many people were watching, Respect won 16,000 votes.
“The majority in the ward I represent, Green Street West, backed Respect.
“I have come out now to have an impact. I could not speak against the council’s policies while in Labour.”
Hanif Abdulmuhit said, “I was a member of the Labour Party in Tower Hamlets since my days as a student.
“When I moved to Newham five years ago I thought I would be leaving behind me an undemocratic Labour Party, to join a forward looking and progressive Labour Party in Newham.
“This would serve the interests of ordinary, disadvantaged people, who the free market has conveniently ignored and trampled over for so long.
“Unfortunately, I was wrong. The disease of Tony Blair’s New Labour had penetrated too far and deep into Newham’s party.
“I couldn’t stand by and watch this. I had to look for an alternative platform from which to challenge Labour’s grip on power in Newham.
“The only platform available to me at the time was the Lib Dems. But after working for a few years in the Lib Dems, I realised that in many ways it was no different to the other main parties.
“Although there are decent and sincere people in the Lib Dems in Newham, for me they, and especially the leadership, do not understand or relate to the needs and aspirations of the diverse communities in Newham.
“When Respect was first established I was deeply sceptical. I did not open my eyes to see where this new phenomenon in British politics was coming from. When I investigated and started speaking to people, I was pleasantly surprised.
“I realised that it looked more and more like that dream for which I and many millions of people joined and supported Labour - it was a party built on social justice and fairness.
“It spoke the truth when the whole political establishment supported the greatest lie of our time, by going into an illegal war in Iraq.
“The only way we can return power to the people in Newham is by rescuing our democracy from Tony Blair’s New Labour and his stooges in Newham.
“The only party in my view who can do this in Newham now is Respect. This is why I have joined Respect.”
Respect is now gearing up to mount a full challenge to New Labour in next May’s local elections.
Tower Hamlets Respect launched its campaign for next year’s council elections at a rally in east London on Thursday of last week.
Jackie Turner, joint branch secretary of Tower Hamlets Respect, told Socialist Worker, “Around 140 people came to hear Respect MP George Galloway, Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six, councillor Oliur Rahman and journalist Yvonne Ridley.
“A number of people have put themselves forward to be council candidates and the selection process will start shortly.”