Around the country Respect activists and prospective candidates are gearing up for council elections set for 4 May.
In Tower Hamlets, east London, a full slate of 51 Respect candidates will stand. In many other areas activists are standing one or two candidates, focusing their efforts in an attempt to make a breakthrough.
George Solomou is standing as a candidate in Hackney, east London. He is an anti-war activist who resigned from the Territorial Army last year before he would have been deployed to Iraq.
“I was a member of the Labour Party,” he said. “I thought Tony Blair would hold back during the first term, but that his second term would mark a return to more traditional Labour policies.
“But it turns out that Blair is a conservative. In fact what he’s doing with things like education goes beyond anything the Tories managed.
“What disgusts me most is that a government that once talked about having an ethical foreign policy has taken us into a war that has left 100,000 dead and destabilised a whole region.”
George believes that Respect is more than simply an anti-war party. He said, “Just down the road from me they’re building flats that will sell at prices ranging from £250,000 to £1 million.
“You can imagine what kind of people these are aimed at. Only 10 percent of this kind of construction has to be for social housing.
“We need to galvanise the local community into making a stand. The housing situation in Hackney is already critical. So god help us when they start development for the Olympics.
“Even a single Respect councillor in Hackney would help people to make that stand.”
Mukhter Master is a Respect candidate in Preston. He said, “I’m really glad to be standing. I never used to be political, but that all changed because of the war.
“I got involved in Stop the War locally and saw what Respect councillor Michael Lavalette was doing.
“Because we already have a Respect councillor it has made our campaign a lot easier. Michael holds regular surgeries, so other councillors now have to try and do the same.
“I also try to attend the surgeries and we send out regular newsletters and hold regular meetings.
“We are continuing to do more of the same to prepare for the elections in May.
“Respect has to balance local and national issues. In Preston we are campaigning about refuse collection. The council has changed collection to a two week cycle, which people are very unhappy about.
“But we’ve also done a lot around national issues such as the Make Poverty History campaign. We collected for people after the Asian tsunami and after the earthquake in Kashmir. Most recently we have campaigned and held meetings on the issue of the racist cartoons.
“I’m standing in one of the poorest areas in Britain, in a ward that is largely ignored by the council.
“Respect could make a big difference in an area like this. We already have a very good profile in Preston, higher in fact than many of the councillors who are standing for re-election. I believe we can win.”
Margot Lindsay is standing in Faraday ward in Southwark, south London. She has lived for many years on the Aylesbury estate in the ward. She helped fight off the council’s attempt to sell housing on the estate to the private sector.
Now she is part of the campaign to save the estate from demolition.
She said of the demolition plan, “This time they won’t even let us have a ballot over housing.
“I am standing so that residents in the area can have their say, and when I’m elected I will make sure that their voices are always heard.
“All the residents of Faraday ward will be affected by the proposed demolition, not just the people on the estate. We will be living next to a building site for ten years.
“All the other parties say one thing and then do the opposite. You know where you stand with Respect. We are against privatisation, against the occupation of Iraq and against sending yet more troops to Afghanistan.
“We totally oppose the threat of invasion of Iran. We are in favour of council housing and a public National Health Service.
“Tony Blair made yet another flying visit to the Aylesbury last month to speak to a hand picked group of residents.
“In 1997, when he was first elected, he visited the estate and claimed that he would make life better for local people.
“He has not. He can find the money for war, but not for pensions. The rich get richer and the rest of us struggle. Respect will tax the rich to fund decent services.”
Jerry Hicks, a trade union activist who was victimised and sacked by Rolls Royce last year, is standing for Respect in Bristol.
Dan, an activist in Jerry’s campaign, told Socialist Worker, “So far we have leafleted the ward twice, getting Respect supporters to come out and speak to people, making sure that people know who we are and what we stand for.
“We have also held two very successful meetings.”
An activist in Camden, north London, said, “Around 50 people attended a meeting on Islamophobia and racism last week. It was chaired by Mukul Hira, the prospective Respect candidate for the area.
“A cross-section of people from the local Bengali community were at the meeting, including many young people. A number of them spoke about their experience of racism, which had worsened since the beginning of the war on Iraq.
“Discussion centred on the fact that although the New Labour government had condemned the racist cartoons, they were also responsible for creating a climate – particularly following the 7 July bombings – in which Muslims were viewed as ‘the enemy within’.
“The meeting voted unanimously to adopt a statement of united opposition to Islamophobia and racism, and called for the biggest possible turnout for the 18 March Stop the War demonstration.”