THE MAINSTREAM parties were all desperately scrambling for every vote as campaigning drew to a close in the Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill by-elections this week.
But everywhere they go they meet the opposition of Respect supporters, who were out campaigning in the run-up to Thursday’s parliamentary by-elections.
The mainstream parties have relied on bombarding voters with a blizzard of leaflets and ordering their MPs into the area to prop up their campaigns.
Socialist Worker went to press before the by-election results were announced. But already Respect has demonstrated how different it is from the three mainstream parties.
Respect held a public meeting in Hodge Hill last Sunday, the only party to host such an event.
“The turnout reached around 170 people in a room with a 150 capacity. It was standing room only and very good,” says local Respect campaigner Adam Yosef.
The meeting drew an audience of local people, including many who were new to the campaign and very enthusiastic.
The speakers included Respect MP George Galloway, Respect candidate John Rees, Salma Yaqoob and representatives from the People’s Justice Party.
Phil Goalby, a local activist in the firefighters’ FBU union, was also warmly received at the meeting. His speech was frequently interrupted by applause.
Salma Iqbal reports, “Phil spoke about the high hopes everybody had for New Labour and how we have all been let down. He talked about the RMT and FBU unions breaking from Labour, saying that if they don’t support us, and pursue policies that go against us, then they will not get our money. Phil said some people argue that we have to remain in the Labour Party and change it from within. He said these arguments have been had before, but the Labour Party is dead and we have to start looking for alternatives. He said that we need a party that will stand up for working people and urged everybody to vote Respect.”
And supporters have been out campaigning to win those votes. Adam Yosef told Socialist Worker, “It has been great this week, with the Respect bus trundling along the streets of Washwood Heath, Shard End and Kitts Green. The response to our literature and policies has been superb, with new members joining every day and wanting to help campaign where they live. The People’s Justice Party have provided invaluable support, with Shaukat Ali Khan taking John Rees on personal visits to the homes of constituency residents, who have all warmly welcomed our candidate.”
Supporters began canvassing in parts of the constituency where Respect is trying to build new networks. Many in these areas feel they are ignored by the mainstream parties. Right wing parties like the British National Party and UKIP have tried to capitalise on that feeling of disillusion.
“There are white working class areas where no one else is going out and knocking on doors,” says Ian Mitchell, who is one of Respect’s campaign coordinators.
“People are courteous and friendly, but they don’t know if they will vote. There is resentment towards the political establishment. They say, ‘People don’t care about us.’ A few say they will vote BNP, although the BNP aren’t standing in this election. It’s important for Respect to put a left wing alternative to those people. We are producing a special leaflet to say we understand you don’t feel like voting. But Respect is raising issues like poverty and neglect, and how much money has been wasted on the war, so they should vote for us. We are still getting Respect known in some areas. It’s very important that people do know a political movement came out of the anti-war movement.”
By-election candidate John Rees also spoke about what a difference Respect’s campaign has made: “I was at the NHS Concern hustings. It was a step forward to be alongside the official Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat candidates, and make our points. I said there are things that shouldn’t happen under a Labour government—life expectancy fell last year, local hospitals becoming foundation hospitals as centres of profit making, and 8,000 jobs are threatened in the Rover plant and at Alstom 1,000 jobs are going.”
Respect supporter Razina Akhtar said, “Before Respect came along I was one of those people who was despondent and disappointed. Many of the older Muslims had a lot of hopes and loyalty to Labour. They see what has happened and get despondent. I’m 24 and never voted before because I felt no one represented what I feel. Now there is something worth campaigning and fighting for. It can be difficult when you have a full time job and family commitments, but it’s worth it. We are making a difference.”