George Galloway launched the Respect local election campaign on Monday at a press conference in London. Respect is challenging the three main parties in many council seats across England.
Galloway said, “The 4 May local elections are a referendum on Tony Blair’s war, his lies and his deceit. Even Labour Party supporters want Blair to go.
“We aim to to take power in London’s East End, so we are fighting for every seat in Tower Hamlets and Newham. In other parts of the country we are targeting seats where we feel we can make a breakthrough.
“Iraq has become a bigger issue now than when the war started. More people are dying today than when George Bush declared ‘mission accomplished’ three years ago.”
Tower Hamlets Respect councillor Oliur Rahman said, “Working class people have lost their faith in Labour. We are poised to gain from this because we are fighting for our communities.
“People are angry at the corruption, at the attacks on pensions, at the mismanagement of local services and the endless privatisation.”
Newham mayoral candidate Abdurahman Jafar said, “We are spearheading change in Newham because after 40 years of Labour people have said ‘enough’.”
“On the door people start with discussing the war, but end with discussing education, saving Queens Market, our environment and the privatisation of our housing,” said Newham Respect councillor Sara Ruiz.
“People are joining the dots,” Abdurahman added. “The money spent on war should be spent on housing and education. This is why we are confident that we can make a big impact on 4 May.”
Sheffield Respect council candidate Maxine Bowler is campaigning against changes to the way that pensions and benefits are paid.
Maxine is standing in Burngreave ward. She visited Page Hall post office and spoke to postmaster Asif Mamood about the problem.
The Department for Work and Pensions has decided not to extend the post office card account beyond 2010.
This means that all pensions and benefits currently collected from local post offices will have to be paid into a bank or building society account instead.
Maxine said, “There are not many banks or building societies in the Burngreave area and this means that the change will have a detrimental effect on many of our residents.
“This schemes is designed to drive people away from the post office account so that they can shut down even more of our local post offices without resistance. That’s why we need to fight this now.”
Respect campaigners in Tower Hamlets, east London, were out campaigning in force again last weekend. Respect is standing a full slate of candidates in the borough, challenging the New Labour council’s privatising agenda.
John Rees, Respect’s national secretary, is standing in Bethnal Green South ward in Tower Hamlets. “Nearly all the wards have been leafleted at least once and we’ve started systematic canvassing,” he says.
“All the early reports show that people who voted for us last year are sticking with us and more are coming over our way. Labour put out a leaflet in Bow West ward admitting that ‘on 4 May residents will have a straight choice between Labour and Respect’.”
George Galloway joined candidates Rebecca Townesend, Rania Khan and Abdul Munim in Bromley-by-Bow ward for a walkabout last Sunday, meeting local people and visiting shops and housing estates.
Much of the housing in Bromley-by-Bow has been transferred to Poplar Harca, a housing association with strong links to New Labour.
Many tenants are deeply unhappy with Harca and have set up a campaign group to demand repairs and services.
Respect activists, including Galloway and the Bromley-by-Bow candidates, met with local campaigner Graham Mantle from the Poplar Shara umbrella group of residents’ associations, which has been leading the effort to bring Harca to account.
A public meeting had been booked and paid for in a Harca controlled community centre on the Lincoln estate.
But the centre was mysteriously shut when the Respect campaign arrived, despite having been open earlier in the day.
Instead the rally was held outside the centre. Galloway described Harca’s track record of broken promises to tenants and vowed that Respect would halt New Labour’s programme of council house privatisation.
Graham Mantle told the rally that since starting the campaign against Harca, the association’s chief executive had written to them offering to meet the activists.
“That didn’t happen by talking to them, it happened by fighting them,” he said.
Anger at years of incompetence and privatisation by the New Labour council has been increased by news of corruption. Two former Labour councillors in the borough have admitted to fraud and are awaiting sentencing.
Respect activists are investigating a leaflet from an unknown organisation called “Bengali Freedom Fighters” that was put out in Shadwell ward. It attacked Respect and urged a Labour vote, but did not carry an official Labour imprint.
Campaigners in Hackney, east London, had a successful Saturday afternoon leafleting Ridley Road market, one of the busiest places in the borough.
Mayoral candidate Dean Ryan said, “We had around 35 people out campaigning and we handed out around 2,500 leaflets to people. We had a good, friendly response. A lot of the traders nodded, agreeing with many of our slogans.
“There were Turkish, African Caribbean and white working class people coming up to us.”
Activists are also out canvassing in all four wards where Respect is standing in the council elections.
Respect members in Lancashire are using the impact created by the huge protests against US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to kickstart the local election campaign.
Dan Berry told Socialist Worker, “Since the protests people have been inspired to go out campaigning for Respect and make sure we hit New Labour at the ballot box too.
“Campaigners were out at the weekend leafleting wards in Blackburn and Preston. We have had a very good response.”
The Respect candidate in Lockleaze ward in Bristol is sacked Rolls Royce worker Jerry Hicks.
Jerry Hicks told Socialist Worker, “Our campaign started three months ago, and we have rooted ourselves in the area.
“We have leafleted the ward four times now. We started the canvassing last weekend.
“There were around 50 people out over the weekend. Over 100 people said they would vote Respect in the election. I am well known in the area after last year’s strike at Rolls Royce.
“We are going to be canvassing the ward every day from now until the election. This is a Labour area that voted Liberal Democrat because of disillusion with New Labour. Now people are looking for a principled alternative.
“I am already going back to people who said they would vote for me to thank them and give them a window poster to put up.”