Socialist Worker

Respect conquers new territory

Issue No. 1999

Victorious Respect councillors Mohammed Abdul Munim (left) and Rania Khan (right) celebratiing with third candidate Rebecca Townesend in Bromley-by-Bow, Tower Hamlets (Pic: Jess Hurd/

Victorious Respect councillors Mohammed Abdul Munim (left) and Rania Khan (right) celebratiing with third candidate Rebecca Townesend in Bromley-by-Bow, Tower Hamlets (Pic: Jess Hurd/

No reshuffling of the cabinet, no sackings and no demotions of ministers can hide the fact that Thursday’s local elections were New Labour’s worst performance since it came into being under Tony Blair.

Outside London, the wards where voting took place this week had last been contested in 2004, after the Iraq war began. Labour took a hammering then, this time it did even worse.

In London the wards contested this week were last up in 2002. So the punishment of Labour was even more dramatic because it contained the pent-up electoral fury over the war.

Overall this time Labour's share of the vote fell to 26 percent, third behind the Liberal Democrats.

Labour is not going to fall apart overnight. It took the party decades to build the support and the loyalty that secured it office nationally and locally. But sections of that support has deserted it and dissatisfaction is spreading remorselessly.

There is no great comfort in all this for Tory leader David Cameron. The Tories made some gains in London, but won not a ward in Manchester, Sheffield, Liverpool or Newcastle. On these results the Tories have still not recovered enough ground to win office.

For the Liberal Democrats there was absolutely no advance.

The Nazis of the British National Party (BNP) got massive media attention in the run up to polling, and there is much media talk of “huge advances” now. Every time they win a seat it is a serious matter and a call to action. But, although alarming, their votes should not be overstated. Their “breakthrough” relied centrally on their results in Barking & Dagenham where they received a huge boost from Margaret Hodge’s claim that eight out of ten voters were considering voting BNP.

Combating the BNP is urgent. That requires campaigning against fascism on the ground and providing dissatisfied Labour voters with an alternative which identifies the true causes of poverty, lack of housing and services.

Respect is in poll position to provide that. Respect built on George Galloway’s general election victory to secure 12 council seats in Tower Hamlets becoming the second biggest group on the council.

New Labour lost its leader Michael Keith, deputy leader, mayor and several other cabinet members, including the cabinet member for housing David Edgar.

Another two wards in Tower Hamlets were still to announce results on Friday afternoon after recounts were ordered.

Tremendous day

Elsewhere in east London Respect came second in the mayoral election winning just short of 13,000 votes on the first round and taking Labour to a second run-off. Respect mayoral candidate Abdurahman Jafar said, “This is a tremendous day for democracy. Respect stands for the poor and the marginalised. New Labour calls us extremists, but the other parties said the same thing about Keir Hardie at the birth of the Labour Party.”

The Newham council results, to be announced late on Friday, promised further significant gains for Respect.

Respect secured a ground shaking victory in Birmingham Sparkbrook. Salma Yaqoob won at the first attempt polling 4,339 votes – 49 percent of the poll and one of the biggest votes at the elections across the country.

Salma told Socialist Worker, “This is a fantastic result. All of the parties united against us in an attempt to stop Respect gaining a foothold. But not only did we beat them, we thrashed them all.

”This is the first step in making Respect an alternative to all the major parties.”

In other areas Respect was agonisingly close to extending its representation. In Preston, for example, Respect was just seven votes short of winning, with the Greens paltry 82 probably saving Labour.

Respect was also second in Preston St George's and Riversway. In a majority of wards Respect came ahead of at least one of the main parties. It has established itself in several key wards in the big cities as the main challenger to the sitting councillor.

In Sheffield Burngreave, Birmingham Springfield and Bristol Lockleaze for example there were very strong votes. In a solidly white working class seat in Lockleaze engineering worker, Jerry Hicks won 25 percent of the vote.

In west London three candidates, including a Sikh and Muslim candidates, came second in Southall Green as did Respect in Somerstown, Camden and in two Tottenham wards.

Such results are a considerable achievement for a party that is standing for the first time in these local elections. Next time electors will know that Respect is a very serious challenger, and are far more likely to vote for it.

Respect has built on its general election successes in Tower Hamlets, Newham and Birmingham. Elsewhere it has climbed into a position allowing it to emulate their success in the European and Greater London elections.

Its ability to do that rests on building networks of supporters who spread our support deeper and deeper into local communities filling the vacuum left by the withering away of New Labour’s roots.

Respect can challenge the warmongers and free marketeers of New Labour.

» Respect local election results

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Sat 6 May 2006, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1999
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