Respect candidates who will challenge New Labour were selected in two key regions of Britain last weekend. Socialist Worker talked to those chosen and discusses the battles they will be taking up
GEORGE Galloway MP and Stop the War Coalition convenor Lindsey German will head up the challenge to New Labour by Respect: The Unity Coalition in London on 10 June. In the West Midlands Respect's election challenge will be headed by Stop the War co-founder John Rees and Birmingham Stop the War chair Salma Yaqoob. The Respect candidates who will challenge New Labour in two of the key regions of Britain were decided at conventions last weekend.
Respect, the new electoral coalition, is targeting the European and Greater London Assembly elections on 10 June. The votes take place on a proportional system, which gives new parties a real chance to make an impact. Parties present lists of candidates, with seats allocated to candidates from each list according to the percentage of the total vote each party gets.
'I'm extremely proud to be leading the new party into the European elections where we will have a huge impact,' says George Galloway. 'Our candidates list is extremely strong and Respect will be taking our message-bolstering public services, calling for the immediate withdrawal from Iraq-to the voters. 'The Euro elections have traditionally been greeted with apathy. I can guarantee you it won't be like that this time around.'
'The number and diversity of the people who have come together to form this coalition is an achievement in itself,' says Salma Yaqoob, who will be a Respect candidate in the West Midlands Euro election. We are told there is no alternative to endless war and privatisation. In every area of our life from birth to death hard-won rights are being taken away. Respect is about the alternative.'
John Rees will stand for Respect in the West Midlands: '10 June will be a referendum on Blair's government. People will have the chance to express how they feel about the war, about how their hopes that their children could go to university have been dashed, about how they feel when they hear Labour ministers saying we have too many pensioners.'
Lindsey German will head Respect's challenge in the Greater London Assembly elections on 10 June. She says, 'The prevailing climate of opinion in the country is overwhelmingly against the illegal occupation of Iraq, and detests top-up fees, the idea of further privatisations and a two-tier health service.
'It is crucially important that this finds a coherent voice in what is effectively the capital's parliament, the Greater London Assembly. Respect will provide that voice.'
Candidates speak out
'I was on strike against the PFI at Dudley Hospital in 2000. Donkey's years ago I was in the Labour Party, but I was just a catering worker and a housewife before the strike.
The PFI schemes are just privatisation by another name. They are degrading to NHS workers and patients alike and they should be stopped. The question of Third World debt and fair trade are also big issues for me.'
Winifred Whitehouse, West Midlands
'I work as a secretary at Coventry University. Working in that environment means that campaigning against student top-up fees is a priority for me. I was chair of the firefighters' support group in Coventry during their strike last year. I am also the treasurer of Coventry Stop the War Coalition. My two children go to state schools in Coventry so the question of the underfunding of education is something I will be campaigning about.'
Penny Hicks, West Midlands
'I am a 23 year old civil servant who was brought up in east London. I have been very active in the local Stop the War Coalition, which was a very big and effective movement.
I am also branch secretary of the PCS civil servants' branch in east London. It is a disgrace that people who work for a Labour government have to claim benefits themselves just to survive.'
Oliur Rahman, London Assembly
'We have to win respect in the workplace and roll back the feeling among management that they can push people around. Shop floor workers deserve more than to be bullied, railroaded and generally not given their due. It is time to take a stand against the erosion of rights. That is why I became involved in the TGWU union and it is also why I am now proud to stand for Respect.
As a general worker in Longbridge car plant for 12 years I hope that I can be a focus particularly for the concerns that workers feel as well as all the other aspects of Respect's manifesto.'
Anil Seera, West Midlands
'Deciding to run as a candidate is to do with my own journey as an individual as well as the current state of society and with what is happening in communities here and abroad.
I'm frustrated with the absence of real choice at the ballot box and with the values of those formally selected to govern. Respect is just the right mix of inclusiveness and principles for ordinary people like me to get behind.'
Cheryl Garvey, West Midlands
'I'm the London Region political officer for the RMT union. I've worked on London Underground for three years. Our union decided democratically to open up our union's political fund to support parties other than Labour.
Yet New Labour has attacked us for this. They have carried out a Tory agenda for privatisation on the underground like the railways.'
Unjum Mirza, London European Parliament
'I was in the Green Party, which I left to join Respect. I am an office worker in Enfield and have lived in London all my life. Tony Blair is coming to Enfield in his 'big conversation'. The local newspaper is running a competition where the person with the best question gets to put it to Blair.
How democratic is that-you have to win a competition to get to speak to your elected leader! This government is totally discredited.'
Elaine Graham-Leigh, London European Parliament
'The foundation of Respect is the day I have waited for all my life. My mother was in the Labour Party. We must get to the Labour voters who have nowhere else to put their vote.
I was very active in the anti Vietnam War movement. I also worked for the United Nations for 20 years. It's marvellous that people have decided to unite over what they believe in this organisation Respect. It's very inspiring.'
Rita Carter, London European Parliament
'We are hoping to build an electoral force in British politics. Labour wants to sell off council housing and services. We have seen privatisation in the public sector and on the railways.
The people who deliver public services deserve recognition. I am a firefighter. When we went on strike last year Blair called us wreckers. My union pays £50,000 a year to New Labour. Why are we giving money to the people who are attacking us? Now we have got an alternative-Respect.'
Linda Smith, London Assembly
'As a member of a minority community and a Kurdish community activist I urge people to challenge Labour and the Liberal Democrats. On immigration and anti-terror laws they are as bad as each other.
I have been to Belmarsh prison to see clients who were jailed just for being Kurdish and for supporting a legal newspaper for Kurdish rights. We need an alternative voice to Labour. Respect is the place for those who are struggling back.'
Sait Akgul, London Assembly
'The Labour Party does not represent minority communities in Britain or the interests of working class people. They have let trade unionists down. We have to build trust and confidence among all sections.'
Salvinder Dhillon Singh, London Assembly
'I've been working on the railways since 1974. The key things for me are being against privatisation and against the war. I was a Labour councillor in Lambeth from 1986 to 1994 when I was expelled for opposing the first Gulf War.'
Greg Tucker, London Assembly
'I finished university in June and being against student fees is something I feel strongly about. Many students are £4,000 in debt and that's just after the first term.
I was also active at university in support of Palestinian rights. I live in Rotherhithe in south east London and work in the Respect office, spreading the message about the alternative to Labour.'
Tansy Hoskins, London Assembly
How European election works
ON THURSDAY 10 June every voter will be able to vote for a member of the European Parliament. In Britain 87 MEPs are elected in all from 12 giant constituencies. There are just nine Euro constituencies covering the whole of England-and Scotland and Wales are each just a single constituency.
For example, the North West constituency covers from Carlisle through Preston and down to beyond Liverpool and Manchester. Each party puts forward a regional list of candidates for the election. Seats are allocated within each region in proportion to the share of the vote each party list gets across the whole region.
In the last European elections it was possible to win a seat with around 7.5 percent of votes across a region. This regional list system affects the type of campaign needed. Everyone in a region will have a vote for the same list. The key is reaching as many of those people as possible with the message Vote Respect. Everyone coming out of a main transport hub will have a vote somewhere in the regions which they can cast for Respect.
Everyone in a regional shopping centre will have a vote they can cast for Respect. People in a major workplace may live all over the place, but will all have a vote they can use for Respect. Everyone you meet in the street, on the bus or the train will have a vote they can cast for Respect.
This means emphasising large-scale imaginative campaigning aimed at reaching the biggest number of people across a wide area.
How London election works
VOTERS IN London will have several votes on 10 June. Among them will be votes for the Greater London Assembly and the London mayor. In the assembly elections everyone gets two votes. One is for a traditional 'first past the post' candidate in each of the 14 large constituencies in the capital.
The second is for a London-wide list, which sees candidates elected on the basis of the vote each party list gets across the whole of London. The key to success for a new party like Respect is the size of the vote for this London-wide list.
Local reports on the campaign
RESPECT CANDIDATES for the European Parliament elections are being selected at conventions across Britain.
More than 60 people attended the convention in Nottingham on Saturday to start the process of selecting candidates. The convention nominated and endorsed three excellent candidates, all with a proven track record of activism and each representing an area of our large and diverse region.
Fayyaz Suleman, an IT worker, is a well-known community activist from Leicester. Jeannie Robinson, who lectures in primary education, is a prominent campaigner from Chesterfield in Derbyshire. Sulma Mansuri has been a key activist in the Stop the War Coalition in Nottingham.
We will be looking to nominate candidates from across the region to fill the further three vacancies for candidates and confirm the full list of candidates at a convention on Saturday 3 April.
Yorkshire & Humberside
Student Joseph Kisolo-Ssonko, office worker Cath Owen and pensioner Gaye Bennett were selected last Sunday as Respect candidates for the European elections. Around 100 people from across the region attended the meeting to enthusiastically discuss the Respect election campaign. More candidates for the European list will be selected in the coming weeks.
Up to 100 people attended a Respect launch meeting in Hackney, east London, on Thursday of last week.
London: Lambeth & Southwark
Some 120 people gathered in Lambeth Town Hall on Wednesday of last week. The meeting began the process of selecting candidates in the Lambeth and Southwark constituency for the Greater London Assembly. Janet Noble, a Unison shop steward working in a library, explained why she was putting her name forward as a candidate for the election: 'I'm sick of being taken for granted by Tony Blair.
'I have to battle every day against the council. As a parent I'm sick of my children's education being privatised. Most of all, as a black person, I'm sick of my vote being taken for granted.'
Around 120 people came to our Respect meeting last week,' says Tom Hickey.
'Most major population centres in the Eastern Region were represented at our convention last Saturday,' says Dave Barnes. 'The meeting got straight down to discussing practicalities. A number of potential candidates were put forward. It was decided that we will finalise our candidate list on 28 March.'
Other meetings included 70 in LIVERPOOL, 55 in LEWISHAM in south east London, 20 in CROYDON in south London and 30 in WANDSWORTH in south London. More Respect conventions are taking place in the coming weeks. Full reports in future editions of Socialist Worker.
Who are the candidates?
People to vote for
The West Midlands Respect list for the European Parliament elections is:
John Rees co-founder of the Stop the War Coalition. Salma Yaqoob psychotherapist, chair of Birmingham Stop the War Coalition. Winifred Whitehouse Unison shop steward at the Dudley Group of Hospitals. Cheryl Garvey works for Birmingham's Race Action Partnership. Anil Seera car worker and TGWU union member at Longbridge car works. Esmie Reid local government worker and Unison shop steward. Penny Hicks works at Warwick University and is an activist in Coventry Stop the War Coalition. Majid Khan former president of Birmingham University Islamic Society.
The Respect list of candidates for the European elections in London is:
George Galloway MP vice-president of the Stop the War Coalition (personal capacity). Unjum Mirza London Transport Region Political Officer RMT (personal capacity). Ken Loach film-maker. Elaine Graham-Leigh former leading Green Party activist. Frances De La Tour actor. Paul Foot Campaigning Journalist of the Decade. Rita Carter veteran of the movement against the Vietnam War, former Communist Party member. Victoria Brittan former foreign editor of the Guardian. Gary McFarlane Tottenham black activist.
The Respect list of candidates for the London-wide list in the Greater London Assembly elections is:
Lindsey German convenor Stop the War Coalition (personal capacity). Oliur Rahman east London PCS branch chair (personal capacity). Linda Smith treasurer, London Region FBU. Janet Noble Unison shop steward and black activist. Sait Akgul Kurdish activist. Salvinder Dhillon Singh Indian Workers Association (GB). John Mulrenen Southwark Unison branch secretary (personal capacity). Greg Tucker Waterloo RMT branch secretary. Tansy Hoskins Stop the War activist, former student. Mike Rosen poet, author, broadcaster.
'You've got my vote'
GEORGE GALLOWAY was invited to speak on behalf of Respect at a meeting of the Council of Mosques for London and the Home Counties. Most mosques in Britain are affiliated to this organisation. Around 40 representatives from different mosques attended the meeting at Tooting Islamic Centre, south London, on Sunday.
George Galloway received a warm welcome. One delegate told the meeting, 'George is one of the best politicians in the country. 'I have marched with him many times and I will ask all my brothers to vote for him.' Several delegates have invited George Galloway to speak at their mosques during the campaign for the 10 June elections.