RESPECT’S RESULTS in the Leicester South and Birmingham Hodge Hill by-elections have rocked the political establishment.
Respect candidate Yvonne Ridley won 12.7 percent of the vote in Leicester, and John Rees won 6.3 percent in Birmingham.
Respect’s vote was on the front page of the Guardian and the Independent on Sunday.
Last Saturday’s Guardian editorial said of Tony Blair, “A day after pleading with the Commons and the country to let him move on from a misguided war, voters showed he cannot.
“Respect’s strong showing, especially in Leicester, demonstrates that.”
Professor Anthony King, from Essex University, wrote in the Telegraph, “For a newcomer on the scene, George Galloway’s Respect party did well.
“Respect’s success—such as that of Tommy Sheridan’s Scottish Socialist Party—is a clear indication that a considerable proportion of Labour voters are unhappy with the party’s shift to the right under Blair and, given a chance, will vote for a more radical alternative.”
New Labour lost a 13,000 majority to the Lib Dems in Leicester and only just clung on to Hodge Hill, where its majority was slashed from 11,000 to just 460.
Respect won votes from those disgusted with Blair’s war and disgusted with the Lib Dems. In both Leicester and Birmingham the Lib Dems run the councils in coalition with the Tories.
The Tories came a pathetic third in both ballots. One unnamed Tory told the Guardian, “If we had not campaigned so hard we would probably have come fourth to George Galloway’s Respect party, and that really would have been a disaster.”
Respect has built on the successes it achieved in the European and London Assembly elections in June.
As Yvonne Ridley, Respect candidate in Leicester South, said, “We have made our mark on national politics. There were three things I wanted to do in the campaign. Firstly, we got everyone in Leicester South taking about Respect, from very young people to really experienced voters. Secondly, we wanted to ram another nail in Tony Blair’s coffin. And we wanted to establish firm foundations for Respect to build on. We have done all those things.”
Respect MP George Galloway was central to the campaign in Leicester. He says, “We are very, very happy with the result.
“Respect has been decisive in both by-elections. We cost Labour the seat in Leicester, and we cost the Lib Dems the seat in Birmingham.
“We have established ourselves as the fourth party in these elections and we are building for the general election, when we will give them another shock.”
John Rees, Respect’s candidate in Hodge Hill, said, “Respect’s results in Leicester and Birmingham confirm something we saw in the last general election and the European elections—the hold of Labourism over working people in this country is dissolving.
“In the general election there was the lowest turnout since universal suffrage was won. It was a voter strike against Labour.
“In the European and council elections the main parties, who used to command 80 percent of the vote between them, got below 50 percent, and other parties grew enormously at their expense.
“In the late 1970s, when the corrosion of Labour’s support became overwhelming, the beneficiaries were the Tories and Margaret Thatcher.
“These elections show that the Tory party is in as much trouble with the voters as Labour.
“Today, the contest is to the left of Labour about where Labour’s votes will go. The contest is between the Liberal Democrats and Respect.
“Respect was formed six months ago. For an organisation that was only formed in January to save two deposits in the first two Westminster by-elections it has contested is a brilliant achievement.”
Now it’s vital that supporters go to everyone who voted Respect on 10 June to show them the latest results and ask them to help build Respect.
‘We can go back and argue with those who said a vote for Respect is a wasted vote’
FAYYAZ SULEMAN, Yvonne Ridley’s election agent, told Socialist Worker, “Our result has put Respect on the map.
“We are not just a single issue party campaigning against the war. Our supporters are diverse—they are teachers, students, pensioners.”
Christine Lewis helped organise the campaign in Leicester. She said, “Our great strength in Leicester was the involvement of local people.
“We had pizza delivery people who delivered Respect leaflets with their pizzas, and taxi drivers who gave them out to their fares.
“We got children drawing posters of ‘Why I love Respect’ for us to put up in the office. They wrote ‘I love Respect because Respect is against the war, because Respect is against poverty.’
“There are lots of people who are ready to be more active. We began to win support in the Afro-Caribbean community. Now we want to build on that.”
Simon Furze is a member of the CWU postal workers’ union in Leicester.
He says, “If we hadn’t done well, it would have been hard to go back to the unions and argue with those who said a vote for Respect is a wasted vote.
“But now Respect is a household name in Leicester.
“We can go back to the RMT, who were expelled from Labour, and the FBU, who disaffiliated from Labour, and put the positive case for backing Respect.
“And we can do that in my own union, where we are facing a fight over privatisation.”
Bob Bagnall is a teacher in Leicester and has built up links with local firefighters. He said, “We met some firefighters during their strike and kept in contact with them. A couple then joined Respect.
“This meant we could encourage the FBU branch secretary to invite George Galloway and Yvonne Ridley to address a union meeting, where they went down really well.
“Now we are planning a firefighters’ Respect meeting. The result is a huge breakthrough.”