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‘Labour’s not laughing’

This article is over 19 years, 11 months old
Respect was launched just 20 weeks ago. It was almost totally excluded by the media. Yet it scored some big successes.
Issue 1906

Respect was launched just 20 weeks ago. It was almost totally excluded by the media. Yet it scored some big successes.

RESPECT managed to field candidates for the European Parliament and London Assembly elections in every constituency, producing millions of leaflets and raising hundreds of thousands of pounds.

And Respect made a spectacular breakthrough in north and east London. In the City & East constituency Oliur Rahman won nearly 20,000 votes-taking 15 percent of the vote and beating the Lib Dems into fourth place. In the North East constituency Dean Ryan won over 11,000 votes, taking nearly 9 percent of the poll.

Across the city of Birmingham, Respect won over 7 percent of the poll. In two wards, Bordesley Green and Springfield, Respect topped the poll. Respect did not stand in many council seats, but it polled very well in some seats it did contest.

In Preston Respect contested five central working class council seats and won 30 percent of the vote across these wards. Respect’s success was not just won in areas with large numbers of Muslims. It was in mixed, working class areas like Haringey, Waltham Forest, Redbridge and Ealing in London, and similar areas in cities like Birmingham, Leeds and Leicester.

OLIUR RAHMAN, Respect candidate in the City & East constituency for the London Assembly, won 19,675 votes, 15 percent of the poll.

‘WE RAN a massive campaign. I am chair of my trade union branch as well as being an anti-war activist and Bengali. We reached out to all those groups of people. We got no coverage from the national media and the Bengali papers gave a lot more coverage to the Tory candidate, who was also Bengali.

On polling day some Labour people at the polling station were calling us names. They were laughing at us-they are not laughing now. Now the pro-war Labour MPs in east London better watch out. We are coming for them.’

PAUL McGARR was Oliur Rahman’s diary secretary. ‘TO GO from not existing 20 weeks ago to beating the Lib Dems in east London, where they ran Tower Hamlets council for years, is an incredible achievement.

The constituency includes the City of London, the really posh housing round the Barbican, and there certainly weren’t many Respect posters up there. It also includes Barking and Dagenham, where we don’t know many people.

This means we must have got around 20 percent in Tower Hamlets and Newham to get the overall result we did. We must have come second or even topped the poll in some key areas.

Respect in east London reflects the local population. We had Bengalis, Pakistanis, Somalis and, of course, white working class people. It wasn’t just some kind of block Muslim vote.

Some Muslims are well off businessmen who no doubt voted for the Bengali Tory candidate. Many are working class and we are proud we won some of their votes for Respect.

The war was a central issue. But it wasn’t the only issue. People in this area live in some of the most deprived areas of London cheek by jowl with £1 million riverside flats. We connected with white working class people who would have traditionally voted Labour. We had an ex Labour mayor, an ex Labour council leader, the former Labour chair of housing and two other former Labour councillors all publicly backing Respect.

We didn’t have a fixed number of activists. We connected with existing networks, be it round mosques, workplaces or campaigns. There was no ‘us’ and ‘them’, just ‘we’.’

MAGGIE FALSHAW was Oliur Rahman’s election agent. ‘WHAT WAS magic about our campaign was how people felt they had ownership of it, that it belonged to them. The Monday before the election I got a call from the Respect office saying a young Bengali woman had phoned in after getting a leaflet through her door.

I was exhausted but I called her and she wanted to see me that evening so I went straight round. She had invited five friends to meet me. We talked about the need for affordable housing and decent transport and how black and white people can work together. They were all really keen on what I said so I left them with lots of Respect postcards.

Then we heard that on election day these young women had been leafleting at their local polling station. They were so excited about the result and phoned up asking when the next meeting is. We made it easy for people to feel Respect was their party.’

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