The Double Shift
Tuesday 4 May
Alarm goes off at 5.30am and as usual when I have to get up very early I have slept very badly. I’m surprised – as usual again – by how many people are up and working. The people who drive the buses and trains, bake the bread and clean the streets have already been up for hours. This army of workers which keeps London moving is for the most part badly paid and taken for granted by the government.
We head to Cricklewood post sorting office, where we talk to the union rep and very friendly post workers as they load their vans. Then to Wembley fire station, where we drink tea and talk about Respect and why we are standing. No one has any time for Labour because of what happened with the dispute but also because of all the other things it is doing.
One firefighter lives in Northampton, another in Reading, and they tell me about people who commute from Ireland. Childcare is too expensive even for people in work and they rely on relatives to enable both partners to work. There are now 12 million women working in Britain and the big increase over the past few decades has been mainly married women, especially mothers. Yet this has been achieved with very little expansion of state childcare and the cost has been pushed onto working parents themselves. If you can’t afford it and don’t have relatives who can help, tough.
Between the Lines
Thursday 6 May
Everywhere you go in London people moan about transport. There is a deep-seated feeling that it really shouldn’t be as bad as this. And we have to pay through the nose for the privilege of travelling on some of the oldest, slowest and most unreliable underground lines in the world. That’s why our policies on transport are so popular, especially the call for a universal £1 tube fare. Why should we have what is effectively a two-tier system where the poor are priced off the tubes and onto the buses? A cheap and fast public transport system would be cost-effective in terms of reducing pollution and allowing people to get to work and leisure quickly and efficiently.
That message seems to go down very well. I spoke to Croydon College Natfhe where the point was made that students couldn’t afford the rise from 70p to £1 on the buses, let alone the tube.
History on your Shoulder
Monday 10 May
I’ve managed to watch the preview tapes of Peter Ackroyd’s series on London: the first one is the least satisfactory. The second one on the crowd in London – sometimes called the mob – is much better and so is the third. Ackroyd says that history is always on your shoulder in London.
I was reminded of history again on Sunday when I went to the Mela in Brick Lane, the Bengali area just in the shadow of the huge City developments like the Lloyds Building and the Gherkin. There are layers of London here, from the beautiful Hawksmoor church in Spitalfields, to the street names like Fournier Street which betray the previous large population of French Huguenot silk weavers.
Brick Lane was once the home of a large Jewish population and there are still remnants of it. It was the home of socialists, anarchists and communists, many refugees from eastern Europe and Russia.
The streets yesterday were filled with stalls and people enjoying themselves. To judge from the response we got Brick Lane remains radical. Respect gave out thousands of broadsheets about our campaign and we got lots of support.
In the evening to Willesden for more history. Just round the corner from the Grunwick’s factory – the scene of some of the biggest pickets in London in the 1970s – was the Brent and Harrow fundraising meal. A pomegranate juice and a quick speech then back home.
Is This What Democracy Looks Like?
Wednesday 12 May
Up at 7am for the launch of our London campaign. London Tonight phone me at 8.30am and I get a car down to do an interview before the press conference. The office is buzzing afterwards with lots of people all very busy.
There is a problem with the hustings: we are being excluded from many of them without any good justification. The pensioners, LSE civic society, Stonewall [they later backed down] and Amnesty International are all claiming they cannot fit us onto their platforms – and this is despite complaints from their members.
These are all organisations committed to democracy which are denying their members the right to hear Respect candidates. They claim they decided months ago, or that there are too many candidates, and that they will not reconsider. This is so undemocratic. By definition we couldn’t have been considered months ago because we’re a new organisation. On these grounds Ken Livingstone wouldn’t have been allowed on platforms when he stood last time as an independent.
Off to speak at a meeting in parliament with three visiting Iraqis, then I have to write my script for the radio broadcast which we’re doing tomorrow.
Friday 21 May
George Galloway introduces the press conference for our European elections launch. Some of our candidates are down from other parts of the country. I meet some for the first time but some are old friends now because of Stop the War. It is great to get together for half an hour and swap stories before we rush off back on the campaign trail. Yvonne Ridley seems to be getting huge meetings and great publicity in the North East.
I attend a wonderful union meeting at an east London fire station. I have been invited to talk about Respect and we do that for quite a while, then they go back to talking about their dispute. It is such an education to hear their discussion and their determination to win what is due to them.
A lot of firefighters will vote for us – we have several candidates including Linda Smith in London and they are fed up with Labour behaving like the Tories. The ones going off shift invite us to the pub and we carry on talking politics. They take Respect leaflets for another meeting.
Don’t Mention the War Criminal
Sunday 23 May
Saturday down to demo, then off to Stonewall hustings to say my bit then leave another candidate, Linda Smith, to answer questions (the hard bit!). Back to demo which is great with a good crowd in Trafalgar Square and brilliant street theatre from Theatre of War who dress up as guards and prisoners and lead the whole demo. At the plinth Andrew Burgin and I agree that even seeing actors doing this is upsetting enough let alone the real thing.
Linda tells me that both Ken Livingstone and Steve Norris say at the Stonewall hustings that they are for immediate withdrawal of troops. But you can’t stand as members of pro war parties and pretend that their policies are nothing to do with you. Tony Blair will claim Ken’s votes as his own, not as anti war votes.
Anyway, it makes you pull your punches. I notice Ken calls Bush and Sharon war criminals but doesn’t mention the man who was with him at his campaign launch, Tony Blair.
Home at 11.30pm after Southall walkabout and fundraising dinner. Sunday morning off but I have to write my blog, do some washing and get some food. I bet none of the other candidates have these problems.
These are extracts from Lindsey German’s campaign ‘blog’. For the full version go to www.socialistreview.org.uk/blog.
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