Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/392/4448
Building a base in Lewisham
'I ALWAYS vote for Ian Page and the socialists in local elections but, because you can't win this time, I'm going to vote for one of the main parties', was a constant response met by Socialist Party canvassers in the Lewisham Deptford seat.
Clive Heemskerk, Socialist Alternative agent
This included voters worried that the Tories might win - a factor not present to the same extent at the last election - but also those voting Lib Dem or Green as a way to 'send a message' to Blair.
The Lib Dems presented themselves as 'the real challengers to Labour in Lewisham', pointing to recent council by-election wins in previously safe Labour wards. And across the three Lewisham parliamentary seats their vote increased by 6% compared to 2001, from 12,492 to 18,557, coming second for the first time in Lewisham West and Lewisham Deptford.
The Green Party also made a big play that, according to one leaflet, Lewisham Deptford was 'a straight choice between Greens and Labour'.
'Darren can do it!' said their election address, referring to their high-profile candidate Darren Johnson, a London Assembly member and twice the Green candidate for London mayor. He even featured in a Guardian Weekend item on prominent national candidates' interior dˇcor!
Countering this propaganda was possible in doorstep discussions. We were able to explain the Lib Dems real record on Iraq and on privatisation - their councillors have backed Lewisham's plans to sell-off council homes, for example.
And we explained the contrast between the Green councillors in Brighton - who voted to sell off council homes - with Darren Johnson in Lewisham, by pointing to the effect on him of having two Socialist Party councillors constantly looking over his shoulder.
But outside of our Telegraph Hill ward stronghold - less than a sixth of the constituency - we were only able to reach a tiny minority with these arguments, or even to make people aware that we were standing.
The main local paper, The Mercury, in a two-page election spread, referred to Ian Page with a one-line legally minimum reference as an 'also standing' candidate.
But our 742 votes (2.44%) are an important base for next year's local elections, which will be fought in a different climate, one year into New Labour's third term. And the argument that the Tories are a threat has been decisively squashed - across Lewisham as a whole they increased their vote from 2001 from 17,675 to 17,681... a net gain of six!
In The Socialist 12 May 2005: