Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/357/5888
Save Our Special Schools campaign
"It's Been A Real Education"
JUST OVER three weeks ago Save Our Special Schools (SOSS) was a small local campaign that few outside the schools knew much about. But, as SCOTT HERBERT from Leicester reports, in the recent Leicester South by-election it made its mark.
SOSS WAS started after the local education authority (LEA) came up with proposals to close Leicester's six special schools last October. They have since been campaigning to get the LEA and the council to listen to our concerns and even look at new ways forward into the education of special needs children.
However, after many months of campaigning it felt that its main aim was still being ignored. So, with the support of the group, Pat Kennedy decided to stand in the by-election.
Although the Socialist Party had initially decided to stand, we decided to stand down and assist SOSS and we urged other Left groups like the Socialist Labour Party and Respect to do the same. We felt that one candidate supported by the Left on such an issue would have a bigger impact than three standing separately.
At a Leicester Social Forum meeting, the Muslim group, friends of Al-Aqsa, asked for a meeting to be convened to decide a "left of labour" candidate for the election. Their representative indicated that they would be able to deliver 5,000 votes to whomever it was agreed would stand.
When the meeting took place everyone from the Left in Leicester, including the Greens, attended, except Respect - who had initially indicated they would participate.
Socialist Party member Steve Score proposed to the meeting that Pat Kennedy be the candidate. After some discussion over whether or not a single-issue candidate was a good idea there was a consensus to back Pat as the unity candidate.
Almost immediately after the decision a Respect representative - a member of the Socialist Workers' Party - burst in and demanded we reverse our decision and support a Respect candidate.
FOR THE next two weeks a lot of hard work was put in by the SOSS campaign and Pat who had claimed at the start of the campaign: "I know nothing about politics". He soon learnt.
At the first hustings meeting of the campaign - organised by friends of Al-Aqsa - Yvonne Ridley voted against the SLP candidate's request to answer the questions. Yvonne Ridley claimed to be the only anti-war candidate but both Pat and the SLP candidate were opposed to the Iraq invasion and occupation.
On election day 204 people went out in the wind and rain to vote for Save Our Special Schools candidate Pat Kennedy.
It may be thought that because Pat only got 204 votes his supporters may have been disappointed. But when I asked SOSS members if they had a good time the reply was: "It's been a real education. It's so unfair that the media only takes any notice of you if you've got lots of money to throw at an election!"
The Save Our Schools campaign have learnt a lot in the last two weeks, not only about the media and mainstream politics but about the attitudes of the different groups on the Left as well.
This is only the end of an election campaign as far as SOSS is concerned. And they will still be there campaigning to save special schools in Leicester when all the other parties and media circus have gone.
DURING QUESTIONS from the floor at the Respect hustings in the Leicester South by-election, Socialist Party member Tim asked George Galloway if he supported the establishment of a new mass workers' party, preferably on a socialist programme.
He also asked George about how he would see the development of such a party taking place in Britain. Part-icularly, he asked what approach should Respect take towards sections of the working class who enter political struggle even on a single-issue or a limited programme, such as SOSS.
Tim pointed out that the Scottish Socialist Party had stood down in the Stobhill by-election to support local hospital campaigners.
Tim received a warm response and was clapped. However, George Galloway's response to this legitimate questioning was extremely hostile.
He said: "The gentlemen is a Socialist Party member who doesn't support Respect and his question is disingenuous''. He added that at the next meeting of the Respect executive he would recommend that they had nothing more to do with the Socialist Party!
Although the SWP members present gave this a huge round of applause, other people in the audience couldn't comprehend or accept Galloway's hostility. SWP members followed this with a torrent of abuse against our members, leading a woman, who was in no way allied to the Socialist Party, to say that it was a free country and we were right to say what we wanted.
After the meeting Socialist Party members were harassed out of the door by SWP members.
In The Socialist 24 July 2004:
Socialist Party news and analysis