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Respect Wins First Councillor
OLI RAHMAN, Respect's GLA candidate in the June elections, won the St. Dunstan's & Stepney council by-election on 29 July in the East London borough of Tower Hamlets.
Hugo Pierre, Tower Hamlets Socialist Party
He topped the poll with 878 votes (31%) pushing New Labour, who previously held the seat, comfortably into third place behind the Liberal Democrats (754 votes). The Tories polled 445 votes and the National Front 172 (6%), in a ward with a majority black and Asian population.
The huge anti-war sentiment in Tower Hamlets, which has a large Muslim minority, has turned on New Labour. In particular the two sitting MPs who loyally supported Blair's war on Iraq, are seen to have betrayed local people on the issues of war, privatisation and top-up fees.
The 'Muslim Rights' campaign Respect used in the borough during the GLA/European elections gave them a base of support, but this time they tapped into some of the local issues facing Stepney residents such as the planned closure of local youth facilities.
With New Labour councillors running the council on 'market principles' (with their own self-interests to the fore), it is no surprise that only 578 die-hards could be found to vote for them.
Respect's victory in St. Dunstan's, however, does not answer the criticisms that the Socialist Party previously made that a new workers' alternative to Labour must be able to appeal to and address the interests of all sections of the working class.
In the recent Leicester South by-election, for example, Respect's leaflets in predominantly Muslim areas of the constituency appealed for support on the basis that their candidate, Yvonne Ridley, 'is the only Muslim candidate'.
This approach wouldn't have worked in St. Dunstan's, given the population make-up of the ward and with Labour and the Liberals standing Muslim candidates. It remains to be seen how Respect will fare in the next Tower Hamlets by-election, in Millwall ward on the Isle of Dogs, on 9 September.
Respect will face pressure now in Stepney to organise on their election promises. And there are lessons to be learnt in this regard from the degeneration of those Tower Hamlets Labour councillors, including Bangladeshi councillors, who thought they could deliver for local people by making deals in high places with pro-capitalist politicians rather than fighting on a clear socialist programme.
In The Socialist 7 August 2004:
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