Simon Carter
Waltham Forest: Campaigners score a victory with a mass stall protest for the right to campaign, photo Sarah Sachs-Eldridge

Waltham Forest: campaigners previously scored a victory with a mass stall protest for the right to campaign, photo Sarah Sachs-Eldridge   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Socialist Party members in east London are celebrating a small but important victory over Labour-run Newham council’s effective ban on public campaign stalls in the borough.

Last April, the council’s law enforcement officers served a £100 fixed penalty notice on a Socialist Party member for supposedly obstructing a pedestrian square in Stratford while petitioning against the bedroom tax.

We refused to pay this fine and were preparing to defend our democratic right to use non-obstructive stalls for campaigning purposes at a magistrate’s court hearing on 19 November.

However, last week our solicitor received notice that Newham council were withdrawing the charges.

Skeleton argument

Prior to this climbdown we had submitted a ‘skeleton argument’ to the prosecution which, by drawing on previous legal cases, argued that we could use public highways for campaigning purposes providing that our presence was non-obstructive and ‘reasonable’. Instead of receiving the prosecution’s response they withdrew their charges.

Of course, the question of obtaining permission from Newham council to have campaign stalls in pedestrian areas is unresolved and we are considering a possible judicial review of the council’s continuing refusal to grant what we consider to be a basic democratic right.

But a legal challenge is only one part of our campaign and we intend to continue to gather support from trade unionists and other campaigners in the borough on this issue.

Not least, because next May there will be local and mayoral elections where we intend to challenge Labour’s monopoly of council seats.