“Don’t Worry, We Always Vote Socialist!”

Lewisham election victory

“Don’t Worry, We Always Vote Socialist!”

AFTER CHRIS Flood’s stunning council by-election victory, Lewisham’s Telegraph Hill ward is now a Labour-free zone. Chris joins Ian Page as a Socialist Party councillor. The only other ward councillor is from a local community group called LEAP (Local Education Action by Parents), campaigning for a new comprehensive school.

Chris Moore. Socialist Party organiser, London

The Socialist Party has a tradition of electoral success in this ward, with councillors elected in the last three elections and around 40% of the vote. In the past such an area, with a large working-class population, would have been seen as traditional Labour heartland.

Two years ago in the full council election one of three councillors elected was Labour, he received the highest proportion of the vote. But this time Labour’s vote collapsed to just 27%.

Many people know our record of fighting the Labour council cuts, Ian in particular has led many campaigns. We’ve won £14 million to refurbish council homes on Honor Oak estate, saved local park services, helped save a children’s nursery, helped tenants on two other council estates with refurbishment problems, campaigned to get a children’s park built and much more.

But it wasn’t just support for our record – people also agreed with us politically. The idea of a new party to represent working class people was very popular. A young manual worker put it this way: “We’ve got to get together and get rid of them all”. He persuaded his girlfriend, ill in bed, to make it to the polling station. A postal worker said: “Why should the unions keep paying into the Labour Party?”

Our call to spend public money on public services rather than war in Iraq hit a nerve. On election day the response came again and again: “Don’t worry we always vote socialist”.

There is massive disillusionment with Labour whose privatisation policies showed they put the interests of business before ordinary people’s needs. Locally, in desperation, New Labour listed one of their achievements as creating a new sixth form college. They didn’t mention this meant bulldozing the local secondary school!

We asked one young person giving out Labour leaflets on election day if he supported Labour’s policies. He couldn’t name any. As Bob Gardiner, an activist who’s lived on a local estate for 54 years said: “I support the socialists because unlike Labour they are out on the streets campaigning for ordinary people. You only see Labour at election times”.

During his victory speech at the election count, Chris turned to the embarrassed Labour MP and said people are now looking for a party to fill the gap left by Labour’s shift to the right, we’re starting to do that.

LEAP’s campaign

FOR THE last few years we’ve played a key role in supporting the LEAP campaign. It was our councillors who first put a motion to the council in support of a new school. We had a member on LEAP’s steering committee and encouraged LEAP to stand in the 2002 local elections.

Three councillors were up for election then, we only stood two candidates and actively called on our supporters to back LEAP with their third vote.

So it was particularly disappointing when LEAP stood a candidate against us in this election. We proposed a joint candidate but LEAP officers rejected this, saying they wanted publicity from standing their own candidate.

But with two pro-new school candidates standing there was always the risk of a split vote allowing Labour to win.

However, we found 80% of those identified as Socialist Party or LEAP voters in May 2002 were still very likely to vote for us again this time. One LEAP activist was shouting: “Vote LEAP we’re not socialist”, but it seems the electorate wasn’t listening. We won an outstanding victory taking 32.6% of the vote to beat both Labour and LEAP.

The Socialist Party had to overcome other problems during this campaign. Our former councillor could not stand because she would have lost her council-funded job. But Chris was an outstanding candidate, with his record as a dedicated socialist and activist.

He led the campaign to save Charing Cross Hospital in the 1990s, led a local campaign against Seager business developers, won local traffic calming measures and security cameras at a local train station. He and Ian will make an impressive team fighting for working-class people in Telegraph Hill.

During the election campaign Chris and Ian called a public meeting on the issue of the council charging council home owners £11,000 to remove asbestos. There was also the threat that people, many of them elderly, would be housed in portakabins during the winter, while the work was carried out. We are campaigning against these outrages.

This victory shows that if socialists have roots in the local community and a thought-out socialist programme, working class people will support us. Lewisham now has the only two socialist councillors in London.

A new workers’ party to the left of Labour would attract millions of people in London and elsewhere. Trade unionists, community campaigners and socialists have a responsibility to help build it. The victory of another socialist councillor in Lewisham is a small step in that direction.

Asbestos-Charging, School-Wrecking Labour

“THERE WERE many big issues in this election. People felt that Labour were trying to pull a fast one on people who’d bought council properties with asbestos by telling them to fork out £11,000 of their own money to get it removed.” Chris Flood spoke to the socialist about his by-election victory

“A lot of these people are in their late 60s or 70s and have bought their council house or flat and simply don’t have £11,000 up-front.

Many people had never even seen the sitting Labour councillor – people felt Labour weren’t responding to their needs. A three-line whip on the council meant that councillors had to say what the leadership wanted them to say. There was a lot of anti-war and anti-Bush feeling too.

Many people were furious about Telegraph Hill school. It’s bad enough being told you can’t have a new, non-selective good quality school in the area but when the council bulldozed the building, this was seen as an act of malice.

Two years earlier the council spent millions trying to turn the school round. You can’t transform a school with that many problems in two years but the council didn’t want to lose political face, so they closed it down and demolished it.

On the doorsteps people said what a waste to pour millions into the school then close it. The council are depriving people in the north of Lewisham of a secondary school and forcing their children to take school bus journeys of an hour or more each way each day.

People looked at Tony Blair, who sent his children to a highly selective school, and at Diane Abbott, who sent her child to a private school. That definitely influenced people against Labour.

Lewisham council should take the combined vote of the Socialist Party and LEAP as a vote for a new school. 50% of Lewisham’s budget is spent on education. If they’re spending such huge amounts they should make sure they get it right and listen to local people!”