As the sun came up over Brick Lane
on Friday a new dawn had truly broken over the East End of London — and over
The impact of Respect's victory in
Bethnal Green & Bow and our spectacular results elsewhere will only fully become
apparent in the weeks and months to come.
But already we have some of the
measure of it. This is one of the most historic victories in British politics.
Not since 1945 has a party to the
left of Labour in England won a seat in parliament. Then it was Phil Piratin,
Communist hero of the Jewish East End. Today it is Respect, standing in his old
Sixty years ago Piratin's victory
came as the Labour Party was cementing its hegemony over the British working
Today it comes as New Labour is
shredding those bonds, leaving in its wake the bitter tears of those it has
taken for granted for far too long. The meaning of our victory is that those
people can no longer be taken for granted.
With one blow we have shattered the
cynical policy of triangulation, which Tony Blair imported from the US
According to that strategy he felt
free to seek the votes of Tories on Tory terms, while assuming that Labour's
core support would have to back him, because there was nowhere else to go.
Now there is somewhere else to go.
Our ideals, the ideals of generations of activists who built and sustained the
Labour Party, have taken organised form.
And that organisation has reached
into every corner of Bethnal Green & Bow. We piled up votes in every ward and
within every community.
A wave of enthusiasm swept from
Brick Lane — the first port of call for almost every group of newcomers to this
country — through to the housing estates in the shadow of Bryant & May factory
in Bow, where young women heroically struck in 1888.
Our support was concentrated on the
housing estates that have been left to rot, their occupants blackmailed by a
corrupt council that says no repairs will be made unless tenants vote for their
homes to be privatised.
As our battle bus toured east London
the waves and cheers of support came in their majority from those who have
nothing to sell but their capacity to work and whose work produces everything we
see around us and every service we avail ourselves of.
Our vote was particularly strong
among the Bengali community and other immigrants.
We wear that as a badge of honour —
for it used to be a point of pride that the left could rally to its banner those
who are most downtrodden.
In Bethnal Green & Bow some 25
percent of the population are living in overcrowded conditions. Among immigrant
communities, the figure is 50 percent.
The climate of Islamophobia nurtured
by New Labour over the last four years has fuelled a 300 percent increase in the
number of young Muslim men stopped and searched.
The response from Hazel Blears, home
office minister in the last parliament, was to say Muslims should get used to
being targeted by the police.
Then there is Blair's decision to go
to war against Iraq, and the support he received in doing that from his two MPs
in Tower Hamlets, Oona King and Jim Fitzpatrick, against the wishes of the vast
majority of their constituents.
There can be only one reason why
they felt they could back the war in Iraq. They thought that whatever they did,
however they voted in parliament, they would be re-elected.
The result in Bethnal Green & Bow
buried that complacency. It should also bury the slur that people who have
solidly backed Labour in the past, as most immigrants have, suddenly become
"communalist" when they feel the sting of betrayal and vote for an alternative.
That was just one of the smears and
dirty tricks that formed part of New Labour's campaign against us.
An utterly incredible "poll"
appeared on election day purporting to show that the Tories were the ones who
were threatening to take the seat.
All who read that fabrication now
have another reason not to believe a single thing New Labour says.
And then there is the conduct of the
vote itself. Respect has uncovered ghost voters on the electoral register,
people turning up to vote to find that a postal vote has already been cast in
their name without their knowledge, and malpractice that would disgrace a banana
This is one thing we intend to clear
away at the council elections next May. The campaign to take control of the
London boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Newham begins on Monday.
Abdul Khaliq Mian and Lindsey German
have already shaken up the New Labour councillors in Newham by taking one in
five of the votes in a borough where all but one of the councillors is New
Oliur Rahman, the first councillor
elected under the Respect banner, has done the same in Poplar & Canning Town.
Respect intends to be the stiff new
broom that will sweep away those New Labour councils that feel they are above
answering to their electors.
We aim to launch a charter for the
people of east London, reaching out to those areas where we have only begun to
make inroads, and to organise around it to politically lay siege to the seats of
power in Westminster and the City of London.
And the impact of our breakthrough
is not confined to east London. Salma Yaqoob's breathtaking vote in Birmingham,
just 3,000 votes short of taking the seat, shows we have the capacity to become
a national force.
The repercussions are already
national. In the Stop the War movement, out of which Respect emerged, we worked
with many people of good will from the Labour Party, from other progressive
parties, the Green Party and people of no party at all.
We will continue to do so. At the
same time we appeal to those people to join us and help us build Respect on the
solid foundation we have already laid down.
Respect brings to the discussions
and debates that will inevitably follow this general election a method of
working that has served us well and that fits the mood of the moment.
All the different components of
Respect thrive on mutual respect and a recognition that we have so much in
common which unites us.
It is a winning combination, at
elections, certainly, but also in the campaigning work to which we are
Finally, our victory on Thursday has
an international dimension too. The news was flashed around the world. Within
minutes the voicemail and text memory of my mobile phone were full with messages
of congratulation from Fallujah, Baghdad, Lebanon and many other places that
have so much reason to detest what Blair has done in our name.
We have shone out a ray of hope into
the corners of Britain long abandoned by New Labour to the darkness Blair and
his friend George Bush have cast across the globe.
Respect has dealt Blair a mortal
blow. He'd have rather lost another dozen seats to the Tories than just one to
For our victory is unambiguously a
victory for the anti-war movement and for the real Labour people whom Blair has
tried to silence.
It has altered the political
landscape and created new possibilities for the left and for progressive people.
For us last Friday morning, bliss
was it that dawn to be alive. For Blair's New Labour, it will never be glad
confident morning again.