Election: Shaking Up Blair's Banana Republic

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Exclusive excerpts from Respect candidate for West Ham Lindsey German's campaign blog.

The First Post
8 April

So it's the election at last: 5 May 2005 has been in Tony Blair's diary for a very long time - all planned to go according to the wishes of the spin doctors, the campaign managers and the politicians themselves.

Funny then that things aren't quite going to plan. Firstly the war wasn't supposed to be an election issue. Except it is, everywhere. If you can believe Blair's henchman John Reid (sorry, Dr John Reid) then the government's strategy is to tut impatiently when this inconvenient question is raised, and just keep talking about the NHS and the economy in a very loud voice. Except in this booming economy people have record debt, can't afford the smallest house in London if they are first time buyers, work longer and longer hours, and are insecure about their future. And today they announced MG Rover is going into receivership, with thousands of jobs at stake.

Our launch rally for Respect in east London, headed up by George Galloway, attracted 700 people who filled two packed halls. The atmosphere was electric and we have hundreds of volunteers to help us. Our appeal is about the content of our politics, but also our form: public meetings, mass organising of volunteers, an absence of glossy ads and spin doctors, enthusiasm, commitment and principles.

The Long Weekend
11 April

Am writing this rather too early on Monday morning because the weekend has been so full that it is just impossible to stop. Friday night I was interviewed by Voice of Africa radio, based in a tiny building in Plaistow. Discussion ranges from Kwame Nkrumah to Bob Marley to what I would do for the people of Newham.

Saturday we had three stalls out. Lib Dems, Tories and Labour are sighted but we have more people. Canvassing and delivering tabloid papers for myself and Abdul Khaliq Mian, the candidate in East Ham, is now seriously under way. The response we receive is tremendous. Supporters from Newham and across London turn up in such numbers that there are constant logjams in our tiny office with people grabbing balloons, canvass sheets, tabloids, public meeting leaflets - and if they are lucky cups of tea and fresh cooked samosas made by one of our supporters.

We leafletted the big Catholic church near our office after Mass and were very well received. I met lots of people - a couple of older Afro Caribbeans swore loyalty to Blair, but generally most were unhappy. Then to a walkabout on Green Street which was a delight. We met loads of people, many supporters, and thanked the shopkeepers for putting up our posters.

Home by 7.30pm but politics wasn't over for the day. George Galloway was on Radio London debating with the other Bethnal Green candidates. Anyone doubting whether to vote for him or Oona King should listen to these debates. She is deeply unimpressive - a mixture of patronising attitudes, spin and a sort of fake localism which makes it very clear that she feels her constituents should be grateful for any of the crumbs they receive from central government.

She denigrated George Galloway for talking about international issues - obviously not realising that many of her constituents are extremely well informed on these matters.

Ice Cream Wars
11 April

Called in at the Bishopsgate Institute, the site of our mega rally last week, to book the boardroom for a press conference. What a find this place is. It was set up in the 1890s as a philanthropic institution to provide education in an area which marks the boundary between the City of London and the East End. It still has a public reference library and teaches among other things languages. A contrast to the prevalent ethos in the City where it really is every man for himself (and I mean man). There are few black faces among the executives, brokers and managers, while there are few whites among the cleaners and service workers. The transport workers' union recently picketed the Old Vic theatre protesting at a play sponsored by the banker Morgan Stanley which refuses to pay its cleaners a living wage. That's philanthropy today - a free advert for the millionaire philistines.

Take a tube ride to Upton Park, home of West Ham United and now the Respect Newham office, just 15 minutes away, and encounter another world of too much poor housing, overcrowded buses, underfunded schools - and seething anger at the injustice of the world.

Today we look at our canvass returns which are tremendous and very encouraging. Then out to local primary schools to leaflet and gain support. Ghada and I have a good time with the kids who hate Bush and Blair, and their parents who are fantastic. But for the under tens the main attraction is the ice cream van which has a regular stream of customers. In the evening went to Oliur Rahman's opening of his office in Commercial Road in the Poplar and Canning Town constituency.

Please, Mr Postman
14 April

The judge in the Birmingham postal ballot fraud case said that the antics there were worthy of a banana republic. In Blair's banana republic it appears it is at present quite legal for political parties to send out forms for a postal vote to potential voters and ask them to be returned to the party headquarters. Two questions immediately arise in my mind about this - why is this legal and why do the parties want to do it? Even attributing the most altruistic motives to the political parties here (and three weeks before an election that's hard to do), why would they want to do a job in their busiest time which didn't benefit them? Think about it.

We raised this question at a press conference on Tuesday because we discovered Oona King had been sending out forms in Bethnal Green asking for these forms to be returned to her office. Following that story the Guardian lead the following day reported that the Electoral Commission was extremely worried about these and other practices to do with postal voting.

Isn't it incredible that the official body monitoring elections doesn't feel happy with the present system but the parties go ahead anyway? Postal voting should be suspended for this election until these problems are ironed out - and in my view should not be particularly encouraged as a substitute for going to a polling station and putting your ballot paper in the box.

Met my opponents in the West Ham election on Tuesday for the first time at a hustings organised by the Healthy Living Network. It was a large audience of mainly older people and we all had to do a presentation on our policies. Labour was represented by my opponent Lyn Brown, the Newham councillor standing in West Ham, and the East Ham MP Stephen Timms. Labour's strategy seems to be to dig in, blind everyone with statistics about how wonderful their lives have become under Labour, pretend that the main debate in Newham is with the Tories, and to try to ignore Respect (although to be fair they were polite enough but did not engage with any of our points).

Wednesday morning off to meet some people at a Bangladeshi welfare association in Canning Town where I was warmly received. Rest of the day passed in a rush with a trade union hustings where no other candidates turned up (!) so we agreed to reschedule and had a Q&A, and a small party in one street to introduce me to supporters. Home late to watch the news and ok a press release. Evening Standard carries news that Cherie Blair spoke at a Brick Lane fundraiser for Oona and became increasingly strident in her denunciations of George and Respect. Can anything help them now?

Democracy Rules It Out
15 April

The postal vote issue is not going away. We attended a candidates and agents meeting in Newham yesterday where it was clear there are a great deal of worries on this question. We also had a press conference to launch our campaign where we raised it again. My agent, Abdurahman Jafar, who is a barrister, asked whether the votes could be counted separately and was told no, which means that you can't see if one party has a very high number of postal votes.

I debated with Stephen Timms at the University of East London (UEL) hustings and he essentially only debates with the Tory. That's triangulation for you. UEL campus is a windswept part of docklands built opposite the London City Airport runway. It must be very remote being a student there.

The candidates were asked about the postal votes and they all said that there are problems which should be looked at after the elections. Hello! That means we're fighting this election on a system which is recognised as flawed - what a travesty of democracy that would be.


Follow Lindsey German's election blog exclusive to Socialist Review. Also follow Respect Cambridge candidate Tom Woodcock's election campaign blog on the same website.