Preston Respect - How We Won...

Issue section: 

Our election campaign in Preston was based on our record over the last four years; a record of combining local issues with national and international issues. We aim to be community shop stewards, dealing with whatever problems people have.

When we first started no one came to our surgeries - the tradition had been broken by the growing "democratic deficit" in British politics. People do not trust politicians to represent and fight for them. So now we have regular stalls across the ward as an alternative.

But I also go to the mosque on a Friday and to the Catholic and Anglican churches once a month. People will say, "I know Michael; he goes to my church!" when we knock on doors at election time. I end up with five or six things to carry out after each visit. We also have regular meetings for particular problems, whether it's rats or car parking. This way we get to know people, and the local issues. Labour's strategy was to talk only about local issues, not welfare or Iraq. We had a genuine political perspective.

The war has caused a crisis in British politics, becoming the dominant political issue, and we are embedded in the movement against it. We have also been the first to react to related issues, such as Islamophobia and attacks on civil liberties.

The second aspect is the effect of national issues. We led local campaigns against NHS privatisation and City Academies. By combining a focus on the local, national and international issues we moved beyond the protest vote that got us elected four years ago to become a central part of political life. In the process we more than doubled our vote.

There's a notion that I only won the election because of Muslim votes, but the ward is actually two thirds white working class. We beat Labour in every single box, in Muslim and white working class areas alike.

Since the election I've actually become busier, with people phoning me up from outside the ward for advice knowing that Respect will take up their issues.

We are setting up the Preston Union Forum, which came from the Fighting Unions initiative, to draw together key activists from the PCS, FBU, CWU and Unison to establish regular meetings.

In Preston our immediate task is to keep working at the "three levels". First, regular surgeries - unlike other parties who turn up the month before elections are due. Second, we will keep offering a voice to the majority who support public services and trade unions by setting up and working within broad coalitions of local activists and left Labour councillors. Finally, it means keeping a focus on the "war on terror" and what that means for our civil liberties.