A View From Birmingham on the elections

rr43.JPGIn the context of a national swing to the right and in the aftermath of a recent split which has drained time, energy and resources, the Birmingham local election results can be counted as reasonably successful. Respect has survived.

Within that overall positive framework there is cause for celebration and some disappointment. The victory in Sparkbrook saw the share of the vote increase slightly. It gives Respect all three councillors and provides a springboard for future gains in that area. It is the result of hard work by the two incumbent councillors in maintaining a presence throughout the year, delivering improvements for local residents and campaigning for real needs such as more school places. This was allied to the continuing resonance of Respect’s name and Salma Yaqoob’s high profile. In the end it all delivered a thumping 43% of the vote. As has been pointed out elsewhere, this was delivered despite diverting resources out of Sparkbrook to help in other areas, notably Springfield.

Springfield was worked very hard last year, but was a big casualty of the split. Work stopped and the dynamic ceased. To add to the problems, a boundary change brought in more unfavourable areas. This year the gauntlet was picked up by Salma Iqbal, who led a very positive campaign which drew in many new helpers, including from out of Birmingham. In a six week period of intense work, the damage was repaired, so that in the end the vote dropped marginally from 26% to 25%, but was essentially maintained. The leaflets featured local, all-Birmingham and international issues, combining attacks on Britain’s war –mongering abroad with supporting local residents’ opposition to the “red route”. Full support was given to the local Council workers’ dispute over equal pay.

The feedback on the doorstep was positive and encouraging and towards the end, the window posters started going up again. Such was the feeling as we went around; we must be honest and admit some of us thought Salma could win it. In that sense there is of course disappointment. Yet, Salma deserves a big vote of thanks for her tireless efforts. Without the abuse of the postal vote system, by New Labour in particular, she could have come very close.
Mushtaq again, almost single-handedly, led the campaign in Nechells. Yet with scarce resources he came second on 19%, only a slight drop on last year.

Abdul Aziz managed 20% in Aston, a drop from 28% last year. Socialist Resistance supporters who worked for him reported that he suffered from a lack of resources; there was more support out there for Respect than he could physically tap into. More focussed and detailed literature would have helped.

The bigger disappointment was in Kings Heath. This was another casualty of the split. The work in the area collapsed in the previous period, the Muslim vote was not mobilised this time and despite a well organised, well run campaign, where the candidate made an impressive mark at the hustings, for example, the damage had been done. There was also more of a leftist Labour opponent to contend with. On a positive note, new activists in that area have come forwards and there is now the project of building a new branch and starting some serious local work. A vote of 5% is the baseline for future development.

During the campaign there was a very successful rally in the town centre, combining local council workers, teachers and other public sector workers. The several thousand strong rally and demonstration was leafleted by Respect giving its full support to the strikes.

So, Respect’s vital foothold in the city has been maintained. It now has the responsibility and opportunity to move outwards and become more of an all-Birmingham organisation.

The unending attacks on Muslims, Council workers, the unemployed and other oppressed layers will need countering. The big challenge of the next General election also awaits.

On the electoral level there is life outside of Respect in Birmingham, but not a great deal of it. The Greens went up from 14% to 16% in their one targeted ward of Bournville. The Socialist Labour Party went down slightly in Handsworth Wood to 13% from 15% and Raghib Ahsan managed 11% in Lozells and East Handsworth, down from 20% last year.

The Tories gained six more seats and so the ruling Tory – Liberal Democratic coalition will remain in power. The BNP vote either fell slightly or was maintained.

The task of building a political alternative to the neo-liberal mainstream and the far right is as urgent as ever. That is the task of Respect. Socialist Resistance will play its part in helping make it happen.

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