Respect victorious in Birmingham’s Sparkbrook by-election

This was going to be a difficult battle for Respect. A by-election gave the mainstream parties the chance of pouring outside resources into Sparkbrook in a way that would not be possible in a full council election. And this they did. The unfortunate circumstance that led the previous Councillor to resign was used against Respect. A previous Respect candidate lent his name and picture to Labour publicity. Another person distributed a homophobic smear leaflet against his former party. Then there was the abuse of the postal vote system; this time there were 1700 cast, nearly treble the number from the previous election. The election taking place during Ramadan put an extra strain on many of the activists. All this, yet Respect pulled off the fourth victory in a row in this ward. How come?There was the advantage of a well known candidate who has a track record of community campaigning going back many years. There was the name recognition for Respect and its well known record of local activity that began when Salma Yaqoob achieved her landslide breakthrough in 2006. There was the radicalisation of the Muslim community, which has not gone away, despite Government efforts to demonise and constrain it. There was also well produced publicity, highlighting solid community issues as well as support for the Palestinians, troops out of Afghanistan and opposition to racism and fascism. Then there were the plentiful supporters willing to go out and do the street work. Against the background of New Labour crisis this was enough to win the day.

Respect has also benefited from defections from Labour recently, most notably the secretary of New Street station RMT. It should now be poised to draw in others and build Respect more deeply in Sparkbrook itself and the surrounding wards, with a view to the forthcoming Council and General Elections. It has already selected a candidate for the adjacent Springfield ward, where it did well last time.

One negative factor was the lack of support from the rest of the Birmingham left. Birmingham Socialist Resistance’s open letter calling for unity of the left in the city as we approach the General election included a call for assistance in Sparkbrook as an indication the seriousness of the various unity calls of late. However, not a finger was lifted, outside of our own supporters. Will the same sectarian indifference lead to a boycott of Salma’s attempt to win the Hall Green Westminster seat? Would it not have mattered if New Labour had won the seat from Respect this time? Would it not matter if they hold on to Hall Green next year?

Birmingham Socialist Resistance has had its differences with the local Respect. In the middle of the election campaign came the EDL invasions of the city centre. We felt that large scale mobilisations were always necessary to thwart fascist provocations, whatever their nature. While the issue was covered well in election material, the lack of mobilisation at one event, which was counter posed to calls for a state ban, exposed those that did turn up to a degree of danger. The “Birmingham United” event was banned instead! We also felt that the education statement needed a lot of strengthening. However, we were happy to be part of this election campaign and on the side of a successful challenge to the left of New Labour.

There are now many challenges to be faced in the Council chamber; resisting the cuts and privatisation offensive, the green agenda, Palestinian solidarity and developing a vision for the city that inspires people to move towards Respect outside of its core area.

Yet before we get into all that, let us still savour the moment. Victory is sweet. Congratulations to Shokat Ali and his team.

Bob Whitehead.

The full result at Sparkbrook:
Ali Shokat (Resp): 2495
Mohammed Azim (Lab): 2228
Abdul Kadir (Con): 799
Naeem Qureshi (Lib Dem): 506
Charles Alldrick (Green): 213
Sakander Mahmood (Ind): 55

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6 Comments on Respect victorious in Birmingham’s Sparkbrook by-election

  1. It seems that the vote result may well be declared void, as the Police are investigating the worst outbreak of voter fraud for five years. Council officials, backed by the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties, called in the police after saying they suspected an organised plot to influence the result of the by-election, which was won by Respect candidate Shokat Ali. Around 1/3 of the votes have been rejected as likely forgeries.

    The full result was:

    The full result at Sparkbrook:
    Ali Shokat (Resp): 2495
    Mohammed Azim (Lab): 2228
    Abdul Kadir (Con): 799
    Naeem Qureshi (Lib Dem): 506
    Charles Alldrick (Green): 213
    Sakander Mahmood (Ind): 55

  2. It seems that the police don’t share your jubilation. Probably better to await the outcome before crowing about a ‘victory’.

  3. Respect has been in the lead of campaigning to stop postal voting in Birmingham. It’s great news that these false votes were spotted. However, there’s no basis for suggesting that the result will be declared void: instead the face ballot papers were voided. You can read more at: http://www.sundaymercury.net/news/midlands-news//tm_headline=postal-vote-fraud-rocks-birmingham-by-election-in-sparkbrook&method=full&objectid=24725542&siteid=65233-name_page.html

  4. Postal votes should be banned it has been shown with the labour party to be easy to defraud such as labour councillors in certain wards have used derelict buildings and empty properties to vote for there own party and using fake addresses.

  5. Peter Marshall // 20th September 2009 at 1:28 pm // Reply

    In the Aston ward votes are sometimes bought for £10 each.
    One man representing maybe 3 or 4 households usually handles the voting papers.
    Democracy?
    Respect?

  6. Well Slydealer, the intention was not to “crow”, but to inform and hopefully analyze how Respect won, for the benefit of those not involved in the campaign. If anyone disagrees with the analysis they are free to point out the inaccuracies. Were the the commas around ‘victory’ supposed to suggest something? I though getting most votes was indeed a victory under first past the post.
    As it is not often that the left wins anything, was not the gaining of a seat by an anti-racist anti-war, pro-Palestinian candidate something to be pleased about or not?
    As for the postal vote scam, this is something that Respect has known about, suffered from and campaigned against for some time.
    I am sure it would only be too happy to fight future elections without this discredited system in place.

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