Glyn Robbins is contesting the Bethnal Green and Bow seat for the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in the upcoming general election. He has been active in Respect and has been prominent in all the anti-racist mobilisations in the area. He is deeply involved in housing campaigns and blogs on the issue.
Tower Hamlets already has a council which positions itself to the left of Labour. Why have you decided to contest the parliamentary elections?
I have said from the outset – and there has been a degree of consensus on this within TUSC locally – that I would not stand against a credible left candidate, particularly one from Tower Hamlets First. That remains the case, but we have had a strong indication that they don’t intend to stand, therefore leaving New Labour unopposed from the left.
No other council gets quite as much negative publicity. The Tories seem to hate it and so do their friends in the press. Labour is hostile to it and is in open warfare with Lutfur Rahman’s Tower Hamlets First. What have Rahman and his people done to earn this level of vitriol?
The attacks are motivated by two things. First, however else they may be interpreted from within the left, THF are perceived as being anti-establishment. They have, albeit to a limited degree, challenged the political status quo by defying the Labour Party machine and seeking to moderate the impact of the government’s cuts. Secondly, they are victims of the wider campaign of racist Islamophobia that portrays Muslims as a bunch of unthinking political zombies who are either wrong for not engaging with ‘British Institutions’ like voting, or wrong for voting the wrong way!
You were deeply involved in Respect. What was good about it and what can we learn from it?
How long have you got! I will go to my death-bed proud of the fact that only one British politician paid the immediate and just political price for the war in Iraq, Oona King. As well as representing the deep anger about illegal wars, Respect was on the way to broadening its appeal, particularly around council housing. We played a vital role in preventing the privatisation of many council homes in Tower Hamlets. What we learned is the power of coalitions based around campaigning on the 80% of what we agree on and unites us, but we sometimes did this at the expense of a proper discussion about the other 20%
The Labour / Tory hegemony has now definitively ended. The Greens, SNP and UKIP are now all serious contenders for substantial numbers of votes. The socialist left hasn’t really benefited from this shift. Do we need to find a different electorate or does the left have to change?
The electorate is what it is. The left needs to respond positively to the changes that are taking place which I think represent the potential decomposition of the establishment political parties, but also the possibility/threat of an eventual deepening of a US-style two party system. The left has to change or face the danger of oblivion.
What are your plans politically after the election?
Personally I don’t really have any, other than a six week trip to the US to recover and gather material for a book about the convergence of housing policy in the US and UK. But let’s see how it goes. My three aims for standing are 1) to take a step towards uniting the left, at least locally 2) to challenge New Labour and 3) to begin the process of developing a viable left political alternative. We’ll see how we got on after May 7th, but whatever my result it, the task remains the same.