“We’re voting for Jackie – she’s the only one we trust to fight for our services. All the others have promised us everything and delivered nothing”.
That’s what the people of Crosland Moor and Netherton promised us and that’s what they delivered with an 807-vote majority in one of the highest turnouts in the area.
The campaign to Save Huddersfield NHS moved from the streets to the electoral plane with the election of Dr Jackie Grunsell last week.
Regular readers will have charted the battle that is being fought to prevent the transfer of essential hospital services from Huddersfield to Halifax. The population of the town, for whom the implications are all too serious, has also closely followed this battle.
On top of canvassing the whole ward, we held daily stalls outside the local shops and post offices which meant we were able to speak to a lot of people. Jackie’s number was on all the leaflets and people contacted us with offers of assistance and requests to meet and find out more about our views on other issues.
The Liberal and Labour opposition tried to convince voters that there was no point in voting for a single-issue campaign. But it was clear that most people understood that the idea of defending our public services from the private profiteers is much more than a single issue.
The foundation for Jackie’s election was built through hard work – months of organising demonstrations, lobbies and meetings. People were sick to the back teeth of official consultation meetings where everyone can let off steam, only to be ignored. By polling day, there were posters up on every street.
On the eve of poll, the Lib Dems put out a ‘Red Scare’ leaflet, in a desperate attempt to put people off voting for us, but most people saw it as their attempt at a dirty trick.
All Jackie’s election leaflets made it clear that she’s a socialist and people know that she is a determined fighter. In fact, some people thought it gave them even more reason to vote for her!
So fraught were the Liberals and Labour with the thought of us taking what they saw as their seat that a fight broke out in the car park of one of the polling stations between the two parties!
A young man on his way to vote for the first time came by and told us how he and his friends had been discussing it and they were all going to vote for us. They knew that pressure was being put on them to vote for the Asian candidates but were not interested. The NHS is a class issue and that is how the people of Crosland Moor and Netherton responded.
Over the whole campaign loomed the desperate need for a new mass workers’ party, to represent and organise the angry and frustrated and those who do wish to get active to make a difference.
This election result says enough is enough of the parties who represent the fat cats. It says we’re sick of the divisions in our communities that the main parties use to separate us.
It says where a strong clear lead is given we will respond and fight to defend our public services. It says that we need a party that can unite NHS campaigns like this across the country and fight all attacks on the working class.
Save Huddersfield NHS, Jackie Grunsell 2,176
Lib Dem 1,369
Increased votes for socialism in Lewisham
Socialist Party councillors, Ian Page and Chris Flood, both re-elected.
Clive Heemskerk, Lewisham
The Socialist Party councillors, Ian Page and Chris Flood, were both re-elected with increased votes in Lewisham’s Telegraph Hill ward.
Chris Flood was first elected, with 590 votes, in a by-election in December 2003. This time he polled 929 votes to secure victory.
Ian Page topped the poll this time, whereas in the last full council elections in 2002 he finished second behind one of the Labour candidates (see box). Moreover, his 1,118 votes were only bettered by five Labour candidates, out of 54, across the whole of Lewisham borough. It will be harder now for the (much-diminished) Labour group on Lewisham council to dismiss the socialist councillors as ‘unrepresentative’!
The only disappointment on the night was that New Labour managed to grab the third Telegraph Hill seat, despite a very good vote for Jess Leech in her first contest in the ward. The day-to-day work fighting for and alongside local residents obviously boosted the reputation of our sitting councillors, including amongst other parties’ voters. Some socialist voters were also confused about how many candidates they could choose, and only voted for Ian Page.
A re-designed ballot paper, as part of a Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) experiment with electronic counting, didn’t help. Also, two ‘early voting days’ at the Sainsbury’s superstore on the edge of the ward, another DCA experiment, benefited the main parties, with the wide publicity they get.
In contrast, we had to rely on door-to-door contact to get our message across and Socialist Party canvassers reported that many voters we spoke to after they had already voted, had been unaware that we were standing three candidates.
Another factor helping New Labour was the decision by the Green Party to stand against the Socialist Party councillors. In 2002, the Greens had only one candidate in Telegraph Hill.
The decision to stand three this time was contested inside the Green Party, with the 2005 Green parliamentary candidate for Lewisham West, Nick Long, issuing a personal endorsement of the Socialist Party candidates as best placed to defeat New Labour.
His approach was vindicated by the results. The Greens picked up council seats in Brockley and Ladywell wards but were not a serious challenge to New Labour in Telegraph Hill.
Across Lewisham Labour’s vote flatlined, with the main beneficiaries of a slightly higher turnout being the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, leading to a council with no overall control – the first time Labour hasn’t ruled in Lewisham since 1971.
In Telegraph Hill, however, there wasn’t the same ‘easy option’ available to unseat Labour. So it was a great sign for the future that so many voters backed a clear socialist alternative to the establishment parties.
Consolidating the socialist vote
Ian Page was first elected as a Labour councillor for the Telegraph Hill ward area in 1990 but was expelled from the Labour Party in 1995 for opposing cuts in council jobs and services.
In London boroughs, unlike most other parts of the country, councillors are only voted in once every four years, with three councillors elected per ward. In the first full council elections Ian contested as a Socialist Party councillor, in May 1998, he lost, polling 836 votes to an average Labour vote of 1,200. Fortunately, one of the Labour councillors soon resigned and, in June 1999, Ian won the subsequent by-election.
In the full council elections that followed, in 2002, Ian was re-elected with 1,065 votes, but a Labour candidate topped the poll with 1,132 votes.
This time, for the first time ever, the Socialist Party came top of the poll in Telegraph Hill.
Telegraph Hill result
Ian Page, Socialist Party – 1,118 (37.4%)
Labour – 997 (33.3%)
Chris Flood, Socialist Party – 929 (31.1%)
Labour – 856 and 829 (28%)
Jess Leech, Socialist Party – 821 (27.5%)
Greens – 440, 427 & 413 (14.2%)
Lib Dems – 303, 248 & 202 (8.4%)
Tories – 235, 192 & 178 (6.7%)
Third socialist councillor elected in Coventry
After a hard fought battle and nail-biting count, the Socialist Party regained a third councillor in St Michaels ward, Coventry.
Lindsey Currie, Coventry
The Labour Party, which had narrowly won the seat two years ago by 16 votes, was defeated by Rob Windsor – 1191 votes to 1106 – with the Tories and Lib Dems trailing in the low hundreds.
Rob’s record of taking up issues affecting local people – like the council’s proposal to demolish disabled flats at Swanswell, opposing plans for a city academy and campaigning against deep cuts in the NHS – which he continued to fight on even after he lost the seat, has been recognised. The Socialist Party message of standing for all working-class people has hit home.
This was in stark contrast to the Labour Party councillor who had only spoken once at a council meeting in his two years of office. People were fed up with a do-nothing councillor in a ward that contains areas of deep social deprivation.
After many weeks going door-to-door, leafleting and street campaigning, more than 40 local party members were joined by socialists from the East Midlands and Wales on election day to maximise the vote.
While the establishment parties sent out a couple of cars equipped with loudspeakers to get their vote out, they could not match the hands-on, face-to-face approach of the Socialist Party. No other party had campaign stalls on the streets or monitored voter numbers at the polling stations.
Throughout the election campaign, in fact, this contrast in styles was a feature – Labour talking down to people, echoing the government’s arrogance and complacency.
We had delivered a series of leaflets to the 12,000 voters in the ward, raising the Labour government’s anti-working class policies and the war in Iraq, as well as the record of the Tory dominated council, including one aimed at students.
We also had candidates in four other Coventry seats. And in Exhall, near Nuneaton, Eileen Hunter stood for the first time, beating the Lib Dem to third place. The limited resources available were more than matched by the energy of her campaign, stirring up young and old alike in this former mining village.
One woman at an election meeting summed up what many felt when she thanked Eileen for standing – finally, after years of voting Labour, there was someone offering genuine representation for working-class people. More than 50 bright pink window posters were on display in the ward.
Meanwhile, Socialist Party members continue our participation in the NHS SOS campaign, helping to organise a lobby of a health trust meeting, visiting and leafleting the Walsgrave and Coventry and Warwickshire hospitals.
We have taken up the issue of the threat to close the Peugeot Ryton plant, trying to build on the community support for the workers in the factory.
Both of these have provoked the anger and outrage of working-class people in and around the city and will be raised at the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party (CNWP) public meeting on 20 May.
The addition of the third socialist councillor will strengthen the voice of the working class in Coventry and add impetus to the growing support for the CNWP in Coventry.
Rob Windsor Socialist Party 1,191
Lib Dem 248
Stoke – BNP wins close-run election
The BNP unexpectedly won the Abbey Green Ward in Stoke-on-Trent after a very closely fought election.
Andy Bentley, Stoke-on-Trent
The betrayal of working-class people by New Labour and the lack of a mass alternative has created fertile ground for the growth of the BNP nationally, helped by a number of recent developments.
Stoke-on-Trent city council had provided a piece of land for the building of a new mosque just a mile away from the ward. The BNP gained votes by opportunistically raising fears about the mosque becoming a focal point for Islamic extremists and highlighting the fact that it was provided at a token rent of only £1.
But it was national developments, such as the revelation that hundreds of foreign criminals were on the loose throughout Britain, which proved crucial in increasing their vote in many parts of the country. National media coverage showing that 80% of people surveyed in one area of London had considered voting for the BNP gave them a certain legitimacy and lessened some of the stigma attached to voting for them.
However, the BNP’s victory in Abbey Green doesn’t represent a significant increase in their support. Despite the favourable factors and a higher turnout of voters, they still only received 91 more votes than in the last local elections in 2004. The BNP won with just 25% of the vote, which is identical to their share in 2004 and seven points lower than in 2003.
The main reason for this was the role of the Socialist Party in providing a serious working class based alternative to the attacks of New Labour. This small increase in the BNP’s vote was eclipsed by the very significant increase of 196 votes received by the Socialist Party. We were the only party to increase our share of the vote in this election – from 12% to 17%. In fact, the Socialist Party is the only party which has increased its number of votes every year since we first stood in 2003.
In Abbey Green, Labour were hammered. They lost 463 votes from 2004 and the Tories were down by 170. Echoing Labour lies, sleaze and corruption nationally, the local Labour machine was a disgrace.
Completely ignoring the threat posed by the BNP, they devoted two of their three leaflets to telling lies about the Socialist Party and making personal attacks on our candidate and the sitting councillor, Paul Sutton. Paul’s ‘crime’ was to make a principled stand against Labour’s relentless cuts in jobs and services, annual increases in council tax and privatisation.
In Stoke-on-Trent, New Labour is in even deeper crisis than before the elections. They have lost overall control of the council and the leader of the Labour group, Mike Salih, has lost his seat and quit the party because they are “Tories in disguise”.
While the local Labour machine was attacking us in their leaflets we were also playing a major part in building for the marvellous demonstration of 5,000 NHS workers in defence of NHS jobs and services.
Only the Socialist Party was able to put activists on the streets every day and our election campaign was well received by the vast majority on the doorstep.
Twice as many of our posters were put up in windows as Labour. As a result of our consistent work we have earned a tremendous respect in the area and many have expressed an interest in joining the Socialist Party.
Paul Sutton Socialist Party 508