Tuesday, August 03, 2004

A local setback?

While I was away Respect won the council by-election in Tower Hamlets last Thursday night. The victor, Oliur Rahman, was my rival in the recent GLA elections.

I don't want to give Respect more credit than it deserves, but it does raise some challenges for the Lib Dems in the East End and other parts of the country where there are large ethnic minority populations. Usually we present ourselves as the alternative to Labour, who fails such people, and the Tories, who find such areas not to be natural territory.

It is a worry that Respect now has a voice on the council. Not because they claim to be the only anti-war party (how Galloway can get away with claiming Lib Dems were pro-war I don't know), but the manner in which they seek out support. It's not about appealing to voters on an individual basis, but rather an attempt to wrestle the top-down control that Labour previously enjoyed. And I would be surprised if most of their voters know much more about Respect's policies other than its stance on the Iraq war.

Maybe it's just a mid-term thing. Come the General Election Respect won't figure, with Galloway unlikely to be re-elected. And then there are the local elections a year later, when Respect may well have run out of steam. In fact, chances are it probably only did so well in Stepney last week because the by-election was held so close to the GLA elections, when Respect did well in the area.

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