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How socialists saw off Labour
SAMANTHA DIAS is now the Socialist Party's second councillor in Lewisham. This great achievement showed that where a serious socialist alternative is offered, voters will support it.
Lewisham Socialist Party, particularly our councillor, Ian Page, has done years of consistent work in Pepys Ward.
Our canvassers put in weeks of hard work, distributing three different leaflets, knocking on hundreds of doors to convince voters that Sam could beat New Labour and their policies of cuts and privatisation.
We knew it would be close. When Ian was elected last year, Labour arrogantly assumed they could defeat us without campaigning in the ward. This time Lewisham councillors and local MP, Joan Ruddock, canvassed on streets that they couldn't have visited in years.
We knew we'd win support from council tenants. Ian had led the successful campaign against the council's attempt to transfer its housing to housing associations elsewhere in the borough. Sam is a well-known tenants' rep on Honor Oak estate who helped pressurise the council into coughing up £12 million to refurbish properties.
But Honor Oak is only one part of quite a mixed ward. We also won support from middle-class voters disillusioned with Lewisham's Blairite council leaders.
We launched a petition against Lewisham's decision to close three elderly people's homes. The private contractor the council wanted to sell the homes to had pulled out. Vulnerable residents would now be farmed out into the private sector.
On Telegraph Hill, where houses sell for over £250,000, many voters were angry at their local park's deterioraton since the council privatised maintenance. A Parks User Group emergency meeting called on the council to keep their promise of match-funding the Lottery bid for park refurbishment.
Suddenly, gardeners were sent to Telegraph Hill Park to put things right, then councillors told park users that the funding was in the council's budget after all! As Ian said, it was amazing what the council could do when a by-election defeat was looming!
Sam also made a good intervention, helping to counter Labour's claims that she could only speak for council tenants.
LABOUR'S ELECTION leaflet incredibly claimed that Labour councillors "saved" the Honor Oak Neighbourhood Office. In fact the council had wanted to close it. Ian had to hand in the tenants' petition after Labour councillors refused to do so!
Labour's dirty tactics went further. They targeted Sam's friends to try and persuade them to vote against her. Honor Oak tenants wrote an official complaint against one Labour councillor after he abused Sam at a meeting.
Socialist Party members were joined by local tenants and some members of the local Socialist Alliance.
We couldn't always convince voters, sick of mainstream politicians' lies, that we were a serious alternative. But we persuaded tenants who'd never voted before to vote for Sam. Several now want to join the Socialist Party.
On the final Saturday, Joan Ruddock and Labour councillors descended on Honor Oak estate. Quickly we set up a stall and our loudhailers warned tenants: "Don't be taken in by Labour's lies!". Slowly Labour's canvassers came back from the council blocks, dejected as tenants told them what they thought of New Labour!
That convinced people on the estate to get out and vote for Sam. On election day, I remember one young black man coming out of Honor Oak polling station, almost shaking with anger and shouting to the Labour teller: "I voted for Blair but you're just like the Tories." That anger with Labour helped us win.
On election day, voting was slow, but, against the usual pattern, heaviest on Honor Oak estate. But we kept knocking at the doors of our promised voters right to the end.
After a tense count, friends and Socialist Party members cheered Sam's stunning victory. Sam, alongside Ian Page, will make sure Lewisham council hear the real anger of working-class people at their betrayal by New Labour.
In The Socialist 1 December 2000: