New LSA advance

Weyman Bennett last week won an impressive 885 votes for the London Socialist Alliance in the Tottenham parliamentary by-election. Comrade Bennett's 5.39% was enough to save his deposit, and he easily beat the Green Party candidate to finish fourth behind the main bourgeois parties.

This represents another step forward for the forging of a united, all-UK left challenge to New Labour in preparation for the standing of at least 50 candidates in the general election, which must be held in less than two years time. It builds on our success in the May 4 elections for the Greater London Assembly, where the LSA achieved an encouraging 2.93% return across London. Comrade Bennett himself won 3.42% in the Enfield and Haringey GLA constituency, of which Tottenham is a part.

In the run-up to May 4 the LSA was the only group which seriously attempted to leaflet and canvas throughout the capital, taking advantage of the low interest in the assembly elections and the other parties' inability to muster any enthusiasm for the campaign. However, the June 22 Tottenham contest was a different story, with all the parties able to concentrate their forces and flood the constituency with election material and canvassers. New Labour in particular, nervously anticipating LSA inroads into its support, sent in several cabinet ministers to back up Blairite David Lammy. It is this that makes our result all the more pleasing. In contrast to the GLA elections, LSA supporters were outnumbered by the other canvassers.

Lammy comfortably held onto the seat, but with a much reduced majority. In the 1997 general election Labour's Bernie Grant won almost 70% of the vote, but this was slashed to 53.51% last week. The Liberal Democrats were the main beneficiaries, overtaking the Tories, whose share of the vote remained static. The Greens also increased their percentage, compared to 1997. But there is no doubt that for the LSA, contesting its first ever parliamentary seat, to notch up over five percent was no mean feat. In 1997 two left groups - the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Socialist Equality Party - managed less than one percent between them in Tottenham.

Our impact stretched much further than one constituency. The LSA's campaign could not be ignored by either commentators or mainstream politicians. This was demonstrated by BBC television's coverage of the count and result. While Lammy was being interviewed, comrade Bennett, a member of the Socialist Workers Party, was making a forceful speech in the background, and the Labour candidate had to shout to make himself heard. Instead of ignoring the LSA - the normal way of handling the left in recent decades - Lammy felt it necessary to comment that we "only got 800 votes".

MP Tim Collins, speaking in the studio on behalf of the Tories, took a different view. The LSA, he said, "did rather well" (Labour's Paul Boateng at this point threw back his head and laughed - just a little too ostentatiously). Of course Collins was intent on covering up the Conservatives' dismal failure to capitalise on the distinct lack of enthusiasm for the Blair government by talking up our performance: the LSA looked set to eat into Labour's natural constituency elsewhere, he crowed, and the Tories would be the beneficiaries.

Nevertheless, despite the Tories' spin on comrade Bennett's result, Collins' comments reflect a reality. Commentators and politicians will have to recognise this and, the more they do, the more the LSA will be take seriously as a real political force by those we are really interested in - the working class itself. We do not crave publicity for its own sake, but it would be foolish to deny that publicity can be an indicator of our real and potential support. This trend is likely to continue, as the LSA intervenes in further by-elections and takes the lead on a whole range of issues over the next period.

Now we must step up our efforts for the next stage of rebuilding the working class politically - an all-UK conference in preparation for the general election.

Peter Manson

Weyman Bennett speaks to the Weekly Worker

"This was a serious vote for us. People took the election for an MP much more seriously than the GLA poll. They voted for us because they wanted to break from Labour.

"When I walk down the street now, people stop me and say, 'I voted for you.' Others wanted to vote for us: they thought what we said was brilliant, but they weren't sure who we were. Now they ask, 'What will you do next?' One of the most important things is that people are looking to the LSA for a lead on the broader issues. For them the politicians keep turning up every couple of years, so they want to know what we will do in between.

"The Greens have been campaigning around here for 20 years. For us to beat them - to win that space - was tremendous".

Tottenham by-election result

David Lammy Labour 8,785 53.51%
Duncan Hames Liberal Democrat 3,139 19.12%
Jane Ellison Conservative 2,634 16.04%
Weyman Bennett London Socialist Alliance 885 5.39%
Peter Budge Green 606 3.69%
others 368 2.24%