Friday 30 April 2010

Respect stands for fairness in an unequal Britain

By Salma Yaqoob

The only choice the mainstream parties are offering between themselves is that of those who call for savage cuts now to public spending, or savage cuts a bit later.

The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, has set the tone. He promises cuts that will be “deeper and tougher” than those carried out by Margaret Thatcher in the early 1980s.

Those cuts, we should remember, led to city after city in Britain becoming industrial ghost-towns, as millions were thrown on the scrap heap of the dole and there were scenes of riots on our streets.

The election is being dominated by the national deficit. But the debate around this issued is skewed by the shared consensus of the three main parties about the necessity for deep cuts.

There is a different, and in my view, much more convincing argument that can be put.

The deficit in Britain is not exceptionally high by historical standards. Britain’s deficit was higher throughout much of the nineteenth century, when it expanded to be the workshop of the world. It was much higher in 1945, when the country was devastated after six years of war, and in every year through to the 1960s.

Yet this was the time when real Labour policies led to the creation of the National Health Service and the building of 200,000 council houses a year. Millions of people who had endured slum conditions in the 1930s moved into decent housing for the first time.

The way to reduce the deficit is through investment, not cutbacks which will leave more people out of work and less spending, which both result in less money paid in tax and a HIGHER deficit.

But to finance that investment, we have to reorder priorities.

Instead of spending up to £96 billion on Trident nuclear weapons we should scrap it.

A clampdown on tax avoidance by the super rich, who find lawyers to find loopholes, could save this country £25 billion in lost taxes.

Dumping plans to introduce ID cards and withdrawing troops from Afghanistan could save £10 billion.

There are alternatives to getting us out of the recession without ordinary people, who have no responsibility for getting us into it, having to pay the cost.

In these elections, local and national, Respect is arguing for something different. And we stand a chance of winning more seats in Parliament and local councils, where we can make those policies a part of the political picture, as we have in east London and Birmingham over the last five years.

With the possibility of a parliament where no party has an overall majority, Respect’s presence could prove critical. If just three Respect MPs are returned from our strongest areas, we will have an impact way beyond our numbers.

And we have got a real chance of making a breakthrough. In my own seat of Hall Green, the retiring Labour MP Lynne Jones has issued a statement endorsing my campaign and attacking my Labour opponent Roger Godsiff. Speaking in the House of Commons and to the Birmingham media, she criticised the selection of the Labour candidate and said, “Salma Yaqoob is an excellent candidate of great ability who, as a councillor, has shown she works hard for her constituents. I have a lot of time for her.”

Lynne’s endorsement of me follows on from the Green Party stepping down their candidate and calling for a vote for me as they support my stances on social justice and believe I can win this seat. When I stood in the 2005 General Election I came from nowhere to slash a 16,000 Labour majority to 3,000 and nearly win the seat. This time I believe we can go one further. And so do growing numbers of voters in the community. My election launch rally earlier this month had over 1,300 people. Not only was this the largest in the city, it was probably the largest in the country.

In this election voters in a number of constituencies will have an opportunity to vote for Respect candidates who have records second to none in being a voice for the voiceless, either in this country or abroad. At a time when waves of Islamophobic hatred are sweeping across Europe and lapping at out shores, the Muslim community is going to need as many advocates and defenders in the Parliament. With its support, I can be one of those. But the prize is not just about Muslims having a voice, but having a voice for all those who feel they have been abandoned, regardless of their background.

If we want representatives who want to bring some fairness to a grotesquely unequal Britain and to change the political system that has become so discredited, then helping to get Respect elected will be a major step in that direction.

Salma Yaqoob is standing as a Parliamentary candidate for Respect Unity Coalition in Hall Green, Birmingham. She is also Leader of the Party.


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