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Last Updated: Friday, 6 May 2005, 14:11 GMT 15:11 UK
Has Galloway earned respect?
By Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News

George Galloway and supporters
Critics have suggested Mr Galloway exploited Asian support to win

George Galloway's Respect Party has succeeded in ousting Labour's Oona King from Bethnal Green & Bow.

But what do people in the east London constituency think of the result?

It was a choice that divided an entire community.

George or Oona - it was as simple as that.

On Bethnal Green Road, east London, where people of all shapes, sizes and hues busily go about their daily routines, there is something of a party atmosphere.

The sense of change is tangible as news begins to spread of George Galloway's election success after a heated contest.

"I knew he was going to win. George is a good man, he should be the prime minister," says Rudolph Appiah, 34, a market stall holder and first-time voter who says he checked the result as soon as he woke up.

Mr Appiah, who can barely contain his glee at the outcome, goes on: "I have a lot of respect for George because he was the only person to stand up to Tony Blair over Iraq.

"He was the only candidate that I saw coming down here to talk to people on the streets. He said he would do his best for us and I believe him."

Rudolph Appiah
Rudolph Appiah was pleased by Mr Galloway's win

As Mr Appiah offers his thoughts, a friend on a neighbouring stall - who was unaware of the result - also expresses his pleasure and the two men share a warm chuckle by way of celebration.

Smiling broadly, 36 year-old Sultan Ali agrees that the war in Iraq played a major role in his decision to vote for Respect.

"George is a sincere person and I like his policies," says Mr Ali.

But he denies the suggestion that, as a Muslim man, he was largely drawn towards the former Labour MP because of any attempt by Mr Galloway to court his community.

"It isn't about being Muslim, it is about human rights. It doesn't matter about religion. I wanted George because he seems to respect people's human rights whether they are in this constituency, the UK or Iraq."

And for Ambia Mahmood, a 20 year-old student, the result came as vindication for those who felt Mr Blair had been "subservient to President Bush" over Iraq and had failed to listen to those who opposed the conflict.

Labour have had too much power for too long and something needed to happen to restore some balance
Danny Lowe

The war is, it seems, the single issue that bound Galloway's supporters.

But, while everyone who welcomed the election of their new MP backed his stance, many stressed that they had not voted on a single issue.

The suggestion that a vote for Respect was a rejection of the New Labour project is a recurring theme.

"Galloway represented a more socialist, old Labour-style, programme. His campaign expressed a cynicism about private finance initiatives, which I liked," says Josephine Slater, a magazine editor.

Mrs Slater, 33, a mother-of-two who had hitherto always voted Labour, goes on: "He said he would fight PFIs in hospitals and schools.

Ambia Mahmood
Ambia Mahmood said the Iraq conflict influenced her decision

"What Labour call modernisation, I understand to be privatisation. That is important to me because my children will go through the state education system."

Danny Lowe, 32, a teacher, echoes these sentiments, expressing a dislike of PFIs and tuition fees before adding: "Labour have had too much power for too long and something needed to happen to restore some balance."

But not everyone supported Respect.

The fact that Mr Galloway scraped home in the seat with a majority of less than 1, 000 reveals the deep divisions that exist within the community and, crucially, the vast number of those opposed to their new MP.

Sylvia Parr, 61, laments the loss of a "very good MP who cared" in Oona King, before suggesting Mr Galloway used his anti-war stance to "cynically" appeal to the area's large Asian population.

"I don't like him, all he wanted was the Asian vote - he doesn't care about us," she says, briefly hinting at the latent racial tension within the multicultural constituency.

Sylvia Parr
Sylvia Parr praised Oona King's record as an MP

Mrs Parr, who has lived in Bethnal Green for just over 50 years, goes on: "All he was interested in was getting back into parliament.

"Oona King made the streets safer and cleaner, but he doesn't care about this place or helping people."

This feeling was shared by Allan Barton who says: "You can't represent people if you are not living in the area and don't know what is going on in that community."

He adds: "I'm disappointed because this is just a political vote against Blair, but it affects the way this area is run. I can't see what he is going to do for us."

And many of those who opposed Mr Galloway point out that the issue of Iraq is one that has been resolved, for better or worse.

Ali Ahmed, who voted for the Green party, says the Scottish MP's Iraq-centric campaign meant that he was "standing for something that has happened already and is finished".

Mr Ahmed, who voted for Ms King in the last election, says he wants to see what his new MP will do now that he has secured the seat.

He is not alone.


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