Who Will Win in Ealing Southall?
Controversy and dirty tricks mar campaign
With campaigning yet to reach the highest point of intensity the Ealing Southall by-election has already seen an array of controversy and accusations of dirty tricks.
At the moment Labour still seem to be favourites to retain the seat with betting site Betfair making them odds on. Although the defection of the five Councillors is a big blow to the party locally, their vulnerability in the seat seems to have been reduced by the fact that the opposition vote is split. Betfair makes the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats neck and neck at this point at 3-1 against. Both parties are desperate to be seen as the main challenger to Labour but this may have led to underhand tactics being adopted with the Grant Shapps, the man running the Conservative campaign, allegedly having been caught posting bogus messages on YouTube purporting to be from a Liberal Democrat supporter saying that the Tories had the best chance of winning the seat.
Both Labour and Conservatives have seen dissension in the ranks due to their candidate selection but it is the former who have suffered worst with five local Councillors, including Gurcharan Singh who hoped to be an MP himself, defecting to David Cameron's Tories. He is alleging that Labour will not countenance the selection of a turban wearing MP. Four out of the five defectors are Sikh as is the Conservative candidate.
The five councillors are backing, Tony Lit, who in turn has had his detractors from within the Conservative party and one leading local Tory has defected to the Liberal Democrats. Under the banner of 'Who is Tony Lit?' both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have attacked the selection of a Chiswick resident who wasn't even a member of the Conservative party until he was chosen as the candidate. Mr. Lit's father is the controversial founder of the Sunrise radio station who had previously stood as a independent candidate for the seat.
The election is critical for Liberal Democrat leader Ming Campbell because many within the party feel that, if they fail to make a strong showing in a seat in which they came second at the last general election, this shows the party is going backwards. They are focusing on local issues including Ealing Hospital and recycling. Ming Campbell has already visited and Charles Kennedy joined their candidate Nigel Bakhai on a walkabout around Ealing Broadway on Friday 13th in the hope that their party's luck will be in next week. The Tories are claiming they are best placed to defeat Labour because of the more recent results in the Council elections. If the results from the wards within the constituency were repeated the Tories would come very close to Labour's vote.
The Tories also need to make a good showing to counter the idea that there has been a 'Brown Bounce Back.' Despite the fact that a 14% swing is needed for them to claim victory, David Cameron has visited the constituency three times since the poll was announced.
The selection of the Labour candidate was always likely to be controversial. Originally the party was intending to run an all-women shortlist at the next general election but the untimely death of Piara Kabra led to the National Executive scrapping that plan. The selection of Virendra Sharma, a 70 year old Hindu, was made after a lengthy series of interviews. He has already made a statement voicing opposition to the West London Tram. Tom Watson, the Labour MP who is managing the campaign, has dismissed reports that his party's support amongst the Sikh community, who make up about 30% of the electorate, is collapsing. He compared Southall Sikhs to Yorkshire miners in their commitment to the Labour cause. Mr. Sharma has also reportedly been endorsed by the two main local Guduwaras. Labour is planning to send a minister a day to the constituency with Hazel Blears and David Milliband but there is no indication as yet that Gordon Brown will be paying a visit.
The Respect party are hoping that they can squeeze the Labour vote. Although they traditionally gain a significant amount of support for the Muslim community they believe that activism on issues such as Gate Gourmet has bolstered their position locally and they are claiming the endorsement of Paul Patrick, the headteacher at Cardinal Wiseman high school in Greenford. Party leader George Galloway is visiting the constituency on Sunday 15th. He said of his candidate Salvinder Dhillon, "Salvinder belongs to this community." says George. "He will be the voters' man in Westminster, not Westminster's man in Ealing Southall. Nor will he take orders from the City of London or Washington.
The results of the poll which takes place on 19th July will be published on this site as soon as possible after the declaration.
The by-election was triggered by the death of Labour MP Piara Khabra last month, at the age of 82.
July 13, 2007