Voting at the selection meeting. Voting at the selection meeting. Photo: Michael Lavalette

Preston selects Counterfire’s Michael Lavalette to stand in the General Election as part of the ‘No ceasefire, no vote’ movement, report Hanna Latif and Almas Razakazi

‘The three main parties are drenched in the blood of the people of the Middle East.’

Michael Lavalette’s closing words at the Preston election hustings were met with a roar of applause. One hundred and forty people gathered in a bustling community hub in Preston on Sunday 24 March to select an ‘independent’ candidate to stand in the General Election as part of the ‘No Ceasefire, No Vote’ of the Palestine solidarity movement. The meeting, in the middle of Ramadan, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, was far larger than people expected. People were spilling out into the hallway, whilst others were sharing chairs inside. People were crammed in to hear the passionate speeches from potential candidates as to why they should be selected to fight on the ‘Preston Independent’ ticket.

Perhaps the turn out shouldn’t have been a surprise. Since 7 October, a very significant and sizeable Palestine solidarity movement has grown across the city. That movement has grown apart from the main parties due to their refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. In fact, sitting Labour MP, the ‘invisible’ Mark Hendrick, refused to vote for a ceasefire in November, despite claiming he would do so when questioned by constituents in October and in the run up to the vote.

The meeting was arranged at the start of March. It was open to everyone in the city, and anyone could submit a nomination providing they had at least ten signed nomination forms (Michael got 180!).

Two prospective candidates came forward. Each were each given ten minutes to outline their case and one minute to answer six questions posed to them by the audience. Both candidates were clear that they were there to challenge the status quo and push back on the UK’s foreign and domestic policy.

Palestine plus

The first candidate, Callum Parkinson, expressed his concern at the ongoing genocide in Palestine, climate change and the general crisis of capitalism. He claimed that the country was being held hostage by those in power and argued that the parties in power now don’t offer any meaningful solutions to the crises that people in the UK face.

Lavalette spoke about his lengthy experience raging against the political machine, from his experience as a shop steward to his long stint as a socialist councillor for eleven years. He was able to point to his long years of Palestine solidarity work, including his honorary membership of the Palestine General Writers Union. But Michael was clear that any election had to be ‘Palestine plus’. That, as well as international issues, we had to take up the cost-of-living crisis, the decimation of our services, the NHS and social-care crisis, and the on-going assault on our civil liberties.

Lavalette also spoke about what we mean by ‘independent’. Often the independent label is used for people who are not accountable to anyone. But Michael made clear that, at the present moment, within the Palestine solidarity movement, independent means independent of the mainstream parties, independent of the political establishment, but absolutely part of our broad movement for change at home and abroad.

After just over an hour, it was time to vote. A hush came over the room as the vote was taken; it was a landslide win for Michael with over 90% of the attendees voting in favour of electing him to stand as an independent candidate. The announcement was met with deafening applause and a standing ovation.

Now it’s time to organise! Fighting elections is not easy, and it certainly can’t stop our demonstrating and campaigning for an immediate ceasefire. But come the election, we now know that in Preston, Palestine will be on the ballot paper.

And regardless of the outcome of the election, one thing is clear. There is a grassroots movement taking hold in the Preston community, galvanised by the horrors they are witnessing in Palestine. However, after George Galloway’s win in Rochdale recently, could we also be witnessing the start of a political shift? The people of Preston certainly hope so – and even if we don’t win, we can give the main parties a bloody nose!

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