Arthur's new red army is born in a three-star hotel

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The Independent Online
ONE hundred and three years to the day since Keir Hardie launched the Independent Labour Party, Arthur Scargill followed in his footsteps yesterday with the formation of his Socialist Labour Party.

This time, the founding fathers met in a three-star hotel in central London, rather than a draughty hall in Bradford. About 30 gathered behind closed doors and drawn curtains.

In 1893, few would have given much for Keir Hardie's chances of changing the course of British political history. Fewer still are likely to judge the birth of "Arthur's army" in the Great Northern Hotel, King's Cross, as a watershed.

The miners' leader said Socialist Labour would be officially launched on 1 May, when party officials would be selected.

It would stand for free health care, education without public schools, a society where unemployment is banished and an end to homelessness. The party colour would be red, Mr Scargill said - "as red as red can be".

Members wanted to see a return to public ownership - Labour's ditched Clause Four commitment - and "a return to true socialism abandoned by the Labour Party". The would-be party leader had no doubts. "We hope to have 5,000 members within 18 months and that will be enough to sustain a national party," he said.

Last night a relaxed Labour leadership said Mr Scargill's party would send out a powerful signal that Labour had modernised. A spokesman for Tony Blair said of Mr Scargill: "Labour has changed dramatically, while he is locked in the politics of many years ago."

One issue for discussion was whether the SLP would field a candidate in the Hemsworth by-election on 1 February. Mr Scargill has twice been worsted by the Labour Party hierarchy in the constituency. His miners' union-sponsored candidates were excluded from contesting the seat.

The NUM president is now reportedly thinking of running his wife, Anne, as the socialist standard-bearer in the constituency, which was once dominated by coal-mining but no longer has a working colliery. The left-wing journal Tribune said: "Anne Scargill has been circulated as someone who could draw electoral support for traditional Labour values."

However, the name of Pat Sikorski, a hard-left member of the executive of the rail union RMT, has also been mentioned.

There were no household names at the meeting apart from Mr Scargill. But reporters identified Frank Cave, vice-president of the NUM, and Tommy Sheridan, charismatic leader of Scottish Militant.

At King's Cross station, the veteran socialist and former Greater London Council deputy leader Illtyd Harrington was travelling to Leeds to watch opera. "I'd rather go and see La Boheme," he said. "I've joined enough lost causes in my time. Arthur is a blind prophet."