Election '97: Scargill gets personal over Newport seat

Socialist Labour Party leader to stand against 'turncoat' Alan Howarth
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The Independent Online
The Red Flag is being unfurled in South Wales where Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party's is taking on "turncoat" Alan Howarth.

Mr Howarth, the Tory MP who in 1995 crossed the floor to join Labour has been given Newport East, a constituency which looks as safe and solidly new Labour as the imposing Lysaght Institute, where the SLP leader launched his campaign for a seat in parliament.

Ironically, the institute is something of a monument to capitalism; the Lysaght family were once powerful steel masters in the area.

From a stage in the institute's ballroom, backed by ruched, peach-coloured curtains which looked as though they had been borrowed from the set of Strictly Ballroom, the Australian film in which the Terpsichorean old guard gets its comeuppance, Mr Scargill delivered a vintage performance.

The National Union of Mineworkers' president told an audience of nearly 200 that he had decided to stand because Mr Howarth had been a member of a Conservative Party bitterly opposed to trade unionism in general and the miners in particular.

"Was my decision to stand in Newport East personal?" he boomed rhetorically. "You bet your life it's personal."

Mr Scargill lashed new Labour at regular intervals during a speech lasting almost an hour. "It's said you can't put a cigarette paper between Tory and Labour policies. I wouldn't contaminate a cigarette paper by trying to," he said. The choice in the constituency was between a Tory mark one, a Tory mark two (Mr Howarth) and a true Socialist.

Question time brought Paul Flynn, MP for Newport West to his feet. In a Daniel in the Lions' Den performance he defended the man who, barring a political earthquake, is destined to become MP for Newport East on 1 May.

"If I had been asked to name MPs who commanded most respect, I would have named Alan Howarth. I've been stirred by Arthur on several occasions but when you look back at the destruction of a great industry and a great union, the union must shoulder some of the responsibility," Mr Flynn said. There were growls of dissent when he affirmed: "A Labour government is infinitely better than any Tory government."

Bitter words flew across a floor more accustomed to dancing than political invective. Declaring he would switch to the SLP, John Cooksey, a GMB union convenor sacked recently by the local council, asked irately: "How did we manage to get Howarth?"

The answer, as Mr Flynn pointed out later, was that the Stratford-Upon- Avon MP won selection on the first ballot in a one-member one-vote contest conducted under the sort of security which makes new Labour seem as fireproof as Fort Knox.

The inauguration of Mr Scargill as one of the SLP's 60 or so standard bearers on 1 May produced a handful - perhaps a dozen - new recruits, and a parade of left-wing newspaper-sellers.