Chief Political Correspondent
An out-of-court settlement yesterday gave Arthur Scargill a fresh chance to raise his opposition to Tony Blair's change to the Labour constitution on public ownership at next month's annual party conference.
The Labour leadership would rather have not faced a new vote on the issue, which it had thought it settled at a special conference in the spring. But it conceded the case for reopening the debate to the National Union of Mineworkers leader to avoid legal costs of more than pounds 100,000.
Sources close to Mr Blair said: "We'll still win, with an overwhelming majority." But the spectacle of a speech by Mr Scargill on prime time television could offer a propaganda gift to the Tory party chairman, Brian Mawhinney, to attack the modernising image which Mr Blair has given the Labour Party.
The NUM took Labour to the High Court after Mr Blair won approval for changing Clause IV at a special conference in April. It claimed that the conference was unconstitutional.
There was still a dispute last night over who suggested the climbdown. Mr Scargill vehemently denied claims by Tom Sawyer, general secretary of the Labour Party, that Mr Scargill had offered to drop his action in return for a debate at the Brighton party conference.
The conference motion at the centre of the legal action, supported by the Bakers Food and Allied Trades and the NUM, appeared on the final agenda published yesterday. It calls for the whole of the new Clause IV to be dropped in favour of a 13-point programme of aims and objectives, which includes an open-ended commitment to common or social ownership with "the most effective system of administration, control and accountability of each industry and service by the people".
Mr Sawyer shrugged off the legal action and insisted Mr Scargill would be overwhelmingly defeated at the conference. "We accepted Mr Scargill's offer to settle this out of court because one never knows what judges might do in interpreting rule books. We weren't prepared to incur the costs that might have been involved.
"We want every penny that we can get to fight the next election and I just wasn't prepared to put the party's funds at risk in this way," he told BBC Radio 4's The World At One.
Mr Scargill flatly denied the offer to settle the legal action had come from him. "We didnot make an offer to settle. The Labour Party did. Secondly, the Labour Party have now agreed that the constitutional amendment put in April of this year will now be put to the conference in October as it should have been in the first place."
Mr Blair had a personal triumph by staking his leadership behind the campaign to change the old Clause IV commitment to public ownership. The special conference replaced it with a new clause by 65 per cent to 35 per cent. It is likely the Labour leadership will want to get the issue out of the way as quickly as possible at the start of the conference, which runs from 2-6 October.Reuse content