Vote for Europe: Scargill keeps old Labour flag flying

Click to follow
The Independent Online
WHEN ARTHUR Scargill launched the Socialist Labour Party's manifesto for the European elections in London, his disciples guaranteed him a warm reception.

The manifesto presented the SLP, founded by Mr Scargill in 1996, as the only socialist party pledged to bring Britain out of Europe and its leader said the party was the only viable alternative for the working class.

His critics dismiss the SLP as the ASAS, the Arthur Scargill Admiration Society, but at the manifesto launch the assembled giggled at all his jokes, while a woman in the front row with an adoring, beatific expression nodded knowingly at all his insights into the capitalist conspiracy.

Fifteen years after he led the bitter, year-long miners' strike it is still vintage beady-eyed, unbending, didactic ("you know it and I know it") Mr Scargill speaking in London. He ridiculed New Labour Euro candidates with bourgeois interests such as gardening while SLP candidates collect money for Cuba. He derided the importation of coal from countries where it is mined "by children as young as seven".

Trust the hecklers at the back to spoil the party. Members of the Communist Party of Great Britain had been outside the hall before the SLP launch, selling its Weekly Worker, advertising its own election launch and generally subverting. Now two of its members were challenging Mr Scargill to denounce Stalin.

The Weekly Worker's attacks on Mr Scargill, still the leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, have been vitriolic. The SLP, the newest socialist party on the block, is refusing to enter into election pacts with other parties.

The Socialist Alliance, which proposed a joint socialist list for London, has apparently collapsed partly because Mr Scargill's party has refused to play ball. The Socialist Workers Party has decided not to run for fear of splitting the vote but the CPGB is still standing. Driven, perhaps, by the awful reality of its own tiny, and dwindling, membership, the CPGB accuses Mr Scargill of "overwhelming, egotistic ambition".

Truth be told, Mr Scargill, 61, looks good on all the hostility. A few days later on the campaign trail he is insisting the SLP "is not Arthur Scargill's party".

One political enemy from the left insists: "He has a grip on his party that even Stalin would have envied." Another, a New Labour source, claims Mr Scargill called his estranged wife Anne (also an SLP member) to a disciplinary hearing after she distributed material to party members without the permission of the general secretary - one A Scargill. All this Mr Scargill dismisses as "bollocks" and lies designed to discredit.

Of the SLP's anti-European stand, Mr Scargill insists he is no little Englander but "a true internationalist". Resurrecting words that seemed to die with coal and steel, he insists that outside the European Union, Britain could achieve "full employment", and house the homeless. Without Europe it would even have saved coal and steel; an interesting point of view from someone whose bloody-mindedness is held partly responsible for their fall.

Is the SLP not just a seed from which Arthur Scargill can grow a new following after the humbling of the once mighty NUM, and his jettisoning of New Labour? And is his refusal to enter pacts not just evidence that Arthur only plays games where Arthur sets the rules?

Mr Scargill admits no vanity, insisting everything is for the good of the new party and the working class. He boasts that the SLP already "penetrates" the trade union movement more than any other leftist group and that its membership is more than 6,000 (both claims are disputed). It will, he predicts, become a party of mass membership.

"Arthur really thinks he is building the new Labour Party," says an office bearer from a rival leftist party. But the rival clearly has his doubts.

He points out that while the SLP did better than was expected in the recent PR elections for the Welsh and Scottish assemblies, it did not win a seat.

Money plays a part, as does the absence of pacts, in the decision of other leftist groupings not to contest the election. The SLP is fielding 84 candidates in 11 regions at pounds 5,000 a deposit each - a costly, high- risk way perhaps to build a party. But Mr Scargill - and his tactics - are here to stay.

"I cannot spell retirement," says a still proud Mr Scargill, "or compromise."