Pawn in Star wars

Simon Harvey of the SLP

Arthur Scargill’s March 3 letter to National Union of Journalists general secretary John Foster is dynamite. It not only reveals the organisational shenanigans of the SLP and the Morning Star’s CPB, it is a glaring example of the crises of the programme and method of both organisations.

Ostensibly, the letter is intended to “correct distortions” and clarify the position of the SLP for the benefit of the members of the Morning Star’s NUJ chapel. No doubt this is partly so. However, for Scargill to write to Foster - no close ally of the SLP - is no mere bureaucratic formality.

Scargill’s tone is clear. He is reacting to leaks, which he implies came from Mary Rosser, which have appeared in the capitalist press concerning his dealings with the Star. However, in the process he reveals a murky, unprincipled world of wheeling and dealing. After all in December, at the SLP’s 2nd Congress, Scargill was condemning the Morning Star and denouncing any democratic attempt by SLPers to gain control of it through votes at the AGM. Now we see that he wanted to purchase control in July 1997 like a press baron.

Scargill’s letter clarifies a number of other points. Firstly, it gives short-shrift to the rumours and gossip being spread by the Rosser-Hicks side of the Star dispute that the CPB majority around Griffiths-Haylett have been the only ones engaged in secret negotiations with the SLP general secretary. The story from the Rosser-Hicks faction has been that Griffiths is playing the role of a Scargill ‘fifth column’ inside the CPB. Herein lies the basis for Rosser’s claims for loyalty to the British road to socialism programme as opposed to Griffiths’ supposed drift to ‘sectarian’ anti-Labourism. This has been countered by comrade Griffiths with his campaign to rally his followers around the BRS as a central plank to his newly acquired position as general secretary.

However, it is clearly madam Rosser who has been initiating dialogue with Scargill, and on two separate occasions at that. Once, just before the SLP launch, on February 16 1996 and again on July 10 1997 with a plea for the SLP to help the Morning Star out of its critical financial situation.

Scargill saw this as his chance. His own project stagnating, Socialist News hardly influential, via a coup he could, with the support of Rosser and Hicks, gain control of the Star and thus inject much needed momentum to the SLP. The four conditions placed on a financial bail-out of the Star were to give him effective ownership. Naturally this is presented as being no political obstacle by Scargill. He states that: “Representatives of both the Star and the CPB have said that there are really no fundamental political differences between the aims of the two political parties”.

A conversation between Rosser and Scargill at the TUC conference followed a letter to Nell Myers (September 3 1997) which Scargill took to be a rejection of the offer by the PPPS. However, the point must be made that Rosser never reported any of these negotiations with Scargill to the paper’s management committee, let alone a meeting of the CPB’s executive. In a similar manner, Scargill was not discussing any such proposal within the SLP’s NEC. Scargill’s offer of a quarter million pounds to buy-out editorial control of the Star was certainly not known to poor old Alec McFadden, who was given a drubbing by Scargill at the December congress after he praised the Star and dared suggest a democratic takeover.

Scargill closes his letter with a proposal to meet with the NUJ chapel to expand on “any or all” of the points in his letter. To my mind, this probably means that his unappealing offer remains on the table to whichever side is successful in winning at the June AGM of shareholders. The Griffiths-Haylett faction has no interest in giving away ‘its’ broad labour movement paper. The Rosser-Hicks faction is another matter.

For whatever reason, some pro-Labourites refuse to see the truth. I suppose the interests of Blair’s Labour Party always come first. Take Martin Sullivan in What Next? (No7 1998). Obviously unaware of the secret contact between Rosser and Scargill, comrade Sullivan repeats the line pushed by Livingstone in parliament, and Rosser outside, that a “lash-up between the SLP and the Griffiths-Haylett wing of the CPB” is on the cards. Accordingly, he writes: “Whatever their faults, the Rosser-Hicks element do favour a broad labour movement orientation, and deserve critical support against the sectarians”.

I almost feel sorry for comrade Scargill. He may have some mysterious mountain of cash lying around, but both sides are using him as a pawn in the dispute around the Star. However, he is not being claimed as an ally in order to bolster a position. He is claimed as a supporter of the other side to give credence to accusations of disloyalty to the pro-Labour British road to socialism.

Part of the irony is of course that Scargill claims to share the same politics as the CPB, but - thanks to one-time courtier Brian Heron of Fisc - recognises the need for different methods. The twin pillars of the old BRS are the Labour Party dominating parliament and the USSR dominating the world. Scargill at least has the ability to recognise that one is gone forever and the other has changed under Blair beyond all recognition. Scargill may be a ‘British Roader’, but he is saying some new transport is needed. Laughably he believes that the tiny and disintegrating SLP can substitute for both the USSR and the Labour Party.

In the heat of the Morning Star dispute, individuals and groups move in all manner of directions. Griffiths is now a born-again BRS loyalist. He started out political life as a Welsh left nationalist and entered CPB politics as a critic of the BRS. Rosser claims to be in favour of a paper of the ‘broad movement’. Yet her clique’s practice has been to treat the Morning Star as private property, refusing to allow first, the former Eurocommunist majority of the CPGB and then the grouping around Griffiths-Haylett to run the paper.

Because of leaks, Scargill has been forced into print (albeit ‘privately’). His attempts at a quick smash and grab raid on the Star to fix his own problems have been exposed in spite of his intentions. Here is the power of openness.