Scargill’s GLA slate

Simon Harvey of the SLP

As I recently reported, Arthur Scargill has already ruled out any support whatsoever for Ken Livingstone’s bid to become mayor of London (see Weekly Worker November 25). But now he has gone further, declaring that the Socialist Labour Party will stand candidates despite attempts to unite the left by the London Socialist Alliance and the possibility of an independent pro-Livingstone list.           

The latest Socialist News, the SLP’s bimonthly paper, announces that Socialist Labour “will contest all 11 party list seats in next year’s London assembly election on May 4” (January-December). The article, penned by ‘NM’ (editor Nell Myers), then attempts to justify Scargill’s position.

He is quoted condemning the three main parties, because they all “support privatisation and all are now firmly opposed to public ownership”. By contrast the SLP calls for the London underground to “remain in public hands”, with investment to be “financed by the government, not through the private finance initiative (PFI) or gimmicks such as the issuing of bonds”. Livingstone is the only candidate calling for bonds of course.

It is worth quoting from the piece at some length: “On BBC’s Any questions? SLP general secretary Arthur Scargill was asked who he would support as a candidate for mayor of London ... When pressed about the candidacy of Ken Livingstone for the job, Arthur Scargill said: ‘I would not support Livingstone if he was standing for mayor of Toy Town, let alone London.’ He reminded listeners that Ken Livingstone has said he is not opposed to the ‘free market’, belongs to a party which openly supports capitalism, and also supported Nato’s unlawful bombing of Yugoslavia.

“Prime Minister Tony Blair had alleged that in the 1980s Livingstone, Arthur Scargill and Tony Benn had driven the Labour Party to the edge of extinction. Scargill’s response was that (a) the Labour Party was made extinct in 1995 with the death of clause four and fundamental changes to the party’s constitution, and (b) it was wrong to bracket Livingstone with Tony Benn and himself.”

It is difficult to know where to start in responding to this mixture of confusion, inconsistency and inanity. The party that won the general election by a huge majority and is still enjoying 50% plus support in the polls is described as “extinct”. Presumably Scargill means that it ceased to be a vehicle for working class advance in 1995 - as if the removal of the fossilised clause four and the amendments to the bureaucratic constitution (transplanted wholesale by Scargill into the SLP) suddenly transformed Labour into a party of capitalism. It has been, at least since 1914, a bourgeois workers’ party - totally useless in the battle for socialism.

And how is it that Benn is implicitly supported, when he too “belongs to a party which openly supports capitalism” and has recently made clear his continued loyalty to it? If it was Benn, not Livingstone, who was challenging for mayor, would Scargill back him? It seems to me that it is not only sectarianism that is behind our general secretary’s outburst. He is surely also being influenced by some undisclosed personal clash that has occurred since May 1 1997, when he gave Ken tacit support.

As for Nato’s “unlawful” bombing of the Balkans, if, for example, the imperialists had first declared war on Serbia, would that have made it OK? And what about the snide remark about “gimmicks” that Arthur puts in comrade Myers’ mouth? Perhaps workers should flatly refuse to contemplate ever giving any support to the SLP, since it defends capitalist “public ownership”. Is there really any fundamental difference between a nationalised industry financed entirely through taxation and a nationalised industry empowered to raise additional capital through issuing bonds?

Many comrades, including myself, joined Socialist Labour in 1996 - despite being only too aware of Scargill’s bureaucratic and political failings - because we saw in it the possibility of a mass break with the Labour Party. It did not happen - largely due to Scargill’s own anti-democratic wrecking actions. But in 1999 a potential working class movement is on the cards. Livingstoneism is the most important challenge faced by New Labour - it is powerful because it is backed, albeit passively, by millions in London and beyond. 

Yet, while making his own campaign against tube privatisation the key issue (“Public ownership’s the policy for London,” reads the Socialist News headline), Scargill ignores and shuns Livingstone. This is taking sectarianism to undreamed of depths, even for him. And it is putting leading SLP members in an impossible position.

Scargill’s ludicrous attitude to this whole question was summed up admirably in the double-page report of last month’s final annual congress (the constitution was amended to replace the annual event with three-yearly gatherings) in Socialist News.

After describing the congress as an “outstanding success” (despite the much reduced membership), and passing over in silence the controversy surrounding the constitutional amendment, the paper states: “General secretary Arthur Scargill pointed out that the party’s constitution provides for SLP cooperation with trade unions and other organisations in joint political and other action - but this is a completely different question from that of forming electoral pacts or alliances with other parties or organisations. If people agree with SLP policies, he asked, why not join our party?”

Even ignoring the final sectarian stupidity, his position just cannot be logically sustained. Since when are electoral alliances not a form of “joint political … action”? The article omits to mention that the constitution actually specifies cooperation with socialist organisations.

The SLP announcement on the GLA elections talks only of assembly candidates on the party list. Even Scargill knows that there is no chance of any local campaigning - the London party is reduced to a couple of dozen half-active members. So it is not surprising that there will be no challenge for the constituency seats. But why no announcement of an SLP candidacy for the mayoralty? For all his bluster, is Arthur awaiting the outcome of Livingstone’s campaign to win the Labour nomination?