Simon Harvey of the SLP

London comes clean

It is now more apparent than ever, following our poor showing in recent elections, that the Socialist Labour Party is rudderless and bereft of ideas.

Up to last year the SLP was considered by many workers to be a suitable recipient for protest votes - especially in view of the prestige of general secretary Arthur Scargill as a militant trade union leader and class fighter. Amongst the more advanced workers - not least the organised left - Scargill's allure had of course long since faded, in the light of his now widely known (thanks largely to this paper) dictatorial and sectarian actions as leader of our party. Now, it seems, the reputation of one man is not enough to maintain the SLP in workers' eyes as the potential alternative.

In June 1999 our vote in Scotland was slashed in the EU elections after Tommy Sheridan's victory in the Scottish parliament poll the previous month. Workers looking for an electoral home plumped for the Scottish Socialist Party as a more viable organisation north of the border. And on May 4 2000 the Greater London Authority elections demonstrated that the London Socialist Alliance is now the main leftwing force in the capital. The SSP won four times as many votes as we did, while the LSA achieved double our total. In all likelihood there will be an LSA-type organisation emerging across Britain to contest the general election, which would surely put paid to the SLP as any kind of electoral force in any part of the country.

Scargill has no answer to this turn of events, stubbornly ignoring all calls for a united challenge and insisting that the SLP will continue to go it alone. He likes to claim that the drastic membership loss (down from 2,000 in 1997 to around 300 today) is all the figment of my fevered imagination. But, from what I hear, the true state of the party has been officially revealed - in one region at least.

At last weekend's annual conference of London SLP, open to all members in the capital, regional secretary John Hayball informed the 18 comrades who mustered the energy to come along that the London membership figure had been over 400 three years ago. Last year it was down to 100, but now it is "below 100", he announced. This was despite our 1999 intervention in the Euro elections, when three million election addresses were distributed free by Royal Mail, and the standing of a GLA slate last month, backed up by a more modest 100,000 leaflets handed out by the remaining semi-active comrades. Comrade Hayball apparently told the conference we had recruited a handful of people who had contacted national HQ at Barnsley. And last week, for the first time since he became secretary last October, he had received a telephone call directly from somebody enquiring about membership.

The meeting - in Southall's Saklatvala Hall - was attended by delegates representing just 39 paper members 'organised' in five constituency SLPs. I am told that an increasingly demoralised comrade Hayball - reluctantly re-elected as secretary, as there were no other takers - advised the massed ranks that we should "stop banging our head against a brick wall", as Londoners did not want us. Instead the SLP should concentrate on campaigns outside the capital, such as "reopening the mines", and end all talk of standing any more than two London candidates (in constituencies where we could count on some support from the Indian community) at the general election.

Needless to say, this was not the message that regional president Harpal Brar - himself the editor of the Indian Workers Association bimonthly Lalkar - wanted to hear. The London region would not accept just two candidates, he declared - instead we would put up "a lot". To restrict ourselves to such constituencies would be to give the wrong message - we are not just a party that only Indians support. The London SLP bank account may, according to comrade Hayball's report, show a balance of just £147.39, but comrade Brar was confident that we could raise the necessary cash.

Besides, only the SLP was a "principled Marxist party". The LSA may have had similar bullet points in the GLA elections, but the difference was that they were "not sincere". This was proved by their backing for Ken Livingstone (this hoary old line is in truth all that Scargill and Brar are able to resort to in their desperation to excuse the crass sectarian refusal to work with other, increasingly more powerful, forces on the left).

Comrade Brar, a dedicated devotee of JV Stalin and an influential member of the national executive, turned next to the membership losses. Yes, we were now smaller in numbers, but for him it was a case of "good riddance to bad rubbish". It seems that in comrade Brar's mind the 300-plus ex-members were all Trotskyite saboteurs - although he was of course too discreet to come out with such an opinion at an open meeting.

He was equally tactful when committee member Steve Cook proposed that the SLP should call a fringe meeting at the Socialist Workers Party's 'Marxism' event in July - in order to "expose the counterrevolutionary nature of Trotskyism". Comrade Hayball, who had approvingly quoted Trotsky in his opening remarks, objected to this - "the SLP is above all that". Comrade Brar remained silent on the matter.

This proposal was one of the few half-hearted ideas for activity put forward by members. There were no motions.

In addition to comrade Hayball, Brar was re-elected president unopposed. Also unopposed was Deborah Lavin, the new vice-president. The only new committee member is comrade Rod Finlayson, an active trade unionist at Fords, Dagenham and a recent recruit to the party, proudly displayed by comrade Brar.

All outgoing committee members who stood again were also re-elected, including RMT assistant general secretary Bob Crow, who had attended only one of the five committee meetings held since last October.