Short-lived celebration

Arthur Scargill is cock-a-hoop over the Socialist Labour Party result in the February 14 Ogmore by-election. The SLP general secretary is of course justifiably pleased at Chris Herriot's 1,152 votes - his share of the poll (6.27%) has only ever been bettered by one SLP candidate contesting a parliamentary seat: Imran Khan, who gained 6.76% in East Ham back in the 1997 general election. But an even greater cause for satisfaction is the fact that Socialist Labour's return in Ogmore eclipsed the performance of the Welsh Socialist Alliance, whose candidate, Jeff Hurford, won just 205 votes (a meagre 1.12%). Scargill regards the destruction of the Socialist Alliance as his most urgent immediate task. It is the SA which stands in the way of his ambition to be Britain's labour dictator and prevents the SLP from claiming to be the left-of-Labour force, particularly in elections, in England and Wales (the Scottish Socialist Party has already well and truly deprived that claim of any credibility north of the border). After the Socialist Party walkout from the alliance at the December 1 2001 conference, the great leader issued a statement declaring, "The Socialist Alliance ends in tears" (see Weekly Worker January 10). Obviously, if that was the case, the SLP would not have to worry about the SA wanting to contest elections any more - perhaps that is why the SLP ignored WSA approaches to stand a single candidate in Ogmore: the SLP comrades in Wales clearly thought the communications came from impostors, since they had been told the alliance no longer existed. It must have been another blow then when the words 'Socialist Alliance' appeared on the list of nominations. Before the by-election the SLP had no branch and only one member in the whole Ogmore-Bridgend area (ironically some sections of the SA still insist that to contest a seat where you have no established base is impermissible). Of the eight people who turned up to support comrade Herriot at the count, the six SLP members, including the candidate, were from Newport or Cardiff. The other two were a local Irish republican sympathiser and a member of the left nationalist Cymru Goch - a component of the WSA. Quite a contrast to the substantial support for the WSA campaign pulled in from the local area. So what accounts for the good result for the SLP? Undoubtedly the fact that Ogmore lies in the heart of what was once a huge coal-mining area was the main factor. This is 'natural' Scargill territory and the SLP campaign was centred around his militant reputation, deservedly won during the miners' Great Strike of 1985-85. To their credit, the small band of SLP helpers managed to distribute two leaflets in the biggest working class estates, in addition to the election address delivered by Royal Mail to all voters. The first leaflet was headed "Do you make your grandparents proud?" and played on tradition and old loyalties. All three gave much space to NUM-type issues, including miners' compensation and the question of the local open cast pit. And of course they all featured Scargill's picture - as though he was the candidate, not comrade Herriot. As a result of the campaign, the SLP has gained a handful of recruits. If, however, experience elsewhere is anything to go by, they will not last long. Scargill continues to pick up ones and twos, but others drop out - mostly they simply stop paying their dues. Consequently real membership has remained static for the last couple of years at around 400 mostly inactive individuals - down from well over 2,000 enthusiastic comrades in 1997. Thanks to his mysterious source of funds, Scargill is able to ensure that the SLP appears to the uninitiated like a fully functioning party, especially at election time. But in reality at most levels it is defunct. The few functioning branches hardly ever meet, the national office is seldom staffed and the website has been abandoned (last posting: September 22 2001). In addition the deadly dull Socialist News - supposedly bimonthly - is becoming more and more infrequent. Not surprisingly, all this leads to profound demoralisation. A good example is in the capital itself, where regional secretary John Hayball has just resigned from his post. He has been telling all and sundry that it is all very well having a structure, but not much use without any members. In fact there are around 90 in London (on paper, that is; only a couple of dozen engage in any SLP activity), but amazingly not a single recruit was made from the 13 general election contests in the Greater London area, just as nobody joined as a result of the previous year's London assembly campaign. Just about all of our high-profile members have abandoned ship - Bob Crow, Mick Rix, Pat Sikorski, Imran Khan, Louise Christian "¦ One of the latest to leave the fold is a certain Dave Skinner, a parish councillor who defected from the Labour Party and stood for the SLP in Hull West and Hessle in the general election. Scargill thought that councillor Skinner's recruitment was such a coup that his photograph featured prominently in Socialist News last year. However, unfortunately for our general secretary, 'comrade' Skinner has moved on once again. According to the Hull Daily Mail, he said: "The ideals and community values of the Liberal Democrats are the same as my own. I have found them to be honest and effective in getting things done for people" (February 9). Hayball and Skinner represent two offshoots of Scargillite sectarian fantasy: the disillusionment of honest members on the one hand and the use of the SLP as a staging post by petty careerists on the other. Scargill may have beaten the WSA in Ogmore, but a worthwhile socialist force can never be built using his methods. He ought to lead his dwindling band of followers into the Socialist Alliance - the potential core of a united working class party.