DCSIMG

In the court of King Arthur

Miners' leader Arthur Scargill has lost none of his fiery enthusiasm for the class struggle, as YEP reporter Peter Lazenby discovered

ARTHUR Scargill is at war again. This time it is a war of words with the former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, who chose the 25th anniversary of the start of the miners' strike against pit closures to mount an attack on the former miners' leader, accusing him of leading miners "into the jaws of defeat" during the 15-month dispute.

Kinnock also again raised the vexed issue of the lack of a ballot before the strike – although Yorkshire's 60,000 miners, who were the first to down tools, voted by a margin of 86 per cent for strike action three years earlier over the issue of pit closures.

There seems to be no such thing as water under the bridge, or letting bygones be bygones, where these two politicans are concerned.

But Neil Kinnock should have known better than to prod Arthur Scargill on the occasion of the strike's 25th anniversary.

Mr Scargill grasped the first public opportunity he had to reply when he addressed around 400 miners, friends and supporters at the annual memorial lecture for Davey Jones and Joe Green, two Yorkshire miners who were killed on the picket line during the strike.

The lecture took place in the council chamber at what is now the headquarters of the National Union of Mineworkers in Barnsley.

Arthur Scargill was in his element: a packed, sympathetic audience, home ground, the place he honed his public speaking skills as a pit delegate to the union's Yorkshire Area Council.

Neil Kin-nock quickly became the "Welsh Windbag" – an abusive nickname given him during his Labour Party leadership days by sections of the tabloid Press.

Mr Scargill railed against Kinnock for alleged lack of support during the strike – support which had come in earlier miners' disputes from two of Neil Kinnock's predecessors, Michael Foot and Harold Wilson.

"If he had done that he would at least have showed an ounce of integrity," said Mr Scargill, warming to his theme. He went on to accuse Neil Kinnock of treachery, of attempting to organise coal shipments to a steel works in Wales as the strike went on.

He switches, as he often does, into speaking of himself in the third person.

"He said the lead-ership of Arthur Scargill was mainly responsible for miners not succeeding in that strike," he said. "Well, if he wants to talk about failure and success, it is pretty rich coming from a man who led the Labour Party to defeat against the worst Prime Minister in living memory."

Betrayal

Mr Kinnock was not Mr Scargill's only target. There was a verbal attack on the police, on the Thatcher Government of course. Other union leaders were accused of betrayal, leading to the defeat of the miners – though there was praise for the tens of thousands of who mobilised in support of the miners, collecting food and money, and for the Women Against Pit Closures groups, without whom the strike might have crumbled long before it did.

Of course, none of this is new, and Mr Scargill could be accused of refusing to let go of the past, of acting like a dog with an over-gnawed bone.

But for Mr Scargill the strike is still alive. He is still living with its effects. And he will not let it go.

After the lecture, which was also addressed by Mark Jones, father of young Davey, who was killed on a picket line in Nottingham – a death which has still not been explained – Mr Scargill walked through the labyrinthine network of corridors and stairs which led to his small office in the NUM headquarters.

Anyone else, after the adrenalin of a well-received public speech and a standing ovation, might unwind, relax, talk of other things.

Not Arthur Scargill.

"I'm still in contempt of court from 1984," he said, referring to a case to do with the strike. "I still haven't apologised."

Throughout the strike Mr Scargill was vilified by most of the media.

But after the strike something more sinister happened. As if the defeat of the miners was not sufficient, five years later a campaign began against Mr Scargill and his co-leader of the NUM Peter Heathfield, accusing them of dishonesty, of using union money for themselves – accusations which were eventually condemned as utterly unfounded.

The concerted media campaign might have broken other men. Indeed, Peter Heathfield's health suffered greatly, and he never fully recovered.

But Arthur Scargill remains defiant, even as the attacks and criticism continue today.

"The criticism has gone on for 40 or 50 years," said Mr Scargill, who is now 71. "A socialist, an old socialist, once told me, 'Arthur Scargill, if ever they stop criticising you, if ever they stop trying to ridicule you, you are not doing your job'."

Stitch-up

But just for once, Mr Scargill admits to having been affected by the accusations, showing maybe just a hint of vulnerability.

"When they began with their stitch-up in 1990, that was a difficult period," he said. "It is very difficult to explain to people what it is like to be accused of something of which you are not guilty. It took two and a half years for Peter Heathfield and I to prove every one of those scurrilous allegations wrong."

The strike and all that followed had other effects on not only his own life, but those closest to him.

His marriage to Anne ended. The couple had been independent campaigners, she a founder of the Women Against Pit Closures movement, a political campaigner in her own right. Mr Scargill mentioned her name among several other of the women campaigners in his speech to the memorial gathering.

Today Mrs Scargill remains fiercely loyal to her ex-husband, refusing any and every opportunity to speak of their marriage and its eventual breakdown.

Mr Scargill envelopes himself in his work. Although he holds only an honorary position as President of the NUM, he is also a paid consultant. His office is surrounded by files of work several feet high.

He continues to lead the Socialist Labour Party, which he founded in 1996 after the Labour Party dropped the political commitment at the very core of its being – public ownership.

He also has other strings to his bow though. As President of the International Energy and Mineworkers' Organisation he is a delegate to the United Nations, though he does not attend.

He is at home in the Barnsley NUM headquarters. The Victorian building was originally the offices of the Yorkshire miners, from a time when more than 100,000 worked in the pits of Yorkshire. Its history can almost be felt.

After the council chamber has emptied, many of the audience, including miners and NUM officials, made their way to Barnsley Trades Club, where entertainment, a buffet, and social gathering had been organised.

But not Arthur Scargill.

"I never go," he said. "It's not my scene."

 
 
 

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