A fighting Scargill rallies British Labour Party behind him
''We have got food kitchens established in every village. We have had 3,000 of our people injured on picket lines. We have had five of our people killed as they fight for the right to work.''
The fighting talk of Arthur Scargill, leader of the striking coal miners, had the opposition Labour Party's annual conference here on its feet.
Even the gilt cherubs on the balconies of the vast Winter Gardens seemed to be listening as he held his audience spellbound. It was as if he were articulating all the frustrations this party, demoralized by its election defeat last year, felt about Margaret Thatcher's government.
And when a High Court writ was served on Mr. Scargill for continuing the miners' strike, the intervention of the courts made no difference to the mood of the conference even though the union leader may go to jail.
Scargill rallied the Labour Party to his side on two issues:
1. Obtaining total Labour support for the striking miners.
2. Avoiding any equivocation on responsibility for picket violence. The onus was put squarely on the police.
The reception accorded Scargill appalled Home Secretary Leon Brittan, who charged that if there were no violent mass picketing and no intimidation, there ''would be no need for the police to be present.''
The government has made no secret that it wants Scargill and his striking miners, the so-called ''enemy within,'' so discredited the public won't support them. But his success here appears to have undermined the government's strategy of isolating him.
The ''Scargill factor'' is becoming a yardstick against which the principal parties measure their political popularity. On the eve of the conference two opinion polls sent an ominous message to Labour's leader, Neil Kinnock. They associated picket-line violence with him or rebuked him for not doing enough to condemn it.
The result: the worst slump in Mr. Kinnock's ratings since he became leader a year ago.
Some Labour leaders say embracing Scargill is like clasping an asp to their bosom. But the desire to keep Scargill at arm's length for fear he could damage the party's reputation in the eyes of the public could be changing.
Rank and file party members viewed his speech here as his most effective yet. Members of Parliament, trade unionists, and shadow Cabinet ministers said he made considerable progress in closing the gap between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Labour Party.
Some, like former Cabinet minister Judith Hart, felt this speech should remove any doubts delegates might have about him. She claimed the party would lose as a movement if it doesn't stand with the striking miners.
This is the dilemma Kinnock faces: Unless he condemns picket-line violence, he loses the public support he has been cultivating assiduously since the party's election debacle. But if his criticism of the violence is seen as an attack on Scargill, he brings down the wrath of the membership on his head.
Several factors contributed to Scargill's success here:
* This speech was less strident than previous ones.
* He gave the impression he is earnest about reaching a negotiated industrial settlement.
* He has given up the ''go it alone'' stance of refusing to work through and with the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party.
* There are increasing reports that the police, sometimes by their own admissions, have overreacted on the picket line.
* There is a perception the National Coal Board (NCB) mismanaged the dispute with colliery foremen, forcing them to vote to strike. A foremen's strike would close the pits still operating. The dispute is under negotiation.
A source close to the negotiations says Scar-gill is willing to have 12 mines closed over the next three years. Apparently what he objects to is NCB chairman Ian MacGregor's unilateral decision as to which pits to close.
Few would dispute that Scargill gained from his appearance at this party conference, but there is much less unanimity about how the strike will end.
The drift back to work continues slowly but inexorably. Overall, the number of pits closed has fallen below 100, a figure the NCB regards as psychologically important.
Scargill's writ complicates the situation. If imprisoned, he will lose his visibility in the coalfields. But some delegates say his imprisonment would only stiffen the resistance of striking miners.