Andrew Whitaker: Gala day for Labour as Miliband stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Durham’s old guard
LABOUR leader Ed Miliband’s plans for the weekend include a booking to speak at the annual Labour movement gathering the Durham Miners’ gala on Saturday afternoon.
It is now two decades since the last deep mined pits closed in the coalfields of north east England, but the Durham Miners’ Gala – a bastion of Old Labour – is still going strong.
The gala, known as The Big Meeting, is associated with a number of iconic themes, including that of the invited speakers waving from the balcony of the famous County Hotel in the centre of the city as the marching brass bands and colourful miners’ lodge banners pass by.
There is also a gala church service in memory of pitmen who lost their lives over the years, as well as the playing of the miners’ hymn, Gresford, as the gala speakers walk to their place on the platform.
However, what is especially significant about this year’s gathering of the faithful is that it’s the first Durham Miners’ Gala to be addressed by a Labour leader since Neil Kinnock stopped going in the 1980s.
The Labour leaders’ no show carried on during John Smith and Tony Blair’s tenure, despite the former Prime Minister representing a constituency from the county of Durham at Westminster.
Gordon Brown also stayed away from the event, which is heavily supported by north east Labour MPs, party members and trade unionists - many of who saw the leader’s absence as a snub to the party faithful.
Prior to Mr Kinnock’s decision to stay away from the gala– widely seen as an attempt to distance Labour from the trade unions – former party leaders such as Harold Wilson, James Callaghan and Michael Foot were a permanent fixture on the speaker’s platform.
The current Labour leader’s presence this year will be hugely welcomed by most of those at this year’s gala, with the event’s organisers viewing it as helping to restore the gala to its glory days.
Mr Miliband’s decision to attend will also be welcomed by many traditional Labour supporters, who may have been uneasy about the party leader’s suggestion earlier this year that the ties with the unions would be loosened and that he would keep most of the coalition cuts intact should he become prime minister.
It’s not completely clear whether Mr Miliband’s presence signals any sort of policy direction for the party, although, it was recently reported that Labour will go into the next election promising to renationalise the UK’s railways.
Even if Mr Miliband is just making a symbolic gesture, the Labour leader will nevertheless stand shoulder to shoulder with the remnants of the National Union of Mineworkers.
He may well appear a bit out of place alongside some of the old Labour miners union figures. However, most at the gala will be pleased that the Labour leader chose not to ignore the event this year.
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