I have just returned to London after an extremely busy weekend at Durham’s 128th Miners’ Gala. I had an absolutely fantastic time. I was very proud to welcome Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party, to the event. He was the first Labour leader to speak at the event since Neil Kinnock in 1989. I think it is great that Ed recognises the history and the importance of the Miners Gala, and came up to show his support.
Many of you will have been at the Big Meeting on Saturday, and will know that the day saw more brass bands and more banners than before- it created such a great buzz around all of the city centre, with families and friends travelling in from all across Durham and from much further afield as well. Luckily the weather just about stayed dry, and there were even a few rays of sunshine spread across the day. There were around 70 banners and fifty bands, ranging from the colliery banners of the villages in my constituency to trade union banners from across the whole of the UK. It was particularly great to see the new banners from Brandon, Women against Pit Closures, Burnhope, Felling, Heworth and the Durham Recovery Banner. These show that the history of the Miners Gala is still very much alive and that in fact it is increasing in relevance- with the new Durham Recovery Banner showing the various stages that people face when seeking to overcome an addiction.
It was also great to see so many Councillor and MP colleagues and Party Members walking in with their banners. Unfortunately I had to leave the Brandon Banner behind, after there were so many in the procession that it took them five hours to get from Silver Street to the cricket field! As always, many speakers spoke of their pride in mining heritage, the strength and unity of the trade union movement and the rich history which Durham plays in this. When the crowd assembled to listen them speak, the feeling of pride in our mining heritage covered the whole of the cricket field.
Thankfully, all of the speakers talked about the damaging impact the Government’s policies are having on ordinary working families up and down the country: policies such as trebling tuition fees for higher education and introducing loans for further education, policies such as raising the taxes that pensioners have to pay whilst reducing the tax millioners pay and policies such as privatising the NHS. Ed Miliband spoke about the values of Durham and the values of Britain: responsibility, community, fairness, equality and justice. A good summary of his speech can be found here- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-18839252. Many people caught me after the speeches to say how impressed they were with Ed’s speech. Afterwards, he visited the Labour Tea Tent to meet the volunteers who had been selling sandwiches and snacks all day long. They had even kept him back a scone!
Finally, I think it is important to thank the many people who make the Miners’ Gala a great success, year after year. I would like to thank David Hopper, George Robson, Alan Cummings and everyone who helped organise the event and who came along to enjoy the day. David Guy, the Durham Miners Association President, was unfortunately not able to attend due to serious illness. Dave is an incredible man and I know that many people were thinking of him as they enjoyed Saturday’s events.
This year we had the added benefit of witnessing the unveiling of a statue on The Miners Hall the day before the Gala. The sculpture of ‘The Miner’, by Arthur Fleischmann, had been very kindly donated by the Arthur Fleischmann Foundation. Arthur’s wife Joy attended the unveiling and spoke candidly about the work of her husband- his worldwide travels and how he had fled from persecution several times. It is great that the statue will now have its home in the Miners Hall, allowing us to celebrate our mining heritage.