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Miliband first Labour leader in 20 years to attend Durham miners' gala

Michael Crick | 16:23 UK time, Friday, 25 March 2011

Ed Miliband, who will speak tomorrow at the TUC's big anti-cuts rally in London, has also accepted an invitation to speak at this year's Durham Miners' Gala (on 9 July).

He'll be the first Labour leader in more than 20 years to speak at the Durham gala, which was once one of the great events in the Labour movement calendar. Even though the Durham coalfield no longer contains any pits, the event still attracts tens of thousands of people to the centre of Durham on the second Saturday in every July.

The city's narrow streets are full of brass bands, miners' union banners, and Durham families enjoying a good day out. In the middle of the afternoon the National Union of Miners (NUM) and political leaders speak at a rally on the Durham Racecourse ground, known as the "big meeting".

The last Labour Party leader to address the Durham miners' annual summer event was Neil Kinnock in 1989. Before then every leader in Labour Party history had attended, either as leader (and PM in Attlee and Wilson's cases), or before they became leader.

And it was politically important that they went, for the Durham miners were once a major force in the land, and especially within Labour politics.

But Tony Blair managed to avoid speaking at the gala during the whole of his 13 years as leader, even though he was MP for a Durham mining seat, had once lived and gone to school in Durham, and regularly used to attend before he became Labour leader. Indeed Blair once described the gala as the "salt of the earth of the Labour movement".

But once he became leader Mr Blair seemed to decide it was too "Old Labour", and not the kind of event with which he wished to be associated. The first year Mr Blair declined to attend, 1995, he was instead preparing to go and visit Rupert Murdoch in Hayman Island in Australia.

The following year, 1996, he and his family used the gala weekend to visit the grand prix at Silverstone as guests of Bernie Ecclestone, who subsequently became a big Labour donor. The symbolism is wonderful!

Durham gala organisers used to invite Tony Blair every year, though with a growing sense of futility. Towards the end of Mr Blair's premiership, they say, he simply stopped bothering to reply to their invitations.

Nor did Gordon Brown ever speak at the gala.

So Ed Miliband looks set to revive an old Labour tradition, though his critics will no doubt say - as with tomorrow's TUC rally - that this shows he's too close to the trade unions, who got him elected Labour leader in the first place.

UPDATE at 1750 GMT:

My old friend Tom Fairbrother pointed out a "logical inconsistency" in an earlier version of this blog. I had mixed up "attending" the gala with actually speaking at it, and so have amended it accordingly.


  • Comment number 1.

    Michael, you are right to say this is significant, and a signal which is not necessarily going to be viewed positively by those outside the Labour movement. And it is certainly highly debatable whether attendance tomorrow is a good idea. More detailed discussion of the latter in my Labour Uncut article here.

  • Comment number 2.

    I am not a supporter of any political party but can see that there is too homogenous a feel between the main ones. This action by Ed M must surely be a good thing to help widen the perceived ideological width of the mainstream.

  • Comment number 3.

    Risky tactic if the protests turn violent

  • Comment number 4.

    Whilst it is good news that Ed iss. attending it is scandalous thet no Labour leader for 20 years had attended. The links between the party and the unions should be celebrated and both sides should be proud of these links. The fact that "new labour" betrayed the beliefs of the party to cosey up to big business and to weaken the links to the unions was a grave mistake. Ed Milliband is at last demonstrating what the party members have wanted for 20 years.

  • Comment number 5.

    'Ed Miliband, who will speak tomorrow' (Guessing basic HTML is no longer an option to help clarity?)

    He seems to be doing this a lot. Or at least getting coverage every time he opens his mouth.

    Not sure how much more I can take.

    Especially if it is claiming with faux concern divisions having been created by policies based on fiscal legacies he is very much to be associated with, whilst alluding to certain groups with the specific intention of creating divisions.

    Certainly a man with many standards.

    With the right national PR and budget behind him, he may well go far. Not so sure about where that would drag the rest of us.

  • Comment number 6.

    why do we keep 'getting involved' what do we ever get out of it? Can Iraq be called a 'success'? Is Afghanistan a roaring triumph? After a week doubts are starting emerge about Libya with nations getting cold feet as it is all so openended with very little leadership....quit now, from all of it, we might even save a tenner...

  • Comment number 7.



    I watched a tank die
    Killed from above – in the dark.
    No contest – the plane won.
    Cowards and heroes
    All look the same
    Given a green light.

  • Comment number 8.

    Mmm A Labour leader wanting to stay in touch with the grass roots, this will be novel

  • Comment number 9.


    I cannot see the relevance to the topic, but are the deeds of the politicians ordering the pilot into action any worse that the deeds of the tank commander and his political director in using a tank against unarmed civilians? Implying the pilot is a coward is a very unworthy comment

  • Comment number 10.


    No wish to offend; I intended a broader philosophical point.

    Off topic - yes. Mission creep; lot of it about. These threads used to invite posters to opine freely, in addition to NN themes.

  • Comment number 11.

    He who's party is deep in debt (£10 million?) and is no longer being as richly rewarded by the suckers (UK Taxpayers) as it was when his party was ruling over us doesn't have the luxury of being able to chose his friends and allies.

    The Conservatives used to remind us that Sinn Fein and the PIRA were one and the same thing. They don't need to remind me this morning that Labour and the TUC are similarly bound like Siamese twins by an anachronistic ideology that quite frankly is little more than an affront to human intelligence. Tweedle dumb and Tweedle dumber! lol

  • Comment number 12.

    And so the choice in the dumbed down arena of UK politics is for a Labour leader to be accused of being Tory-lite or Socialist Worker, but under no circumstances anything vaguely sensible in between.

    Meanwhile in a less Tellytubby view of politics, might it be sensible for the leader of any political party to look after the core vote aswell as looking to make inroads into the wavering voters. Labour let this slip away, starting in 2001 with low turnout, 2005 as Iraq kicked in and then finally 2010 when the waverers started to switch sides and Labour had lost too much of its core to survive in govt.

    For the Tories they have still not succeeded in tempting enough waverers. Thats why starting with the May elections, Labour will be able to start their comeback much earlier than anyone would have expected (clearly assisted by a LD collapse too).

  • Comment number 13.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 14.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 15.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 16.

    The TUC created and own the Labour party. They themselves can only justify their parasitic relationship with the workforce that pays them by being seen to being delivering what the late Mick McGahey declared were the true mission of a trade union leader namely 'more money for less work'.

    The TUC have lost the private sector and now are clinging on in the public sector where, even now, there are still gullible people that believe governments have a bottomless pit full of money they somehow dream into existence.

    However, the TUC now believe that the future of their self-serving parasitic job-destroying organisation is in mortal danger owing to a small window of opportunity before the next election for the coalition to introduce the much needed tax cuts, provided that they pursue their present policy of reducing government expenditure aka the cuts.

    This is what yesterday was all about. It was nothing to do with the cuts, or even the stated aim of the march which has been altered by the BBC but was originally stated to be 'in support of the alternative', as no credible alternative has been proposed. It was all about the TUC fighting for it's own self-interest nothing more.

    The disgusting scenes yesterday were dutifully broadcast by the media including the Unite union/BBC News alliance, now predictably blamed by them on the police they had deliberately put in a no win/can't do right for doing wrong dilemma.

    The TUC originally said they planned to have a million marchers. On the day they hardly managed a quarter of that and had the BBC say that morning that 100,000 were expected to allow them to say the turnout had exceeded their expectations.

    I know it's tempting for them to begin believe that our memories for the details of the news is about as short as a week but there are those of us that do remember their original announcements concerning yesterday's march. They make them look even more pathetic in their attempts to squirm out of a missing 750,000 on the day.

    Last night (don't shoot the messenger) I heard the first stirrings of a right wing backlash. Civil war was even mentioned! OK it's probably nothing but the Left and people who still believe in the TUC/Labour alliance should remember the Newtonian Laws of Motion, especially the bit about every action having an equal and opposite reaction.

    To me this country is hopelessly divided at every level and in every way. There is no consensus and never will be. Not so much a case of 'too deep too soon' but more 'why bother, we've had it anyway whatever we do'. But hey if the coalition want to organise a march in support of the austerity policies, and in condemnation of the tactics of the opposition I might just fancy a week-end in the capitol!

  • Comment number 17.


    If Westminster's primary concern were the 'human condition' in these islands, politics would take a very different form than it does at present.

    Think of the Milgram and Zimbardo experiments. Then consider the degree of UNCONTROLLED POWER that Westminster has over us - and 'be afraid'.

    I am in process of trying to 'take on' Westminster, regarding the electoral lies of the Conservative Party. Winning votes with lies is no small matter, but government is configured to thwart justified enquiry and confrontation.

    I know the truth of this. It is not democracy under the Rule of Law.

  • Comment number 18.

    Ed Milliband should have stayed in Durham and give Hyde Park a wide berth. He spoke right at the beginning of the March when the Park had around 5,000 people there, not the 300,000 claimed by the Labour spinmongers. He also talked complete tripe. To liken the March to the anti-apartheid protests is ridiculous. The anti-apartheid protests were the black majority protesting against the often violent oppression of the white minority. Not really the same as approximately half of 1% of the population protesting about a program of cuts to get the country out of the debt hole that HIS government got us into!! Where is his sense of perspective.

    How these Labour shadow ministers that were up to their necks in the last administration have the cheek to speak out against the Coalition on this matter is just incredible. If they wish to be a decent opposition, why don't they try putting forward some decent policy alternatives?? Because they have none?

    I also think he should distance himself from the TUC and their threats to bring mass industrial action to the country. That is really NOT going to help. Why not kick the country when it's down!! The TUC were very quiet when Labour were spending every penny the country had. They were very quiet when Labour began to mount up the debt the country had, yet now they appear to be economically savvy enough to state that the coalition cuts won't work. What a bunch of clowns. How can anyone take them seriously. The unions are a dinosaur from the 1970's, and Miliband has now hitched his wagon to them. Nice one Mr Ed.

    As for the violence - both Mr Ed and the TUC should have known that would have happened, but I doubt they care. In fact, secretly a bit of public disorder works into their hands nicely. I'm beginning to wish David Milliband had won the Labour leadership - he'd have been bad news for the Tories, but less dangerous to the country tham his young far more stupid brother.

  • Comment number 19.

    One wouldn't necessarily mind a Red Ed Miliband if he had just a gram of charisma?

    Whether he, or his team are writing what he says - who knows?

    What is increasingly embarrassing is that Ed Miliband appears to have no innate 'emotional intelligence' or personal ability to connect to any people on any level.

    So, as a Prime Minister in waiting? No future.

    While writing, I am also critical of Nick Clegg - the less he says the better he looks - or so he thinks? Again. what a let down - what a disgrace is the Deputy Prime Minister who has no grasp of the importance of his role? If he does, where are his gonads?

  • Comment number 20.


    The one that Magus-Tony ingored (well - 'you can't just do nothing') to join the war on Global Evil, now apparently focused in Iran. (See Tony's final fervour.)

    Incidentally: analogous to the UN CIVILIAN PROTECTION remit, that will get Gaddafi targeted, the Chilcot Enquiry remit is to LEARN LESSONS! Lesson ONE: politics in Britain elevated to dangerous potential, the DELUDED, NEEDY and SMALL-MINDED Tony Blair. Will Chilcot step out of the lie?


  • Comment number 21.


    "electoral lies of the Conservative Party. Winning votes with lies is no small matter"

    Care to expand further on these lies?

    Remember the Conservative will have had to renege on some of their manifesto objectives because they are in a coalition government, just as the Lib Dems had to concerning tuition fees.

    The last government could be have said to have also lied when a referendum on the Lisbon treaty was promised in a manifesto and was then axed on the flimsy pretext that it wasn't a constitutional issue.

    I can usually tell when politicians are being perfidious- I look to see if their lips are moving!

  • Comment number 22.

    The Durham Miners' Gala - or 'Durham Big Meeting' as it is known locally - used to be a big carnival event in the north-east. It was very much for the whole-family - a working class counterpart to the Lord Mayor's Show.

    As I worked nearby, I attended in 1982. I recall rather more people being on the parade than listening to the speeches! There was a very effective poster which you can see on this video featuring Alex Glasgow's song "Close The Coalhouse Door".

    Our mines have closed, for better or worse; but each year, thousands of miners in China still pay "the price of coal" providing the energy to produce OUR cheap consumer goods.

  • Comment number 23.


    Unfortunately he comes across as an upper class twit - that does not really resonate with his audience.

  • Comment number 24.

    re. 23
    There appears to be tsunami of inverted snobbery sweeping across this country, no doubt initially triggered off in no small part by the 'Playing-fields of Eton' remarks of Gordon Brown in the run up to the last election. Such incitement to class hatred and mistrust would not have been approved of by his predecessor who spoke of wanting to make the UK a 'classless society'.


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