Durham Miners' Gala: Ed Miliband visit 'timely'

Durham Miners' Gala Ed Miliband will become the first Labour leader since Neil Kinnock to speak at the gala

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On Saturday tens of thousands of people will gather for the 128th Durham Miners' Gala.

Among them, significantly, will be Ed Miliband.

The Labour leader will speak at the Big Meeting - a celebration of the region's mining heritage and links to the trade union movement.

Mr Miliband will become the first party leader since Neil Kinnock to address the crowds.

He had been due to attend last year but pulled out because of "other commitments". It was widely suggested he did not want to appear with RMT union leader Bob Crow, who was at the event.

Decades on from pit closures that hit wide parts of the region, veterans of the National Union of Mineworkers will mingle with families with organisers hoping for a crowd of 100,000.

Analysis

On a sunny day 23 years ago Neil Kinnock addressed the Durham Miners' Gala.

Three years later he snatched, as some saw it, "defeat from the jaws of victory" at the 1992 general election.

Ever since 1989 no leader of the party has spoken at the gala. John Smith, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown stayed away.

Ed Miliband will break that silence.

His appearance is significant: the votes of union members were crucial in giving him the advantage over his brother David during the Labour leadership election.

So Mr Miliband can't ignore those who put him where he is today; union members. But he'll also be aware political opponents who have dubbed him "Red Ed" will point to his appearance at the gala as evidence he's in hoc to the unions.

Mr Miliband will hope at least that on Saturday one thing mirrors 1989 - the weather.

Dave Hopper, secretary of the Durham Miners' Association, said: "The Gala is still as relevant as it's ever been. It's the only mass working-class demonstration left in the country."

Craig Dawson, 21, who chairs the County Durham Young Labour group and grew up in Sacriston, remembers going along for a day out with his family.

Mr Dawson is aware of a group of call centre workers from Peterlee, belonging to the GMB union, preparing to march underneath their banner.

This, he thinks, shows how the gala has changed, with new generations working in modern-day mass industries now attaching themselves to the event.

"It couldn't have gone on as a simple mining event because we don't have any mines left," Mr Dawson said.

"Although the pits have closed it's become a symbol of pride for the community to have the banners on show."

Organisers are hopeful Mr Miliband's appearance will boost the attendance.

Mr Hopper said: "We'll welcome him here, it's 23 years since we last had a Labour leader.

"They all should have been here. Blair and co did a complete disservice."

Ed Miliband The Labour leader had been due to attend last year before pulling out

Mr Hopper said people in the North East were waiting for politicians to convey a positive message.

"I think it's time we go back to the values of honesty and caring for people," he said.

"We've got to pick up this cudgel and start campaigning to change society back.

"I always thought it was the ambition of society to improve and make progress, we've gone back in a lot of ways in the last 15 years.

"Let's hope we get a message of hope and inspiration on Saturday."

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