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Labour leader to address Miners' Gala for first time in 23 years

Miners' leaders have welcomed a decision by the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, to speak at this weekend's annual Miners' Gala in Durham.

He is the first leader to attend the event since Neil Kinnock in 1989. Tensions between the party leadership and the union movement led to John Smith, Tony Blair (whose constituency was Sedgefield in County Durham) and Gordon Brown to snub the celebration, which attracts up to 100,000 people each year.

"The trend which was started 23 years ago by Kinnock in my opinion was detrimental to the people of Durham who've worked relentlessly for Labour candidates, and when people snub the people that support them it's an insult."

– Dave Hopper, general secretary, Durham Miners' Association

Neil Kinnock was the last Labour MP to address the Gala:

Organisers of the 128th Gala are expecting up to 50 bands to march through the city on Saturday, accompanied by around 70 banners.

Tony Benn unveiled one of the new banners to be marched at the Gala. Credit: ITV

Among the new banners at this year's march will one from Felling, Gateshead, which was unveiled on Friday by the former socialist Labour MP, Tony Benn. Children from Lingey Primary School helped create it, to mark the 200th anniversary of the Felling Pit Disaster in 1812, in which 92 people died.

Gala timetable:

  • 8.30 am to 11.00 am: Banners are marched through Durham to the racecourse
  • 12.15 pm: Speeches begin (include Ed Miliband, Tom Watson MP & Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty)
  • 3.00 pm: Service at Durham Cathedral
  • 5.00 pm: Screening of 'Will and Testament', documentary about Tony Benn, plus questions, at Gala Theatre
The Gala used to attract more than 300,000 people each year. Credit: Durham Miners' Association

The Gala, often known locally as 'The Big Meeting', dates back to 1871, and is the largest trades union gathering in the country. At its peak, 300,000 people attended, more than the population of Durham itself. It continues despite the closure of all of County Durham's deep coal mines.

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