Journal column - 16/7/19

Every Durham Miners' Gala is different and the 135th won't only be remembered for the Royal County Hotel at one point running out of beer, although that'll never be forgotten by frustrated drinkers.


Thirsty grafters, old pitmen, as are brass band players, folk carrying banners, villages on tour and the crowds that stood on the old racecourse to hear the speakers.


Runs a good Big Meeting does Alan Mardghum, Secretary of the Durham Miners' Association, who is taking from strength to strength the country's largest working class political, social and cultural festival.


He's in the mould of the Davys, Guy and Hopper, who saved then revived the Gala as a celebration of the spirit of coalfield communities the Tories tried and failed to kill.


Thatcher and her ilk took away the pits and stripped the jobs but they never beat the defiant people who every year flock into the medieval city for a political jamboree bigger than any royal wedding or Glastonbury.


Alan's blameless when it comes to the hotel beer drought which is more that can be said for some of his parched marras who played a role as customers with their earlier heroic efforts to moisten dry throats.


More seriously I'll remember the 2019 Gala for the magnificent speeches, topped by Jeremy Corbyn – his fourth successive appearance putting to shame Ed Miliband who turned up only once and Gordon Brown and Tony Blair who did none, zero, zilch between them – with his call for unity when a General Election may be on the horizon and the prospect of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.


I salute my Parliamentary colleagues Laura Pidcock for her barnstormer, Rebecca Long Bailey and Shami Chakrabarti plus trade union leaders Len McCluskey (Unite), Dave Prentis (Unison), Dave Ward (CWU), Kevin Courtney (NEU) and Doug Nicholls (GFTU).


Each was a pleasure to hear and the rain didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the Northern masses, the sun coming out for Jeremy prompting a few drops about perhaps he's really the messiah. I was just relieved the downpour wasn't heavy enough to test whether he could walk on water.


The Gala is a busy, hectic day for Jeremy, but he made time out of his busy schedule to meet with my young constituent, six-year-old Merryn, who identified the Labour leader as her hero in the hit Channel 4 television show The Secret Life of Five Year Olds, a moment she will undoubtedly treasure forever.  In fact, despite the demands on his time he asked Merryn’s Mam Rachel if she would like a cup of tea!  


The past nine Tory years, including those supported by the Liberal Democrat austerity collaborators from 2010, have been tough for the North East with ideological cuts into the NHS, schools, councils, police, fire – you name it, the Conservatives, cut it. 


First Cameron then May and now Johnson, because I don't think Hunt's got a chance, push through nasty assaults on services such as the welfare state and take money from people in our region who can't afford to lose it.


It was the North East that suffered heavily through the decline of manufacturing Britain when many thousands of jobs were lost in shipbuilding, steel and coal.


It was the North East that suffered some of the worst effects of the miners’ strike more than three decades ago, ravaging coalfields across the region, and all the towns and villages represented last weekend.


The political decision by Tory leader Margaret Thatcher to try and break our region was as much a bad choice as Tory austerity to hammer public services.


The same is true of anti-trade union laws to bog working people and trade unions in expensive bureaucracy and perpetually threaten potentially ruinous legal action.


Many of those people who worked in those pits and shipyards now work in our public services serving the proud communities the Conservatives tried to destroy.


Yet the North East, which has been through more than most, is also a region that knows the importance of fighting back.


Jeremy Corbyn knows that. It's why he comes back again and again. And I'll guarantee that when he's Prime Minister, Corbyn will continue returning to the Big Meeting. He loves the North East and the North East loves Jeremy Corbyn.



Meet your MP


Stephen Hepburn has served the Jarrow Constituency as MP since 1997.

He was last elected to serve in June 2017 and won the seat with a conclusive 17,263 majority.

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