Saturday, 12 July 2014

All Roads Lead To Durham

Kevin Maguire has just tweeted the bemusement of Jeremy Paxman at the crowds in Durham tonight.

It was very good to hear Seumas Milne on the new edition of his magisterial The Enemy Within, as she had the effrontery to term veterans of the Second World War, Korea, Malaya, and so on.

She was buried with full military honours, despite never having served in any of the Armed Forces. Unlike "the Enemy Within".

In a few hours' time, the Lanchester banner will be marched for the first time since the Sixties.

See you there:

The 130th Big Meeting taking place in Durham today holds a special significance.

It is 30 years since the great miners’ strike of 1984-5, the defeat of which plunged Britain into a long Thatcherite night of neoliberal economic madness, spiralling inequality and industrial decline.

Thatcher’s government and its successors removed regulation of the City of London in the so-called Big Bang, directly causing the reckless speculation that prompted the financial crash of 2008 — which in turn inspired the new class war on Britain’s working people we now know as the era of “austerity.”

Slandered by Thatcher as “the enemy within,” the striking miners showed more courage and patriotism than the Tory Party ever has.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) came close to breaking the Conservative government.

Its tragic failure to do so is behind many of the deepest problems Britain faces today — mass unemployment as the new normal, the enormous and unaccountable power of big corporations trumping the democratic voice of working people, underpopulated ghost towns which had been thriving, productive communities.

But through it all, the proud spirit of the miners and their families lived on — and there is no better demonstration of that than the annual Durham Miners’ Gala. 

Last year’s Gala was the biggest in 60 years, with 120,000 people thronging the historic city to celebrate its mining heritage 20 years after the last Durham coalfield pit was closed.

It was a stunning achievement considering the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) had been hit with a £2.2 million bill for court costs following the loss of its legal fight to win compensation for thousands of its members who had developed “miners’ knee” due to years of toiling underground hewing the coal that fuelled Britain’s economy.

As DMA secretary Davey Hopper explains on these pages, Britain’s trade unionists and progressives have responded to the financial challenge that resulted with the same generosity and solidarity our readers show each day in donations to the Morning Star’s Summer of Heroes campaign.

Let’s hope today’s Gala is even bigger than last year’s, cementing Durham’s place as home to the largest labour movement festival in Britain.

Because the Big Meeting is not merely a remembrance of things past, or even simply a great day out.

This week NUM general secretary Chris Kitchen was in Parliament in a last-ditch effort to save Britain’s two remaining deep-pit coalmines.

True to their idol Thatcher, Tory ministers are happy to spend £10 million on shutting down the mines and abandoning those who work them but are refusing to countenance stepping in to help them stay open.

They are driven by the same anti-worker instincts we see in every field of government policy and which provoked Thursday’s massive public-sector strike.

The tens of thousands at Durham today reinforce the strike’s message that Britain’s working class is still here, still strong and still fighting for a better world.


  1. You from the floor: My dirty little secret is that I once briefly worked for the Telegraph. The man who sacked me has just been sacked.

    Milne: They all are eventually.

    You: They are certainly all being at the moment.

    1. That was only the introduction to my remarks, as you may recall. My main point was that even The Guardian never had working-class MPs and other such voices in it.

      He told me afterwards, after he had asked what I was doing these days and I had told him, that being a freelance was "a noble calling". I shall remember that...

      Now, how much of the media will be in Durham today, and how much of the proceedings will get onto even, say, RT, which I have contacted by several means to try and incite to report? We shall soon see.

    2. I loved your line that the Mail and the Telegraph "love everything about the white working class apart from the white working class".

    3. Completely off the cuff.

      Now, we both need to sleep before the Big Meeting, a big day.

  2. Milne obviously admires you. Even those 7 weeks when the Telegraph employed you were a big influence on political debate. Damian Thompson must have been scared stiff on seeing he had picked one of the greatest political thinkers in Britain today.

    1. Nice try, luv, but this afternoon I had one of the most surreal experiences of my life, marching with the Lanchester banner down Saddler Street after the Cathedral service, and trying to explain to two people who had been there last night that I was not in fact Seumas Milne.

  3. You have been marching?

    1. That is what prescription painkillers are for.

      It will take me a good week to get over today. But it was very, very, very well worth it.

  4. I loved the sight of you processing into the Cathedral right behind Pat Glass. Sharp use of your walking stick could have made all the difference.

    1. Pat is marvellous.

      They should have Pat as a main speaker one year.