The 133rd Durham Miners Gala took place in the city centre today. It is a fantastic celebration of the rich history of coal mining in the North East and Yorkshire and, despite the mines being closed for almost 30 years now, the Gala is bigger than ever.
Almost all of the mining communities from the region are represented with their own banners. It really is a special sight to look down through the city and witness the dozens of banners being paraded down through the streets of such a picturesque setting
An estimated 200,000 people flooded the streets for the parade of banners and brass bands. It’s a very early start for the gala, with the first of the 100+ bands setting off from Durham city centre at just after 8am. With many people drinking from around this time, the atmosphere is lively and friendly from the off. The weather certainly was a factor in the huge turnout, bright sunshine and not a cloud in the sky made for a scorcher of a day. The streets of the city centre were rammed and every pub you’d come across is packed all afternoon.
The focus of the Gala has changed in recent years. As well as representatives from the dozens of mining communities from around the country, the parade also consisted of groups from various other groups and unions. These include the Teachers Union and the Socialist Party, giving a good indication of what the gala represents in the 21st century. The LGBTQ+ community was also represented at the gala, on the same day London held its Pride Parade, further evidence that the event has increased in size and popularity over the years. In 2017, the Miners Gala is a gathering of socialist ideals. It is an opportunity for hard working people to come together, meet others of similar background and get behind the new Labour Party in its attempt to wrestle power from the faltering Conservatives.
This celebration of Socialist ideals was topped off with speeches from Labour Party MPs and supporter, the stand out figure being Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. These speeches are one of the main events of the gala, and the Labour leader took his chance to thank the local people for support during the election and to prepare them for the future. Commenting on the turn out, Corbyn said that ‘we stand at a moment of great hope. Why is it a moment of hope? Because we have a Labour leadership that for the first time in my memory stands with the people.’ He went on with more rousing words ‘The wind is in our sails. We nearly won a great victory and we will do next time. This wind is with us. ‘All of this being welcomed with rapturous applause by the thousands on the sun kissed racecourse ground.
Being part of the crowd during the gala really gives you an understanding of how the majority of the people feel. There is an overwhelming amount of pride for the coal mining heritage of the region, as well as a still underlying hatred towards the Conservative Party both past and present. A 10 minute session of people watching will give evidence for this point, almost every other person wearing a pro-Labour or anti Conservative (mainly anti Margaret Thatcher) piece of clothing.
It’s not strictly about the politics, but the way in which Thatcher’s Conservative government damaged the North of England is still bitterly remembered by those at the Gala. The fact that the gala still continues so long after the mines have closed goes to show that the spirit of the mining communities will live on for years to come. From a locals perspective, it makes you proud to be from the north east and eager to spread the word on such a special occasion.