By Gavin Havery
July 7, 2017 - Gala fever is growing in the North-East ahead of the biggest Durham Miners’ Gala in England in a generation.
Over 200,000 people are expected in the city center tomorrow (Saturday, July 8) for the biggest gathering of trade unionists in Europe.
Jeremy Corbyn, who defied critics when he consolidated his position as Labor Party leader during the recent General Election campaign, will be addressing crowds on the Racecourse at around 2pm.
People from across the country are arriving in the city in preparation for a weekend commemorating the region’s coal mining heritage and discussing socialist ideas.
Former miner Denis Doody, 62, from West Yorkshire, said: “I have been many times, but this will be the biggest of the Big Meetings for a long time.
“I enjoy everything about it. The speakers, the atmosphere, the brass bands, the culture, the history, everything that is associated with the former coalfields.”
Thousands of young people, many born after the last pit closed in the North-East who have never experienced the brass bands and banners of a Big Meeting, are expected to attend to hear the 68-year-old Islington North MP.
The veteran socialist, who delivered an electrifying speech to tens of thousands of young people at Glastonbury Festival recently, earned their respect with the optimism offered in his crowd-pleasing manifesto aimed at millennials.
Charlotte Austin, 18, from Bishop Auckland, who is studying history at Oxford University, said: “People are very excited about Jeremy Corbyn and what he has to say. He has finally given young people something to believe in.
“The gala is a brilliant time to reflect on out past, see where we are going in the future and to bring our whole community together.”
The gala, which in recent years was derided for being out-of-date looks set to enjoy the biggest numbers since the heyday of the 50s and 60s.
Social worker Graham Grundy, 59, from Peterlee, said: “It want to hear people singing the Jeremy Corbyn song, loud and proud for Durham. I want people to know that County Durham is rooted in socialism. We will prove it tomorrow. We will show the world.”
The first gala, held in Wharton Park in 1871, was born out of trade unionism among miners of the Durham Coalfield and staged to show solidarity and share political ideas.
Alan Cummings, general secretary of Durham Miners’ Association, which organizes the event, said: “The gala is a celebration of mining culture and history but there has always a political side and more and more people are staying to listen to the speeches.
“Last year was the biggest crowd I have even seen on the Racecourse and I expect it to be even bigger this year.
“Jeremy has tapped into something. His was one of the best manifestos I have seen out of the Labor Party in a number of years.
“Jeremy has grown even more in the last five weeks and he has attracted support from people who would have not thought about it previously.”
“Hopefully we have got the next Prime Minister speaking here.”
Mr. Cummings has taken over from the late Davey Hopper, who died aged 73 a week after last year’s gala, having described it as ‘the best ever’.
As well as the celebrating recent labor movement successes, the gala will be tinged with sadness at the passing of the socialist stalwart who organized the event for over 30 years.
Mr. Cummings said: “Davey supported Jeremy from day one and it is sad that he hasn’t lived to see what has took place in the couple few months. That socialist principal is something Davey always believed in.
“He will be up there with Davey Guy smiling because it has come around to his way of thinking.”
This will be the 133rd Big Meeting, and although the pits have been closed for a generation the sense of community and class struggle remains.
Mr. Cummings said: “It is community-based event and is celebrating the rich mining heritage and culture of the area.
“It has now got a wider appeal and I still get a real buzz from the gala.
“It re-invigorates the soul and recharges the battery. We have people from all over the country and all over the world coming, sometimes for the first time.
“But they keep on coming back and that is because there is something magic there on the day.”
The 129th Durham Miners Gala in Durham City, England