It was before the Berlin Wall fell and when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister that a Labour leader last spoke at the Durham Miner’s Gala.
This year Ed Miliband promised, “It won’t be another 23 years before I’m back.” He added, “I don’t regard it as an electoral risk in any way to speak at this gathering.” Why would it be an electoral risk to speak at a rally of up to 100,000 people?
Tory party chair Baroness Warsi moaned, “Ed Miliband is handing his party back to Kinnock. ‘Red Ed’ is using the Gala to cosy up to his militant, left wing union paymasters.”
This is ridiculous in the extreme—not least in the delusion that Neil Kinnock was left wing or supported miners.
But Labour leaders are nervous about such things. That’s why they stopped going in the first place. The plan was to distance themselves from the impression of being trapped in the past as trade union supporting dinosaurs.
This year union leaders have rightly been grumbling about not getting their money’s worth out of Ed. So Miliband stood on a hotel balcony and waved.
It’s not exactly leading the charge against the Tories. But as always there is more going on.
Last Wednesday another event showed other strings pulling at the Labour Party. For up to £12,500 a table you could go to dinner with Miliband. More importantly, the guest of honour was Tony Blair.
The man who can’t go anywhere without someone shouting “murderer” at him is back. He has been given a consultation role in the party.
Apparently this involves, “giving specific advice on the Olympic legacy and in particular how to maximise both its economic and its sporting legacies”—whatever that means.
But Miliband’s appearance in Durham was deliberate and intended to send a message. Miliband is presenting himself as a unifying force, bringing together different parts of the Labour Party family.
Initially Miliband repeatedly distanced himself from the unions. He hoped to weaken further their link with Labour.
But most of the party’s rich donors abandoned it years ago for the Tories. Some 87 percent of its funding now comes from the unions.
Labour’s leaders are happy to take the unions’ money. They hope that the Tories’ unpopularity is enough to get them elected—without having to actually back resistance to the government.
Whichever way they are facing it won’t be enough. Ordinary people can’t sit and wait for Labour to get re-elected. We need to resist now.