I would first like to extend my deepest sympathy to the husband of Jo Cox, her young children and her wider family and friends who loved. She was an outstanding Memberof Parliament, a deeply committed humanitarian and the labour movement can ill afford to lose such a valued and dedicated comrade.
Jo embodied the spirit of the labour and trades union movement; someone who fought for justice for those who had no voice. She understood the true value of unity above division and the need for international comradeship.
From a miner’s perspective, it is somehow fitting that Bernard Kenny was close to her when she was so brutally murdered. You will remember that Bernard, a 77-year-old former miner, was stabbed trying to protect Jo from her killer. Bernard was a member of the Mines Rescue Brigade and was present at the horrific Lofthouse disaster of 1973. He is a shining example to us all and a credit to the culture of mining communities the world over and we wish him a speedy recovery. We should all applaud his bravery.
It is in that spirit of solidarity and selflessness that we welcome the 132nd Durham Miners’ Gala. It will have a unique place in the history of our Big Meeting.
Not only do we have both a leader and a deputy leader of the Labour Party speaking – the first time since 1966– we also have Frances O’Grady, the leader of the Trades Union Congress giving an address.
It is a far cry from the days when New Labour dominated and Tony Blair refused to attend what is the biggest celebration of working class solidarity and community values in Europe. However, in hindsight, I think it was a blessing that the now totally discredited warmonger, whose actions destabilised the Middle East and gave rise to the so-called "Islamic State", never sullied our platform. It would have been an insult to our mining families and our history.
Three of Blair’s former colleagues, however, did discover the merits of the Gala last year when they were contenders for the party leadership. We were pleasantly surprised when all three asked to speak despite having shown no interest ever before. They were disappointed because the only contenders we allowed onto the platform were both long standing supporters of the Gala – Tom Watson and Jeremy Corbyn, and we are delighted in their successful election.
Jeremy’s election – by a massive majority – is probably the most important political event in the labour movement since 1945. It expressed a total rejection of the discredited New Labour policies of the past, which were responsible for two humiliating general election defeats and an almost total wipeout in Scotland.
Jeremy’s election was an emphatic endorsement of socialist principles. It has transformed a party in decline, wrecked by professional self-serving careerists, into one which could galvanise the country against the imposition of austerity.
Predictably, the establishment has united in fomenting a tsunami of hatred against Corbyn and McDonnell. They are derided as being “out of touch with the electorate”. If this is true then why are the representatives of the rich and privileged so bothered?
Could it be because they fear that the opposite may be true? Do they fear that Jeremy’s campaign against an increasingly unequal society is resonating with an electorate that increasingly expresses a widespread hatred of bankers and tax dodgers? An electorate increasingly disgusted that while those responsible for the economic crisis continue to enrich themselves, the poor and vulnerable are made to pay.
Is it because they believe, as I do, that in a country where tens of thousands of families are reliant on the charity of food banks, Jeremy Corbyn is, in fact, very much electable?
However, opposition from the enemies of working people is to be expected. What is totally unacceptable is the refusal by some Labour MPs to accept the democratic will of party members.
Just when the Tories are tearing themselves apart over Europe these dissidents are doing theirbest to undermine and weaken the leadership. We can only conclude that they would rather see the present government remain in power – carrying out their attacks on working people – than see the election of a Labour Party with a radical agenda.
Those members of the right-wing pressure group, inappropriately named "Progress", have much to answer for in this regard and I believe that they should consider their position before the membership does it for them.
Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader because he is a decent, honest conviction politician and since he was elected the membership of the party has doubled in size.
Let us all get behind him and campaign for a party of a million members.
Let the message of this magnificent Gala be a rallying call for all to unite in the single most important task – to sweep the Tories out of power and elect a Labour government pledged to end austerity and work tirelessly in the interests of working people.
Britain has voted to leave the European Union (EU) and we face uncertain times. After much soul- searching I had decided to vote to remain as I thought that the rightsof working people would be better safeguarded within the EU. However, of one thing we can be sure whether in or out the powers that be will try to make the working class pay for the continuing economic crisis.
Have a great day amongst comrades and a safe journey home.