Monday, 16 July 2012

The Big Meeting And The Big Tent

Burnhope's restored banner depicts Durham Cathedral, and those of us proud to march under it included not only the Labour but also the Independent County Councillor for the Lanchester Ward that includes Burnhope, and not only Labour Parish Councillors from both villages, but also an Independent Lanchester Parish Councillor with Burnhope connections, me. Pat Glass MP was also there, prompting MPs on the balcony to point: "Oh, look, there's Pat Glass." Pat waved, and they waved back. Her two-year-old granddaughter had a whale of a time dancing to the brass band and applauding whenever it finished a set.

In which vein, as ever the speeches had to hold their own against the fairground attractions and the drinking. But as ever, they did so. Even Ed Miliband telling a hundred thousand people, plus the television cameras, that he was going to reopen the mines (and he really did say that) was not as big a story as John Hendy QC telling a hundred thousand people, plus the television cameras, that Rupert Murdoch had lied to him under oath at the Leveson Inquiry. Tom Watson was not only rapturously received, but he also made a speech which had some people in tears. If there were to be a Deputy Leadership Election, then he could give even Jon Cruddas a run for his money.

Watson was not the only speaker to denounce Rupert Murdoch as the Labour Movement's enemy continuously throughout his involvement in British affairs. Indeed, only Ed Miliband, and the two Spanish miners' leaders speaking through an interpreter, failed to do so. It was never quite stated, but obviously meant, that Murdoch's support for Tony Blair only served to prove the point. This was applauded by the Leader, who did not correct the chairman, Davey Hopper of the Durham Miners' Association, after he had called for the purge of Progress while introducing the Leader's speech. Tony Benn puffed away. Open air or no open air, only he could still get away with that.

Shami Chakrabati compared being invited to address the Big Meeting to becoming a mother, and Mark Serwotka was a speaker despite his union's recently having voted to fund its own parliamentary candidates, while Bob Crow was also on the platform that featured Ed Miliband, with Tom Watson repeatedly calling for both the RMT and the FBU to reaffiliate to Labour. There was no heckling or anything like that when he made this call; he was really announcing an impending fact rather than making a suggestion.

Whereas Serwotka's PCS is not and has never been affiliated, and his presence as a speaker alongside Miliband and Watson strongly suggested that such candidates are only going to be put up against sitting Blairite MPs or anyone of such mind who might somehow manage to be selected as a PPS, an extremely unlikely event in view of the composition of the veto-wielding National Executive Committee these days. In other words, the PCS  candidates will be the official Labour candidates in all but name, loyal to the Leader of the Labour Party while their nominally Labour opponents are not.

When Ed Miliband's speech came, it called for the rejection of divisions between the public and private sectors, emphasising the dependence of each on the other. There were dutiful recitations of Labour's past achievements, but that and the promise on coal were the main points. I could have written it, and people whom I know probably did write it. It was delivered on a platform featuring, just out of sight of the close-up cameras, an advertisement for the Morning Star, repeatedly commended by Davey Hopper as "our only alternative". The Guardian can take that. A bit unfair on the Mirror titles, though. But even so. After all, even of those, only The People backed Ed Miliband for Leader, although its then Editor has since been moved up to overall charge.

That day's Morning Star, delivered free at the expense of the organisers to those attending an event addressed by the Leader of a Labour Party with a commanding poll lead, featured two articles by sitting MPs first elected in 2010, Grahame Morris on why Miliband was right to turn up, and Ian Lavery on why the future of British energy was coal, exactly as that Leader said in his speech, placing the next Prime Minister in precise agreement with a man who until two years ago was President of the NUM as the chosen successor of Arthur Scargill.

That newspaper also informed the reader that in the elections to the MPs' Section (yes, the MPs' Section) of the National Executive Committee, the poll had been topped by Dennis Skinner, which is not bad for 80 years old, with the other two seats going to Margaret Beckett and to Steve Rotheram, former Lord Mayor of Liverpool and "the only brickie in Parliament". Although not mentioned, the only other candidate was the fiercely anti-war Yasmin Qureshi.

Two of the three successful candidates voted against Second Reading of the Lords Reform Bill, and all four candidates could be described as at least broadly Eurosceptical, in Skinner's and Beckett's cases, at least, firmly so. Two were first elected to Parliament in 2010, and the other two have been there since the Year Dot. Mind the gap. I repeat that this was the Section for MPs only, just as the one in which Progress was recently routed and Ken Livingstone given the top spot was for "ordinary members" only.

Also featured in the Morning Star, "Incorporating the Daily Worker", "For Peace and Socialism", was an article by Canon Dr David Kennedy of Durham Cathedral, whose coped figure I ribbed gently about it later on, although his only complaint was that he had not been able to get hold of a copy, since by the time that he had made it into the city centre only the Socialist Worker had still been available and its vendors had not taken kindly when he had asked them where he might obtain the Morning Star.

It had asked him: it had specifically wanted an article explaining the Cathedral Service. Well, of course it had. That will have surprised no one who knew the first thing about these things. Probably including Baroness Warsi, although she would never admit it. David did not answer when I asked if the Cathedral Sunday services would now be listed in every Saturday edition, as in the Daily Telegraph. To which I can only say, to him or to anyone else: don't ask, don't get.

The Service was fabulous, with the Lord Bishop of Durham blessing the banners of Burnhope and others. With a reading from the Book of Job by Rodney Bickerstaffe. With a sermon by a moving, and visibly moved, Dr Leslie Griffiths, Labour peer, sometime President of the Methodist Conference, and retired Superintendent Minister of Wesley's Chapel, London. And with Jerusalem at the end. Of course. Just as the Miners' Hymn, Gresford, had been played before the speeches, with the whole platform standing in silence for it. Of course. Again, to anyone who knows anything about these things...

From rural Independent Councillors marching under a trade union banner, to a Residentiary Canon of Durham Cathedral penning an article for the Morning Star at its request, to the Leader and another Shadow Cabinet member speaking from the same platform as the Director of Liberty and as a General Secretary whose unaffiliated union will be funding its own candidates, to that Leader's denunciation of rivalry between the sectors (and the regions) explicitly and thus of rivalry between the classes at least implicitly: the Alternative Coalition around Ed Miliband that became obvious on paper at the local elections became very obvious indeed in solid flesh at the Durham Miners' Gala. And, one trusts, at the Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival, too. These last two days will be remembered, and more than remembered, for a very, very, very long time.

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