By Peter Hoskin
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The Durham Miners’ Gala attracts such a left-wing crowd that a trio of Labour leaders couldn't bring themselves to attend it: John Smith, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. The last to do so before them was Neil Kinnock, in 1989, dutifully following on from all his predecessors since Keir Hardie.
But now there's another Labour leader to add to the list of attendees: Ed Miliband. He was at the gala today, and he went with armfuls of red meat for his red-tinted audience. “I remember the 1980s. I remember the lost generation of lost young people,” he said in his speech, by way of a swipe at Margaret Thatcher, before adding that, “now, under this Tory government, we have another lost generation of young people.” And then it was stuff such as this:
“A few years ago the Tories tried to say ‘we’re all in it together’. But now we know they never meant it. Because we have seen what they do when they get back in power.
One rule for those at the top and another rule for everybody else. They cut taxes for millionaires and they raise taxes on pensioners. It’s business as usual in the banks, and small businesses go under.
They try and divide our country between rich and poor. Between North and South. Same old Tories.”
Sayeeda Warsi responded in advance, saying that, “Red Ed is using the Durham Miners’ Gala to cosy up to his militant, left-wing union paymasters.” As well as, “By breaking 23 years of silence from the Labour leadership at the Durham Miners’ Gala, Ed Miliband is handing his party back to Kinnock.” But while the politics behind those comments are all very understandable, I do sometimes think it’s unwise for the Conservatives to be dismissive — even if only indirectly — of a major working-class gathering in a region where they struggle for votes.
Besides, I suspect today’s speech is more likely another sign of Miliband’s growing self-confidence. Early in his leadership he might have agonised and wavered about attending such an event. But now that his tent has room even for Tony Blair perhaps he feels that he can.
Of course, self-confidence can be misplaced and needn’t necessarily translate into votes. Miliband still has numerous weaknesses, including the fact that very few — if any — people in his broadening church would describe themselves as ‘EdMilibandites’. But he’s definitely a different proposition from when he first became Labour leader.