THOUSANDS of people have enjoyed a sun drenched 130th Durham Miners' Gala where tributes were paid to two leading lights of the Labour movement.

The traditional parade of banners from former pit communities, trade unions and brass bands converged on the historic city's racecourse for the annual socialist event.

Guest speakers all mentioned the passing of Tony Benn and Bob Crow, who died within days of each other in March and were popular orators, each appearing several times at the Big Meeting.

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Derbyshire MP Dennis Skinner, the Beast of Bolsover, gave a passionate 20 minute speech calling on The Labour Party to come up with policies that would create a fairer society and bring an end to the Coalition Government at the next general election.

The 82-year-old former miner said: "This Big Meeting inspires me. I think Cameron didn't know about this place when he talked About the Big Society.

The Northern Echo:

"I have coming here since 1978. It is inspiring. I know that when I come back here there will be a warm reception.

"There are two people who have left us, Tony Benn and Bob Crowe and if they were here they would be cheering and that is what Durham means to us all.

"Never let the spirit die. Let's start building the manifesto, the Durham manifesto, for Tony Benn and Bob Crowe."

Mr Benn, the former veteran Labour MP who renounced his hereditary peerage, spoke at 20 Galas and also attended when he was not one of the speakers.

Mr Crow, general secretary of the RMT transport union, delivered a call from the platform at last year's Gala for unions to form a new political party to fight for their interests.

GMB general secretary Paul Kenny, Mick Whelan, general secretary of the rail union ASLEF, Steve Gillan, general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, and Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers all praised both men for their dedication to left wing politics.

The Northern Echo:

Dave Hopper, secretary of the Durham Miners Association, which organises the event, said: "We have had a grim tale of tragedy among some of our supporters. 

"We have lost some of the best fighters the working class has ever seen and it is a sad day today that these people are not here today, enjoying the day with us."