DURHAM Miners’ Gala – we should be properly possessive of that apostrophe – began as it has several times previously with buckshee bacon sandwiches at the Voltigeur in Spennymoor.

Most of the lads are enjoying a restorative beer. “It’s only me third,” says the column’s old friend Hodgy. It’s only half past seven.

No less traditionally, there’s meant to be a short service at 8am in the nearby Jubilee Park, the only problem that the council’s forgotten to unlock the gates.

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The mayor’s anxiously on his mobile. “Mebbe there’s a picket line,” someone says, fraternally. Finally we’re in, as they say at the Big Meeting. The Rev Matt Tarling leads prayers, the town band plays Gresford, the miners’ hymn; corpulent, the day’s first Corbyn T-shirt is spotted.

Hodgy’s still rueing the lock-out. “I could have had another pint,” he says.

Poignant occasion for George Courtney

IT’S a lovely, sun-blessed morning. The plan’s to walk eight miles across country to Durham with former World Cup football referee George Courtney and eventually to attend the 3pm miners’ service in the Cathedral.

For George these occasions are particularly poignant: his pitman father died from a heart attack, aged 50, at Mainsforth coal face.

We walk through Cow Plantation, down the litter-lout lane to the former Nicky-Nack guest house, through the verdant Salvin estates and in Shincliffe woods through some serious clarts.

“Hansel and Gretel woods,” says George, obliquely. Perhaps Hansel and Gretel were hippopotami.

We’re filthy. What if the Cathedral has a dress code? What if it has a new carpet?

Past Maiden Castle, we’re at Durham City Cricket Club – John Smith’s Smooth, £3.50 – by 11.15. In on the bus, Hodgy and some of the Spenny boys are already topping up outside.

One’s Terry Schofield, a former professional boxer – “known as The Candle,” says Hodgy, unkindly. “One blow and he was out.”

George says that in order to get a seat in the Cathedral it’s necessary to be there 90 minutes before the start. It’s not going to work for me: speakers you find, I want to hear Jeremy Corbyn.

'Fall in love, don't fall in line'

THE field’s thronged, the accustomed A-Z of T-shirts. Workers’ champions from Nye Bevan to Arthur Scargill are remembered, another says: “Fall in love, don’t fall in line.”

Corbyn’s emblazoned across many Socialist sternums, Messrs Blair and Miliband across none whatsoever. As the afternoon progresses, indeed, it becomes clear that most speakers believe there to have been a Conservative government every day since 1979.

A warm-up act sings about mole skin trousers and miners’ pay – it’s always mole skin trousers and miners’ pay – but on a 70 degree afternoon who needs warming up?

A chap tries quite hard to sell me a “Corbyn in, Tories out” badge. I decline. Journalists have to be seen to be impartial, don’t they?

The mood’s euphoric, vibrant, unequivocally triumphant. When ever was there a reception like this for the side that came second?

All the room to manoeuvre of a pit pony on a tight rein

SPEECHES start at 12.50pm. I’m standing in the noonday sun, 75 yards from the platform – 75 yards to the left of Len McCluskey – all the room to manoeuvre of a pit pony on a tight rein.

Bill Kellett, Durham’s mayor, recalls seeing Clement Attlee at the Big Meeting – must have been 1946. There are those who believe Attlee to have been the last Socialist prime minister.

One by one, perhaps never more greatly than at the Big Meeting, they preach to the converted, not so much pushing at an open door as steering a vast herd of red deer through it.

It may be harder to hook a duck on the fairground out the back than it is to proclaim Socialism at the Durham Miners’ Gala.

Many recall David Hopper, the DMA leader who died just a few days after last year’s gala. “Davey Hopper was a unique master of the English language, particularly the part which originated in old Anglo-Saxon,” says Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack.

Most speakers are union leaders, most impressive if pretty predictable orators – the same old Tory, it might almost be supposed, but that’s the other lot, isn’t it? There’s much talk of Momentum: whether capitalist or lower case, there seems little doubt that it’s with them.

“Austerity is just another word for class war and we’ve had enough of it,” says Clare Williams, Unison’s northern regional secretary.

It sets the mood. “I haven’t had a smile off my face since June 8th,” says Unite general secretary McCluskey, adding to much applause that Blairism is “unequivocally” dead at last.

Left-wing film maker Ken Loach is another speaker – “an unimaginable honour,” he says. You can tell he’s a thespian by the contemptuous way in which he takes five seconds to enunciate Iain Duncan Smith.

The throng has a three-word chant, the first “Oh” and the second and third “Jeremy Corbyn.” The sentiment may be fine but the lyrics are a bit threadbare and the tune’s awful.

It’s nearly half past two when the deer leader is ecstatically introduced and rapturously received. Already the speakers have taken as long as a football match and without the saving prospect of a pie and a Bovril at half-time.

I’ve walked eight miles, multi-tasked – even the pictures seem to have come out half-decently – supped two pints of John Smith’s Smooth and may have a face much the same colour as the People’s flag.

What about the workers, Mr Corbyn?

HE rises at 2.28pm, levitates thereafter, announces that he’s wearing a Keir Hardie badge, though it’s not possible to see it from the general vicinity of the Mr Whippy van.

The speech is pretty much formulaic – “You don’t cut your way to prosperity, you invest your way to prosperity” – but powerful and passionate, nonetheless.

“The Tories went into the election thinking it would be a walk in the park,” he tells them. “In the end it was a walk in the dark, a nightmare.”

It’s almost on the stroke of three that something extraordinary, probably unique, happens – the Labour Party leader is stopped in full flow, though from this distance it’s hard to see why.

Is it because the St John Ambulance are concerned that the people are flagging? Could it be because banners are already being lifted and headed for home? Maybe they’ve just remembered that Jeremy needs to be at the Cathedral, though the Bible says – almost says – that you can’t serve God and Momentum.

Those closer to the action suggest that the platform has been infiltrated by a lady in a suitably red dress, probably wishing to propose holy matrimony to the gentleman.

Booing laps the Racecourse. Corbyn is heard asking to be allowed to continue, announces that he’ll “finish on this” – the third time that he’s used the phrase, and at approximately three-minute intervals.

The speeches finally end at 3.10pm, though it takes another hour to struggle the mile to the railway station. Not quite a three-foot seam, but a hard shift, nonetheless.