A ROW over the safety of Tory MPs who choose to attend Durham Miners’ Gala erupted yesterday after one of the organisers warned they might need police protection.

Durham Miners' Association secretary Alan Mardghum said there would be security concerns if the new Conservative politicians representing the region attended the annual celebration of working class culture.

The Big Meeting attracts 200,000 people a year, and is one of the largest socialist gatherings in Europe. Anti-Tory rhetoric is popular among crowds who have not forgotten the impact Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies had on the Durham coalfield communities.

Richard Holden, who replaced Laura Pidcock as MP for North West Durham, said he would like to attend, despite the security warning.

The Northern Echo:

Richard Holden

He said: “I don’t see any reason why not.

“Dehenna (Davison) and I are very keen to go along. I have said I would when asked during the campaign and I do not see any reason not to. I have been very clear on that.

“I think it is a silly veiled threat.”

Mr Mardghum, coining Boris Johnson's use of the phrase, said he "would rather be dead in a ditch" than invite Tory MPs to the event.

The Northern Echo:

Dehenna Davison

But last night Conservative Dehenna Davison, who replaced Labour's Helen Goodman as Bishop Auckland MP in last month’s General Election, said: “Mr Mardghum’s lack of willingness to engage with County Durham’s new MPs speaks volumes.

“In December, across County Durham, more people voted Conservative than Labour, and there are now four of seven Conservative MPs.

“Throughout the campaign, I spoke to countless former miners and descendants of miners who felt the Labour Party was no longer their home, and many of whom voted Conservative for the very first time.

“The motto of the NUM is ‘the past we inherit, the future we build’.

“The Gala is a chance to celebrate our past, and despite our political differences, I would be happy to sit down with Mr Mardghum to talk about how we can build a better future together.”

Durham Miners’ Association has also said everyone is welcome to attend, regardless of how they voted in last month's poll, which saw the Labour Party suffer its heaviest defeat since 1935.

Formal invitations are sent to those who support the Gala and the labour and trade union movement, but, said Mr Mardghum, the newly-elected Tory MPs have made no contribution to the event, and would not be invited.

The Northern Echo:

Alan Mardghum

Mr Mardghum said the DMA has a duty of care to keep all people who attend safe and liaises with police and other authorities as part of its security arrangements.

Mr Mardghum said: “The current political climate has polarised many and feelings are running high.

“It is only advisable that anyone in public office seeks advice from the relevant authorities.

“Our position is one of responsibility to the thousands of people who take part in the Gala.

“It certainly is not an implied threat to any specific group of people who may wish to attend.

“We work the year round with Durham Constabulary, fire brigade and other emergency services to make sure the event runs smoothly.

“It is, after all, a fantastic celebration of the heritage and culture of the people of the Durham coalfield.”

Last month, the General Election saw many MPs in former Labour strongholds lose their seats to the Conservative Party as part of a historic landslide victory.

The day after the so-called red wall across the north of England turned blue, Boris Johnson visited Sedgefield where he pledged to repay the trust of the voters from working class communities who he said had "lent their votes" in the national poll over Brexit.

The Prime Minister was asked by The Northern Echo if he was now planning to attend the Gala, to which he replied: ‘I’ll do my utmost’.

Boris Johnson: 'I'd wish I could attend'

Mr Mardghum said: “Conservative MPs have never attended the Durham Miners Gala as official invitees or, as far as we know, the parade itself.

“None of them have ever supported the DMA or Gala.

“The idea that we should invite them now is simply ludicrous and was started by a cheeky question from a journalist.

“This issue is not of our making.

“If they wish to attend along with the people of County Durham and other supporters they are entitled. It is a free country.

“We do, however, have a binding duty of care to ensure the safety of everyone at the Gala. That includes MPs of all parties.”