IN a dramatic break with 150-year-old tradition, this year’s Durham Miners’ Gala will not feature any leading politicians.

Instead, their places on the County Hotel balcony and on the platform at the racecourse will be taken by key workers.

It prevents Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, from having to decide whether or not to be seen at an event that is associated with trades unions.

Ross Forbes, director of the Durham Miners' Association, said: “Keir Starmer was invited but I understand he has another engagement. I can assure you that there’s no political issue here. We really want to focus on key workers. We are not having any high profile politicians.”

The gala will take place on July 9 after having missed two years because of the pandemic. Up to 200,000 people are expected to attend to see the colourful and tuneful parade of mining banners and brass bands through the streets to the racecourse where speeches are delivered.

This year, the general secretaries of unions which represent key workers – Unite and Unison, the private and public sector unions plus the teachers’ NASUWT and the university lecturers’ UCU – have been invited to give the key speeches.

“The hotel balcony will be given over to key workers rather than the Labour hierarchy,” said Mr Forbes. “That’s a real break with tradition.”

The Northern Echo:

Jeremy Corbyn on the County balcony in 2017.  Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

In recent decades, guessing whether the Labour leader would attend the gala, which was first held in 1871, has become one of the main focus of the event. John Smith, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown all did not attend, with Mr Blair’s absence being especially controversial as he represented a Durham mining seat. However, in 2012, Ed Miliband became the first leader since Neil Kinnock to address the gala, and Jeremy Corbyn spoke on four occasions, often to an enthusiastic reception.

“We expect this year’s gala to be big because it has been away for two years,” said Mr Forbes.