Socialist film maker Ken Loach is attending his first Durham Miners' Gala next month. Gavin Havery spoke to the I, Daniel Blake director ahead of the Big Meeting on Saturday, July 8

DESPITE a lifetime of left-wing activism, Ken Loach has never been to Durham Miners’ Gala, one of the biggest gatherings of trade unionists in Europe.

Footage from the annual event has appeared in his films over the years, but he has never personally witnessed the brass bands parading through the cobbled streets of the historic city, or seen the speakers on the racecourse.

With the Labour Party enjoying a surge in popularity under leader Jeremy Corbyn, this year’s event is set to be one of the biggest ever.

Organisers of the 133rd Big Meeting are expecting crowds of up to 200,000 people, far more than usual due to the ‘Corbyn factor’.

And with the left buoyed by the groundswell of support following a better-than-expected General Election campaign, the atmosphere is set to be highly charged.

A good time then for the 81-year-old to make his debut as a speaker.

Loach says: “I am very grateful that they have asked me to come.

"I am enjoying the fact that we seem to be on the move but am very aware that there issues we have got to deal with. There is a lot to deal with before we are really in power.”

Loach, who was born in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, and studied law at St Peter’s College, Oxford, has made his career highlighting social issues in his hard-hitting films over a 50 year period, from homelessness with Cathy Come Home in 1966, to labour rights in Riff-Raff in 1991 and privatisation in The Navigator in 2001.

He has worked extensively on television plays and documentaries, motion pictures for the big screen, announcing his retirement in 2014.

It was to be short-lived, however.

A General Election a year later saw David Cameron win an outright majority, putting an end to the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition.

Loach came out of retirement to make a film about those caught in poverty, dealing with the results of an increase in austerity and changes to benefit sanctions.

I, Daniel Blake earned the director his second Palme D’or at Cannes Film Festival, and while some Government ministers argued it was far-fetched, the film struck a chord with many people.

Loach says: “There is an ideology behind it which the Tories cannot accept.

“That unemployment and poverty is brought about by their economic system. They have to demonstrate that if you are poor it is your own fault. If you have not got a job it is because you have not filled in the form correctly, therefore you have to be punished.

“You are punished by having your meagre income stopped and if that means you have to go hungry then so be it. They cannot accept their economic system is flawed.”

The film initially was a hit with a left-wing liberal audience and sold out arthouse cinemas around the country when it was released.

It was held up by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as example of the impact austerity measures were having on real people and Daniel Blake, played by Geordie comedian Dave Johns, became the face of Government cutbacks.

Loach says: “It has genuinely transcended that original audience. It was extraordinary, the film, as it far exceeded anything we imagined and it is funny how some films just take off.

“We were lucky that it did but it is because a lot of people recognise that it is true. There is something empowering about being acknowledged whether it is a film or a book or whatever.

“Seeing your situation acknowledged and, I hope, understood, gives you a sense of being able to stand a little bit taller because of this, because you are not isolated.”

Loach, who joined the Labour Party in the 1960s, believes the two main setbacks in the advancement of left-wing economic systems in Britain have been the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, and the dominance of Tony Blair in the party in late 1990s and early 2000s.

He sees the growth spurt in Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity as down to his ability to connect with people and communicate effectively when not filtered through the right-wing press or the BBC.

Doubtlessly, a party with a good handle of using social media, and manifesto crammed with incentives for younger voters and rallies befitting a rock star have also played their part.

At the weekend, 200,000 people watched some of the biggest names in music on the planet at Glastonbury, and next month the same number are expected in Durham to see the newly empowered 68-year-old Islington North MP and a quietly spoken film director.

Loach says: “I am really looking forward to it. It is a real privilege. Let’s hope it is a great rallying point and things move on from it to get to the next stage.”