Union boss Len McCluskey has called on Ed Miliband to make Labour relevant again as thousands cheered on the Unite leader in Durham.
Mr McCluskey, whose union is at the centre of a parliamentary selection vote rigging row, held back from directly criticising the Labour leader, but made clear he was prepared to have his say on the party’s union links.
He was speaking alongside other union leaders at the Durham Miners’ Gala in which Mr Miliband’s decision to call in the police to investigate vote rigging in the Falkirk selection process was widely criticised.
Mr Miliband’s handling of the situation has come in for repeated criticism in the North East after the Labour leader announced plans to change the way union funds are automatically used to support the party.
Mr McCluskey said he was happy for change, but warned an increasingly isolated Mr Miliband that Labour had “no God given right to exist”.
Addressing the crowds during his key note speech at the Gala, also known as the ‘Big Meeting’, Mr McCluskey praised those Labour MPs he deemed “fantastic” including Wansbeck’s Ian Lavery and Blaydon’s Dave Anderson.
“But the parliamentary Labour party overall does not look like the working class communities it seeks to represent,” Mr McCluskey said.
“It has an out of touch elite who glide from Oxbridge to special adviser to the green benches. That is what we were fighting in Falkirk and I make no apology for that to anyone.”
During his speech he said he was prepared to engage in debate following Mr Miliband’s proposed reform of links with the trade unions.
He added: “The people here today are the people you should seek to represent and the future is in your hands. My challenge to you is, make Labour the party we all want. The party of equality, justice, fairness and yes the party of socialism, then nothing can stop us.”
Crowds also heard speeches from RMT general secretary Bob Crow, Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, journalists Kevin Maguire and Owen Jones, and actor Ricky Tomlinson.
Mr Crow called the Labour, Liberal and Tory policies “near enough identical”. He also labelled the attack on Mr McCluskey “an absolute disgrace,” a label backed by Davey Hopper, president of Durham National Union of Mineworkers.
Thousands take pride in region’s pit heritage
Thousands from across the North East lined the streets in the sunshine at the weekend for the Durham Miners’ Gala.
The event was enjoyed by young and old, many with a mining heritage in their family.
John Edwards, who attended with his wife Elizabeth, worked in the mines at Bearpark Colliery for 36 years.
“I enjoy coming and seeing some of my friends taking part,” said the 86-year-old, who now lives in Durham City.
“We stick together but there’s less of us now, I’ve only seen three in the parades I have known but it is a great day and I really enjoy it,” he said.
Peter Atkins and Phil Hopper, both from Hebburn in South Tyneside, said it was brilliant to see such a great turn out.
Peter, 72, said: “It’s about solidarity and we like it because it is political. I think it is more important to come out today than ever before.”
Phil, 58, added: “The Labour party is not the Labour party as it was.”
Ex-miners Keith Welburn, Fred Donaldson and Peter Dixon all worked together Dawdon Colliery before it was closed and now all work as electricians.
They said the day was important to them because it was a tradition they wanted to keep alive.
“We need to keep this tradition going for the younger generation that really only hear about it all in the classroom,” said Fred, 62, of Seaham in County Durham.