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INAUGURATED in 1871, the 135th Durham Miners’ Gala takes place with the country in chaos over Brexit.
For some, the question of whether or not Labour backs a second referendum with remain or halts the Brexit process altogether has become the party’s defining issue.
But to make it so ignores our history and our spirit of purpose.
The Durham Miners’ Gala, like the Labour Party, was born into a dystopian Britain and forged in the white-hot crucible of injustice that was the Victorian age.
It’s seemingly benign title of “Miners’ Gala” served to allow political discourse at a time when such things were seen as a danger to the very foundations of the state.
Both institutions were created by trade unionists, socialists and social democrats seeking a voice for working people and an improvement to their lives.
As chair of the Labour Party I have travelled the country to communities devastated by the loss of heavy industry and pushed to the brink by Tory austerity.
I have seen the damage done to our country by decades of neoliberalism and the embodiment of the poverty as shamefully spelled out by a UN special rapporteur.
The conditions that caused working men and women to organise events like this and found a party of labour are alive and well in modern Britain.
The grotesque inequality and poverty of 19th century Britain that was once thought of as banished to that dim and distant past is back with a vengeance.
The guiding principles on which our party was built remain the same.
Shameful poverty haunts every corner of Britain. In some areas more than 50 per cent of children are going to school without food in their bellies.
Tens of thousands of older people are dying every winter because they cannot afford to both heat their homes and eat.
Working people are suffering the longest fall in living standards since records began.
Our public services are on the brink. We are in the middle of a housing crisis and the environment is on the verge of catastrophe.
As this plays out, a dwindling, ageing, right-wing Tory membership will choose the next prime minister.
They choose from two men who have been at the heart of British politics for over a decade, cheerleading austerity and spectacularly failing at the roles they’ve been given.
Both have dedicated their future premierships to delivering a right-wing Brexit and both will be keen to facilitate a bargain basement Britain that works for the few.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Labour can win and build a country fit for the future by uniting to tackle the real issues at play across the land and embracing an unashamed populism of hope.
In 2017 we defied conventional wisdom to deny the Tories a majority by following this very model. We can do so again.
We need to put front and centre of our programme the green industrial revolution which will tackle head-on the catastrophic climate emergency and rebuild communities ravaged by deindustrialisation with green jobs.
Communities like ours here in north-east England that were built on coal can have a new, bright, green future.
We need to ensure our NHS is given the funding and resources it needs to ensure the people of this country continue to have access to the very best care.
We need to properly fund social care to ensure dignity for those who need it. We need to put police back on the streets to tackle the crime epidemic present in all communities.
We need to reinvigorate our education system ensuring good-quality learning for people of all ages and it needs to be free.
We need to tackle the poverty epidemic head on, eradicating it from these isles for good.
Let us lift the public-sector pay cap and give workers what they deserve. Let us ban zero-hours contracts, increase the minimum wage and install sectoral collective bargaining.
Let us make the social security system fit for purpose and ensure the safety net gives those who need it dignity.
We need to begin a programme of radical action in communities left behind by a global Britain increasingly focused on its cities and London in particular. Transport, housing, infrastructure and jobs all need significant investment.
We cannot allow Europe to prise us apart at the very moment that unity is most needed. Whatever our disagreements we must come together around our founding purpose to rebuild Britain for the many, regardless of what happens on Brexit.
It is the spirit and history of the Durham Miners’ Gala that we must always keep in our thoughts as we approach government. Labour has lost its way if it ceases to listen to and appeal to working people.
Ian Lavery is chair of the Labour Party and MP for Wansbeck.
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