|It was my great honour to speak for the first time at the Durham Miners’ Gala back in 2003, when serving as the President of the National Union of Mineworkers. The Labour Party has changed a little in that time. It would have been barely imaginable back then that Labour could have changed so much as to elect a leader like Jeremy Corbyn.
Last year’s general election ended with the Tories losing their parliamentary majority and locked into a regressive deal with the Northern Irish DUP. The pundits, the political strategists, the Prime Minister expected Labour to be wiped out.
But on an unashamed message of hope the party surged, winning its biggest share of the vote since 2001. These weren’t pie in the sky pledges, this was simply Labour returning to the values represented by the Durham Gala with the pledges of fairness. Like those we’ve heard from the Gala platform year on year.
With that in mind its worth considering what our prime minister has been doing over the past few days. As we assemble in Durham, she continues to believe everything is okay – and rolls out the red carpet for the worst US President in living memory – while the country is in turmoil due to Tory policies.
After eight years of Conservative-led government, our public services are on the verge of collapse. The British Medical Association says NHS is at “breaking point”. Schools face the first real-terms per-pupil funding cuts since the 1990s. The number of police officers in England and Wales has fallen by almost 20,000 since 2010 and fire services in England have lost more than a quarter of their specialist fire safety staff since 2011.
Working people are trapped in precarious employment and are seeing their rights in the workplace eroded. Real wages are lower today than in 2010. Three million people now work in insecure jobs. Almost 60% of those living in poverty are in working households. Shamefully the number of children growing up in poverty in working households is set to be 1 million higher this year than in 2010. The bungled Brexit negotiations have left the UK as a laughing stock on the continent and across the world.
In a sign of how weak our prime minister is, David Davis has been allowed to resign. His replacement claims properly funding the NHS is a childish wish list, believes users of food banks simply have a cash flow problem, doesn’t believe people have economic and social rights, wants to make it easier to sack people and thinks feminists are obnoxious bigots. When the next election comes we’re ready to end this catastrophic government and to take into government the values that the gala and the banners paraded embody.
We’ll ensure our public services are properly funded and end the public sector pay cap. We’ll give the NHS the resources it needs to care for our country and we’ll end the creeping privatisation of the Health Service.
We’ll set up the National Education Service ensuring a path to lifelong learning in the UK as a basic right and make sure our children are given the education they deserve regardless of where they live.
We’ll put fairness back into the workplace by implementing a new workers charter. We’ll abolish zero hour contracts and put in place new protections for other forms of insecure employment. We’ll introduce a real living wage of £10 an hour.
We’ll give hope to communities who have long felt neglected and put in place regional investment banks to ensure a fairness in investment right across the UK and with it delivering jobs and stimulating the local economy.
We’ll end the private sector rip off and renationalise the railways, energy, water and the royal mail putting people before profit.
At the 1948 Gala, Nye Bevan, spoke from the platform having the month previously presided over Labour’s proudest moment, the creation of the National Health Service. As we celebrate our beloved NHS in its 70th anniversary, we must remember, its creation was opposed at every step of the way by the Tories. One Lord even suggested the creation of the NHS could cause a civil war in the UK.
Forget the rebranding that millions from tax dodging donors has paid for. There is no such thing as compassionate conservatism: it is the same old Tories. So when they tell us there is no money for public health or education or infrastructure spending, they’ve said it all before. The Tories have no problem funding tax cuts for the super-rich.
Labour will protect our cherished institutions and build the public services of the future. Labour will take the spirit of the Durham Miners Gala into Downing Street and build a country for the many, not the few.
Ian Lavery is chair of the Labour Party and MP for Wansbeck.