ED Miliband praised North East values as he became the first Labour leader to address the Durham Miners’ Gala for 23 years.
Thousands gathered around the podium on the racecourse field as he rounded off Saturday’s speeches once he, other party members and trade union leaders had watched banners, bands and crowds pass the Royal County Hotel.
Organisers of the 128th Big Meeting said 50 bands performed, the largest number in 50 years, and up to 80 banners paraded through the city’s streets.
Dave Hopper, general secretary of the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA), welcomed speakers Paul Kenny, of the GMB, Mark Serwotka, of the PCS union, Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, John Hendy, the QC for Durham miners, and MP Tom Watson, who campaigned against phone hacking and News International.
Two Spanish miners spoke of the struggle they are facing in their country and were given a standing ovation. A cash donation will be sent to help their cause.
Mr Miliband was the first Labour leader present since Neil Kinnock in 1989.
He opened his speech by saying it was a “privilege” to be part of the day.
“I also come here humbled by the history of this gala,” he added, reeling off the names of party greats who had been in their time, including Keir Hardie, Manny Shinwell, Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle.
His speech touched on the need to get young people into work, turning the banking system around and preventing monopolies in the media.
He said the values of the region’s people, including their sense of community, equality and justice, would help rebuild the country.
After his speech, Mr Miliband headed to the Labour tent, posing for photographs and signing programmes.
He said: “I’m very pleased that I’ve broken the spell” by visiting the gala.
During his speech, a dozen or so demonstrators clashed with supporters trying to hush them, although the incident passed off without trouble.
The day also contained several tributes to DMA president Dave Guy, who is in Newcastle’s RVI after undergoing a pain-relieving operation and being given palliative care.
A service was held at Durham Cathedral, where new banners were blessed.
Among those who had proudly marched with their banners was Norman Rain, 78, from Burnmoor, who worked at Silksworth and Herrington collieries.
He also worked at Easington Colliery as a 17-year-old, when disaster struck in 1951, and 83 men died in an explosion.
Now he is chairman of Herrington Miners’ Banner Partnership.
Norman, who dressed as a pitman for the parade, said: “I’ve been every year and I go in to schools and talk to them about mining and about this day.
“It’s great to see the children, friends and families. I don’t ever want this to die because the bairns have to know where they have come from. It’s part of their heritage. We used to have mines and shipyards.
“Now that’s all gone, this is so important. I’ve been all over the world talking about the pits, but I will always be here, every year.”
Alan Johnson, 59, from Shiney Row, was a faceworker at Herrington and Wearmouth.
He said: “I like to come along and see my friends and family, socialise – there are lads from all across the county.
“It is just absolutely great. I like to see the banners and take some photos.”
Houghton Kepier pupil Jamie Melvin has been to the Big Meeting every year since he was born.
The 12-year-old said: “I think it’s great when you see all the banners. I’ve been told all about the history. I hope this day keeps going.
“We marched this morning and lots of people came out and watched.”