A RECORD crowd is expected for the 128th Durham Miners’ Gala on Saturday.
Ed Miliband is the first Labour Party leader to accept the annual invitation to speak there since Neil Kinnock declined to attend 26 years ago.
“There has been much more interest in the gala this year because of Mr Miliband,” said Durham Miners’ Association general secretary Dave Hopper. “I reckon he could put 20,000 on the gate.
“And if we get fine weather I think we will see the biggest crowd for many years.”
He added: “The Labour leader should be at the gala, and we were most disappointed when Kinnock stopped coming and that policy was disgracefully carried on by Mr Blair.”
There were 43 bands parading last year. This year organisers are expecting up to 50, accompanied by about 70 banners.
Five new mining banners will be at the gala, from Brandon, Felling, Heworth, Burnhope, and from the Nottinghamshire miners who supported the strike.
The National Women Against Pit Closures group will be bringing its new banner, as will the Durham County Recovery Initiative, which has commissioned a banner depicting the steps to recovery taken by those with drug and alcohol addictions.
One person who will not be at the gala is Durham Miners’ Association president Dave Guy, who is seriously ill with cancer.
“He recently had a pain-relieving operation,” said Mr Hopper.
“It will be the first gala Dave has missed in 26 years, and our thoughts will be with him and his family.”
The parade will gather in Market Place, Durham City, from about 8.30am to begin the traditional march to the Racecourse Field, passing the VIPs on the balcony of the County Hotel in Old Elvet.
There will be musical and other entertainment on the field throughout the day, and speeches are due to start at 12.15pm.
The new banners will be blessed at the annual gala service in Durham Cathedral starting at 3pm.
Durham Police say road closures and parking restrictions will be stricter and more widespread than in previous years.
Visitors are advised to use one of Durham’s off-street car parks, or the park and ride service which operates from three sites on the outskirts of the city.