Speech: 145th Northumberland Miners Picnic
Friends & Comrades what an honour it is for a lad from Durham to be addressing you at this terrific working class gathering in the heart of the North East coalfield.
My dad, even grandfathers, uncles, cousins were all miners. My mam worked in the pit canteen and I’m proud to come from a mining community, a community that is still proud of its legacy. Even in this enlighted age not many New Labour MPs can claim both parents were members of the NUM.
The mining tradition & values of comradeship, co-operation and collective action for a common purpose, often in the face of adversity, course through my blood and formed my character. They made me the man that I am.
Like Ian Lavery and I wish to pay tribute to the work he is doing and congratulate him on his election as Chair of the Parliamentary Trade Union Group. Ian agree with me, As a Labour MP: To represent the area where you grew up; to represent the people of your own community; and the area where up have lived your whole life and raised your own children is a great privilege.
Easington has returned Labour Members of Parliament since 1921 including Sidney Webb & Manny Shinwell & the infamous Ramsey McDonald.
Ramsey McDonald led the last peacetime coalition Government, splitting from the Labour Party in 1931 leading a Tory-Liberal Coalition with an agenda of severe cuts in spending.
Back then, Labour opposed such an agenda with fierce determination.
Labour developed a progressive and socialist alternative, opposed the cuts that hurt ordinary working people and the unemployed.
The following election in 1935 saw Labour gain 102 seats, and the election after that was a Labour landslide.
Funny how what goes around comes around – How history repeats itself…
The course of action charted by governments today, here in the UK and across Europe, has been characterised by unfairness.
The impact of their policies have been shown to disproportionately hit those least able to weather the economic storms in the first place.
And now in this country, proposals to rip up employment rights signal the return of class-based politics. It shows the Tory’s are determined to put their ideology ahead of the national interest.
The coalition’s failure on growth and jobs has now pushed workers’ rights to the top of the Tory agenda.
The cuts will continue, there will be no “plan B”, no new investment, just a new attack on ordinary working people.
Appointing Adrian Beecroft to oversee a review of workers’ rights was like asking Dracula to draw up plans for a new blood-donor scheme.
Beecroft is an asset-stripping venture capitalist whose portfolio includes the pay-day lender Wonga.
Himself a Conservative Party donor, his appointment in the first place was as good as a two-fingered gesture to ordinary working people.
So be under no illusions, ordinary people are under attack.
As local elections last month showed ordinary people across this country reject unfair cuts to local services and reject austerity.
And economist Paul Krugman tells us austerity is badly failing our country and our people too.
In France, our brothers and sisters have elected a socialist – President Francois Hollande.
They sent shock waves across Europe and the world.
One of his first acts has been to challenge the austerity consensus of Merkel & Sarkosy & reverse the increase in the state retirement age from 62 to 60 that Sarkosy implemented as part of his austerity plan.
Events like these must be about sending a common message to governments who think that ordinary people should pay for the mistakes of wealthy bankers and city financiers.
This Coalition government is forcing millions of struggling families to pay more, whilst it is allowing millionaires to pay less.
It is forcing our Labour councils that represent the poorest areas in the North to suffer the worst cuts, whilst Tory Councils in the South face little or no cuts.
And it is forcing its cuts agenda furthest on welfare, the disabled, the sick and the elderly, whilst it does nothing to promote growth in the economy and nothing to create employment.
We are told that there is no alternative to cuts and austerity. But there is. These are political choices and they are the wrong choices.
How dare politicians now attack our public services as if this is somehow a coherent response to a crisis that started in the banking sectors of the United States back in 2008?
Reforms by Andrew Lansley to the NHS, to allow fly-by-night private health firms unrestricted access to profiteer from public investment has nothing to do with our debts, with cuts or austerity.
Tory reforms, spinelessly supported by the Liberal Democrats, are ideological and they represent an attack on our National Health Service.
This meeting is about solidarity, it is about unity, society and about people. And these are the values that are best represented by our public services.
Those who work in our public services who teach our children, collect our refuse, build our roads, treat us and our family when we are sick and care for us and our families and friends when we are elderly.
In essence, it is our public services that create and sustain the civilised society in which we live.
The right-wing media and the millionaire politicians of this Coalition government, would have us believe that public services are a luxury we cannot afford when times are tough..
They want to pit private sector against public sector in order to divide and rule.
The real challenge we face is shrinking the growing gap between the richest (who are getting richer) and the poorest (who are getting poorer).
And the only way to achieve this is through tax justice.
If you are on a wage, you don’t have a choice about paying your taxes – they are deducted automatically. Yet, if you are part of the ‘corporate elite’, the richest 1%, and you can afford creative accountants, you can pay less tax than your cleaner!
This country – and the North East in particular – needs an end to austerity.
David Cameron promised that the private sector would ‘pick up the slack’ and replace the jobs he was axing in the public sector. That has not happened.
JD Sports, Dewhirst, Cumbrian Foods
We need a new agenda of investment, growth and jobs.
I’m delighted to have been invited to speak here. I am an optimist. Hell, I support Sunderland – but I feel we are at last at a watershed.
People no longer swallow a government’s narrative that there is ‘no alternative’.
There is always an alternative. We should have faith and confidence in a fairer future where social justice is not an alien concept.
Let me quote you the final verse of a Robert Burns poem, (Why Should We Idly Waste our Prime)…I think Burns had an incling then what it was to be a true working class optimist:
“Why should we idly waste our prime;
Repeating our oppressions?
Come rouse to arms!
‘Tis now the time
To punish past transgressions
The Golden Age we’ll then revive:
Each man will be a brother;
Friends thank you so much for inviting me to speak to you at this tremendous political gathering. I wish you, on behalf of the Durham Miners and trades unionists everywhere a most successful 145th Northumberland Miners Picnic.