|A Bigger Meeting
||[Jul. 11th, 2017|05:44 pm]
Previous years: 2005 (with explanation); 2006; 2007; 2008; (2009: we were in Iceland) 2010; 2011; 2012 (briefly; 2013; 2014; 2015; 2016 (briefly)
The promise was that this year's Gala would be the largest since [insert your comparator of choice here], that Jeremy Corbyn, fresh from his triumph at Glastonbury, would pull in a massive crowd. This is a good thing. It's great that the Gala, which at one time seem likely to disappear like the mining industry itself, is going from strength to strength. And if my heart sinks when I'm promised a massive crowd, well, that's my problem.
Paradoxically, our first impression as we set out on Saturday morning was that the town was emptier than usual: we could hear no music as we walked down the hill, and the North Road was empty, blocked by a council truck parked across the end (someone had stuck a blue NASUWT flag in the back, so we knew they had passed this way). Usually we'd be running into crowds as we climbed Silver Street, but this year we reached the Market Place before we ran into the banners and bands, and it wasn't difficult to make our way past Magdalen Steps, usually a pinch point. That's where I took this picture:
There were plenty of people wearing red, and the NASUWT's blue was everywhere, but I appreciated the effort Unison representative had made to wear purple (and handling phone, banner and coffee at once shows real skill).
Across Elvet Bridge, and we finally ran into the crowds at the corner by the Royal County Hotel, where the platform party stand on the balcony to be serenaded by the bands. For the first time this year, there were so many bands that only half of them played here - though as we passed we heard not brass band music but a choir singing The Miner's Lifeguard. Rather than force our way through, we turned up New Elvet, where I saw this banner:
I'm annoyed with myself now for not snapping the other side of it, so I don't know who it belongs to. For what it's worth, this wasn't a name I heard invoked in the speeches. Lots of tributes, as you'd expect, to Miners' Union officials Davey Hopper (who died a week after the Gala last year) and Davey Guy (who'd died not long before), both of whom had a lot to do with the revival of the Gala; quite a few to Bradley Lowery: but if anyone spoke about Jo Cox, I missed it. This doesn't have to be significant.
Round past the prison, pausing for a rest on the little green, and then on down to the Racecourse, where we joined samarcand and family and the rest of the NASUWT contingent, spread our blankets on the grass and waited for the speeches. For a long time, this wasn't possible: if you wanted to be close enough to hear the speeches, it was standing room only; now, either the crowds are smaller, or the amplification is better, and you can make yourself comfortable - just as well, as we had reached the Racecourse much earlier than usual. And perhaps this also explains why there were so few people in the town, they had all hurried, or been hurried, onto the Racecourse.
There were six speakers (I'm sure once upon a time there were only four) and Miners' Association chairman Joe Whitworth made the most of his part, too. On the other hand, none of the speakers was terrible, and some were very good. Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, was outstanding (admittedly, he had things to talk about); and Jeremy Corbyn was good, too. I was brought up to be wary of the cult of the individual, and by the end ofr the afternoon I had heard enough of that 'Ohhh - Jeremy Corbyn' chant (varied only by the occasional 'Ohhh - Dennis Skinner'). This is the third successive Gala at which Corbyn has spoken (two years ago, very briefly, because the Miners were supporting his leadership bid, and last year as leader but we didn't stay to hear him because it was raining), and the first time there's been all this excitement. But, to be fair, it followed not only Glasto but also a rather successful General Election. And he is a good speaker.
And the speeches are an important part of the event. But so is the music, and so are the banners. Have two more banners, which between them sum up for me the conflicting emotions of the Gala:
And that's all for another year. We accompanied samarcand and co. to their hotel, and had a drink and a chat, and then we made our way home...
This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.