'I'd rather die in a ditch': New Tory MPs told they are not welcome at miners' gala

Zoe Tidman
The Durham Miners Gala in 2019: Getty

The organiser of a large trade union festival in a former Labour stronghold said he would rather “be found dead in a ditch” than invite newly elected Tory MPs.

Alan Mardghun, who runs the Durham Miners' Gala, suggested Conservatives who won seats in County Durham in the last election might even need police protection if they decided to attend.

The historic event sees thousands flock to the streets annually to celebrate “trade union and community spirit” and “working-class culture”, according to its organisers, and typically includes a parade and speeches by political figures.

For the first time in years, Conservatives count among the festival’s local MPs after their party made huge gains in old Labour heartlands last year – winning four of seven seats held by the opposition.

But Mr Marghdun, Durham Miners Association president, told the BBC: “To paraphrase [Boris] Johnson, I’d rather be found dead in a ditch than invite them or Johnson to the gala.

"We never saw Arthur Scargill invited to the Tory party conference.

“Why would we invite Tories to the Durham Miners’ Gala that did the best to absolutely destroy the Durham miners and the miners of Great Britain?”

The seats were among swathes won by the Conservatives from Labour across the north of England.

Celebrating the results, Tory politician Michael Gove said: “Next year, both the Durham Miners’ Gala and the Notting Hill Carnival will take place in seats held by Conservative MPs.”

Despite the Tory gains, the constituency in which the event is held remains a Labour seat, a fact MP Mary Foy reminded Mr Gove of.

“Oh! And you’re not invited ever," she added.

The gala has a long-tradition of hearing Labour politicians speak and has been addressed by Keir Hardie, Clement Attlee and Harold Wilson in the past, as well as Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband during their stints as Labour leader.

Despite the organiser’s comments, new Tory MPs have said they still wish to attend.

Richard Holden, who represents North West Durham, said: “With four out of the seven seats across County Durham with Conservative MPs I think it is right that we attend one of the most important cultural days in its annual calendar.”

Replying to Mr Mardghum’s interview, Dehenna Davison – who became Bishop Auckland’s first Tory MP last year – said: “See you there, Alan.”

Durham Miners’ Association said: “Formal invitations are sent to those who support the Gala and the labour and trade union movement. This has been the case since 1871.”

In a statement from the group “clarifying its position on invitations”, its president said: “Conservative MPs have never attended the Durham Miners Gala as official invitees or, as far as we know, the parade itself. None of them have ever supported the DMA or Gala.”

Mr Mardghum said: “The idea that we should invite them now is simply ludicrous and was started by a cheeky question from a journalist.

“If they wish to attend along with the people of County Durham and other supporters they are entitled. It is a free country.”

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