Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Durham Miners' Association - then and now

(or....What's In A Name?)

By 'Historian'

Your humble scribe often wonders about how our language can sometimes - and so easily - be debased.

For an example of what I mean, let's first have some history......

When Peter Lee became Chairman of Durham County Council in March 1919 it was a moment of real historical importance. Not only was Lee a coal miner - and the first working man to hold real power in local government - he was to lead the first Labour administration in the country.

The rise of Lee and the Labour Party was symptomatic of a power shift from mineowners to miners; the age of the Labour bastion had arrived.

From 1919 until the outbreak of World War 2, the Durham Labour movement - dominated by the Durham Miners' Association (DMA) - constructed a political apparatus that supported and returned between 9 and 11 of the county's 18 MPs.

The DMA established the Durham Miners' Gala as a major Labour Party platform, and it helped shape the careers of key Labour figures. People like Sidney Webb, Hugh Dalton, Emmanual (Manny) Shinwell and Ramsay McDonald.

Now, let's 'fast-forward' to the present day......and here's what I mean about how our language (and in particular a title) can so easily be debased.....

Durham North MP Kevan Jones is never shy of poking sticks into murky waters. He's soon to meet officials from the Ministry of Justice because he wants to investigate the finances of the Durham National Union of Mineworkers.

In a nutshell, the Durham union has de-registered and has 'morphed' into a claims handling company. And guess what? This morphing has seen the 'creation' of (you guessed it) the Durham Miners' Association.

Which, of course, is where we came in. See what I mean about debasing?

It's not our place in this posting to debate the rights and wrongs of this company's finances - although Kevan seems to think there's something rotten in the state of Denmark - or Durham in this case.

You can find out more by checking the Northern Echo website - the story, headlined 'MP wants inquiry over miners' cash appeared on Saturday May 24

Meanwhile, echoing down the years, is that the sound of Peter Lee turning in his grave over how the DMA's name and reputation could have been so cheaply hijacked in the 21st century?

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