I’M OFTEN ASKED WHY the Labour left in Durham seems to be so strong. I mean, it’s all relative of course, and we’ve definitely still got a way to go, but it is true that socialism in Durham (both the city and the wider county) is in a good place overall. We have an organised network, in Durham Labour Left, that is free from the sectarianism we might see elsewhere, the left is winning key positions all over the county and we work together well. I’m not trying to blow any trumpets, but it’s important to acknowledge when, how and why things go right.
It wasn’t always like this. If we rewind back ten years, very little politically was going on in Durham. We’ve always had the Durham Miners’ Gala (the Big Meeting), which everyone in Durham looks forward to and is a major gathering for the county’s activist and trade union left. But most, if not all, protests happened in Newcastle - the only question was whether people from Durham would hop on the train to get to them.
Obviously, the Corbyn campaigns had an effect, like they did all over the country. But before that, things were changing in Durham. The opening of the People’s Bookshop was a major boost for the radical left in the city and the county. We know from our history the importance of radical bookshops as hubs for activity and that is exactly what the People’s Bookshop has become.
Secondly, the development of a strong Labour left, not necessarily associated with Momentum, but organised and focused on campaigning, has helped tremendously. That started with just a few people meeting regularly, while using social media to publicise positions, policy and events. And those regular, face-to-face meetings built trust and comradeship. They are the cornerstone of our solidarity.
Lastly, a building has played a big part. It might seem a strange thing to say, when so much of what we have done on the left in Durham has been about people, but the opening up of the Miners’ Hall in Durham (Redhills as it’s known to people locally) has been revelatory. The Durham Miners’ Association have taken to this new movement and invited us into their space.
Nearly every week there is something amazing happening at Redhills, from anti-racist meetings, to Banner Groups, to film showings and music gigs. It was always a special place – now it is an indispensable HQ for us all.
All these different elements: the bookshop hub; the seriously organised Labour left and the new home we’ve found at the Miners’ Hall, have meant a gearshift for our politics. And we’re not done yet. This is just the start.
City of Durham CLP