Every second Saturday in July, the city of Durham hosts the Durham Miners’ Gala, the largest gathering of trade unionists in the country. This year’s event attracted more than 100,000 people – and saw the first outing of the Co-operative Party’s Centenary Banner, commissioned to celebrate the Party’s 100th anniversary.
The marching banner was produced using traditional styles and techniques by Durham Bannermakers, who hand-painted the design on a single piece of silk. The design itself draws on the ideas and suggestions of Party members, as well as historical research undertaken by Party staff.
The front of the banner is made from a cluster of hexagons, reminiscent of honeycomb in a beehive – a historic co-operative symbol – with five key figures from the history of the co-operative movement walking forward, arm in arm.
They are (left to right): AV Alexander (one of the Party’s first MPs, and the first to become a government minister); Joyce Butler (one of the Party’s longest-serving female MPs, in Parliament from 1955-1979); Lord ‘Ted’ Graham of Edmonton (the only living person represented on the banner, Lord Graham was educated in the Co-operative College, and served as the Party’s National Secretary); William Cooper (one of the 28 original members of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers who was among the most political of the pioneers) and Mary Barbour (a Scottish political activist, who, while working as a carpet printer, became politically active via her local co-operative guild).
The five figures are surrounded by symbols of the Party and the wider co-operative movement, including a ballot box (democracy), weighing scales (fairness), a beehive (collective strength and enterprise, dividend stamps (economic participation), the white and red poppy (the Party’s history of internationalism and commitment to peace) and Robert Owen’s mill at New Lanark – as a reminder of the ambitious and visionary nature of the co-operative movement. The front also includes the Party’s Centenary logo.
If the front of the banner represents the past, the back represents the future, “with a procession of people in the modern-day coming from all backgrounds and sections of society marching together towards a better future,” says the Party.
The figures in the procession are carrying flags, banners and other objects with the seven co-operative principles on them as they march past Parliament, and the original Rochdale Pioneers’ shop on Toad Lane.
The banner will now represent the Party at important occasions, and will be marched to Parliament at the Party’s annual conference in October.
“Just as many of the banners of the co-operative societies 100 years ago are still with us, the Party intends that this banner will become a heirloom that can inspire and be passed on to future generations of co-operators,” said the Party. “Indeed, we hope that it will be present for the Party’s 200th in 2117.”