‘A festival of music, art and politics’, LabourLive promised a lot and for all intents and purposes, it delivered. From the Corbyn merch-clad individuals to the pro-EU protesters, this was a day that went beyond all expectations, a day full of surprises. Glastonbury it wasn’t, but there was something unique, and rather special about it.
It would be wrong to put LabourLive into the same category as a music festival. Equally it would be wrong to compare it to a literary festival or indeed a conference. To quote the Independent, it was ‘part fun fair, part circus, part music festival, part socialist summer school’, there really was something for everyone. As a volunteer, the only complaint received was the lack of sufficient tea and coffee, a most British complaint. It is true that there could have been better food and drink provision but this just gives weight to the fact that there were far more people in attendance that expected.
For those looking to leave the festival inspired, LabourLive did not disappoint. From talks on liberation to a question time featuring MPs, trade unionists and journalists, the political education aspect of the festival was high. Certainly some speakers fared better than others, with Owen Jones drawing a predictably large crowd given the demographic of many of the attendees. Naturally, there were controversial moments with Unite’s Len McCluskey seemingly on the warpath against some of Labour’s more moderate MPs. Indeed the majority of guest speakers seemed to have a similar ideology to each other, which is unsurprising given the nature of the event’s organisers. Political events such as these will always struggle to move away from being echo chambers, but for many activists who spend most of their time battling with those of opposing views, it was almost a comfort to spend a day in the presence of like-minded individuals.
One could almost sense the arrival of Jeremy Corbyn in the air, the staff suddenly on high alert for the inevitable mob that would surround him. To those outside of the Corbyn bubble this almost cult-like behaviour is unfamiliar and for some, scary. Indeed if you were to visit the merchandise stalls, you were hard pushed to find something on offer that didn’t have some nod to ‘the absolute boy’. Many are quick to argue whether we have reached ‘peak Corbyn’ and whether the (small m) momentum is fading. But if you were to ask any of the festival goers chanting the infamous ‘oh Jeremy Corbyn’ yesterday, they would have given you a different story.
The main event was hotly anticipated and indeed many remarked that those who had purchased tickets had only done so to witness one of the Labour leader’s barnstorming speeches. This is however perhaps a naïve view of the day. There were people from across the Labour Party and indeed from other left-leaning Parties such as the Green Party in attendance. This was an event run and billed to the left of the Party as was clear from the choice of speakers. However it wasn’t a complete ‘JezFest’. It was children playing freely, it was students celebrating the beginning of summer, it was generally a fun (and in many cases free) day out. As a volunteer, it was hard not to catch the bug.
At the end of the day, this festival was about more than just ticket sales. This was about uniting a divided Party and bringing together people from all communities, all ages and all walks of life for a common cause. Financially it was not a great success for the Party but one must look beyond the media spin to the opinions of those actually there. The Tories can mock, and they will, but LabourLive brought something new to British politics. In comparison to the failures of Tory Glastonbury, LabourLive was a great success. ‘Why is it just the left who have all the fun in politics?’ lamented George Freeman, perhaps it is because we are willing to have events like LabourLive, willing to engage with all people, to take risks and to have fun.