If the organisers had contrived to have Mozart, Elvis Presley and Prince emerge from a spaceship to perform an amazing new bit of music at the Labour Live festival on June 17th, Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents would have asked why Kurt Cobain and Maria Callas weren’t on stage with them. They’d desperately wanted it to be an utter failure writes Andy Stowe. It even gave the BBC a chance to resurrect its “peak Corbyn” catchphrase.
It most definitely wasn’t a failure. The event had its weaknesses, but it showed that a lot of people in the Labour Party like the idea of a festival where ideas are discussed and you can listen to a bit of music.
What were the weaknesses? The most obvious one was that the event didn’t attract enough big name artists. For a while it looked like Hookworms were going to be the headline act. As a band they are good though rather niche. The Magic Numbers are great live but were playing festival tents with a capacity of about 1500 ten years ago. By a stroke of good luck the young and fairly high profile band Clean Bandits agreed to headline at the last minute. It was their misfortune that they went on stage after Jeremy Corbyn’s speech and a lot of the audience had decided he was the headliner they’d really come to see and headed home.
If someone like Stormzy or Lily Allen, two artists who’ve had a lot to say about the Tories and Grenfell, had played it would have been a very different event pulling in a young and more ethnically mixed crowd. Ideally there should have been a tent with a bunch of Drill groups, not just because they are the centre of this month’s moral panic about working class youth culture, but because they talk about what it’s like to have grown up in austerity Britain.
Financially the event was a washout. At £35 for such a thin set of acts the tickets were originally priced much too high. This was reduced to £10 with lots of people getting in for free through various special offers from their unions. Estimates put the attendance at around 13 000.
Politically it was very successful. The discussions I attended were packed. It was impossible to get into a discussion on robots and the future of work, a theme recently explored on this site. Another on the emergence of the new Labour left was full, with Maya Goodfellow making excellent points on how the party is defying the trend of its European sister parties’ collapses.
John McDonnell took the stage almost immediately after arriving from a demonstration commemorating Grenfell. Like Corbyn he understands that politics is also conducted on the streets and in movements. It was the best political speech of the day. He marked the anniversary of Jo Cox’s murder by an English nationalist; he referred to the previous week’s fascist demonstration and said that Labour is an anti-fascist party before setting out a programme which could only be implemented by a significant transfer of wealth from the rich and big advances in workers’ rights. The crowd loved it and Corbyn went on to develop the theme.
The numbers were decent and there is no way the Tories could have done anything similar. A festival of the same sort this time last year would have been much more euphoric, but Labour Live was a rare chance for the party’s supporters to come together, have a bit of fun and talk about politics in a venue other than the local community centre. It was a good idea and worth doing again.
Picture a similar event organised by Tony Blair’s Labour Party. They’d have triangulated to Ukip voters by getting Morrisey to do a couple of numbers while Bono and Mick Hucknall would have arrived in a helicopter. Would you rather have that or the Magic Numbers and Clean Bandit?