The Labour Party has always prided itself, sometimes with more justification than others, on its inclusivity. This being the case it was certainly considerate of them to ensure that Labour Live, the Party’s “festival of music, arts and politics”, was so accommodating to sufferers of Enochlophobia. That, for those of us who are unlikely to ever utter the Hippocratic Oath, is the irrational fear of large crowds.
It is of course easy to mock the attendance at Labour Live. So straightforward in fact that even I apparently feel confident enough to give it a go. The organisers claim to have distributed 13,000 out of 20,000 tickets for the event, which took place in North London’s White Hart Lane recreation ground. It’s far from clear how many of these were actually paid for.
A thousand tickets were purchased by the Unite trade union and given away for free, presumably on the basis that propping up failing ego boosts for opposition politicians is exactly why workers pay their union subs. The ease of getting free tickets was such that people were soon posting pictures of those they had claimed on social media, under names like “Tony Blair” and “Kim Jong-un” (the former I suppose could theoretically have been legitimate though I very much doubt it). Even for those unfortunate enough to have to buy a ticket the adult price was slashed from £35 to £10 sometime before the event.
The attendance was certainly nothing like 13,000. Sky News estimated 4-6,000, which I think is reasonable. But there was at least plenty for the punters to enjoy. To one side was a bar, where you could pay £4.50 for 330ml of “Trade Union Pale Ale”, that’s roughly 60% of a pint, or £20 for a 750ml bottle of wine. There was also an official merchandising stand, where the lucky customer could part with £15 for an “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” scarf or £6 for a copy of Labour’s unsuccessful 2017 election manifesto. Prices like these would surely persuade anyone that the profit motive is flawed. Perhaps that was the point.
The festival also featured a handful of stalls independent stalls, including one selling socialist literature. Prominently displayed was a booklet titled “ACAB”, an abbreviation of “All Coppers Are Bastards”, which seemed a little off the official Labour Party line. My personal highlight though was an ice cream van run by Unite, playing “The Red Flag” as its jingle, where for a while the union’s General Secretary Len McClusky gave out free ice cream. Free that is in the sense that it was paid for by Unite’s members, who seemed to be doing more than their fair share to underpin the event.
The performances themselves were split between the main stage and three large tents, titled “Solidarity Tent”, “The World Transformed” and “Literary Tent”. The tents featured a mixture of music and discussion some of which, such as a panel discussion on the impact of automation on the workforce, turned out to be quite a bit more interesting than I was expecting.
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On the main stage there was music, comedy from Eddie Izzard and political speeches from the likes of Labour MP David Lammy. It soon became clear that the published programme was really more of a rough guideline. Hookworms, who were due to perform, didn’t, apparently for personal reasons, whilst Owen Jones, who wasn’t, did. Certainly anyone who waited, as I did, for “Dave Ward: CWU General Secretary” to take to the stage at 16:35 was left disappointed as he didn’t show up.
The music was variable in quality. Some performers, like The Magic Numbers, were very good. Others, such as the man who sang a song praising former RMT union leader Bob Crow and twice referred to Thatcher as “the anti-Christ”, were less so. The real highlight of course was the appearance of Jeremy Corbyn, introduced by John McDonnell. This was the moment when Labour Live started to feel most like a festival, as thousands chanting “oh, Jeremy Corbyn” crowded round the stage. It was a typical Corbyn performance, high on platitudes and low on content. The crowd of course loved it, and a brief Europhile protest by a group wielding a “STOP BACKING BREXIT!!!” banner was largely ignored.
Overall the impact of the event was mixed. In so far as it was designed to recapture the apparent Corbynmania of Glastonbury 2017, it clearly failed. That being said it did persuade several thousand people to spend their Saturday afternoons at a politics focused event in a North London park, which isn’t an insignificant achievement. Certainly it’s hard to imagine an attempt by the Conservative Party to host a comparable event ending in any way other than the resignation of the Party Chairman.
It demonstrated that Corbyn, who the event was really all about, still has a solid and passionate support base, accusations of failing to combat anti-Semitism be damned. No other Labour figure has a remotely comparable following, and the festival surely showed a movement strong enough to repel any anti-Corbyn challenge from within the Labour Party. Whether it also displayed a force assertive enough to power its unlikely rock star all the way to No. 10 remains to be seen.