Corbyn takes Glastonbury back to its roots

Jeremania: Fans have been chanting Corbyn’s name to the tune of Seven Nation Army. © Getty

Slotted in between rock stars and rappers, the Labour leader drew one of the largest crowds of the weekend. Has Glastonbury rediscovered its political roots? And should we celebrate that?

A vast cheering crowd gathered in front of the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury Festival on Saturday afternoon. “One of the biggest crowds Glastonbury has ever seen,” said NME — far bigger, many suggested, than headliners Radiohead or Foo Fighters had mustered.

But rather than a world-famous pop star, the man they welcomed to the stage was the 68-year-old leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.

As he stood arm-in-arm with the festival’s founder, Michael Eavis, the crowd roared, banners waved and young people wearing Corbyn T-shirts danced on their friends’ shoulders.

Corbyn drew further cheers as he talked about women’s rights, refugees and, in a message to US President Donald Trump, said: “Build bridges, not walls.” After he read from a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, chants of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” broke out, as they had throughout the weekend.

What on earth is going on? Glastonbury, the world’s biggest green-field festival, is usually the place to find the biggest names in rock and pop, not the leaders of political parties. And certainly not drawing crowds that big.

Glastonbury has its roots in the 1970s hippie movement, and from the beginning had an environmental and anti-nuclear message. Over the years, as the festival grew, ticket prices rose, a “super fence” was erected to prevent gatecrashers, and mainstream pop acts such as Jay-Z headlined, it seemed that the politics had got lost in the mud.

In 2011, Eavis acknowledged this. “I hate to admit it, but the political platform has been reducing,” he told The Guardian. “The overriding reason people come now is to have a good time.” But, he predicted, if anger against the government increased, the festival would once again become a “sounding board of political discontent”.

As Corbyn-mania swept Worthy Farm this weekend, it is tempting to think that he was right. “What this festival is about,” Corbyn declared, “is coming together. This festival was envisaged as being for music, yes, but also for environment, for peace.”

Has Glastonbury gone back to its political roots? And is that a good thing?

Pyramid scheme

Yes, say some. Glastonbury has always been about alternative and progressive politics. Corbyn’s inclusive rhetoric and rallying cry that “another world is possible” perfectly spoke to the ethic that makes this festival so special. Long may Glastonbury show the rest of the world how things could be.

Don’t believe the hype, reply others. A bunch of middle-class hippies getting drunk in a field does not a political movement make. Most people are just there to have a good time and this Corbyn craze will soon be forgotten. Glastonbury should be about music, fun and taking a break from everyday life.

You Decide

  1. Should Glastonbury be political, or just about the music?
  2. Can coming together to have a big party really change anything?

Activities

  1. Create a flyer for your dream festival. Who would play? What other activities would there be?
  2. You have been booked to speak at Glastonbury. Write a three-minute speech to the festival and present it to the class.

Some People Say...

“The politics that got out of the box is not going back in that box.”

— Jeremy Corbyn

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Glastonbury hosted more than 200,000 people over the weekend and has become a major cultural event. Corbyn drew a large, youthful crowd and several other acts made political statements to loud cheers from the audience.
What do we not know?
It is impossible to say how many people actually went to see Corbyn speak, and it certainly was not the whole festival. Whether this year is an anomaly due to the recent election and Grenfell tragedy or whether Glastonbury has turned a corner remains to be seen.

Word Watch

Pyramid Stage
The original, first erected in 1971, was a one-tenth replica of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
NME
New Musical Express, a leading British music magazine published since 1952.
Jeremy Corbyn
Corbyn’s Labour Party surprised many by gaining 30 seats in the general election, but remains second to the Conservatives.
Shelley
Corbyn read from the 19th Century Romantic poet’s The Masque of Anarchy, written in the aftermath of the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, when cavalry charged a crowd in Manchester calling for democratic reform.
Biggest names
Hundreds of acts perform each year. Recent headliners have included Adele, Coldplay, Kanye West, The Who, Arctic Monkeys, The Rolling Stones and Beyoncé.
Hippie movement
Originating in the 1960s, hippies rejected conventional values and looks, wearing long hair, beards and colourful clothes.
Gatecrashers
After 100,000 people jumped the fence in 2000, Eavis cancelled the festival in 2001. In 2002, a 12-foot fence was erected around the festival site.
Jay-Z
In 2008, the first hip-hop headliner caused controversy as bookings became more mainstream.

Subjects

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