The Labour Party’s recent attempt at recreating the success of last year’s Glastonbury festival fell almost comically flat. Rather than rejuvenating the support of the youth, ‘Labour Live’ turned out to be little more than a very expensive practical joke, played on Labour by its confused self-image.
Despite slashing ticket prices from £35 to £10, before giving many away for free, interest and attendance at the festival failed to meet the party’s expectations. Jeremy Corbyn’s rockstar facade failed to fill the fields and keep the momentum of the party’s youth support going.
This is great news for anyone who values liberal democracy.
Truth is, we should have been very concerned if Labour Live was anything other than a flop. Although Labour penned the event as a “a festival of music, arts and politics”, in reality the festival was little more than an attempt to cash-in on the personality cult Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has enjoyed amongst younger voters.
Festival-goers were pictured wearing masks of the leader, chants of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ were reportedly aplenty, and merchandise stores sold scarves and souvenirs emblazoned with Corbyn-related slogans. Even if we were to ignore the inherently Corbyn-centric nature of the festival, the whole thing reeked of tribalism. The musical headliners of the event, Clean Bandit, dedicated a song about pleasuring oneself to the Conservative party, mocking “What a bunch of wankers!”.
It’s clear to see what Labour was trying to pull with the festival; enforce the us-versus-them mentality that the party seems to rely on these days. Only Corbyn can protect you from the Tories, conform or die! Much less the promised festival of arts and politics, far more a rally of re-education and blind loyalty.
This focus on Corbyn and tribal-politics is everything wrong with the modern Labour party. In organising such an event, Labour shows a complete disregard proper political discourse. To them, it seems, vilifying contrasting worldviews and beautifying the leader à la Kim Jong-Un is acceptable so long as it ensures the youth vote. Moreover, in setting the festival in London and almost exclusively targeting young voters, it also appears as though the party is comfortable in putting its traditional working-class supporters on the backburner.
So, as troubling as it is that such a festival was even conceived anywhere outside of Venezuela, we should be pretty thankful that the whole thing was a big flop. In fact, Labour Live gives us plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of British democracy.
The lack of success demonstrates that populist tribalism and personality-politics don’t seem to fly. For as many students there are chanting ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn’, and for every new supporter gained from tribalist tactics, the unsold tickets of Labour Live suggest that there are far more who have become disenfranchised by the new shift in focus.
The nub of the issue here is that no true pluralistic democracy should support such strategies. Basing a parties marketing on the personality of the leader and the vilification of the opposition makes it very difficult for any kind of rational discourse. It’s very hard to take to arguments of the opposition seriously if your idolised leader has conditioned you to view them as a bogeyman.
But it is absolutely paramount that all members of a democracy take each other seriously and with respect. Only in this way can representatives be truly accountable; we can see the good and the bad in their arguments, and judge them accordingly. Party leaders should not be viewed as saviours of gurus in the way that Corbyn wishes to present himself, but as fallible public servants. In seeking to gain support through Labour Live, Corbyn’s party has shown no respect for its position.
We should be proud of the Labour members who rejected the tribalism of the affair, and we should be grateful that personality cults can’t win elections in Britain. If we value our democracy, we must ensure that parties present their platforms objectively, and not behind a facade of charismatic leaders and pop music.