You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Go to Glastonbury
Nor do you have to be poor to understand why chanting “Jeremy Corbyn” became the theme of this year’s festival.
Photo via Wikimedia
If a spirit represented Glastonbury 2017, it would be an amorphous crowd chanting the words "Oh, Jeremy Corbyn". Sung to the tune of The White Stripes' interminably durable hit "Seven Nation Army", the delectable (yet political) incantation filtered its way across campsites and tipi fields, main stages and enchanted hideaways, toilet queues and backstage areas, culminating in a roaring, omnipresent wave of sound not seen since the advent of "bollocks" – a (largely defunct) tradition which involved repeatedly shouting the colloquial noun for testicles in bold, collective unison.
Like the 'Ah' before Bisto, "Oh, Jeremy Corbyn" became a slogan of sorts for this year's festival. Yet unlike a collection of letters placed on a supermarket product, the words grew into something more, coalescing the festival's founding ideals of equality and togetherness into one mantra. When Corbyn, leader of the UK government's opposition party, gave a speech on the festival's mainstage, that feeling peaked. Supported by a heaving crowd to rival most festival headliners, he spoke to the frustration, discontent – and growing optimism – running through the heart of British people who believe the country should provide for the Many and not the Few. It felt like a real moment.
In the moments following Corbyn's Glastonbury speech however, his detractors swiftly loaded their guns. "Shouldn't he be at Arms Forces Day?" they asked. "The shamefully left biased #bbc @bbc cover #Glastonbury big time," they said. Okay, fine – yah, yah, yah. But then came the kicker: "Jeremy Corbyn turns up to Glastonbury to talk about the austerity in this country to people who've paid 300 quid to watch Katy Perry," one commentator wrote. "As #Corbyn addresses "the many" at #Glastonbury, just remember tickets start at £238," said another, splashing their pompous diatribe in a sea of similar comments aiming to mock the supposedly affluent and therefore ironic crowd.
- Unlike received pronunciation and/or holding an offshore bank account, a fondness for Californian pop singer Katy Perry is probably not the most reliable indicator of someone's political interests. She sings about rollerskates. Leave her out of this, babies.
- You can still go to Glastonbury and (probably? definitely? 100 percent?) be affected by austerity.
With its lavish offsite camping options, star-studded hospitality area (Brad Pitt did a shit in there once) and wide selection of food, a general adage goes that Glastonbury is the Somerset reserve of middle class university students, the mum, dad and long-haired children of Stoke Newington, and anyone else in a pair of Hunter wellies. People with disposable income, basically. In some cases, so much is true. But Glastonbury isn't closed off to those with an uncomfortable monthly salary either – the exact people Labour support – and to suggest otherwise is to believe something as wonderful, life-affirming and important as the arts is solely for the well-off.
Like lots of people my age, my parents are separated and both come from low-income backgrounds. That's something I've covered more personally elsewhere, but the result of a childhood divorce gave weight to several things – work hard, save money, and, most importantly, enjoy life. These same factors likely apply to other people from similar backgrounds too. For music fans, Glastonbury is the holy grail. And though it may be expensive, the experience it provides is as rich and fulfilling as any paycheque most people won't be able to achieve. That's why places like Glastonbury are important. Once inside the gates it's inclusive too, promoting togetherness between all people alongside its other core values of creativity and respect for the environment.
In his Glastonbury speech, Corbyn touched on the art and inspiration fostered by Glastonbury – and the importance the Labour party places on those values. "In every child there is a poem, in every child there is a painting, in every child there is music," he said. "I want all of our children to be inspired, all of our children to have the right to learn music, write poetry and to paint in the way that they want." Whether you're Labour or Tory, UKIP or Green, it's difficult to oppose these points. No human who has progressed from embryo to paint-covered toddler to salaried adult can argue with them. At least no human with a heart, anyway. So why did Corbyn's speech promote such a backlash?
Like everything that's happened in politics in the past few years but is now shifting toward the light, a large part of it is due to misinformation – related mostly to the idea that Corbyn's policies are too far left to appeal to a majority. But as last month's election results show, however, four in 10 British voters went with Corbyn's manifesto (the party's most leftwing since 1983), with Ipsos Mori data confirming the middle classes swung to Labour. Ultimately the reaction to Corbyn's speech at Glastonbury is centered on an ignorant, blinded idea that poor people don't go to Glastonbury and, as if in some fairy tale world, those who do aren't affected by austerity.
But you only need to look at the stats to see this isn't true: young people are increasingly giving up on ever owning a home; mental health rates continue to rise as the NHS is being cut; and financially obese corporations continue to pay little in corporation tax. As for the crowd who enjoyed themselves at Glastonbury weekend – countless friends of mine (and probably yours) attended, doing so out of love from the bottom of their overdraft, the very opposite of disposable income. Doing so, because what else is there to look forward to in the future? And does everyone not deserve a nice time, at least once a year? Even if that means struggling to find rent the following month?
Perhaps it was the combination of emotional potpourri running through my system, or maybe it was the idea there's a growing sense of change happening in the country, but Corbyn's speech at Glastonbury made me cry. As it finished, texts flooded in from friends. "Did anyone else get really emotional just then?" "I have tears in my eyes". "CORBYN!".
Music has never been a place solely for the rich. With its history (and continued welcomeness) tightly interlinked with the travelling community and wide range of performers from across genres, neither has Glastonbury. With the Labour wave now surging like never before, perhaps soon Britain will become a place of similar equality. At least that's what felt possible last weekend – and seems as though it will be outside of those walls too. Let's never stop singing that song. Let us become the parents our unborn children would have wanted when they grow up in a better world than the one Theresa is promising.
You can find Ryan on Twitter.