I always liked London. That’s heresy for me to say of course being from a place that the North forget is further north than them, but I always liked how efficient it was. This was my 4th time in the capital, so I thought I may as well go ahead and sell my soul for an Oyster Card now so I can really look the part. London, as far as I can tell, holds new things for me. First time I went was the first time I saw a Ferris Wheel (I was 7 and losing my fucking mind), the second time was the first time my writing ever got published anywhere, the 3rd, the first time I ever had a vegan hotdog, and this time was the first time I’d ever been to a politics festival. It was also the first time anyone had been to a politics festival of this size, so watching thousands of people pour into a park in Tottenham for Labour Live was certainly up there in the ‘London first’s’ competition.
It was a bit rocky at points, Labour had to slash tickets from £30 to £10 to get them to sell and Unite even gave away plenty for free. There was already a sense of smug neo-liberalism in the air. Smug neo-liberalism and higher pollution levels- name a more iconic duo. It felt like the rest of the country wanted this to fail, the right-wing press had already labelled it ‘JezzFest’ in an attempt to keep up their narrative that it was some form of cult meeting, and commentators from across the board had begun to laugh at the lack of ticket sales so by this point, I already knew how it would be played out.
- People who weren’t there would claim that it was empty using isolated pictures.
- They’d be proved wrong and would then go on to say that it wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be.
- They’d then say that the aim of it all was dumb, people should stick to politics in election time.
- Then they’d say it was a waste of money, and that no one learnt anything new.
It was never allowed to be a success. But walking through the gates, surrounded by people from all sorts of demographics that my little old white town doesn’t have, it was clear it was going to be one.
.@jeremycorbyn reportedly blows £1m on his vanity project (#JezFest) yet @UKLabour says they “can’t afford” arrangements to keep my harrasser Kelvin Hopkins in a different buidling for my NCC hearing. Hopefully, there’s some money left to fight an election.#LabourLive #LabourDead
— Ava Etemadzadeh (@avaet0890) June 16, 2018
My first thought of the day was that I knew all the speeches would be available to watch online. I knew that people could listen to Jeremy Corbyn speak whenever they wanted (if you haven’t, you should), and I knew that images of the crowds of people would be circulated within minutes. But no one has given a feel of what it was actually like to be there, to walk through the various tents and speak to everyone who was there. You can guess most of what it was like: I saw John McDonnell brush off a Mail on Sunday journalist like he was a creepy bloke trying to hit on him in a bar and I watched a high cheek-boned, long-haired young lad walk around with the words “BROKEN, LIBERAL, OUTCAST” painted onto his leather jacket without a hint of self-awareness (no, it wasn’t me, piss off) both these things could’ve been marked off a ‘Labour Live Bingo’ card. But I also watched Len McLuskey serve ice cream from the Unite ice cream truck and stopped to consider whether my dairy allergy was enough to stop me from experiencing this moment. I watched parents letting their kids enjoy the play area without having to check back every 2 seconds to make sure they were safe, and I watched thousands of people spend the day learning about socialism. As much as I would love to use my own words to tell you how good X, Y & Z speeches were, or how good the festival was as a whole, it’s best to use the words of everyone I spoke too.
I stood outside the Solidarity tent and found the first group of people I could see who were having a good time. Yvette, Gayna and John were all members of their local Aldershot Labour Party, where Gayna was the newly elected chair. The conversation quickly turned to how much they’re enjoying the day, with Yvette commenting that “We want somewhere we can go with our friends and families and feel safe and I think now we’re starting to see that. Plus its affordable. Times are hard y’know? And this is affordable for us.” They were just finishing up some of Unite’s free ice creams and I couldn’t help but smile at the typical ‘good time’ image of them sat on a bench in the sun eating free ice cream, they were clearly enjoying the festival. They put the success of it all down to the people involved with it, and Gayna taking the piss out of the idea of ‘Jacob Rees-Mogg types walking around a festival like this’ proved that Southerners can actually be funny- who knew?
After being declined a second interview from a group of people based off the fact that “I look too establishment,” I caught up with Sabah and Anthony at their stall. They were sat in the corner, table full of badges, leaflets, programmes, t shirts and all sorts of stuff about music. Sabah was there on behalf of Love Music, Hate Racism, “trying to build a counter culture against racism through, gigs, through music, and through the backing of artists,” and you could instantly tell that she loved it. Anthony was there from a more popular organisation, Stand up to Racism and he told me about how he was organising against the Trump visit, but more recently against the Tommy Robinson protestors. I sat there and listened to them both talk about their movement’s and felt a tinge of envy at their passion.
Their stall was obviously geared towards younger people, and Sabah was as passionate in her initial pitch as she was when I brought this up. “Young people are undermined quite a lot, we’re disregarded as being lazy and uninterested in politics… But we think we have the potential to spark new movements and bring about change. We have this voice, the anger and the audacity to challenge people like Trump and to say what we think about offending people.”
You could tell Anthony was 100% behind her, he managed to multi-task serving a customer and telling me about how they engage people, “People don’t think change needs to happen until the problem affects them, which is in itself a problem. But if you’re able to reach people culturally and say that this is actually a fun thing which we can create the ideas for, we don’t need any traditional methods and we can take control of our own future… and if we can get across to people culturally as well as politically then this is our world to run really.”
Jeremy Corbyn was over at the main stage at 17:55 but I was inspired enough already. Their stall was picking up customers, so I finished up as Anthony told me how the festival seems like a festival of hope, and how it shows there’s a hub to change things from. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to be from people like these. He’s right.
Easy to mock and they had to virtually give some of the tickets away but #LabourLive has got a good few thousand people out talking politics. For a Corbyn leadership which needs momentum (small m) it serves a purpose. Moreover could the Conservatives do it? Almost certainly not. pic.twitter.com/SEdkkKWTNs
— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) June 16, 2018
People were generally nervous about speaking. An understandable scepticism of media left a lot of people suspicious about why I’d want to talk to some random people, but one thing that never fails to get people talking is the classic: “excuse me can I borrow a cigarette.” That’s what Ayo Fagbemi said to me. A cig and a chat. Classic smoking area technique. Daily Mail journalists eat your heart out.
He was wearing that very fine looking Nigerian World Cup top that you’ve probably seen, which led to the inevitable conversation of this time of year of “how do you reckon you’ll do?” A Nigerian supporter and an England supporter sat on a bench discussing World Cup prospects was probably the saddest point of my day. But unlike the history of both team’s World Cup performances Ayo was evidently full to the brim of ideas and overflowing with a passion to implement them. He told me all about about the Grime4Corbyn movement which he was involved in and how that passion working with one Labour related project has left him with something he wants to transfer again and again and again.
“If you look at young people and say listen, if you organise the way you organise for Grime4Corbyn or the way you organise for an election, you could save your Youth Centre, you can save things that are going on in your area… There are many different ways which you can engage in politics, and at the same time we need to tell young people there is. We need the party to understand young people and help them speak their language.”
Like Anthony and Sabah, you could tell he knew what he was talking about. That reassured quality that just makes you think- yeah, you know what? You’re probably going to do something special, and the whole festival was full of it. The experts in the literary tent talking about how we communicate new ideas could have just as easily been replaced by the likes of Ayo, and that was exactly his plan- when I asked him if he’d be coming back next year, he promised “something more diverse that speaks to a different audience.” Probably going to have use for that Oyster Card again ain’t I?
This was the whole point of the festival. It was allowing people to connect with each other, to bounce ideas for new plans, discuss new ways to communicate and to engage, to campaign and to ultimately win elections. People will always find something to criticise about events like this, and to those who say no one’s minds will have been changed clearly didn’t watch thousands of people learn about socialism, they didn’t speak to people like Ayo and Sabah who planned to use this festival to springboard their own community movements, helping to ensure progressive grassroots change in their local areas.
— Ross Kempsell (@rosskempsell) June 16, 2018
This isn’t the only way for change to happen, but it’s the best. In Ayo’s own words: “We are constantly fighting against a system which is holding us down. Doing that takes a lot more effort, a lot more thinking, it takes a lot more organisation and a lot more ideas, which is why the Tories won’t do that. It’s all about protecting themselves, they’re not about expanding, they’re about protecting.” The Tories aren’t interested in change, they never have been. That’s why they didn’t put up such a campaign to get young people to register to vote, that’s why they attract the donors who benefit the most from things staying the same, and that’s why Britain is stagnating. The real change is happening from people like those who I spoke to at Labour Live.
It’s not just that. I spent hours in the literary tent (I couldn’t resist buying more books I am terrible) listening to talks on how to invent the future, to present socialism and how to deal with automation. Not just in the “oh lets implement Universal Basic Income and solve everything” way, but in an actual discussion about whether these things would work. Do we need Universal Basic Income or Universal Basic Services? How could we spend our money most efficiently? I didn’t know yesterday, and I don’t today. But I have a better idea now.
I also drifted in and out of the Solidarity tent to watch ‘The People’s Question Time’ which was actually the best QT I’ve watched (not the biggest compliment, it’s a low bar), as well as The World Transformed’s show, where they used some odd form of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ to criticise meritocracy and teach about progressive solutions. Did you know you can send 2 people to Eton for the price of sending 1 person to prison? I didn’t. Now I do.
Ultimately, this was the point of Labour Live. I left the party about 6 months ago because I didn’t like the way the leadership did things, but if Labour Live has made anything clear, it’s that the Labour Party is the home of progress. They managed to get thousands of people talking about politics together when there isn’t a major election anywhere in sight. It made clear that the socialist movement surrounding it is what fights, and wins our workers’ rights, our right to healthcare, to a quality education and a substantial welfare system. So while I have concerns about the tremendous flaws within the Labour Party, they’re made easier by the whole host of people dedicated to fixing them. It’s the party of change, so now, in the most cliché London ‘Northener gone wrong’ look ever, my Labour Membership card sits below my Oyster card in my wallet.