‘You can have a voice’: political festivals on the rise in UK

The crowd at Labour Live in London in June

It was mercilessly lampooned last summer as the “Tory Glastonbury” – a paddock of largely male Conservative supporters in red chinos who could only dream of aping the adulation Jeremy Corbyn received from young fans at the music festival months earlier.

The vision behind the Big Tent Ideas festival, brainchild of the Tory MP George Freeman, was to to connect the party with young people and build a centre-right movement to propel it forward. One year on, however, the festival has returned with a new strategy.

“It’s totally different. I have made it non-party political so that MPs, peers and others from the centre left can also get involved,” said Freeman. The event, he added, was part of a wider initiative to travel the country announcing bursaries for entrepreneurs with the most radical ideas.

Freeman claimed as many as 17 Labour MPs had been due to attend the event but pulled out after pressure from their party’s HQ. Two of those he named, Ian Austin and Clive Lewis, said constituency and shadow cabinet commitments were the reasons they would not be attending.

Lewis said: “Whilst flattered to be invited to speak in most public debates, whether I was available or not for ‘Tory Glastonbury’, I’d still have to consider if I was willing to be showcased at such an event. An event that is, when all is said and done, an attempt at detoxification and brand revival of the Tory party, particularly with young people.”

George Freeman
George Freeman: ‘Brexit has created a huge frustration for young people and there is a demand for discussion about ideas.’ Photograph: Richard Gardner/Rex/Shutterstock

Saturday’s gatherings inside eight tents at Babraham Research Campus in Cambridge, with speakers on topics ranging from “Tax and State” to “Millennials – Maybe They Are More Libertarian Than We Think?”, reflect a growing appetite for “political festivalism”.

The trend has…

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