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Hugo Rifkind

Jeremy Corbyn’s playing Glastonbury: is this a good idea?

48 hours after ­Britain learns the result of the ­EU referendum, Jeremy will speaking to hungover revellers wearing binbags

25 June 2016

8:00 AM

25 June 2016

8:00 AM

I do like a wet and muddy Glastonbury. Albeit, admittedly, not quite as much as I like a dry and sunny one. It’s different, though. When the weather is poor, you become a pioneer, remaking the land, terra-forming the turf with your trudge. On the Sunday evening you can climb high up to the top of the park, the south-west slopes, past the tipis, along from the stone circle, and you will see all that was once green turned to brown. ‘We did that,’ you may think.

Glastonbury is a secular pilgrimage, but it is the filth that makes it holy. Don’t laugh at me. It does. Mud, you learn, is not a substance but a process, taking you from wet ground to a slithering, splattering slide to a sucking, squelching treacle that fights for your boots. And that’s just the degeneration. The rebirth works in reverse, from a thick, cloying fudge, through my favourite stage, a rubbery, topsoil plasticine. Finally, once the sun returns, you are given a hardened crust, which could be cut into bricks to build civilisation anew.

Live through this, feel it seep into your boots, your clothes, your hair, your skin, your soul, and something has to give. It is days, probably, since you last saw a mirror. Inside your boots, in the memorable words of a friend of a friend, you may have found that ‘my foot looks like a brain’. And yet, if you do not succumb to despair, what you will reach instead is a state of grace. I’m serious. Crawl blinking from your tent the morning after a Glastonbury flood, and you become a community. You are Prospero’s children, the surviving heroes of The Walking Dead. Normal life will return, and soon, but right now it is far away. You may weep, you may hug strangers. You may, like that girl I saw watching the English National Opera perform Ride of the Valkyries at the Pyramid Stage in 2004, squat on the ground in a bra top, one welly and nothing else, and do an actual poo on the actual ground. All the rules are different, all your life is here; this is the only world you have ever known.

It is at about this point, anyway, that Jeremy Corbyn will be turning up. Glastonbury started on Wednesday; he’ll be performing at the Left Field stage on Sunday. Can you think, I wonder, of anything that will have happened in the middle?


Yep. That. Forty-eight hours after Britain has woken up to learn the result of the EU referendum, as the pound may be plummeting (forgive me if you’re reading this afterwards, and it hasn’t) and a prime minister may be teetering on the brink of resignation (likewise, if he isn’t), the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition will be in a tent in Somerset, speaking to a bunch of hung-over thirtysomethings wearing binbags as cagoules. And I cannot figure out for the life of me whether this is a good idea or a terrible one.

It may, of course, be no sort of idea at all. The more one hears about the inner workings of the Corbyn operation, the more one wonders if anybody is flying the aeroplane; if Seamus Milne really is pulling the strings, or if things are just decided with a show of hands among the various 24-year-old veterans of the Israel boycott movement with sheafs of papers in plastic bags who appear to manage his office. Maybe, though, this is strategy. Maybe Jeremy has thought hard about from where to address the nation at this time of vast potential turmoil, and this has been his conclusion.

If so, perhaps he’s right. Much has been written about the political make-up of Glastonbury revellers, and most of it is nonsense. Last year, a spoof opinion poll did the rounds suggesting that a vast majority had voted Tory. This seems implausible, mainly because even if they did, they surely wouldn’t admit it while actually there, to a bloke with a clipboard. Frankly, I’m a little weary of articles by toff journalists suggesting that only braying toffs still go. Transparently, they only think this because they’ve spent their week backstage, braying with toffs. At £230, tickets are indeed well out of the reach of the supposed traditional dog-on-a-string clientele, but still fairly reasonable when compared with the cost of almost any other five-day holiday.

On its own terms, Glastonbury exudes politics. Corporate sponsors are largely shunned, and environmentalism goes to the bone. Clearly, quite a lot of this stems from the Methodist background of the founder, Michael Eavis. While the overt politicking onsite has always been of the leftist, Billy Bragg, CND variety, these days it’s impossible to wander around the Green Fields without thinking of Steve Hilton, and perhaps rolling your eyes a bit.

Slightly to my surprise, I find myself utterly at a loss to anticipate what all these people will make of Corbyn, especially given how febrile our politics currently are, and mainly in directions he doesn’t particularly seem to give a toss about. I suppose it depends on the weather. Perhaps they’ll go along out of fond curiosity, like they used to do to watch Tony Benn. Perhaps they’ll be bleary, hungover, wasted, confused, waiting for the jokes, thinking he’s actually Jeremy Hardy. Or perhaps I’m wrong to sneer. Perhaps he’ll cajole them, inspire them, raise them up, and I’ll finally see the point.

Or perhaps it’s all just a cruel practical joke; a gig booked by somebody who means him harm. Although not by John McDonnell. He’s doing the day before.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.


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