Theresa May’s plans for a festival to celebrate the best of post-Brexit Britain in 2022 comes at a time when the public want big ideas, not political conferences.
It’s an idea which draws up images of exaggerated patriotism. The Prime Minister’s ‘Festival for Brexit Britain’ aims to “celebrate our nation’s diversity and talent and mark this moment of national renewal with a once-in-a-generation celebration”, taking inspiration from the 1851 Great Exhibition and the 1951 post-war carnivals.
Not only is the patriotism archaic, but so is talk of yet another political festival. The British public are proactive, and want something different.
We’ve already seen failed political events in the form of Labour Live or ‘JezFest’. While over 13,000 people attended the festival, it still had to cut ticket prices and run promotional offers to attract an audience. With the exception of party conferences, events run under the banner of a political party fail to engage the public.
Instead, ideas must be allowed to grow in a public space without political framing. As soon as ideas are shoehorned into a political allegiance, then we run the risk of falling into the echo chambers which our society is desperately trying to move away from. Thoughts should be free and presented in an environment where views can be challenged.
Tory MP George Freeman learnt this when it came to his Big Tents Ideas Festival, which had its second year earlier this month. Initially dubbed ‘the Tory Glastonbury’, this year’s event seemed to be more cross-party than Conservative.
“I have made it non-party political so that MPs, peers and others from the centre left can also get involved,” the Mid Norfolk MP told The Guardian. The end result was nearly 2,000 people heading to the event near Cambridge to discuss topics such as artificial intelligence, education and social justice.
If Conservative festivals are to be viewed as desperate attempts at replicating the success of Glastonbury Festival, then it’s worth looking at what makes the biggest UK festival so popular in terms of politics. The answer? It’s left-wing tone is never front-and-centre – ideas and music are.
Alongside the expected £120m price tag, its planned launch in 2022 and all this talk of a “celebration”, the PM also says the ‘Festival for Brexit Britain’ is targeted at a “new generation”.
If it is indeed another push to recruit more young people to the Conservative Party – whether that attempt be outright or more subliminal – then it won’t work. While it does appear to shine a light on British industries, it would still be unable to shake off its ties to the Tories. An opportunity for young people to have their say on post-Brexit life would be far more beneficial and engaging than a glamourised showcase.
The British public are more involved and engaged in politics than ever, and they have ideas for change. If political festivals want to provide an opportunity to discuss ideas, then opinions must be free from political allegiance, challenged and unrestrained.