In the end, LabourLive went off with neither a bang nor a whimper, but something in between. Given the relentless barrage of negative publicity that accompanied the build-up to yesterday’s one-day musical festival – low, slow ticket sales, a lacklustre line-up and reports of it all costing the party more than £1 million in losses – that alone can be taken as good news for Jeremy Corbyn.
Party sources said yesterday that 13,000 tickets out of a possible 20,000 had been sold. Anyone at the event yesterday can testify that figure doesn’t reflect the number of actual attendees, and was massaged by Unite’s decision to bulk-buy tickets and give them away for free to its members and anyone else with a discount code (cue applications for dozens in the name of Tony Blair and Kim il-Sung, among others). Some were anti-Brexit protestors, but their much-trailed stunt during Corbyn’s speech was a damp squib.
Nonetheless, thousands of people turned out – on a cloudy Saturday no less – for a music festival hosted by the Labour Party and headlined by its leader. Three years ago that sentence would have been an exercise in surrealism. Replace Labour in that sentence with Conservative and it still is. The financial hit to the party and union movement aside, the event is more proof that Corbyn’s Labour can do politics differently – and make something resembling a success of it.
Set against a backdrop of derision from Westminster and subterranean expectations from the press and political rivals within and without their party, for Corbynites, yesterday is yet more evidence of their movement’s ability to prove the received wisdom and those who peddle it wrong. But most significantly, that this year’s event was not a disaster but a qualified success has made the argument for it to be held again next year, as party chair Ian Lavery triumphantly declared yesterday.
As Stephen revealed in the run-up to yesterday, one of the things that hobbled this year’s event was scepticism within Labour that it could ever work – the party did not allocate money to book acts as a result, hence its limp musical offering. Should LabourLive 2018 convince the doubters to do LabourLive 2019 properly – with a full roster of big-name acts – we will get a fairer picture of whether Corbynite innovations such as this can really be an unqualified success.