The best political performances at Glastonbury over the years

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From peace and anti-war protests to climate change marches and speeches by political figures, the legendary festival is well known for its underlying political and militant roots.

As the biggest festival in the world turns 50e anniversary this weekend, we look back at some of the best political performances at Glastonbury over the years.

Jeremy Corbyn on the Pyramid Stage

In 2017, the then Labor leader gave a speech on the Pyramid Stage. Calling for a “world of human rights, peace, justice and democracy across the planet”, while urging Donald Trump to build “bridges not walls”, the long-awaited appearance of the political veteran drew one of the biggest audiences ever to the iconic Pyramid Stage.

Tony Benn ‘plays’ Glastonbury

The legendary Left Field neighborhood was introduced to Glastonbury in 2000, designed to combat apathy and promote left-wing trade unionism and politics. Left-wing musicians, including Billy Bragg and the Asian Dub Foundation, alongside political commentators, make regular appearances at the Left Field tent.

In 2002 and 2008, Tony Benn gave speeches in the Left Field area. In what was described as a “passionate address to a crowded tent”, Benn delivered “hard-hitting political storytelling that could have converted the most cynical”.

“We can harness the full energy of the people who come here today to tackle the most serious issues facing the human race,” Benn told the Left Field audience.

In 2014, festival founder Michael Eavis renamed the Left Field Tower the ‘Benn Tower of Strength’, in honor of the beloved politician who died in March of that year.

“What a fantastic guy, huh?” Principles. A politician of conviction who didn’t do what was popular, he did what was right. He was so much a part of that. He was a star performer. How can we replace it, I ask you? We miss him so much,” Eavis had said.

GMB Union brings Polish groups to Glasto to highlight the plight of exploited workers

The GMB Union is a left field sponsor at Glastonbury.

In 2007, the union brought Polish rock and reggae bands to the festival to highlight the plight of exploited migrant workers in Britain.

At the time, GMB set up campaign centers to recruit some of the 500,000 Polish migrant workers in Britain. Following an agreement with the Polish Cultural Institute, the union invited bands Poise Rite and Habakuk to “highlight the plight of unorganized workers, many of them from Poland and other Eastern European countries” .

Extinction Rebellion Motorcade

In 2019, environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion led a procession through Glastonbury to highlight the threat of climate change. The procession began on the park stage with a series of presentations from guest speakers on the immediate action required to combat a global climate catastrophe. The parade then proceeded to the stone circle, where activists attempted to assemble the “largest human hourglass sculpture ever”.

Ahead of the event, Emily Eavis said: “It’s a chance for everyone at the festival who feels passionate about protecting our planet and future generations to be part of a collective moment.”

Caroline Lucas speaks in 2011

Brighton Pavilion Green MP Caroline Lucas appeared on the Pyramid Stage in 2011 before US rap group Wu Tang Clan performed. The longtime politician and climate change activist and campaigner spoke about water scarcity and global poverty before the rappers kicked off their set.

And perhaps the worst political appearance…

This week Billy Bragg opened up about his trip to Glastonbury with Boris Johnson in 2000. The folksinger, who organized the Left Field tent at the festival for several years, says he hasn’t been in contact with Johnson since he gave her a documented tour of Glastonbury 22 years ago.

Speaking to the Glastonbury Free Press, Bragg said: “I tell people it was just a bad trip and I don’t know how it ended up on YouTube.

“I thought it was just bad magic mushrooms, but actually it really had to happen. In my defense, it was relatively harmless at the time.

“It just goes to show that you have to be careful who you elevate to celebrity positions. Then he was that guy from Have I Got News For You.

“Everyone was really happy to see him. I can’t imagine if I walked around with him now that he would have the same reaction.

Bragg added: “I think he’s someone who has lived his whole life without taking any responsibility for anything: professionally, personally or politically.

“Boris is someone who acts with impunity and having someone like that running the country is downright dangerous.”

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is editor of Left Foot Forward

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