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Camping. Slow food. Inspirational speakers. A Pyramid stage. It could be Glastonbury, except for one feature: Tory activists.
Organisers of a new “Conservative Ideas Festival” are hoping to revive the spirit and popular appeal of Theresa May’s party after its battering in June’s general election.
George Freeman, the Norfolk MP who chairs Mrs May’s policy board, came up with the idea after Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn took the Glastonbury Festival by storm this summer.
“Why is it just the left who have all the fun in politics?” he said after Mr Corbyn’s appearance.
The Conservative MP, who is widely seen as a centrist, recently emailed potential supporters, saying his idea for a rightwing festival “seems to have struck a chord” and that he had “some wonderful offers of help of sponsorship and venues”.
He told the Financial Times this week that he had raised £25,000 for a one-day event to be held in September.
His initiative is one of the few concrete responses so far to the question that Conservatives have been asking themselves since their poor performance in the June election: how can the party of government make itself even vaguely cool?
The Tory party was a four-letter word for many attendees at this year’s Glastonbury — including, reportedly, Channel 4 presenter Jon Snow — and large crowds were heard singing “Oooh, Jeremy Corbyn”.
The party’s membership has fallen to somewhere below 150,000 — less than one-third that of Labour’s and not far ahead of the Scottish National party and the Liberal Democrats. The party has also fallen behind Labour in opinion polls, while Mrs May’s personal ratings are below those of Mr Corbyn, who was once seen as unelectable.
Mr Freeman — a descendant of the Liberal prime minister William Gladstone and a former biotechnology investor — said he envisions the Conservative Ideas Festival as a “cross between Hay-on-Wye and the Latitude festival”.
He has described it as a one-day “friends and family event” that will be “relaxed” and unlike the “increasingly corporate, expensive, exclusive [political party] conferences” — which he says are no longer a forum for “grassroots renewal”.
The Conservatives will hold their annual party conference in Manchester at the start of October, charging companies £32,500 for a 6m by 6m exhibition stand.
Mr Freeman’s festival is scheduled to take place the weekend before the party conference. Downing Street is aware of his plans but has agreed with organisers that the festival will be held outside the formal structures of the Conservative party.
A project team of more than 20 people, including 10 MPs, is working on the event, Mr Freeman said. The festival will be invitation-only with between 150 and 200 attendees, some of whom will camp.
It will take place at a rural venue, with the location kept secret so the festival is not disrupted by Momentum, the pro-Corbyn group, or other political opponents.
Mr Freeman said he hoped the event would become an annual fixture, adding that this year’s festival would be like a “first rave, you’ll remember who you brought”.
One sympathetic Conservative MP said the idea was “very trendy” but would need “a lot of expensive booze” for him to attend.
In the US, the Conservative Political Action Conference is a favourite annual event for activists and leading Republicans, and is occasionally referred to as the “Conservative Woodstock”. The last conference in February featured appearances from Donald Trump, Steve Bannon and then UK Independence party leader Nigel Farage.
In the UK, rightwing events have historically been more low-key. Two Westminster think-tanks, the Institute for Economic Affairs and the Adam Smith Institute, organise an annual Freedom Week featuring libertarian lectures, drinks receptions, a barbecue and punting.
In 2013, the Conservative Home website ran a Victory 2015 Conference, where Mrs May paved the way for her leadership campaign by setting out her vision of conservatism.
That conference also featured a session on “Ten Winning Policy Ideas”, including an English parliament, a 10p income tax band and replacing the Human Rights Act.