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At UK's Glastonbury festival: Music, sunshine and a call to vote

At UK's Glastonbury festival: Music, sunshine and a call to vote
Revellers take selfies as they urge people to vote in the upcoming general election, at Worthy Farm in Pilton, Somerset during the Glastonbury Festival, Britain, June 27, 2024.
PHOTO: Reuters

GLASTONBURY, England — Amid the thump of reggae beats from a stage nearby, the leafy scent of cannabis in the air and the warmth of sunshine at Glastonbury, a big sign tells festival-goers to "use your superpower" and vote in Britain's July 4 election.

The Just Vote campaign has installed a large black cube to represent a ballot box at the sprawling and eccentric five-day festival in southern England, and is trying to target young people with its message.

With polls predicting an easy victory for Keir Starmer-led Labour, there is a sense that many young people — a demographic with lower turnouts at past elections — may simply not vote.

That is a worry for Labour. It has told its candidates that if voters believe the election is a done deal, the Conservatives could do better than expected.

Polling by YouGov shows the vast majority of voters aged 18 to 49 want the Conservatives out of office after 14 years in government, which have seen five prime ministers, a series of scandals, widespread strikes, failing public services and falling living standards.

But among those at Glastonbury, a magnet for some 200,000 revellers, some will use their vote as a chance to back smaller parties, others care about voting the Conservatives out — and some simply won't turn up at all.

Many said they had taken a Labour victory for granted, and they want instead to support parties more closely aligned with the causes that matter to them, from climate change to Gaza. Campgrounds at the festival are dotted with Palestinian flags.

Under Starmer, Labour has shifted towards the centre, moving away from the hard-left politics of previous leader Jeremy Corbyn, who in 2017 addressed a huge crowd at Glastonbury.

Back then, many in the crowd treated Corbyn like a rock star, singing his name in a football-style chant. Starmer has since renounced the Corbyn era, and Corbyn is now standing as an independent.

"I'm excited about change, but I don't really love the Labour Party," said 28-year-old Ellie O'Connell, from Salford in northwest England, considered a Labour stronghold.


"I think he's trying to appeal to [Conservative voters]," she said of Starmer, adding that she planned to vote for the much smaller Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition party.

Charles Olafare, 34, said he doesn't see much difference between Labour and the Conservatives: "The choice between them ... doesn't really feel like much of a choice, and it's quite frustrating."

An advertising copywriter from south London, Olafare said he was considering voting for the Green Party, which has advocated more taxes on the wealthy, scrapping university tuition fees and bringing forward the UK's 2050 net zero target by a decade.

Many younger voters still want to choose Labour if that is the best chance of removing the Conservatives from office, such as 20-year-old Harvey Morrey, who reckons the race will be tight in his constituency in Crewe, central England.

Tactical voting

Others, like Louis Billett, 23, will not vote at all. Turnout among those aged 18 to 24 at the last election in 2019 was about 52 per cent, compared to about 81 per cent for those aged over 75, according to the British Election Study.

"I just don't know enough about it to vote and I just don't see anyone I'd like to vote for," Billett said as he sipped from a can of cider.

Billett, a cheese factory worker from Midsomer Norton, 16 km from the festival site, who described himself as working class, said Corbyn was the one politician he "sort of had any respect for".

The Just Vote campaign, backed by Labour donor Dale Vince, is targeting people like Billett, and is managing to convince some to vote, but not everyone, said campaign volunteer Verel Rodrigues.

Sammy Henderson, 23, said she supported the Green Party but was considering Labour this time if that would help keep the Conservatives out of power — her overriding objective rather than any desire to see Starmer as Britain's next prime minister.

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