How Glastonbury could decide the fate of Britain
Picture the scene.
It’s Sunday afternoon, raining hard, and you’ve just dropped nine quid on an organic paella. You didn’t pack wellies because you think they make you look like a ‘Glasto-wimp’, and your hangover from Saturday and comedown from Friday are beginning to merge into something rich and strange.
In penance for all of this you are making your way to ‘Jez We Can – Jeremy Corbyn in Conversation’ at the Left Field stage. No doubt the small matter of Britain’s place in Europe will be addressed.
And as the three-day-old rain soaks further into your socks it finally hits you. This is the long weekend you went to bed in a two-man, Tesco tent – giving little thought to the unfamiliar business of “postal voting in absentia” – and woke up to a sovereign, independent, Brexited Britain.
How did you get here? How did it come to this?
"The people who will live longest with the referendum’s consequences are the young"
A couple of months ago no one thought the clash of Glastonbury and the EU referendum vote mattered. The Remain camp seemed set on cruise control for certain victory, and the loss of a possible 175,000-200,000 voters (the estimated number of visitors to Glastonbury) looked immaterial to the referendum’s outcome.
Little thought was given to the fact that the grand majority of Glastonbury campers historically travel to Worthy Farm on Wednesday night – ready for a full schedule of music the next day, and in a bid to get the most out of their £228 (plus £5 booking fee) tickets. That the day afterwards also happened to be the date allotted for Britain to decide its fate within the European Union was similarly a fact that bothered few.
After all, as YouGov’s Head of Political and Social Research Joe Twynam admitted to the New Statesman in March, “the only circumstance in which [Glastonbury] could have an effect is if it’s incredibly close between Leave and Remain”.
Fast forward to today and guess what? Three polls from the start of this week say Thursday’s vote is too close to call. The vote stands on a knife-edge, and it’s likely to be a thin majority on either side that decides it.
The big issue, according to the Remain camp, is youth voter turnout. The people who will live longest with the referendum’s consequences are the young, and yet they are the people least likely to take part.
"Why did no adviser think to question the daft, feckless placing of that date?"
This is where Glastonbury comes in. The country is divided 50:50, but three-quarters of young people want to stay in. While Glastonbury doesn’t collect information on the demographic of its festival-goers, in the last independent survey taken it was estimated that 92% of attendees were under 50.
Suddenly that small amount of 175,000-200,000 potential voters begins to look significant.
More importantly still, the demographic of Glastonbury goers suggests a pretty clear bias for staying in. “If you look at the people who go to Glastonbury,” says YouGov statistician Joe Twynam again, “And, ok, excuse me of massive stereotyping here – let’s assume that everyone at Glastonbury is white, middle-class, university-educated and under the age of 30… We assume that that group is overwhelmingly likely to vote to stay.”
What is becoming clearer by the day, then, is that the absent Glastonbury vote could matter very much indeed. The Remain camp knows it needs a strong youth voter turnout – despite the fact that its hard to make young voters vote, and even harder to make them do so in advance, by post. Retrospectively, a worse date for the Referendum could hardly have been conceived of: for so many the last weekend of June screams one thing – and it’s not prioritising a trip to the polling station.
For this, David Cameron and his advisers are to blame. “On Thursday the 23rd June, the choice is in your hands,” the Prime Minister announced in front of Number 10 back in February. Why did no adviser think to question the daft, feckless placing of that date? Was the Tory Remain camp overconfident of victory, or just stupid?
"The demographic of Glastonbury goers suggests a pretty clear bias for staying in"
Could Glastonbury itself have done more to avoid or mitigate the clash? A move never looked likely: the festival has had an annual dominion over the last June weekend since the 1970s, and act-booking begins tens of months, if not sometimes years, before each Glastonbury date.
Attempts were reportedly made to make voting possible from inside the festival, but looked like a doomed plea from the start – local authority registers control elections and referenda, and there is no historical precedent of a break with that system.
Meanwhile. Emily Eavis wrote for the Guardian back in March, urging festival goers on either side of the argument to register for a postal vote – and since then both she and father Michael have come out in support of the Remain campaign.
It is not, however, Glastonbury or its organisers job to dictate political and democratic fair play in this country. And the argument that the Eavises might have made more effort in the use of their own public profiles to highlight the injustice of the clash seems far-fetched in the extreme.
For now, Britain waits. But if the Remain camp loses – and loses only marginally – on Friday, David Cameron must defend not only his campaign, but also a monumentally naïve choice of date. Meanwhile, to those living out their first weekend of British independence in Somerset on Worthy Farm, you may console yourself on Sunday afternoon with either Jeremy Corbyn on the Left Field stage, or Newton Faulkner on the Other stage. Good luck.