Well. I am just back from camping at Tolpuddle. We took a delegation down from Swindon Stop the war Coalition, and for the third year running we had the only peace movement banner on the march, which is a shame.
What an excellent event the Tolpuddle festival is. Around 10000 people there, nearly all of whom are trade union or left activists. There were also delegations from the Woodcraft Folk. I had my six year old son with me so I was unable to go to any of the political talks, but there were session on climate change and Latin America, and music by David Rovics.
We did a tally of the 40 odd peoplewho came down from Swindon, half of them on the GMB coach, and only 2 of the 40 are in the Labour Party. So although the Tolpuddle march on Saturday is one of the few places where Labour Party banners are out in strength, it is an illusion. The activists in the movement are no longer automatically Labour.
Indeed the huge response to the Cuba Solidarity Campaign stall, and the growing number of Hugo Chavez T-shirts shows that most of the people there are very off message from new labour.
On Sunday I attended the moving wreath laying ceremony at the grave of martyr James Hammett. Peter Hain laid a wreath on behalf of the labour party, and Tony Benn laid a wreath on behalf of socialists. That seemed to sum it up. The red note choir, who are a first class socialist singing group from Bristol, then sang, finishing with a moving version of the red flag. They had adapted the last verse, so it now says Tony has turned our flag blue. This was rapturously received, but understandably there was also a little argument from Labour loyalists.
So this is the conundrum. Those 10000 people are exactly the people who would be the core of any new party to challenge Labour. The Labour Party has driven out or alienated the very people who gave it any meaning. Yet we are as far as we have ever been from offering any alternative that they might identify with. (It is significant for example that there were no Green Party or Respect banners there).