It is not likely that the Glastonbury Festival would have been among my grandmother’s preferred viewing, her musical tastes could probably be dated to the 1940s and to the days of the Glenn Miller band. Nor was my grandmother given to excess; she admitted to having once had too much to drink, after the Labour Party had triumphed in council elections after the war in the west London borough of Brentford in which she lived.
There is an inclination, though, to think that my grandmother would have taken a gentle delight at the news from the farmland outside the Somerset village of Pilton. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the British Labour Party had appeared at the festival in mid-afternoon. It is a time when some festival-goers are probably still asleep from the previous night, while others are engaged in peremptory domestic duties, while others are buying sustenance for the coming evening. Mid-afternoon is not an ideal time to step on the main stage at the Glastonbury, no-one is paying attention. However, Corbyn stepped onto the stage and was greeted by the cheers of tens of thousands of young people. His rhetorical style his not fiery, instead he pursues a soft-spoken delivery of his arguments, but his words were met with the adulation of the vast audience. My grandmother would have approved.
My grandmother would have approved of a radical leader addressing a vast crowd. My grandmother would talk of hearing Jimmy Maxton speaking at open air mass meetings. Maxton was leader of the Independent Labour Party, a small group to the left of the main party. There would be tales of Maxton’s mane of dark hair and Scots accent and the fiery oratory with which he captured the imagination of the crowds of working people who stood and listened. Of course, Maxton was far too radical and not at all pragmatic, of course his policies stood no chance of success, but he lifted the hearts of those who listened, gave them hope of a world other than the one they inhabited, the one of the grinding poverty of the 1930s.
As someone who came to Christian faith from a radical socialist background, when I read the Sermon on the Mount, there seemed a prospect of working for a different world. If this was what Jesus said, and the church believed in Jesus, then the church might bring extraordinary changes in society. Of course, I learned that most Christians regarded Jesus as most voters regarded Jimmy Maxton, as a man whose views were at best unrealistic and, at worst, repugnant.
Perhaps Jesus would have understood Jimmy Maxton. Perhaps Jesus would think the “JC” on the stage at Glastonbury would be the one who would bring closer the Sermon on the Mount. My grandmother would be probably be pleased at the idea that anyone would improve things.