'Unwanted': Glastonbury festival's message to Boris Johnson

The prospect of Boris Johnson as PM inspires artists and musicians to get creative

From speeches by political figures to anti-war protests and climate marches, Glastonbury has been long known for its roots in activism and a strong political undercurrent. This year, the inspiration for some of the most potent political messaging was one looming theme: the prospect of a Boris Johnson premiership.

As the late-night venue Shangri-La prepared to open on Thursday night, the familiar face of the Conservative leadership frontrunner was seen around the site. Alongside the subversive mock-advertisements with anti-capitalist slogans and climate change warnings, a Stanley Donwood print featuring the Uxbridge and South Ruislip MP sat proudly centre stage.

“Unwanted: dead or alive – Boris ‘the’ Johnson,” the header on the print read. “52 years old, 5’ 9”, pale complexion, British-American, bellowing voice, annoying hair … stupid arse.”

“People want them and they’re starting to print them out and put them up off their own back,” said Kaye Dunnings, the creative director of Shangri-La. “People feel now that they can be openly political and provocative – and that clear messaging works.”

The posters, which were originally made during the 2016 Tory leadership race, are just one of several anti-Johnson statements made by artists and musicians at the festival.

As the main stages opened on Friday, Glastonbury’s first headliner Stormzy was set to become the first black British solo artist to top the bill on the Pyramid stage, bringing grime to a mass audience.

The last time Stormzy played the festival in 2017, the rapper whose real name is Michael Omari demanded the government was “held accountable” for the Grenfell fire. His first No 1 song, Vossi Bop, which topped the charts in May, included the lyrics “Fuck the government and fuck Boris” and the BBC was expected to broadcast an uncensored live feed of his set on Friday night.

As well as the surreal takedowns of the politician who is favourite to become the next prime minister, there was disparaging work with a musical edge.

Jonny Banger, a fashion designer who operates under the moniker of Sports Banger, hosts a “Mega Rave” on Saturday at the Stonebridge Bar, where 300 anti-Johnson T-shirts will be given away for free.

Accompanied by the caption “Bumboys, hot totty and piccaninnies: Boris Johnson’s long record of sexist, homophobic and racist comments”, Wright is also selling his anti-Boris T-shirts for £15 online.

Banger – whose bootleg fashion label uses well-known logos such as the Nike swoosh and combines them with others, such as the NHS logo, said: “I’ve never really seen myself as doing political T-shirts. But it got to the point where I was so angry and wanted to use the T-shirts to say something. He’s vile. He can’t answer a straight question. This country is built on class and favour rather than merit, and he’s pushing that narrative again. The T-shirts are born out of frustration.”

In what was described by an audience member as a “very brave” move on Friday, Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative MP for Richmond Park and former London mayoral candidate, appeared on stage at Glastonbury’s Speaker’s Forum. to boos. Members of the audience unveiled a banner reading: “Tory policy kills. Don’t greenwash the lives lost to austerity.”

Goldsmith, who is supporting the Uxbridge MP in the leadership race, said he would not be going to any anti-Johnson raves. “I can imagine what happens there and I’m not sure I would be the most welcome guest,” he said.

As the festival gates opened on Wednesday, attendees were welcomed with new work from the anti-Brexit artists Cold War Steve and Led By Donkeys, who collaborated on a billboard that overlooked the entire festival site. A Johnson tweet from July 2017 – which read “There’s no plan for no deal, because we’re going to get a great deal” – was placed next to Cold War Steve’s signature surreal photoshopped images of politicians and pop culture figures juxtaposed with the EastEnders actor Steve McFadden.

For Jane Tapp, a lecturer from Nottingham, Glastonbury has always been about politics, as well as music. “Some people who wouldn’t usually bother about politics might see something here that gets them interested,” she said.

Paul Scotting, also a Nottingham-based lecturer, said the reaction to Johnson’s political rise risked trivialising him. “It’s a really bad situation and he’s dangerous,” he said. “We all do it, but that’s where he got where he is – by being a joke.”

Justine and Mike Duffy, at Glastonbury for the first time with their daughters, were less critical. “There are a lot of children around and people are here to forget about all of that,” said Justine, a teaching assistant from Manchester. While Mike, who works in sales, said Johnson would not be his first choice for prime minister, he said he didn’t support the “character assassination” of him.

“I think he could lose interest very quickly when the going gets tough,” he said. “Being mayor of London is a different proposition from being head of state.”

Earlier this week, footage emerged of Johnson at the festival in 2000, where he took part in a walkabout tour with Billy Bragg, performed part of the Iliad and said there were lots of “natural Tories” at the festival who had a “strong libertarian ideology”.


Lanre Bakare and Frances Perraudin

The GuardianTramp

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