Jeremy Corbyn’s MK Festival for Peace legacy

MPMC Corby's visit to MK 2
MPMC Corby's visit to MK 2

Following his landslide victory to become leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn is now one of the most famous faces in British politics.

But when he visited Milton Keynes to speak at its Festival for Peace in 1986, things were very different.

MPMC Corbyn's 86 visit to MK

MPMC Corbyn's 86 visit to MK

Having only been a backbench MP for three years, Corbyn was regularly putting pressure on the government to do more about human rights issues, from ending Apartheid in South Africa to funding aid projects in Central America.

So when local activist Mike George decided to put on the Milton Keynes Festival for Peace, Corbyn seemed like a good idea for a speaker.

The festival was organised by Mr George, 72, of Great Linford, and several other members of the Milton Keynes Peace and Justice Centre, as part of the United Nations International Year of Peace.

He said: “He seemed to reflect the aims of the Peace and Justice Centre.

“He did a lot of campaigning, and he was fighting for a lot of the same causes as us.”

Both days of the festival, at Willen Lake Mini Bowl, featured stalls run by a number of campaign groups, including Amnesty International, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, and Central America Solidarity.

Mr Corbyn spoke for around half an hour on Sunday, August 10, 1986 about peace and justice issues he was involved in, both inside and outside the Commons.

“He was always keen on negotiating as long as possible, for example with regards to the Israel-Palestinian conflict or the Anti-Apartheid Movement,” Mr George added.

He also explained that it was relatively easy back then to book Corbyn as a speaker for the event, compared to what it would be like now.

Since being elected Labour leader last month, and delivering his maiden speech at the party conference in Brighton, Corbyn has used his position to push for action on similar issues to those he spoke about in Milton Keynes.

Despite only 7.1 per cent of his party voting for a debate on the Trident nuclear programme, he has said he is determined to pursue the matter.

Other speakers at the festival included the ex-chairman of the Greater London Council, Labour left winger Illtyd Harrington; the Bishop of Northampton, Francis Gerard Thomas; and former Director of Oxfam, Guy Stringer CBE.

It was opened by Mayor Bert Tapp on Saturday, August 9, and featured live music from punk poet Atilla The Stockbroker, Scottish rock band La Paz, and several local acts.

There was also an all day multi-faith vigil at the MK Peace Pagoda organised by the late Gerry Hartigan of Interfaith MK, and a candlelit procession led by the Nipponzan Myohoji Buddhist monks at Willen.

In following years the festival moved to Campbell Park, where it ran until 2000.