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East Anglian political festival brings out 2,000 to visit the Big Tents

PUBLISHED: 13:41 09 September 2018 | UPDATED: 13:41 09 September 2018

Nearly 2,000 people attended the Big Tent Ideas Festival at Babraham Hall near Cambridge. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Nearly 2,000 people attended the Big Tent Ideas Festival at Babraham Hall near Cambridge. Picture: PAUL GEATER

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Hundreds of people with an interest in politics headed to Cambridge for the second “Big Tent Ideas Festival” on Saturday.

George Freeman MP at the Big Tent Ideas Festival. Picture: PAUL GEATERGeorge Freeman MP at the Big Tent Ideas Festival. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Last year’s event, organised by Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman, was dubbed the “Tory Glastonbury” – but this year’s event had a more all-party feel with speakers from Labour and the Liberal Democrats as well as non-party figures like ITN Political Editor Robert Peston.

It was, however, seen as an essentially liberal gathering of moderate voices in the British political spectrum – there was no sign of any Corbynistas or Faragists at the event.

Mr Freeman said it was important to give those who did not want to join political parties the opportunity to take part in political debate: “I am a Conservative but I think it is important to talk and listen to other people – that is what we are doing here.”

Some of the sessions, held in tents around the grounds of Babraham Hall near Cambridge, were so popular that the organisers will need bigger tents in future events.

Nearly 2,000 people attended the Big Tent Ideas Festival at Babraham Hall near Cambridge - with people struggling to get into some tents. Picture: PAUL GEATERNearly 2,000 people attended the Big Tent Ideas Festival at Babraham Hall near Cambridge - with people struggling to get into some tents. Picture: PAUL GEATER

A debate on Project Hope versus Project Fear featuring Brexit-supporting Tory MEP Daniel Hannam and Labour moderate Peter Kyle had people standing outside in the rain!

Mr Freeman said the concept of the Big Tent Ideas Festival was growing: “We’ve had Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester Labour mayor) wanting us to take it to his city – and there’s been interest from Merseyside. This is a very different event to a traditional party conference.”

Mr Freeman was joined by several fellow Tory MPs from Norfolk, including cabinet member Elizabeth Truss who took part in a debate on the economy.

A late addition to the line-up was former Chancellor and now editor of the London Evening Standard George Osborne who helped to bring the festival to a close.

Nearly 2,000 people attended the Big Tent Ideas Festival at Babraham Hall near Cambridge. Picture: PAUL GEATERNearly 2,000 people attended the Big Tent Ideas Festival at Babraham Hall near Cambridge. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Although it was aimed at attracting “non-politicians” as well, many of those who attended were already involved in politics – including Cambridge Labour MP Daniel Zeichner who was not a speaker, but did give the event a look.

Among the subjects discussed were how Britain can cope with Brexit, the importance of global issues including aid, the role of the arts in society, and how the world can cope with technological and political change.

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