The second Byline Festival, staged in partnership with The Frontline Club, ended on bank holiday Monday after four mind-expanding days in the undulating beauty of Pippingford Park, East Sussex. It’s fair to say that this was not your normal festival, however.

Yes, there was plenty of music to enjoy, along with comedy, theatre, spoken word, beer, wine, street food, face art and torrential rain but Byline Fest was conceived, by Stephen Colegrave and Peter Jukes, to change the world.

It goes like this. Many of the big issues of today are not being addressed. In part, this is because they require long-term solutions and the politicians tasked to tackle them are short-term thinkers. This is not new. Politics is now an ad hoc business, the political visionary largely a creature of the past.

More worryingly, some high-profile recent events indicate that the global agenda is being subverted because the democracy that most of us in the developed world hold dear is again under threat. Two fundamental pillars, free press and free elections, have been compromised. The weapons this time are stealthy and non-violent and, as a result, their impact is being hugely underestimated.

As citizens we can no longer rely upon established sources for truth and representation. Hence the rationale for a getting people together in large numbers to talk about it.

The festival featured dozens of panel-led discussions and workshops, covering the latest revelations on subjects like Russian collusion in the US election and interference in the EU referendum.

Contributions from acknowledged authorities brought these hot topics to life – for example, investigative journalists Luke Harding and Carole Cadwalladr as well as Damian Collins MP who chairs the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee which has just published an interim report on Disinformation and ‘fake news’. As a Remainer, I was particularly taken with Carole’s conviction that “we are on the brink of exiting the EU on the back of electoral fraud.”

At its heart, as the name suggests, Byline stands up for independent journalism which struggles, in traditional media, from lack of funding and from the untrammelled power of a few, old, white men who control them. In the digital space, according to Cambridge Analytica whistleblower Chris Wylie, it’s the “Wild West”, an unregulated environment in which the massive vulnerability in electoral systems around the world is being exposed by insurgency methods originally created for the military’s Information Operations.

And, of course, there are our human susceptibilities to factor in. We are hardwired to be persuaded by storytelling. A clever manipulator like Donald Trump understands that a fiction which is plugged into a truth (‘you are struggling to make ends meet, it’s because of foreigners’) can produce a powerful narrative capable of overwhelming the facts.

If this all sounds a bit depressing, there were plenty of fun and games at Byline Fest. Interviews with John Cleese and Alexei Sayle were highlights. As was protest punk band Pussy Riot, Saturday’s headline act. And there was lots of hope too. While several hundred individuals in a forest can’t change the world, there are more and more examples of enlightened projects where members of public are making the difference.

We heard about the rise of municipalism as a means of increasing the relevance of political decisions to the people whose lives are most affected by them. In his book Flatpack Democracy, Peter Macfadyen recounts how in Frome, Somerset a group of residents took control of their town council and set about creating “a new, inclusive democracy from the grassroots up”. Similar municipally-led change is happening in cities as far apart as Cape Town, Jackson and Hong Kong.

Participatory democracy of this kind does have the potential, therefore, to reclaim politics from the politicians and, at the very least, making ourselves heard can give our representatives the confidence to act more definitively on our behalf.

Amidst all this stimulation, I did have to confront a personal nagging truth. Camping, even glamping (for I had rented a rather fine tent with colourful woven cotton mats), is not for me any longer. I hope it’s not a function of age and decrepitude though, of course, these are factors. There is just something about campsite facilities, especially by day three. If I say that I considered (only briefly) signing off this blog from ‘two loos, long trek’, you get the general picture. Eeeuuwww!

Byline ended for me with a captivating session entitled ‘Whistleblowers make history’ featuring ex newspaper journalists Dan Evans and John Ford plus Chris Wylie and Shahmir Sanni who went public with his belief that the Brexit poll had been tainted by Vote Leave flouting spending limits.

All four of these brave men acknowledged that they had been part of the problem but had decided, at considerable personal cost, that veracity was more important than living a lie. Their stories were scary but mostly inspiring. If we believe in the sanctity of truth, we have a duty to preserve it and can all play our part.

Tickets are already on sale for the 2019 Byline Festival which will take place in the same location between 23rd and 26th August.

Join in. Get involved. This stuff matters.