In an exclusive interview with The Canary, rapper and political activist Lowkey has spoken about his support for Jeremy Corbyn, his hopes for after the election, and just why he thinks the Labour leader has inspired millions of people across the UK. But he also takes direct aim at the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). And he says that, if Owen Smith had won the leadership contest, Labour wouldn’t be getting his vote.
Lowkey rose to prominence in 2009 with the release of his first album Dear Listener. A British-Iraqi born in London, he was rapping from an early age and was noticed after putting out a series of mixtapes. But Dear Listener propelled him onto a worldwide stage, and he has not only played festivals and concerts in the UK, but around the world.
He told The Canary that the sudden general election has “revitalised many of us who were previously jaded and felt marginalised politically”. He went on to say that it, and especially Corbyn’s campaign, has ushered into reverse the adage ‘where the best lack all conviction and the worst are full of passionate intensity’:
I have seen this election campaign transform people from passivity and apathy to action, people have morphed from disenchanted victims of circumstance into reenergised shapers of the future. We cannot allow that vitality to dissipate. In the words of the late, great, Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani: ‘the light is more powerful than the lantern’. And in this equation, Corbyn is the lantern; the movements driving him forward are the light.
The paradox of the PLP
But Corbyn’s campaign has not been without its trials and tribulations. Two leadership elections, last year’s attempted ‘Chicken Coup’ by the PLP, and public dissent from Labour MPs across the country have all made Corbyn’s job all the more difficult. And Lowkey is scathing in his assessment of those who would seek to undermine the Labour leader:
We now see the paradoxical situation whereby many of those who sought before (and probably will again) to sabotage his leadership will be voted into parliament at least largely due to their association to a leader they conspired against. Which is a very strange situation indeed.
The deep state
Lowkey mused that, on one hand, there is the “struggle against the neoliberal New Labour, Blairite axis within the party”, with the “support” of the mainstream media and the UK Israel lobby, “as was made clear in Al Jazeera’s investigative report“. But Lowkey also notes that the weight of the establishment, or what he refers to as the “deep state”, is against Corbyn. And he believes that, even if on 9 June Corbyn is walking into Number 10, “there will be many more mountains to climb and the attacks will undoubtedly intensify”. But he also says that the way in which Corbyn rose to become leader has given him “legitimacy”:
The fact he was propelled into leadership by the grassroots membership of the party… gives him far more popular legitimacy than anyone opposing him. He has the support of the trade unions which, in theory, are the basis of the party… He has invigorated membership of the party and, moreover, democratised the political process in an unprecedented way. The manifesto was put together and voted for by the PLP, so therefore implementation is supported by even those who oppose him. So while we may conjecture about the challenges which lay ahead, they are by no means insurmountable, and I do not see cause for apathy.
For Lowkey, there are a few clear reasons why he’s backing the Labour leader. And one of these areas is foreign policy.
Lowkey has always been a vocal supporter of the struggle of minorities and those seeking liberation, worldwide. As The Canary reported previously, his 2016 track Ahmed deals with the refugee crisis that was engulfing Europe at the time, and that hasn’t gone away. The track specifically focuses on criticising the situations that cause people to flee the Middle East. And it draws tragic inspiration from the death of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, who drowned in the Mediterranean on 2 September 2015:
Liberating the marginalised
But it’s Corbyn’s stance, both geopolitically and with liberation movements worldwide, that enthuses Lowkey. He said:
Corbyn has been an anti-imperialist and active in anti-war politics for longer than I have been alive. He has made clear that questions need to be asked of the discord in policy between MI5 and MI6 in the facilitation and weaponisation of young people going to fight in the Middle East to be sacrificed to the lords of perpetual war… He is also absolutely clear that, while he needs to ensure the safety of people here, he will not be bullied into eroding the civil liberties of people who politically oppose British foreign policy.
He was at the forefront of the largest global mobilisation of people against a war in the history of the human species in 2003, opposing the leadership of his party in their war against the people of Iraq. And unfortunately, history has vindicated him and the anti-war movement when they argued that imperial adventures would render people here less safe, not more. He has campaigned against unbridled militarism and the Military Industrial Complex longer than I have been alive. And the same goes for his campaigning for Palestinian rights.
There is one major issue which has motivated Lowkey’s decision to back Corbyn, though. And that’s the creeping power of big businesses – or ‘corporatism’. As The Canary previously reported, the Conservative Party has been bankrolled by millionaires, property developers, and tax avoiders in this election. But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to corporatism (the blurred lines between big business and big government). And Lowkey recognises it’s one of the biggest issue of our time. But he refers to it slightly differently:
For me, the most important issue is the inverted totalitarianism of corporate power. The term ‘inverted totalitarianism’ was coined by political philosopher Sheldon Wolin. It was used to refer to the subjugation of political actors to corporate interests. He asserted that, while we had the management of episodic democracy, the interests behind them stayed the same. So while we could vote in crypto-progressives like Blair, we could never vote against the interests of press baron billionaire oligarchs, arms companies, bankers, and lords of fictitious capital. He essentially outlined the inescapable ubiquity of the neoliberal consensus. It was the IMF loan of $3.9bn taken by the Callaghan government in 1976 which really opened the state to corporate vassalage through their infamous SAPs [Structural Adjustment Programmes], which paved the way for this inverted totalitarianism.
Lowkey says that privatisation of public services “has led to untold grief and suffering”. He calls the policies of the Tories and New Labour “reverse robin hood redistributions of wealth upwards; they represent benefits for bankers as subsidised by the taxpayer”. But he believes that the public are becoming more and more awake to the agendas of both the Conservatives and New Labour, and that of corporations.
He says that he thinks the public was always aware of the fact that parties like the Tories were never working in the interests of the people. But he believes that, up until recently, these views were “kept outside of the mainstream political discourse”. He cites Wolin again, saying that the “oligarchal” corporatist mainstream media try to “demobilise” the public, so as to maintain the status quo.
Plunder the public purse
And Lowkey recognises that, up until now, that tactic has worked well, “because no alternative has been represented”:
The anonymity of bureaucracy in the self-hating state teaches the doctrine of political futility. The impersonal mechanisms which enforce structural violence cultivate a malignant nihilism and apathy within people which is hard to shake. Despite the daily mobilisations of ideological combatants and paid persuaders in the war of ideas, the myths of neoliberalism are being demystified on a daily basis.
The idea of free market objectivity is clearly being exposed when the fact is that it not only contains many regulatory elements but moreover subsiding elements. A free market society is not one where corporations are given free rein to plunder the public purse. The Tories regularly seek to use vulgar identity politics and peddle in the mythology of patriotism, surrounding themselves with courtiers and sycophants waving Union Jacks at every opportunity. It is important we are clear that, even within the tortured logic of nationalism, they pursue policies which are treasonous to any imagining of ‘national interest’. They sell off public services to state companies of other countries. They facilitate the tax dodging of billionaires. And they do not represent your interests.
A change is possible
Lowkey’s second album in 2011 was entitled Soundtrack to the Struggle; and the title is telling of what really drives him. Because the majority of his work is underscored by political and social issues. And it’s this conscience regarding humanity which has cemented his position on Corbyn. And he believes that, with Corbyn, the “struggle” could begin to ease:
This is the first time in either Britain or the US that we have the choice to vote someone into the seat of power who does not believe in the weak, self-hating state and is ready to renationalise much of what was sacrificed to the lords of debt. Within my lifetime, we have never had the opportunity to vote for an alternative to this arrangement of society. But now, we do have that alternative.
While the corporate media constantly seeks to personalise politics, we must remember that he essentially represents a widespread rejection of the bankrupt economic philosophy of neoliberalism along with its discredited apologists in the self-hating, weak state. It was people power alone which propelled him to this stage. Therefore, if he breaks through we must continue to implore him further. He is the product of a movement and, whether in or out of power, must be guided and held to account by it.
Lowkey speaks almost like a political philosopher. His words, while embellished and poetic, show a deep level of understanding rarely seen within the music industry. He is someone who has masticated over issues, problems and situations from many angles, until he has tasted a resolution he is comfortable with. But what also shines through about Lowkey is that he’s someone who knows where he came from. And it shows in his ability to convey a message to people. Not only via his music, but by his words, too.
When asked why ending corporatism was so crucial, he said bluntly:
I don’t want millions of children growing up in poverty in this country with two thirds of them coming from homes where the parents work. How can that be ameliorated? By raising the minimum wage and abolishing zero hours contracts.
Who wants to live in a country where a quarter of a million people are homeless, with one in every 59 people in London being homeless? How can that be dealt with? Building a million new homes, half of them for council housing.
Why would you want nurses in this country using food banks? How can that be changed? Raising nurses’ wages and not charging them to study for the profession. Not chasing them out of the country if they don’t earn over £35,000 a year. And most importantly of all, not selling it off to Richard Branson or anyone else who has curried favour with the Conservatives through the legalised bribery of the lobbying system.
Who doesn’t oppose the idea of taxpayer-subsidised welfare for billionaires and rapacious looting of the public treasury by banks?
Who doesn’t oppose the idea of taxpayer-subsidised arms sales, or the idea of an arms industry propped up by sales to states which bomb some of the world’s poorest people into starvation?
Who doesn’t disagree with the idea that our relationship to nature and the environment should be dictated by fossil fuel giants which choose short-term accumulation of capital over the lives of their grandchildren?
All of the above issues are the reason we need Corbyn in.
Lowkey has three wishes for the outcome of the general election. And he was resolute in these:
I hope these elections thrust us forward into a more just and equal society with a redistribution of wealth, power and democratic participation. I hope we can achieve a climate policy aimed at salvaging what can be salvaged of the ecosystem. I hope our taxes can stop funding sophisticated weapons which kill poor people in parts of the world most taxpayers won’t have heard of. These elections are a very small window of opportunity for us to push towards that better world which we all know is possible. Regardless of the outcome, let us build on the progressions that have been achieved in discourse and mobilisation.
At the time of publication, the polling booths are still open up and down the UK. So it’s unclear who we’ll be waking up to in Number 10 on 9 June. Regardless, the Labour leader has reinvigorated politics in a way which will now be hard to suppress. And with truly inspirational artists like Lowkey setting the standard for music meeting politics, the future is looking a little bit brighter – whatever the outcome of the election.
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Featured image via Lowkey/YouTube