Lowkey speaks on his stance on the 2017 General Election and why we need to be engaged in the political process with fellow artist Apex Zero for I Am Hip Hop Magazine and Global Faction.
Apex: You’ve come out, in past interviews and your social media, strongly in support of Jeremy Corbyn. You’ve been clear and unambiguous with that support. So for anyone who hasn’t heard your views, could you tell us why you support him?
Lowkey: He is representative of dissent, representative of a rejection of an economic philosophy that became prevalent in this country (and the U.S) since the 1970–80s.This ideology, which became the dominant and defining economic philosophy of our time, is neoliberalism. The idea of neoliberalism is that the market must be left unimpeded to be allowed accumulate as much capital as possible. What that leads to is a political class that believes in a weak state. At no point have we had the opportunity to elect a leader who has been unequivocally clear about the inequality and despair caused by neoliberalism. Instead, we have been offered crypto-progressives of the model like Obama & Tony Blair, who appeal to aesthetic needs (in some ways) through mystifying language. Jeremy Corybn has been absolutely clear. He is talking about renationalizing the energy, water, railway and postal sectors that in the Thatcher era had privatised. Our public services have been turned into business commodities to be bargained over.
We see this happening across the board. BritNorthSea Oil is now part owned by a Chinese company. BP is now owned by Americans. So what I find so amazing is that the Conservatives are able to employ the symbolism of patriotism whilst simultaneously damaging the country. That’s why I use the term, ‘glitch in the matrix.’ That’s what Jeremy Corbyn is. That’s why he’s been propelled to this position. He goes against New Labour, who stands for the acceptance of neoliberalism as the most ideal way for a society to function.
The myth behind neoliberalism is the idea of ‘trickle down’ economics – which has been proven to be a complete lie by people like Joseph Stiglitz. It leads to more inequality, not less. We are now in a country where 250,000 people are homeless. 1 in every 59 people within London are homeless. We have millions of children officially living in poverty. Two-thirds of those children are from homes with working parents. How are we going to alleviate these issues?
Corbyn has come in and said ‘I’m going to build 1 million homes, half of them council houses’ and ‘I will get rid of zero-hour contracts and bring in a £10 per hour minimum wage’. Meanwhile Teresa May compounds the aforementioned issues by introducing tuition fees for nurses to ensnare them in debt. Corbyn prioritises trying to invest £30 billion into the NHS. It is a choice about what kind of society we can live in.
The other thing that is so insidious with neoliberalism is that it hides behind the ambiguity of bureaucracy. For example, if the Tories cut disabled living allowance and you are someone who relies on it to live, who can you blame? Can you blame your local benefits officer? You can’t, because it wasn’t their personal decision. Jeremy Corbyn is representative of an idea; dissent against neoliberal economics.
Apex: I hear you. That is a strong and valid point. Especially the idea that he is a product of a movement, and this is not just about Corbyn, it is about challenging the current model.
For me, to hear you, who in the past has been extremely critical of the political system as a whole, to back someone who is a part of that system, sounds very strange. The Labour Party, who Corbyn is the leader of, has been a part of creating and upholding neoliberalism.
Lowkey: Jeremy has held his Labour constituency since 1983, but it was the decision of the James Callaghan government that lead to neoliberalism becoming the economic philosophy of this country when he took his $3.9 billion loan from the IMF. What the IMF has done all over the world is condemned many societies into corporate servitude. Once the loan is taken, they come in and push their structural adjustment plans and sell off huge parts of the state The IMF are essentially a conglomerate of the banking system. You are right that Corbyn is a member of that party. But if you look at his voting record and the campaigns, it’s clear that having him in number 10 is beneficial. Moreover, if we look at the manifesto he’s put together, it is by no means radical, but it is battling the corporatisation of this country. Jeremy is talking about raising corporate taxes to 26%, that’s not massively radical; it’s merely bringing it back to the level it was at in 2010. The big argument against this is that corporations will leave this country and that will cause mass unemployment. I’ll tell you why that’s not true; during the Thatcher era the corporation tax was about 50%.
So, to answer your question directly, what would make me support Jeremy Corbyn? I, as a human being, develop, and my ideas that develop. If we had a conversation in 2007 and then again in 2017, it’s inevitable we would develop and our ideas would change. In many ways, we may also be the same person. In terms of judging this situation; I’m judging the manifesto, I’m judging off his voting record. The Iraq war has been the most opposed military action, quite possibly, in human history. No other war mobilized so many people to demonstration it in opposition. We now know completely futile our protest was as the war still went ahead. The mechanisms of the state and the violence still went ahead. We’re still dealing with the ramification to this today. On another point, 75% of people going to university will die without paying off their debt. We protested that too. We were beaten by police and they still went ahead raised the fees. Now we have a politician saying he’ll erase that debt, alleviating the issue for people already in that debt. I have a moral imperative and obligation to support someone coming through with that kind of manifesto. For me to turn around and not support someone like that – it’d be an act of crass selfishness that I could not forgive myself for. As an artist, I am in a position where I can be a conduit for certain ideas. Most of the time people who have a following like I do play the role of a conduit to big business. I have the opportunity to be a conduit to subversive action. Therefore, I use my voice to the absolute furthest extent. This is something that our children may thank us for.
Apex: I hear you. It’s raised two key things I want to ask you. I understand that his manifesto has made a lot of beautiful sounding promises. I also agree with your point about protesting against the war tuition fees which was ignored…
Lowkey: And he (Corbyn) was there protesting with us.
Apex: Sure. Even if we say ‘he voted against the war’ – he’s still been a part of the system that allowed it to happen. He’s believes in the political process that suppresses his and our wishes. As someone who was also involved in those protests, I believe that the situation isn’t futile, but the system is. My issue is that even if he is the most genuine and caring politician; could he even change the system that we have? That’s the first question. He still has to convince parliament to vote in favour of his agenda, which is incredibly difficult to do. Then you have still have pass it up to the Lords who can reject it. Secondly; I think the question isn’t whether we should vote May or Corbyn, it’s should the people even engage with an artificial form of democracy? The system suggests it has participation by people, but if you study the actual nature of what democracy is supposed to be – this is not it. A lot of politicians represent big business not the will of the majority. For me, by partaking in that process, you are in a sense legitimatising it. I agree you have an important voice as an artist. I feel you are leading people back into a system a lot of us, yourself included, have been telling people to be sceptical of. I know those are two big questions!
Lowkey: Ok, number one, I’ll break down in two ways. Jeremy Corbyn is not putting himself forward as a revolutionary. What it seems to me is that you are putting forward is a revolutionary argument. Undoubtedly, we live in a time where state oppression is powered by technological advancement. To pursue civil disobedience has a place of importance. However if you are pursuing revolutionary activity, the oppression is so strong that it’s not really a likely you will succeed. Corbyn is a social-democrat; he believes that he can use the ballot to pursue change. What you’re alluding to is what Sheldon Wolin refers to as ‘inverted totalitarianism’. Essentially pointing out how the episodic nature of ‘democracy’ we live in is overshadowed by unchangable things, i.e. people can vote for a new president but can’t vote against the interest of Wall Street or private banks. Same thing here, we can’t vote against Northern Rock being subsidized in a semi-privatization of the treasury of this country, we can’t vote against, say, the Monarchy; that’s not open to your vote. But we vote for a more participatory process and this is an opportunity for that. You may support that, you may not. You are in a situation where you have to choose between your children being ensnared in debt for the rest of their lives or being able to go to university, which would you choose? You have to choice between helping a disabled person afford 3 meals a day or surviving off a carton of milk, which do you choose? That’s what this is about, it’s not about the wider political issues that you’re talking about, but that doesn’t in any way negate their validity. We have the ability to effect change through participating in voting. That doesn’t mean that the deeper state isn’t conspiring against this change. That doesn’t stop the military saying if Jeremy was to get into power they would consider launching a coup. I just don’t believe in perceiving politics in such an absolutist way as many do, and I think that is disappointing, as we have a chance to make a real change.
If the Tories win, people will die. We can sit there with our arms folded and say, ‘oh it would have happened under Corbyn’, but we don’t know that it would would. If May wins, it will happen. She will privatise the NHS. Look at the U.S, people can’t afford to get urgent treatment so they have to chose between their health and debt. It’s not the kind of system that you want to live in. These are things that are positive about this society and we can’t deny that. As much as we have experienced the brutalization at the hands of this society; on a spiritual, emotional, and psychological level, it doesn’t negate that the positive’s aspects that were fought for and won by people like Corbyn. At every point throughout history there have been people who’ve said ‘nothing positive will come of participating in the political process’. Then they (those who participated) passed a law that outlawed children working under the age of 12, and then they gave women the right to vote. Why participate? – Because people’s lives will improve. It is silly not to.
Apex: That’s the point I think – it’s not about winning the argument over who is right, it’s about improving and saving lives. My strategy has been not to legitimize the process, which in itself is illegitimate, and imposed the laws that we are trying to erase in the first place.
Lowkey: Whether we legitimize or not, it exists. It’s not waiting on my individual recognition of it. I buy food to live and I pay tax to this state. So in that way we are supporting the state. I don’t think anyone should be condemned for wanting changes to the conditions of people’s lives. I think your point is, can we have hope within that equation? My answer is, yes we can.
Apex: There are people who will argue to their grave that Theresa May is the person who will best improve the material conditions of people’s lives.
Lowkey: Yeah but they’re actually wrong. People will factually, materially be stolen from.It is Robin Hood in reverse – the distribution of wealth upwards. That is what happened when they cut benefits.
Apex: Agreed. Moving on to another point. After the Blair era, voter participation slid rapidly, until this election. In the last election had a 56% voter turn out. David Cameron has argued that if less than 50% of union members vote, it should be considered illegitimate. So if voting turnouts sink under 50% in this election, it would show the illegitimacy of their own system. That could potentially force bigger systematic changes. I understand it’s not always just about massive ideological shifts. The small changes are important. But to me, this was a window of opportunity to make a strong statement. To then encourage people to re-engage with the system goes against all of that.
Lowkey: I think that’s an interesting idea. But one of the things your idea is relying on is the idea of inverted totalitarianism. That revolves around the demobilization of masses by the corporate media. So while I think what you’re saying is definitely interesting and may be a possibility, it relying on a populous that has been largely de-politicised though neoliberal propaganda to act in the opposite manner.
We could philosophize with each other until the cows come home, but what really counts is human being beings live’s. These policies will actually affect who gets to live. Why let people die, when people have the chance to continue living. To me, that is the beginning and ending of it. I’m not here waving union jacks and singing ‘God Save the Queen’, that’s not me bruv, but it’s not Corbyn either. I think if we were to pass up this chance, we’d regret it.
Apex: I hear you. But this hope in a political leader, haven’t we been here to a degree before?
Lowkey: I don’t think we have.
Apex: Promises are made by politicians are usually broken. Things are given in one hand, and things are taken in the other. Even worse, often atrocities are committed whilst good things being implemented. Probably the best example of this in living memory is Obama. You laid out perfectly in ‘Obamanation’. Despite the ‘hope’ and ‘change’ campaign, the dream of having being a black president – all we got was neoliberalism and war mongering. I understand he has some different political ideals to Corbyn, but it’s a very similar set of circumstances. A champion of the people who has voted for ‘progressive’ (I hate to use that term) promises. He promised to shut down Guantanamo, he promised to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan; none of those things happened, not to mention the war atrocities that were committed during his terms.
Lowkey: Corbyn and Obama come from an ideologically diffirent place, that’s why I focus on neoliberalism. The state is not compelled to act against companies. It has led to things like ‘TPP’ which is a law where corporations can bring charges against states if they try to regulate them. For example, tobacco companies have taken charges against the Australian and Uruguayan government for wanting to put health warnings on cigarette packets. That’s what neoliberalism does, it is a morally bankrupt economic philosophy that has been proven to be harmful, that it causes inequality, that it causes poverty, that it causes people to die.
To be honest I feel you are painting a false equivalency between Obama and Corbyn because they are both political figures. Again I, pose the question to you, if you have to choose between a member of your family having 3 meals a day or surviving off milk. If you have to choose between a member of your family dying in debt or being able to go to university. If you have to choose between a member of your family dying from cold or living in warmth, what would you choose? That’s what this is about.
Apex: I understand. That question you pose there is a very is poignant one. But I can’t answer a short term question without thinking about the long term ramifications.
Lowkey: Of course, you’re right, it is short term because it’s 5 years. Look at the United States, their leader is willing to let fuel companies dictate their climate policy; they’re allowing military industrial complexes to dictate their foreign policy. On a wider scale we have a choice between the between the survival of the human race. The choice of do we continue waging wars. Jeremy, as imperfect as he may be, is far less likely to kill hundreds and thousands of people in a heartbeat. Something May has said she would do.
Apex: Well, we don’t know that for a fact.
Lowkey: I’ll tell you why we know that. We are dealing with somebody that was campaigning against wars since before we were born. It is wrong to for us to turn around and use other political experiences (like Obama) and somehow apply it to this situation. It is not right.
Apex: If he does become prime minister and shit has hit the fan, where he is being told by his peers that you need to attack a certain country, or you need to press that button. It is impossible for us to say, ‘no, he would not do that’. He might have a more considered opinion but we still don’t know that he wouldn’t do it.
Lowkey: Then it is impossible to say that he would.
Apex: I’m not saying that he would, I’m saying we can’t deny that it is a possibility.
Lowkey: It is impossible to say if Jeremy would, but it is definite that Theresa May would. So there’s your choice – who are you going to chose?
Apex: It’s dangerous to paint a picture to people that this guy is not going to that.
Lowkey: This idea, this nihilism, this apathy is dangerous. Honestly, I believe that if somebody sits really studies his track record and his manifesto; they’ll see that it is in their own interest to vote Labour. Even though, they’ll be paradoxically voting in many people who are members of the party who are anti-Corbyn off the back of this.
Apex: Yeah, for sure.
Lowkey: Two-thirds of his party are saboteurs, essentially against him. Yet many are going to be voted into their seats off the strength of him. This is contradictory, nobody’s denying that. Just ask yourself, are we in a better position with him in number 10? It’s as simple as that. It’s an easy decision.
Apex: This is going to sound very nihilistic. There is an argument he can’t make much of a difference at all, because, as you said, he has a massive amount of saboteurs in his party. If he wants to pass the motion to say, abolish fees, he has to convince two-thirds of his party, who think differently. Not to mention the opposition or the House of Lord.
Lowkey: The labour party have all signed on to the manifesto.
Apex: To win an election, to win an election bro.
Lowkey: You’re saying to win an election. But in life, we can’t pass speculative aspersions on other people’s motives. We’re dealing with people’s lives here, we’re dealing with real problems in this country, we have to try and address them. If we have the chance to address them and we don’t address them, it’s selfish. We have a small window of time and opportunity to do good in this world. If we can have some kind of positive affect on other people, we should use it. That doesn’t mean that the wider, overarching issues of injustice and our unfreedom aren’t important. In no way, shape or form I am saying that injustice should be given a free pass.
I think we’ve reached a point of disagreement. I’m completely convinced of my point and it seems you’re convinced of yours. That’s fair enough man, that’s completely fine. I will implore you, and anyone reading this to vote because – I’ll say it again – this is a question of people’s lives.
One thing that Jeremy spoke about, which was definitely significant for me, and I imagine for you, as well as many others in our country; is putting the colonial history of the British Empire on the education curriculum. This would make a cognitive difference on a societal level. It would make us, as a society; recognize all the cultures of its own citizens that have been completely wiped out by the British Empire. This is something that nobody else in his position has ever previously spoken about and is significant for real change.
He has also mentioned issuing official apologies for the 2003 Iraq invasion. That would open up legal possibility for the prosecution of Tony Blair. That is why they (the political class) fear him. This action could open up the potential for reparations and help atone, on a societal level, for our deeds.
You know the very idea of ‘Britishness’ is amalgamation of other cultures which we have taken. The quintessentially English practice of drinking tea is not native to Britain. There’s not one tea plant in this country. The sugar we put in tea came from the slave trade. Even Prince Philip, the father of the future king, is an immigrant. The idea of British national identity is a contradiction. Corbyn is certainly progressive in terms of recognizing these aspects of this country’s history. This is important, as I believe so many of our society’s problems are rooted in this denial of the past.
Apex: Well, this won’t be easy. Is that enough to challenge the centuries long colonial ideologies?
Lowkey: He said that he would try, he would aim to make it part of the new generations educational curriculum. Now, is that a positive thing or no?
Apex: Of course.
Lowkey: What he is suggesting is not radical. I sense maybe you are looking for a more radical change. I am as well, but he is addressing important points and trying to make a positive change. Meanwhile the other side (right-wing) is only trying to push negative changes.
Apex: Sure, I agree with that. My issue is that should we be trying to assimilate to the system? I feel like from my own studies and experiences that we have started to move away from the idea that we should be asking for help from the oppressor.
I am not necessarily saying this about Corbyn, but rather the political system, which, as you know, stemmed from the Empire you just mentioned. This political system was the force that enabled the crimes of colonialism. To ask that very political system to solve your problems is something that I’ve strongly disagreed with for a long time. I’ve played with the idea that maybe we should in some ways engage in the political system. I have thought maybe we can make short term changes; maybe we can aim for a restructure of the system. But if you are going to encourage change, shouldn’t we do it wholeheartedly?
I understand that this election represents a crucial moment between a really fucked up current government party and a possibly more positive opposition. However, wouldn’t supporting him be re-assimilating us back into a political process which bought my ancestors here through slavery, which is created continuous wars on our homelands? I don’t believe that Corbyn, or what he represents, is going to undo or stop what has been done over centuries. Small domestic issues might be improved, but there is more at stake than that.
I think it’s necessary for us to not legitimize and support the system, regardless of who the face is. What do you think of the idea that we shouldn’t even be investing in this country anymore? That we should go back to our (ancestral) homelands, wherever they may be, and aim to build up those places. To no longer engage in the system that was never been created to benefit us, even with Jeremy Corbyn involved. A system that doesn’t even work in the interest of the so-called ‘indigenous’ (people whose ancestors might have immigrated a several generations earlier via the Romans, Gauls, Germanic, Scandinavians ect). Maybe there is somewhere else we can go instead of trying to keep this sinking ship afloat?
Lowkey: This is the interesting argument. I think what it comes back to is the common belief in the idea there is absolute good and absolute evil; that there is a purely good God and an evil Devil, which comes from the (ancient) Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. However there is the philosophy of Ibn Sina who argued for accidental evil. What do I mean by accidental evil? Well think about fire, it warms people, it cooks our food right? So it’s essential thing for the world to function. However fire can also burn down a village and kill people. So you have accidental evil coming from something which is essentially good. The point I am trying to make is that there is good in us voting for progression, even if it does have an accidental evil byproduct.
I agree with many of your points, but I don’t think I see the political system in this country as an absolute good or evil. I don’t think I see it as purely negative. I think there’s no shame we, the diasporic population, being the children of empire. We’re products of things that we didn’t choose. We have been born into situation that we had absolutely no control of, but we can choose what we do with the conditions we are put in.
Apex: To me the big picture is just as important as the small things are, if not, more essential. So we might get some short term advantages, like improving the NHS now, but we might miss out on a bigger opportunity; like creating a better healthcare system all together. I don’t want to make it seem like I am saying we shouldn’t participate, but we need to consider the long term effects of what we do.
I left the UK for a few years and now I’m really seeing these things from the outside. For a mental perspective change I think it is important to physically move ourselves to different parts of the world. I know you have travelled as well, and I am guessing you must’ve felt these things. You see things from the outside and you learn that British or Western system is not the way to live. There are all kinds of societies out there who welcome you with open arms; Skilled or unskilled, educated or uneducated. As long as you are willing to help build up that place. Rather than trying to fix a resistant system, we can build up other societies who maybe have more progressive lifestyle. Maybe we should be defending those cultures against the colonial onslaught. That is what I would aim to encourage people to do. If you’re going to vote, then vote and if you’re not then don’t; but aim beyond this election. Aim beyond this political system.
Lowkey: I agree definitely. I don’t think, that either of our points necessarily negates to the other. I think that both of them can be brought together and acted upon.
Lowkey: It depends if you have faith in this political system. If Corbyn is in put into power, then we have to voice the points you mentioned. That is role of the people that propelled him into this position. We can’t just relax and enjoy just him being there.
Apex: I think that’s a good point to end on. A lot of political debates talk been divisive with the mentality of either; ‘if you don’t vote and you’re fucking up,’ or ‘if you do vote you’re fucking up.’ People can make their own decisions about voting, but we still have to together and make progress happen. Regardless of the election outcome, we need to press forward.
Lowkey: Yeah of course. It needs to start in a way where we can build a way to co-exist. Not just with each other, but with the nature of the world.
We need to apply our ideals into our daily existence. Theorizing and debating is all good, and it’s been a part of my life, but we have to see if it works in reality. When I came into university I was armed with so many emotional investments. Many of the things that I thought I believed in, essentially, didn’t stand up to rigorous investigation. For me it has been a continuous process of breaking and re-breaking. I have ideas I believed in for years and seen it proven wrong in one afternoon. I think that is definitely a healthy the process.
That’s also one of the reasons why I think it’s so important that university do not become something only the rich can access. Higher education allows for more social mobility, but it also allows for people to develop their ideas. That’s not to say people can’t create ideas thoughts without going to school. Many people are autodidactic, but universities create a space for people to think critically.
Anyway brother, I enjoyed our talk and learned from this exchange.
Apex: Yeah, likewise.
Lowkey: I implore anyone who reads this to vote for Labour on the 8th June. I’m not saying it will be the key to everything. We won’t wake up on Friday morning to be in heaven. But we will have the chance to build a society which functions in a more healthy way. And we will have a chance to build more healthy relationships with each other. That’s what I feel.
Article edited by Merz
*** This is an abridged version of the discussion. To read the full discussion visit http://designchaos.co.uk/ ****