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Can Music Initiatives Like #Grime4Corbyn Swing The UK Election?

06/06/2017 17:20
Matt Blyth via Getty Images

Young music fans seem energised by the Labour leader, unlike any other politician in recent times.

Most of the music industry has generally supported Labour or other progressive parties, yet the voting take-up amongst young people has declined dramatically in the last two decades or so. Many young people have increasingly felt disconnected from the political process. There seems to be a sea-change this time around, however and it's being driven by the popularity of Jeremy Corbyn amongst the young.

Corbyn is on the front cover of the latest issues of NME and Kerrang! - so it would appear that he's got the indie and rock constituencies sewn up. The Labour leader even spoke as warm-up man for The Libertines at a stadium gig the other week, brought on to speak by singer/songwriter Jon McClure from Reverend & The Makers to football-style chants of "Corbyn, Corbyn".

Vocalists like Akala, M.I.A. and Rag N Bone Man have given Corbyn their backing too, and a number of electronic music DJs have also indicated that they're voting Labour. In drum & bass, for instance, scene figureheads like Goldie, Fabio & Grooverider and Jumpin' Jack Frost have publicly endorsed Corbyn - and the #grime4corbyn movement has also been energising a whole new generation of music fans.

Grime star Stormzy has endorsed Corbyn (he particularly liked his anti-Apartheid activism in the eighties), as have other grime scene mainstays like Novelist, AJ Tracey and Boy Better Know collective co-founder JME (brother of Skepta), who even had a photocall with the Labour leader the other week. You can't buy these sorts of endorsements: #grime4corbyn is very much a grass roots movement, it hasn't come from a youth wing of Labour or been manufactured by party apparatchiks in any way.

In one sense, #grime4corbyn is like the 2017 equivalent of Red Wedge - the eighties phenomenon that sought to engage young people in the run-up to the 1987 election. Supported by many of the main bands at the time - Madness, Heaven 17, Bananarama, The Communards, the Style Council featuring Paul Weller, plus singers like Billy Bragg and Elvis Costello - Red Wedge was, however, officially endorsed by the Labour Party. Although it ultimately failed to dislodge Margaret Thatcher, it politicised a lot of young people and the voting share of 18-25 year olds rose by more than any other grouping of the electorate during that time period.

A million young people registered to vote after the 2017 general election was called, and a poll suggests that over two-thirds of young people are 'absolutely certain' to vote on Thursday. Two-thirds of those said they would back Labour in a recent ICM poll, backed by the National Union Of Teachers. So could the young yet swing it for Labour?

#grime4corbyn was instrumental in urging thousands of young people to register to vote after this general election was called, and last Saturday (June 3rd) it held three events to further the campaign. Two took place in London - in Tottenham and Dalston - while the Brighton event was also 'popping off'.

At the Brighton gig at seafront venue The Arch, there's a friendly, positive vibe as various performers take their turns on the mic and decks. A stall in the corner sells #grime4corbyn t-shirts and prints, while in the smoking area outside some gritty artwork featuring assorted grime MCs is peppered with images of MC Jezza himself. "May try say she better than me/Tell my man shut up," reads one, perhaps alluding to the video that some wag produced that transposes Corbyn's face onto Stormzy's 'Shut Up' promo. "Punishing pensioners and taking school meals away from our children," Corbyn -- throwing shapes in a red tracksuit -- begins in the online skit, before his 'posse' add 'SHUT UP'. The video has understandably gone viral.

But what is it about Corbyn that is inspiring the young? After all, you couldn't imagine #grime4owensmith or #drumnbass4lizkendall cropping up...

"I like Corbyn's policy about saving the NHS, I like the whole giving people free education and wiping off graduate debt," says young black grime MC Cally down at the Brighton #grime4corbyn event.

Part of Cally's set involves him chanting 'Fuck Theresa May' - to the delight of the crowd. Why doesn't he like her? "She chats shit," he says. "I've never been into politics, yeah, but watching the Paxman interview I just looked at her and went, 'She dodges questions'. She doesn't answer them correctly. And when I look at her I think, 'How are you leading us when you don't even turn up to debates?' Jeremy Corbyn is not gonna bite your neck, he's not gonna punch you in the face - he wants to have a debate with you, he wants to challenge what you are saying. So why are you dodging that? Because you haven't got the right facts, y'know?"

Another of the night's performers, Bobbie Johnson says she's been a supporter of Corbyn "ever since he started rising up the ranks". She claims that you can't knock the Labour manifesto. "He's saying, 'Let's help as many people as possible, let's tax people who should be taxed, let's re-nationalise everything instead of privatising the shit out of everything," she says. "I feel very blessed to have been asked along tonight - I'm a massive Corbynite."

"I wanted to do this cos Corbyn's the guy, Corbyn's the truth," says another performer, Mrisi, who plays keyboard along with his rhymes. "He's real, he's genuine - you can tell. It's such a wild chance how he's come to be in the position where he could become Prime Minister. A man they want to vilify that much has to be dangerous - but dangerous in this sense is a good thing, he's dangerous to the establishment."

Mrisi says that even when Corbyn became Labour leader, he didn't think he'd vote Labour "cos they had blood on their hands from Iraq. But he's bringing it back, he's bringing dignity back to the party."

For Mrisi, Corbyn's policies on education - restoring the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), abolishing tuition fees and so on - is key for him. "Education is everything in terms of creating a good society," he says. "Education is the most important thing. It might not show in the next three or five years, but with time that education will show up in the economy and it will filter into all aspects of society - because ignorance is what makes people do bad things, stupid things."

There are some obvious middle class students at the Brighton event, but a lot of the crowd are black/white working class youth - most are yet unaware of the terrible terrorist attack taking place in London that evening. Event organiser Roxy is running around organising stage times and hotel rooms for the artists, but manages to pause for breath for a few seconds. "Corbyn's the first politician I've ever had a bit of trust in," she says. "And grime allows a lot of people to share their voice."

Many young people didn't vote in the EU Referendum last year - and many Remainers regretted it when they saw the result. Can the youth really change things this time? "A lot more young people have registered to vote this time, cos they realise that this is our future," says MC Cally. "Last year I realised it was my future [with the EU referendum] but it was a bit too late. I'm a grime artist, but from what everyone's been telling me, watching the Paxman interview and what I've researched online, Theresa May doesn't care about any of us. She only cares about the rich."

"Voting on Thursday is the most important thing young people can do at this time in this country - unless they want to start up their own political parties!" says Mrisi. "No, but voting for young people is paramount for our future, because if the Tories get in it's not going to get any better."

"Why is it important that young people vote on Thursday? Because it's our future," adds Bobbie Johnson. "There are so many of us. With the rise of Corbyn, there's been a lot more young people getting involved and young people voting. He's providing hope, and I think that's what the younger generation needed - a little bit of hope and vision, and not seeing politics as something that's just for your parents. Seeing politics as something that affects you.

"If the Conservatives come in... it's gonna be hard enough for any of us to buy houses anyway, or anything to get your monies up and that," Bobbie continues. "The Conservatives just feed the rich and tax the poor. That's why it's so important to get your voice out - no mater what you vote. It's important to have your say - people died and suffered to get the vote."

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