Britain Needs MPs like David Lammy More Than Ever
At a time when democracy is undermined by subversive technology companies, Parliament is engulfed in a bullying scandal and camps of MPs obsessively plot and conspire to realise Britain’s exit from the EU, it has fallen to one MP, more than most to direct media narratives more in favour of those in society who are heard least.
This MP is David Lammy, Member for Tottenham since 2000. Tottenham is no ordinary constituency. It is the site of the Broadwater Farm estate which witnessed the riots of 1985, it was the area where 2011’s London riots originated, and a constituency that Lammy says has the highest levels of unemployment in London.
In many ways Tottenham is emblematic of a lot of Britain’s societal problems, especially its inner city and black ones. However, its MP is having to speak up for marginalised people across Britain because the authorities are repeatedly sabotaging the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in society.
In the wake of 2011’s unrest David Lammy became one of the most important people in Britain. It was down to him to articulate why Britain had seen some of the worst civil disorder in decadesand to inform society how to react and respond while his constituency was still smoking.
“The heart has been ripped out of Tottenham,” he said. His response wasn’t the incendiary reaction opted for by a government in need of placating a public who thought that the authorities that lost control. Lammy criticised the loss of neighbourhood policing - the result of the Government’s austerity measures, gang culture and a pervasive consumerist culture which created “an explosion of hedonism and nihilism”.
Lammy rises above parochial cliquism and isn’t afraid to be critical of the ruling groups of either side
It isn’t just in Tottenham where David Lammy confronts deep-rooted societal issues that transcend party politics or personal ambition. One of his friends, the photographer Khadija Saye died in the Grenfell fire. While the popular media narrative decried the ‘tragedy’ it was Lammy who condemned the event as “a monstrous crime”. He poignantly expressed how inequality had cause this huge loss of life in “a tale of two cities” that represented a Dickensian failure of power to look after those in society who needed it most.
It was in large parts thanks to Lammy that class, race and inequality became part of the entrenched story when talking about Grenfell. It called for a complete revaluation of what our welfare state is, after its dismantling and assault by the Conservatives.
As the scandal of Windrush began to spill onto newspaper front pages, again it was Lammy who delivered blistering speeches at the Tory front bench bursting with passion, zeal but above everything, anger about what so many people who call Britain home have had to go through. “A national day of shame,” he said.
On Channel 4 News his anguish was clear: “Once again our labour is used and then send us back across the ocean.” His own parents were part of the Windrush generation, a link shared by millions of Britons of Afro-Caribbean descent, myself included. We are lucky to have an MP in this country who will so forcefully yet eloquently drag the government kicking and screaming to answer for its actions. It is in large part thanks to David Lammy that Amber Rudd was forced to resign.
At a time of great tribalism, particularly within the Labour Party, Lammy rises above parochial cliquism and isn’t afraid to be critical of the ruling groups of either side. As London suffered 50 murders in the first quarter of 2018, including four in his own constituency Lammy lambasted both the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan and the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd for their inaction. It seems unlikely he will land a front bench job with Jeremy Corbyn anytime soon.
he has become the sort-of urban guru the media seeks out when things go wrong
It speaks volumes about the failure in leadership in today’s Britain that it has fallen to one backbench inner-city MP to speak up about the spate of violent crime, about Grenfell, about the Windrush immigration scandal. Many of these problems are acutely felt by the black community which highlight exactly why diversity in Parliament is so important.
His increased profile has not come without detractors, nor abusers. Racism and death threats have been a feature of his time as an MP. “Be grateful that we have taken you in as a Black Man. Otherwise Go back to your country of your Forbears and lets be rid of you [sic]” read one letter. “I was born in the Whittington Hospital the son of Windrush migrants. And I will speak for them” was Lammy’s retort.
David Lammy is elected to represent one constituency in north London, doesn’t sit on the Labour frontbenches and is part of a party that isn’t in power. It is a symbol of many things, not least Parliament’s lack of diversity that he has become the sort-of urban guru the media seeks out when things go wrong. Systematically, a lot has to change, but thanks to David Lammy MP they look more like doing so.
About the author
Hailing from Sheffield, and now based in London, Checan is a politics graduate and freelance writer with a keen interest in equality, social mobility and mental health. Alongside being a columnist for Disclaimer, he also writes and runs partnerships for U-ZINE as well as blogging for the Huffington Post. He spends most of his time drinking tea and waxing lyrical about the world and society.
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