David Lindon Lammy (born 19 July 1972) is a British Labour Party politician serving as Member of Parliament (MP) for Tottenham since 2000, and has served as Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Lord Chancellor in Keir Starmer's Shadow Cabinet since 2020.
Early life and education
Lammy was born on 19 July 1972 in Whittington Hospital in Archway, North London, to Guyanese parents David and Rosalind Lammy. He and his four siblings were raised solely by his mother, after his father left the family when Lammy was 12 years old. Lammy speaks publicly about the importance of fathers and the need to support them in seeking to be active in the lives of their children. He chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood and has written on the issue.
Lammy grew up in Tottenham. Having attended a local primary school, at the age of 10 he was awarded an Inner London Education Authority choral scholarship to sing at Peterborough Cathedral and attend The King's School, Peterborough. He studied at the School of Law, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, graduating with a 2:1. Lammy went on to study at Harvard University where he became the first black Briton to attend Harvard Law School; there he studied a Master of Laws degree and graduated in 1997. He was called to the bar of England and Wales in 1994 at Lincoln's Inn and practised as a barrister. He practised as an attorney at Howard Rice in California from 1997 to 1998; and with D.J. Freeman 1998–2000. He is currently a visiting lecturer at SOAS.
In 2000 he was elected for Labour on the London-wide list to the London Assembly. During the London election campaign Lammy was selected as the Labour candidate for Tottenham when Bernie Grant died. He was elected to the seat in a by-election held on 22 June 2000. Aged 27, he was the youngest Member of Parliament (MP) in the house (Baby of the House) and remained so until 2003 when Sarah Teather was elected.
In 2002, he became Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department of Health. In 2003, Lammy was appointed as a Minister in the Department for Constitutional Affairs and while a member of the Government, he voted in favour of authorisation for Britain to invade Iraq in 2003. After the 2005 general election Lammy was appointed Minister for Culture at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport.
In June 2007, Lammy was appointed as a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. In October 2008, he was promoted to Minister of State and was appointed to the Privy Council. In June 2009 until June 2010 when Labour lost the election, he became Minister for Higher Education in the new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
After Labour lost the 2010 general election a Labour Party leadership contest was announced. During the contest Lammy nominated Diane Abbott, saying that he felt it was important to have a diverse field of candidates,[failed verification] but nonetheless declared his support for David Miliband. After the election of Ed Miliband, Lammy pledged his full support but turned down a post in the Shadow Cabinet, asserting a need to speak on a wide range of issues that would arise in his constituency due to the "large cuts in the public services".[failed verification]
In 2010 there were suggestions that Lammy might stand for election as Mayor of London in 2012. Lammy pledged his support to Ken Livingstone's bid to become the Labour London mayoral candidate, declaring him "London's Mayor in waiting". Lammy became Livingstone's selection campaign chair. In 2014, Lammy announced that he was considering entering the race to become Mayor of London in the 2016 election.
London mayoral candidate
On 4 September 2014, Lammy announced his intention to seek the Labour nomination for the 2016 mayoral election. In the London Labour Party's selection process, he secured 9.4 per cent of first preference votes and was fourth overall, behind Sadiq Khan, Tessa Jowell, and Diane Abbott.
In March 2016, he was fined £5,000 for instigating 35,629 automatic phone calls urging people to back his mayoral campaign without gaining permission to contact the party members concerned. Lammy apologised "unreservedly" for breach of the Privacy and Electronic Communication Regulations. It was the first time a politician had been fined for authorising nuisance calls.
Lammy has over the years publicly attributed blame for certain crimes to various specific causes and persons. He has also talked about black and ethnic minority peoples, especially those who are younger, their relation with crime and how they are treated by the criminal justice system.
On 11 August 2011, in an address to Parliament, Lammy attributed part of the cause for England's riots of a few days earlier to destructive 'cultures' that had emerged under the prevailing policies. He also stated that legislation restricting the degree of violence which parents are allowed to use when disciplining their children was partly to blame for current youth culture, that had contributed to the riots.
Lammy has blamed the Prime Minister and Home Secretary for failing to take responsibility over fatal stabbings in London;[failed verification] he also blames inequality, high youth unemployment among black males, and local authorities cutting youth services and outreach programmes.
Lammy has stated that the criminal justice system deals with "disproportionate numbers" of young people from black and ethnic minority communities: despite saying that although decisions to charge were "broadly proportionate", he has asserted that black and ethnic minority people still face and perceive bias. Lammy said that young black people are nine times more likely to be incarcerated than "comparable" white people, and proposed a number of measures including a system of "deferred prosecution" for young first time offenders to reduce incarcerations. Lammy has claimed that black and ethnic minority people offend "at the same rates" as comparable white people "when taking age and socioeconomic status into account"; they were more likely to be stopped and searched, if charged more likely to be convicted, more likely to be sent to prison and less likely to get support in prison.
Issues of race, prejudice & equality
Lammy has commented on Britain's history of slavery.
He has criticised the University of Oxford for admitting relatively few black students and students from disadvantaged backgrounds. He also believes the Windrush scandal concerns injustice to a generation who are British, have made their homes and worked in Britain and deserve to be treated better.
On 5 February 2013, Lammy gave a speech in the House of Commons on why he would be voting in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill 2013, critically comparing the relegation of British same-sex couples to civil partnerships to the "separate but equal" legal doctrine which justified Jim Crow laws in the 20th-century United States.
In January 2016, Lammy was commissioned by David Cameron to report on the effects of racial discrimination and disadvantage on the procedures of the police, courts, prisons and the probation service. Lammy published his report in September 2017, concluding that prosecutions against some BAME suspects should be delayed or dropped outright to mitigate racial bias.
He has spoken out against alleged antisemitism within the Labour Party and attended an Enough is Enough rally protesting against it. Lammy stated that antisemitism has "come back because extremism has come back" and is damaging support for Labour among Britain's Jewish community. He is a member of Labour Friends of Israel.
Lammy recorded the Channel 4 documentary for Remembrance Sunday called The Unremembered: Britain's Forgotten War Heroes which was broadcast on 10 November 2019. In it he reveals how Africans who died in their own continent serving Britain during WWI were denied the honour of an individual grave, despite the Commonwealth War Graves Commission's reputation for equality. The documentary was produced by the TV company of Professor David Olusoga, who described the failure to commemorate black and Asian service personnel as one of the “biggest scandals” he had ever come across.
The documentary inspired an investigation by Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The subsequent report found that “pervasive racism” underpinned the failure to properly commemorate service personnel. The report stated that up to 54,000 casualties of “certain ethnic groups” did not receive the same remembrance treatment as white soldiers who had died and another 350,000 military personnel recruited from east Africa and Egypt were not commemorated by name or even at all. In April 2021, Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered an "unreserved apology" over the findings of the review. Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace apologised in the House of Commons, promising to make amends and take action. Lammy, who was critical to bringing the matter to light, called this a "watershed moment".
Lammy considers himself English he said, "I'm of African descent, African-Caribbean descent, but I am English." In March 2021, Lammy was a guest on the London Broadcasting Company when he rejected a caller's assertion that the dual identity of African-Caribbean descent and British nationality are impossible. He argued that multi-culturalism is an inevitable consequence of Britain's history of imperialism, "Britain 400 years ago started going out into the world, colonised and conquered a lot of the world, a lot of the world has ended up coming back to the mother country...when I took a DNA test I had Scottish in me. Here I am, having grown up in this country, born of this country, and actually the truth is there's a myth there's one English ethnicity, there's not." Citing the Royal Family in support of his view of civic nationalism, Lammy replied, "The truth is we have a monarchy, the Queen and those before them came from Germany. When Prince Philip died there was a lot of chat about the fact we had come from Greece and was partly Danish. You can come to this country, be born in this country and of course become English or British if you are from another part of the [world]. I would hope we have a civic nationalism that we can all be part of, not some sort of ethnic nationalism that means you have got to have ancestors that were part of these isles going back hundreds of years." (Elizabeth II's great-great-grandfather, Prince Albert, was born in Germany and the current branch of the Royal Family inherited power in 1714 through King George I, who was born in Hanover.)
Lammy described the Grenfell Tower fire as "corporate manslaughter" and called for arrests to be made; his friend Khadija Saye died in the fire. He also criticised the authorities for failing to say how many people had died.
Lammy is a staunch advocate of British membership of the European Union. On 23 June 2018, Lammy appeared at the People's Vote march in London to mark the second anniversary of the referendum to leave the European Union. The People's Vote is a campaign group calling for a public vote on the final Brexit deal between the UK and the European Union. On 30 December 2020 he voted for the Brexit deal negotiated by Boris Johnson's Government.
He supports shared parental leave which he maintains would "normalise" fathers being an equal caregiver with the mother, and would mean they become more involved in the raising of children, arguing that the barriers to "fathers playing a deeper role in family life" are not just legislative, but also cultural. He points out Scandinavian countries such as Sweden as examples of where governments have successfully made this happen, which he states has also helped increase gender equality.
Comments attracting criticism
In 2013, Lammy accused the BBC of making a "silly innuendo about the race" on Twitter during the announcement of the next Pontiff where the BBC tweeted "will smoke be black or white?" in reference to smoke above the Sistine Chapel. Lammy criticised the BBC's tweet as "crass and unnecessary." He subsequently apologised after other Twitter users pointed out the role played by black and white smoke in announcing the election of a new Pope.
In January 2016 Lammy claimed that one million Indians sacrificed their lives during the Second World War, not for the survival of Britain and to fight Nazism, but instead for the "European Project."; the statement was strongly criticised and ridiculed by The Spectator.
In 2017, writing in The Guardian, Lammy argued that Comic Relief perpetuated problematic stereotypes of Africa, and that they had a responsibility to use its powerful position to move the debate on in a more constructive way by establishing an image of African people as equals. His comments came after a video featuring Ed Sheeran meeting and rescuing a child in Liberia was criticised as 'poverty porn' and was given the 'Rusty Radiator' award for the 'most offensive and stereotypical fundraising video of the year'. In 2018, in response to Lammy's comments and the backlash to Sheeran's video, Comic Relief announced they would take steps towards change by halting their use of celebrities for appeals.
In February 2019 Lammy criticised Stacey Dooley for photographs she posted on social media of her trip to Uganda for Comic Relief, and said that "the world does not need any more white saviours", and that she was "perpetuating 'tired and unhelpful stereotypes' about Africa". He also stated however, that he does not question her "good motives". The donations received for the Red Nose Day broadcast in March 2019 fell by £8 million and the money raised that year was the lowest since 2007, which some have blamed on Lammy's remarks. Critics of his view included Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Conservative Party MP Chris Philp. Lammy responded to criticism with a statement in which he referred to the decline in donations being due to contributing factors of austerity, declining viewing figures, trends in the charity sector and format fatigue and that he hoped his comments "would inspire the charity to refresh its image and think harder about the effects its output has on our perceptions of Africa".
In October 2020, As a result of Lammy's intervention, Comic Relief announced it would stop sending celebrities to Africa for its fundraising films. They stated that they would no longer send celebrities to Africa nor portray Africa with images of starving people or critically ill children, instead, they would be using local filmmakers to provide a more “authentic” perspective and give agency back to African people.
In January 2019 Lammy described Rod Liddle having a column in a weekly newspaper as a "national disgrace" and accused Liddle of having "white middle class privilege" for expressing the view that absent fathers played a role in violent crime involving black youths. Writing in an article for The Spectator, Liddle disputed Lammy's claim that he was raised in a family reliant on tax credits, which were not introduced in the United Kingdom until Lammy was aged 31.
In April 2019, Lammy was criticised for saying his comparison of the Brexit European Research Group (which consists of Conservative MPs) to Nazis and proponents of the South African apartheid was "not strong enough".
Lammy married the artist Nicola Green in 2005; the couple have two sons and a daughter. Lammy is a Christian. He is also a Tottenham Hotspur F.C. fan. He states that his identity as "African, African-Caribbean, British, English, a Londoner and European". "I'm black, I'm English, I'm British and I'm proud."
In November 2011, he published a book, Out of the Ashes: Britain After the Riots, about the August 2011 riots. In 2020, he published his second book, Tribes, which explored social division and the need for belonging.
Lammy features as one of the 100 Great Black Britons on both the 2003 and 2020 lists. He has regularly been included in the Powerlist as one of the most influential people in the UK of African/African-Caribbean descent, including the most recent editions published in 2020 and 2021.
- He was sworn in as a member of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council in 2008. This gave him the Honorific Prefix "The Right Honourable" for Life.
- He has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
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