David Lammy


David Lammy was not a prominent campaigner for remain, but he launched himself into notoriety afterwards by being the first to come out strongly in favour of parliament voting to reject the referendum result. He had hoped, however, to be much more prominent the first two months of campaigning as he had hoped to be Labourís candidate to replace Boris Johnson as Mayor of London. Had he been the candidate rather than Sadiq Khan there may have been a different referendum result. One of David Cameronís problems was that while he sought to sideline the leave campaign as appealing to xenophobia he used the cover of parliamentary privilege to accuse a London imam, and through him Khan, of racism. That created the impression that Cameronís concern for immigrants was a paper thin act of electioneering and damaged the basis on which he continued to run the remain campaign. Had Lammy been Labourís mayoral candidate then the Conservative aspirant Zac Goldsmith would not have had cause to invoke possibly Islamophobic accusations of a security risk. That might then have allowed Cameron to retain the moral high ground that he so decisively lose during Prime Ministers Questions on 20 April. That may not have been enough to swing the vote in remainís favour, but with the remain vote being just 52% it could have proved decisive.

Lammy has been described as Labourís nearly man. He entered parliament via a by-election in 2000 after the death of the sitting Tottenham MP Bernie Grant, who had gained notoriety in 1985 for saying that the police had been given a good hiding in the Broadwater Farm riots of 1985. At the time Lammy was a 12 year old resident of the estate, whose Guyanese parents had split up two years earlier and he was being brought up by his mother. He grew up from those working class origins to become a barrister (1994) and the first black British student at Harvard Law School (1996). Lammy was tipped for the top and after retaining his seat in the 2001 general election he was made junior minister for health in 2002 and minister for higher education in 2007. His rise towards a cabinet post was curtailed by the 2008 financial crash that was a major reason for Gordon Brownís Labour government losing the 2010 general election. Lammy supported the Blairite David Milliband in the campaign to replace Brown as leader, but it was Ed Milliband who won. Lammy then turned down the offer of a shadow cabinet post, but came to national prominence when riots returned to Tottenham in 2011 and he worked hard to rebuild community relations there and penned a book on the riots: Out of the Ashes. Lammy considered running for Mayor of London, but instead ran Ken Livingstoneís campaign. He hoped to become the candidate in 2016 and had declared his intention to run well in advance of the May 2015 general election on 5 September 2014. His bid ran into controversy in August 2016 when he made a marketing company to phone 35,000 Labour Party members without first gaining the necessary permission to do so and he became the first MP to be found guilty of making nuisance calls in a March 2016 by the Data Commissioner. In September 2015 Sadiq Khan won the race to become the Labour candidate and thus set up one of the key stories of the referendum campaign.

Despite recent gentrification Tottenham remains one of the poorest parts of London, although its Borough of Haringay also includes some of the wealthier areas such as Muswell Hill and Highgate. 75% of Haringey voters chose remain in the referendum on a 70% turnout, which gave Lammy a good basis on which to speak out in favour of those who voted remain. It was probably not wise, however, to proclaim just two days after referendum that parliament should vote down the result. It may have been reasonable for him to want to stand up for the choice of his constituents, but to call for a parliamentary rejection of the result was overplaying his hand when most non London MPs in England represented areas that either voted leave or voted narrowly for remain. Nor was this a brief moment of anger at the result as Lammy was a main speaker at the 30,000 strong March for Europe on 2 July and he continued to vow to vote against the referendum result even when Labour colleagues softened their opposition after the defeat of Owen Smithís attempt to unseat Jeremy Corbyn as party leader.

© Mercia McMahon. All rights reserved