I am concentrating on getting to grips with my portfolio
David Lammy, U.K. Minister of Health speaks to John Mair
August 27, 2002
1. What do you put your success in politics down to?
There are a number of people that I owe a great debt to in regards to helping me get where I am today. People encouraged me and supported me all the way, from my mother and family to my teachers in Tottenham to the late Bernie Grant.
But one Christmas Eve I sang a solo in Peterborough Cathedral while I was still a schoolboy and I am convinced that this occasion lies behind all my subsequent success. It was terrifying, but I think that's the reason I've got the ability to stand up in the House of Commons and probably the reason why I ended up getting my A-levels and my degree and the rest of my achievement thus far - I learnt confidence.
2. What are your ambitions in politics in the medium and long term?
At the moment I am concentrating on getting to grips with my new portfolio in the Department of Health. And to serving the people of my constituency of Tottenham
3. What nationality are you?
British. I am proud of my parents Guyanese ancestry but at the same time I was born in London. I am therefore a part of a new generation - Black British
4. How significant has the Guyanese part of your upbringing been?
Very significant. My parents came to Britain aspiring to a better life.
They were very aware, like all people coming from the Commonwealth at that time that Britain did not "owe" them a living. They had every intention of working hard and succeeding, they passed their work ethic on to their children. The Guyanese culture was all around me as a child. I still go back to my mother's house for her cooking, especially her 'pepper pot'.
5. Have you ever been to Guyana? What were your impressions?
Well I know life isn't always easy. Guyana as a country isn't as rich as it once was. But its people are rich and they are its best asset. When I am in Guyana I feel very connected, as everywhere you look people look like you, in the banks the managers are black, so are all the TV presenters, and the policemen. It feels good not to be a "minority"
6 What did you learn at your Guyanese mother's knee?
She taught me to try to be humble and always to be aware that wherever you are, however hard things are, there's always someone more vulnerable and needier than you."
7 But you have had a very traditional English education- how did your scholarship to Peterborourgh come about?
When I was at primary school (Downhills Primary in Tottenham) one of my teachers realised I had a good singing voice. My head teacher and a priest suggested I apply to attend The King's School Peterborough, a state boarding school, which provides choristers for Peterborough Cathedral.
Initially I wasn't keen and when I got there I was the only black pupil.
8 And Harvard Law School?
After reading Law at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London I applied to do an MA at Harvard, when they accepted me, I was the first black Briton to do so. It was very exciting; the law school was very diverse, the programme for scholarships was amazing for kids from deprived areas. It was inspirational to study at arguably the best university in the world.
9 You're a man of firsts- youngest ever barrister, youngest member of the House of Commons. Are you lucky, disciplined or both?
Both. I have been very lucky with the people I have had around me. But I am also quite disciplined; my mother has drummed this into me.
10 What kind of legacy were you left by the late Bernie Grant MP, who was also from Guyana?
I think all politicians have been left a legacy by Bernie Grant, both black and white. I think we've moved further forward in race relations in Britain as a consequence of some of the work he did. He was a politician of his times. He spoke for those who needed someone to articulate wordless aspirations and misunderstood frustrations. Bernie wanted more ethnic minority politicians and he certainly wanted us to get there and be ourselves when we got there. That is what he was working for and that is what I'm seeking to do. I couldn't replace Bernie and I don't try to. I try to work for my constituents and to represent them in today's political climate.
11. There is talk of a 'Guyanese Mafia' in British Labour politics ?
You,Valerie Amos, Trevor Philips and Waheed Alli central to that Mafia. How true is this and just how does it operate?
The word 'Mafia' has dubious connotations so I wouldn't use that word; I have good working relationships with all three of the politicians you have mentioned and all have been very supportive of me since I came to Parliament.
12 Does Christianity play a part in your life and in your politics?
Yes it does, I still regularly go to my local church (St Phillips). I have until recently sat on the Archbishops Council which is a review board for the Church of England; one of its main aims is to keep the Church of England up to date with the general public. My faith is very important to me and I approach important decisions in my life from a Christian angle.
13. Any advice for future David Lammys?
Be confident, when you have set your sights on a certain prize then concentrate all your energies on achieving it. Strive to reach further than you're sure you can grasp. If things don't work out as you'd originally planned, you can be certain you will have learnt valuable lessons along the way. Be aware of what is going on around you, young people are fast losing interest in the politics of their country. It is important to make your voice and opinions count.
About David Lammy
Before being appointed as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Health, David Lammy was Parliamentary Private Secretary for the Rt Hon Estelle Morris at the Department of Education. David Lammy was elected Member of Parliament for Tottenham at a by-election on 22nd June 2000 following the death of Bernie Grant.
David was born in Tottenham on 19th July, 1972, one of five children raised by a black single mother. At eleven years of age, David won a scholarship as a chorister to attend a state choral school at The Kings School in Peterborough. He came back to London in 1990 to study law at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Admitted to the Bar of England and Wales in 1994, David became the first Black Briton to study a Masters in Law at the Harvard Law School in 1997. He was politically active throughout university, and spent his holidays volunteering for the Free Representation Unit, representing people in tribunals or in cases brought before the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. He did a placement in Jamaica, working for Amnesty International and volunteered in Thailand for Prisoners Abroad. David has practised as a lawyer in London and in California, specialising in medical ethics, negligence and commercial litigation.
David returned to England and stood as a Labour candidate for the newly created Greater London Assembly, securing a position as the GLA member with a portfolio for Culture and Arts. Following the sad death of Tottenham's longstanding MP Bernie Grant, David was elected as Labour MP for Tottenham at the age of 27. He was and remains the youngest Member of Parliament.
David's key political areas of interest are Education, Social Exclusion, Economic Affairs and International Development.
David is a member of the All-party Group on Rwanda and the Prevention of Genocide, the British-Caribbean All-party Group and the All-party Group on Aids. He is a trustee of the international development charity ActionAid. (taken from Mr Lammy's website)