UK MP comes home for a Hopetown holiday
-a rising star in Labour party By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
December 27, 2003

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British Parliamentary Under-secretary in the Department for Constitutional Affairs in the United Kingdom, David Lammy is in Guyana to spend Christmas with his mom, who is Guyanese by birth. The Lammys will be spending the holidays in Hopetown, West Coast Berbice where some of their relatives still live.

The young British minister has spent many Christmases here and has fond memories of them. He recalls one year where there was so much rain that the mud was "up to our thighs" and the chickens and birds were flying around. As a result he says he still has a phobia about birds because of it.

"When you live in London - a big city - the memories of Guyana are the expanse of space - the greenery and the relaxed nature that allows you to sit and talk and the sea breeze."

He was born in Britain but has been to Guyana several times although not since he was elected to the British House of Commons in June 2000 and his ministerial appointment in 2001. He is a lawyer by profession having graduated from the School of African and Oriental Studies of the University of London with an LL.B and a LL.M degree from Harvard University. He is a member of Lincoln's Inn. He is also a member of the Guyanese `mafia", which he reminds, is a term coined by others. He prefers the term Guyanese diaspora.

Lammy explains his entry into politics as being inevitable since as a boy growing up in Tottenham "one couldn't grow up and not be politically aware be-cause of issues like unemployment, police brutality and the social tensions and like many others, I had strong views about the Margaret Thatcher administration."

Also he says that he comes from that tradition of lawyers whose training equips them to make and change laws and also imbue them with a desire to create a new and better society.

Moreover, he says that he has always been a fighter as he has had no pretence about the barriers people of colour face in the West - the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States of America to name a few. But he says every year sees some progress forged by people who have gone before.

Also he says a contributory factor has been his interest in excellence which led him to the "good universities to do the best that I could, to be a good lawyer and now to fight on behalf of my community and to be a good minister on the behalf of the government which is my government."

He stressed that the UK government is the government of the country "in which I was born and that's the country of many people despite wherever their parents came from, be it Guyana, Jamaica or Nigeria. We were born there and we must make the most of the opportunities available to us. Where those opportunities are denied we must fight."

Speaking briefly about his impressions since he last visited the country, Lammy says that he keeps track of events in Guyana as far as he could and was glad to learn of the constructive engagement process on which the two leaders had embarked.

He noted that the United Kingdom was now engaged in constitutional reform and it is interesting to see the constitutional reforms being discussed here.

He said too that he knows that "there is still some real poverty in Guyana and all of us want to see that alleviated for the poor people that are suffering."

Declining to be drawn in to what he can personally do to assist Guyana, Lammy explained that he is very pleased as someone having a Guyanese background to see that the British government has a commitment to Guyana and that "there are a number of programmes that we are involved in here. For example around the Amerindian community, and programmes around education and health and other things."

Also, he says, "We make a significant contribution to the European Union which also has a commitment to Guyana. As you would expect some of the things going through we are clear that we are willing to assist should the government so wish on issues like constitutional reform; on issues like Guyana's security and other things on which the British commitment is clear."

Lammy is one of the rising black stars in the political firmament of Great Britain. His promotion to the ministerial ranks was swift - after just eighteen months in the British House of Commons to which he was elected in June 2000 with a 5000-plus majority and re-elected in 2001 with the `humbling and moving majority' of 19,000, the second highest in London, by the voters of Tottenham. Tottenham is an inner city constituency for which Bernie Grant, another Guyanese, this one by birth, fought tirelessly for more than thirteen years, the first ten years of which was while the Labour Party was in opposition. Lammy succeeded Grant winning the by-election that had to be called after Grant died.

Lammy is part of Tony Blair's 90-member government team and with responsibility for a number of very important areas says that he hopes when he discusses these things that his ministerial colleagues "know what I bring to the table. I bring my education; I bring my background and yes I bring my ethnicity but it is that which really reaches and is able to govern a country because it is a diverse team of people made up of people of different ages, different backgrounds and different points of view."

And diversity is important to Lammy who believes that the best democracies are those that comprise the young and the old, the rich and the poor and those who are either black, brown or white. .

Following Bernie Grant as the parliamentary representative for Tottenham is a tough act to follow but while there is some comparison, Lammy feels that that he wasn't elected to be a Bernie Grant, whom he considers a great man or a Forbes Burnham or Cheddi Jagan, people whom he read about. He just wants to be David Lammy.

"I am one of those children growing up during Bernie's time that had a chance and an opportunity and the challenge is for me to use that chance and that opportunity and that is why I'm not just having a holiday in Guyana. I'm here doing a little bit of work even though it is a holiday." Also he says it is the reason why he continues to fight on behalf of his constituency.

Lammy observes, "my fight would be different to Bernie's because times change; because I am a different generation - I was born in Britain, Bernie wasn't; because I will have my own views and my own take because ultimately the people of Tottenham didn't elect me to be Bernie Grant ... They elected me to be David Lammy"

Being David Lammy is important as he says being yourself was drummed into him by his mother and he recalls Nelson Mandela's admonition that the greatest fear is the fear of being one's self. For Lammy the challenge for people from poor backgrounds who have "arrived' is being themselves.

As a consequence Lammy says he takes his responsibility seriously of being a good local Member of Parliament and of being an excellent Minister "as ultimately failure impacts on another generation".

Also he explains that others who had gone before have made possible the progress being made now.

Despite his change in station he still lives in Tottenham though not in the same house he grew up in. He explains that though he has acquired some new friends, "I haven't lost touch with the people I grew with, many of whom are doing great things {and] some of whom are not....People who have known you since you were born - your friends are your own friends. They respect you for who you are and they see you not as you are today but when you were kicking a ball around. So there is no question of dealing. We relate as we do."

Also, he says that though he is a member of parliament and a government minister and speaks in a certain way when he wears a suit and a tie, "I am still able to relax, laugh and sit around my mother's table with friends in the same way that we used to and people who have known you for some time and are true friends don't really see the [difference]."

However, he says that depends on the person you are and in his case there are no frills to get in the way. Also he says "I also don't lecture other people. As my mother always says don't judge other people. I also don't lecture people as to what they should or shouldn't do. Once you are over 21 your life destiny is for you to choose. I will help if you want my help but I am not going to lecture you. Neither do I expect you to lecture me since as a politician I get my fair share of criticism and lectures."

But he admits that being a parliamentarian and a minister means that he cannot walk around Tottenham anonymously any longer and that it would be remiss of him, unlike his previous visits, to come to Guyana and not call on the President and Leader of the Opposition even though he is on holiday, as well as meet with the Chancellor of the Judiciary and the Chief Justice to discuss ways of helping Guyana to improve.