David Lammy: Labour needs to stop infighting and ‘washing dirty linen in public’

·4 min read
 (Matt Writtle)
(Matt Writtle)

David Lammy today told the Labour Party to stop its “internecine rows” and instead focus on laying out a new vision for Britain.

The Tottenham MP, one of just a few shadow Cabinet members who have served in Government, also called on MPs and party members to cease “washing our dirty linen in public”.

He issued the appeal on the eve of Labour’s annual rally in Brighton as the party is hit by a fresh bout of infighting over leadership election rules and Sir Keir Starmer’s 11,500-word principles-and-vision essay.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Standard, Mr Lammy also stressed:

* Sir Keir has a “big political moment” to address the nation with his conference speech on Wednesday. On how Labour’s leader could inspire voters, he said: “You inspire by setting out a vision that people can believe in.”

* Labour must not become a party just representing cities and other major urban areas, but to regain power must also win in “new town areas, suburban parts of Britain, rural parts of Britain”.

* It had to persuade more voters to “trust” the party with their “money, health and children’s education”.

* His party would go “toe-to-toe” in holding Boris Johnson to account for broken Brexit promises.

* Much of the “culture war” is a “side show” compared to many of the issues facing voters, but it “drives hate and division”.

* Youth unemployment, particularly among black Londoners, and so many Londoners living below the basic income level were issues that needed tackling rather than “banging on about statues”.

* Slammed the failure to rid residential blocks of inflammable cladding more than four years after the Grenfell Tower disaster.

“No-one in their right mind would have thought that that was possible in the sixth richest economy in the world,” he said.

Shadow justice secretary Mr Lammy, an MP for 21 years, served as universities, health and culture minister in the Blair/Brown era.

 (Matt Writtle)
(Matt Writtle)

After the infighting during the Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn years, he stressed: “For at least a decade we have been a party just too keen to wash our dirty linen in public.

“It’s now time for us to bring the dirty linen in from the line and demonstrate that we are listening, that we are acting and that we have a vision, a hopeful one for our country.

“I don’t want to go to another conference in which the Labour Party is caught up in internecine rows.”

Labour members who prefer to cling to ideology even if it means remaining in Opposition are not as numerous as “the noise, particularly the social media noise, can give the impression,” he believes.

“But I struggle to understand how some of those individuals seem to spend more time navel-gazing on issues within Labour and deep ideological issues without addressing the very, very serious policies, attitudes and incompetence of the current Government,” he added.

Sir Keir has been accused of adopting a policy-lite approach but Mr Lammy, who co-chaired his leadership campaign, expects more policy announcements in his keynote speech, with one on housing unveiled today.

On fiscal policy, The Tottenham MP criticised the Government’s hike in National Insurance as “a particular burden on the poorest” but declined to say, given that he is not shadow Chancellor, whether the cost of improving the NHS and social care should fall more heavily on the wealthy or businesses.

He stressed, though, the “importance” of Labour laying out how policies will be funded.

A “key priority” if he becomes Justice Secretary would be dealing with the backlog in the courts system, access to justice with sufficient legal aid would be vital to “levelling-up”, and if Justice Secretary Dominic Raab axed the Human Rights Act, “we would be sitting outside the norm for developed countries”.

After the divisions of Brexit, Conservative ministers have been accused of trying to whip up a “culture war”.

Mr Lammy is scathing about “culture war” acts, saying: “It drives hate and division.”

However, he added: “Much of the culture war is a side show frankly, it’s harmful and corrosive to society as a whole but it’s not where most of the electors are.”

Pressed on whether he might run for Mayor of London, Mr Lammy responded: “We are only four months on since I was campaigning for Sadiq Khan in which he won a second term as the Mayor of London convincingly, so I think that is premature.”

He speaks with passion on many issues.

However, when asked about the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which claimed the lives of more than 70 people including his artist friend Khadija Saye, he becomes deeply emotional.

“I think of those days in west London, standing at that burning, smoked-out building, and also those days when those who had friends or family in the tower were looking for the missing and really hoping they would somehow turn up,” he remembered, before adding: “Like a lot of public tragedy, I’m thinking of Hillsborough, people have to be held to account.

“People have to wait so long for justice. We have got to do right by those people.”

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What the papers say – September 19

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