On Tuesday 9th March 2021, the John Smith Centre proudly hosted the Rt Hon David Lammy MP, as part of our Power Hour series.

David is the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Labour MP for Tottenham. David currently serves in Keir Starmer’s Shadow Cabinet as the Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and was previously a Minister for Culture and separately, Higher Education.

Introduced by University of Glasgow Principal, Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, David joined Centre Director Kezia Dugdale in conversation discussing his early life, his book “Tribes” and how he’s used the role of a MP to secure justice for the Windrush Generation and victims of the Grenfell fire.

The full 60 minute session is available to watch or listen to again here, but here’s a quick run down of the key moments picked by our Centre Director, Kezia Dugdale.

1) Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

In this powerful clip, David describes living with imposter syndrome as a young black MP and how he overcame it. He also tackles the idea of having to have lots of life experience before entering Parliament and becoming a legislator, saying that when you’ve grown up in a single parent family in Tottenham and lots of your peers are in jail, you’ve got more than enough experience of life to serve the people.

2) Where the polarisation of politics leads

In this clip, David describes the polarisation of politics and how it has led people into “tribes”. He argues that populism forces leaders to govern only in the interests of their own tribe which is very dangerous. He also recounts the experience of going to court to see the trial of a man who had sent him a death threat and how the perpertrator was in many ways a product of this broken system.

3) What comes first – housing or education?

I was really struck by David’s reflection that for many years, people on the left of politics say education is the key public policy issue, believing that access to a high equality education was a great equaliser and liberator. He now wonders whether the focus instead should have been and now, post Grenfell, should be housing. Without a secure home to build from, what do we really have?

 4) The speed of progress

An audience member asked David Lammy whether politics itself was up to the challenges we now face as a society. He replies that it simply has to be. Reflecting on the big struggles of the past, David Lammy notes that the 24/7 nature of our media and the immediacy we now demand when it comes to services have created an expectation that politics too, should be instant. He reminds us that a protest isn’t a tweet and that the struggle for progress is long and hard.

5) Living up to your ancestors prayers

In this powerful and emotional closing clip, David Lammy reflects on his mother’s advice to him whenever he was struggling “living up to your ancestors’ prayers”. She would constantly tell him that no matter what struggles he faced, they were nothing compared to what his ancestors overcame.

Everyone at the John Smith Centre is so grateful to Rt Hon David Lammy MP for giving us not just an hour of his time, but such powerful testimony on his experience of elected life.