Brussels Labour welcomed David Lammy MP to its meeting on 24 March on the theme of ‘Labour in Opposition and the days ahead’. David was the youngest member of the House of Commons when elected as MP for Tottenham in 2000. During his time in Parliament he has served as a minister in the Departments of Health, Justice and Culture, before taking the higher education portfolio, a post he now shadows in opposition. Brussels Labour was grateful to David for fitting in a visit while in Brussels to address a European Parliament Conference on Minority Leadership.
In a wide-ranging speech he gave his critique on the Conservative-led Government and his thoughts on the way forward for Labour in opposition and the challenges faced by the Party in securing a route back to power.
He began with the story of his own life and what inspired him to enter politics. Born in Tottenham itself – the constituency he now represents in Parliament – and raised by a single mother, David won a choral scholarship to the King’s School in Peterborough and went on to study at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), the University of London and Harvard. He contrasted his experiences in Tottenham – the constituency with the highest unemployment in London – with Peterborough – in the heart of middle England – to highlight the challenges that Labour faces in recapturing the broad constituency of the British people necessary, in his view, to be a credible alternative for government.
Moving on to the economy he observed that the Tory-led government appears to have succeeded in the short-term in switching the narrative from one about the worldwide financial crisis to one about the UK structural deficit. However, in the longer term he believes that the story on the economy will change to one primarily about unemployment and inflation. He emphasised that it is unrealistic for the Coalition to expect their massive planned shrinkage of the public sector – by over 15% – to be absorbed by the private sector. He warned that the cuts will result in the closure of many local public services, such as libraries and nurseries, of great value and importance to families and communities, and to economic problems which will be particularly acute in constituencies like Tottenham.
On higher education policy, he was keen to highlight in particular that, lost in the controversy of the staggering increases in tuition fees, is the abolition of state funding for arts and humanities. He stressed that no other western country in the world is without state funding to some extent in this sector. This will have serious implications for social mobility in Britain and consequently in a generation which is seriously disadvantaged economically – saddled with debt after university, and struggling to a get on the property ladder and provide a secure future for their families.
As to the way forward for Labour, there followed a thought-provoking passage on re-connecting the party and how the party re-discovering its small “c” conservatism on some issues. After a long period in government, he believes that there is a danger, despite now being in opposition, that Labour communicates in technocratic language and is seen as a metropolitan elite in London, removed and out of touch with the concerns of voters in the rest of the country. He gave immigration policy as an example of this – while its positive effects can and should be welcomed, the party has to recognise and confront the negative side, in particular the effect it has had in some parts of the country in driving wages downwards while the cost of living is rising.
To finish off, David Lammy emphasised the need for Labour to be careful in its opposition to spending cuts, particularly in the area of benefits and the welfare state and to focus on mainstream issues of concern to ordinary voters.
There followed a question-and-answer session with Brussels Labour members where David dealt in depth with a series of questions ranging from Ed Miliband’s performance so far as leader, family policy and gender equality, the alternative vote, the north-south divide, and what Brussels Labour can do to contribute to the party moving from opposition back to power.
Brussels Labour would like to thank David Lammy for coming to Brussels Labour and wish him well, particularly in his work on the review of the Party’s family policy, which Ed Miliband has tasked him with heading.