David Lammy has apologised for nominating Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2015 and acknowledged his party was still “on a journey” when it came to improving relations with Britain’s Jewish community.
The newly-installed shadow foreign secretary set out his vision in the new job to an online audience of 300 at Limmud today.
But on the day new research showed a high level of satisfaction about Jewish Labour Movement members for Keir Starmer’s efforts to tackle antisemitism, the Tottenham MP admitted he was “staggered” to learn individuals with deeply antisemitic views remained in the Labour Party.
“I’ve met some of these individuals and am frankly staggered some are still in the party. But as a lawyer I understand that people appeal and go to court. There is a process, which can feel slow and tortuous sometimes, but it must be undertaken.”
Paying tribute to Starmer he added: “I don’t believe the overall culture is toxic anymore… but until the party is genuinely welcome for everyone we remain on a journey.”
On nominating Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader – one of only 35 MPs to do so in 2015 – he offered an unequivocal apology. “I regret nominating Jeremy Corbyn and if I knew what I do now I never would have nominated him. I never believed he would become leader. That was a mistake and I am sorry for that.”
During a wide-ranging and candid session, Lammy explained his historic closeness to the Jewish community, even before becoming the MP for Tottenham in 2000.
- Read more – EXCLUSIVE: 70 percent of JLM members polled say Labour now ‘a safe space’ for Jews
“I’m very grateful to a group of Jewish lawyers who were so determined I attend Harvard Law School as the first black British student, they helped finance my education! I was also heavily influenced by Professor Alan Stone who believed in me when I was more far more insecure than I am now.”
He continues to enjoy the company of Jewish friends on Shabbat: “I hugely value their faith and themes of family. These are common themes which should connect all communities.”
The former culture minister said he subscribed to the “rainbow coalition approach to politics”, emphasising his pride in the Jewish community for standing “shoulder to shoulder” with leaders including Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in their fight against apartheid. “The Jewish community understood the fascism that was at the heart of apartheid and the pernicious evil of discrimination.
“The tradition that I’m from is Jewish friends recognising and being active alongside historically discriminated groups. It means black communities like mine understanding prejudices existing against Jewish communities,” he explained.
Lammy argued: “It worries me that in this age of individualism that has engulfed us over the last 20 years we dive into our silos and our particular communities.
“The majority therefore don’t realise, know or even care that the Jewish community is tiny in the UK. Ultimately if communities don’t hang together, down the line you’re going to be in trouble.”
On Israel and the Palestinians, he reiterated Labour’s commitment to a two-state solution which remains “hugely important”. Lammy recalled sitting in a restaurant in Tel Aviv “thinking about rockets and fear”, adding that only a “negotiated peace” could ensure security for Israelis.
Turning to the wider Middle East, he promised Labour would “be firm with those who want to do harm to us or our friends”, citing developments with Iran as “worrying”.
Turning back to the UK, the Tottenham MP reflected on the “tremendous loss of life in ethnic minority communities, including the Charedi community” during the pandemic. He heavily criticised the spread of misinformation about the vaccine and implored community leaders to do more to drive take-up of the vaccine.
Lammy also warmly recalled his encounters with the late Rabbi Abraham Pinter, whom he praised for playing a “pivotal role in ensuring politicians like me felt connected to the Jewish community” before his loss to Covid.
On the Stamford Hill Charedi community, he defended the rights of parents to “make choices for where their children go to school,” but admitted he was unaware of unregistered and illegal yeshiva schools in his constituency.
Lammy added that he was proud to have secured improved security for Charedi schools, whilst ensuring poorer families were supported with welfare payments.
Concluding the session, the former barrister was asked about whether he harboured leadership ambitions: “No,” he insisted. “I’m fully behind Keir Starmer becoming Prime Minister!”
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