By David Lammy, Labour Party MP for Tottenham and prospective Labour candidate for London Mayor
I’ll let you into a little secret. These opinion pieces from politicians that keep appearing in Jewish News week in, week out – and especially, funnily enough, around election time – are rarely, if ever, actually written by the politician themselves. Surprised? Sadly I am guessing that no, you are probably not. That’s why these pieces are so dreadfully boring most of the time. They are filled with platitudes of what one of their staff thinks you will want to hear and what will win them votes, not what they actually think or believe.
Well, I am different sort of politician. This is me writing this. I don’t like just talking about problems, I like acting on them. So while other politicians like to write articles raising concerns about important issues like anti-Semitism, security at our Jewish schools or housing in London, I’m more focused on actually dealing with those issues.
Let me tell you what I mean. I read at the weekend that neo-Nazis are talking about the “Jewification of Golders Green” and attacking Jewish neighbourhood watch scheme Shomrim.
I see some politicians are writing letters to the Home Secretary – very laudable indeed. But it takes a lot more than that. My first phone call on Monday morning was to Shomrim. I asked if I could go out on patrol with them, and that is exactly what I am doing (I will let you know how I get on). What’s more, I will be with the Jewish community in Golders Green on 4 July.
If Nazis want to march in Golders Green they will have to get past me first.
There are two things I’ve long believed about Jew hatred.
First, it is not just a problem for the Jewish community, it is a problem for all of us.
Second, in the words of Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
That it something the Jewish community understands. So when the Muslim community came under threat in Hackney, it was Shomrim that offered to help and keep a watchful eye on local mosques and Muslim community centres. I know the Community Security Trust is the same.
This outstanding act of neighbourly kindness immediately reminded me of my own experience. I grew up next to the Broadwater Farm estate in Tottenham, studied at the University of London and practised as a barrister here.
I would not have been able to do any of that without the opportunity given to me as a result of the kindness and generosity that led four men from London’s Jewish community to put their faith in a young black boy from Tottenham and pay for me to study at Harvard when I was unable to afford the fees.
These acts are part of the strong sense of community and generosity that defines London at its best. For me, that generosity was the first stage of a long relationship with London’s Jewish community.
As a practising Christian, I’ve been lucky enough to experience and enjoy the warmth of the capital’s strong interfaith bonds. At a time when inequality and difficult challenges threaten that sense of togetherness, these are bonds we should be seeking to replicate across the city. Actions not words – that is the message my mother instilled in me and one I’ve tried to stay true to throughout my life. It is also the message that would define my mayoralty if I am lucky enough to be elected.
There is no doubt London’s biggest challenge is housing.
Rents are rising, young people struggle to get on the housing ladder and families are often crammed into increasingly overcrowded homes.
Meanwhile, businesses are struggling to attract employees who are put off by the impossible costs of living in London. That’s why I get so frustrated when I hear politicians talk about housing with an air of despondency and resignation. They make out there is not much we can do, when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
I’ve got a clear, comprehensive plan for building homes that is based on the principle of action over rhetoric. This week, for example, I announced that, as mayor, I would issue £10billion of London Housing Bonds to directly fund 30,000 new social homes for Londoners.
It’s the type of policy my mother would have been proud of – one that might not make the headlines, but gets the job done.
The things the next mayor must remember above all is that London is nothing without its people and its diverse communities.
Too often in the past, mayors have stood up for certain communities but not others. That’s why I believe we need a unifying figure who understands all parts of our city and is desperate to discard the political division and tribalism that has held London back. But just as importantly as that, we need one who will get the job done.
If I’ve learnt anything during my 44 years, it’s that what matters isn’t what you say, but what you do.