LONDON MAYORAL hopeful David Lammy has expressed fears that anti-Semitic abuse targeted at Jewish politicians and their supporters could surge in the months leading up to the General Election.
The Tottenham MP also used a wide-ranging interview with Jewish News to voice unease about his party’s approach to the recent parliamentary vote on Palestinian statehood and explained why he would not be surprised to see a repeat of the riots that scarred the capital in 2011.
Lammy spoke out following a “horrifying” increase in incidents that targeted Jewish people, including MPs, and property, and just weeks before a cross-party panel of MPs put forward recommendations for tackling discrimi- nation during election campaigns.
He warned of a “febrile atmosphere” in the build-up to May’s poll and said he was “very wor- ried concerns about immigration can tip into anti-Semitism and racism”. Those who spoke out against anti-Semitism were also vulnerable to abuse, he said.
“I’ve been subjected to it in the past when I’ve stood up against anti-Semitism and I’m subjected to racist tweets on a regular basis”, he explained. “My skin gets thicker as we head towards a General Election but this stuff is simply not acceptable.”
The inquiry into political conduct – initiated by the Parlia- mentary Committee against anti-Semitism – would seek to “ensure the Electoral Commis- sion and political parties under- stand and take seriously the boundaries between fair debate and hate”.
Lammy – who will today make his debut at the annual Limmud conference – is fully aware that strained relations between his party and parts of the commu- nity over Israel are likely to be raised in Warwick.
Having joined a number of ministers and shadow ministers in abstaining on the recent House of Commons vote on Palestinian statehood – which was backed by the party hierarchy – Lammy told the Jewish News he was “not comfortable with where the party arrived at” on the matter.
“I don’t think unilateral actions in the British Parliament are the way forward. I think we have to be absolutely clear about the complexities of the problems in the Middle East,” said the politi- cian, who criticised boycotts and the flying of Palestinian flags dur- ing the recent conflict as “gesture politics”.
But the man who hopes to win the Labour nomination to contest City Hall in 2016 hoped that Jewish voters would judge Labour next May “on many issues, not just a single vote in Parliament”.
Lammy’s decision to formally launch his campaign for the Labour nomination for City Hall before the General Election has
provoked criticism from some quarters in his own party. But he insists the key issues were equally relevant at the General Election as to the mayoral race and argued he had campaigned across the UK.
“It’s very important to me to represent an area that’s been home to my football club since I was young and I’ve known all my life – but the only other job I’d love to have is Mayor of Lon- don,” he said. “I’ve been open and honest about that. I think it would be quite wrong to run to be an MP and a couple of weeks later say: ‘I quite fancy running to be mayor.’”
The 42-year-old said his varied experiences from growing up at the time of the Broadwater Farm riots to becoming a barrister – funding from members of the Jewish community enabled him to become the first black Briton to study at Harvard Law School– meant he had seen the capital “from all angles”.
He said: “It’s a London in which many people have helped me, but I reflect on whether this city, which gave opportunities to my parents and I, offers such pos- sibilities to everyone today – and I’m not sure it is. Things have become a lot harder for London- ers from working-class back- grounds who can’t make ends meet, who can’t get on the prop- erty ladder and are seeing rents soar. Inequality is growing.”
Lammy – who turned down a job in Ed Miliband’s shadow cab- inet – said doing so gave him the time to immerse himself in the is- sues affecting the capital, includ- ing those exposed by the riots in 2011. He warned that the “issues at the base of those riots [were] people not having a stake in soci- ety and losing touch with family remain”. Asked if he would not be surprised to see a repeat of such riots, he said: “I’m afraid not.”
But when it comes to commu- nity, the chair of the All-Party Par- liamentary Group on Fatherhood hails his constituency’s Charedi community for its “fantastic charitable sector and powerful sense of family”. The late headteacher of Yesodey Hatorah Girls’ School, Rachel Pinter, “personified a commitment and dedication to young people and to all that they can be,” he said.
While Lammy currently trails Dame Tessa Jowell and Diane Abbott in the polls, he said he was “very happy” with progress so far. But would he say that the controversy that surrounded the party’s last mayor candidate Ken Livingstone – whose cam- paign was chaired by Lammy – put an extra obstacle in the way of his successor when it comes to attracting Jewish supporters?
“No, I think we’ve got sophis- ticated electorates that look at the people they’ve got before them today,” he said. “It’s impor- tant the party selects an inclusive candidate.” He added: “Ken was an effective politician but I’ve said before I didn’t agree with him on some of the statements he made in relation to the Jewish community.”