Who is David Lammy, Labour's shadow foreign secretary?

David Lammy was the first black Briton to attend Harvard Law School (Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)
David Lammy was the first black Briton to attend Harvard Law School (Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)

David Lammy has come a long way since his early days in Tottenham.

The shadow foreign secretary has been calling for a general election since the resignation of Boris Johnson as prime minister, saying the UK needed certainty in "extraordinarily difficult times".

If Labour wins the election, Sir Keir Starmer is expected to make Mr Lammy the next foreign secretary.

But who exactly is David Lammy, and what are the past controversies surrounding him? Here’s what we know.

Who is David Lammy?

Mr Lammy is a politician and lawyer, who has served as shadow foreign secretary since 2021. Until parliament was dissolved on May 30 he was the MP for Tottenham, having won the seat in 2000.

He was born in London to David and Rosalind Lammy who were Guyanese. His parents separated when he was 12 and his mother raised him and his four siblings alone.

Mr Lammy has discussed the value of dads and the necessity of encouraging them to try to be involved in their children's lives. He has written about the topic and serves as the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood.

He grew up in Tottenham and went on to study at Harvard University, where he became the first black Briton to attend Harvard Law School. He studied for a master of laws degree and graduated in 1997. Following Harvard, Mr Lammy worked as a lawyer in California from 1997 to 1998 from 1998 to 2000 at DJ Freeman in the City.

Mr Lammy was elected to the London Assembly for Labour in 2000 on the all-London list. When MP Bernie Grant died in 2000, Mr Lammy was chosen to represent Labour in his Tottenham seat.

In the June 22, 2000 by-election, he won the seat with a majority of 5,646 votes and 53.5 per cent of the vote. Until Sarah Teather was elected in 2003, at the age of 27, he was the youngest MP.

In the general election of 2001, Mr Lammy was re-elected as the member of parliament for Tottenham, with a higher vote share of 67.5 per cent and a larger majority of 16,916.

Political controversies

Tony Blair made him parliamentary under-secretary of state in the Department for Constitutional Affairs in 2003. Mr Lammy supported the government's decision invade Iraq in 2003.

In a 2020 interview with the Big Issue, he declared he regrets voting for the Iraq war. He explained he felt under pressure at the time because of the high numbers of Iraqi Kurds in Tottenham. He added he hasn’t supported any interventions since.

While he may have stayed far from supporting any interventions, he did attract criticism for other topics.

When the BBC tweeted, "Will smoke be black or white?" in reference to smoke above the Sistine Chapel at the announcement of the future Pope, Mr Lammy accused the BBC of making a "silly innuendo about the race" in 2013.

Mr Lammy called the BBC's tweet "unnecessary and crass”. Later, he issued an apology after other Twitter users brought attention to the role black and white smoke played in announcing the election of a new pope.

The Spectator criticised Mr Lammy’s claim in January 2016 that one million Indians had given their lives during World War II for the "European Project" rather than for the survival of Britain or to oppose Nazism.

After the Israeli Defense Forces bombed the Jabalia refugee camp in late 2023, Mr Lammy said that while the strike was immoral "when it comes to ethics" it might be justified legally "if there is a military objective".The Muslim Council of Britain denounced the remarks as disgusting and morally repugnant.

What has he said about the general election?

Mr Lammy said his background as the son of enslaved people would influence his work in government if Labour wins the general election as he looks to strengthen UK ties with the Commonwealth and the global south.

In a speech outlining Labour's plans to reform the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which is known for institutional conservatism, he declared: “I will take the responsibility of being the first foreign secretary descended from the slave trade incredibly seriously.”

Rather than refight historical conflicts, he declared he would use his own history to assist address contemporary issues like war, humanitarian disasters, and the climate crisis.

In addition, he expressed his desire for the Foreign Office to adopt a more long-term, risk-taking, strategic and less elitist mindset.