I have a dream and so should you

13th July 2001 at 01:00
Tipped to be first black PM, Estelle Morris's righthand man tries to inspire kids. Diane Spencer and Nic Barnard report

IT'S 9.30 on Monday morning and David Lammy is dancing. The young MP for Tottenham, rising star of Westminster and newly-appointed bag-carrier to Estelle Morris, is getting involved in education in the most physical way.

Lammy is at St Ann's Church of England primary, nearing the end of a one-year trek around the schools in his constituency. Not for the first time, he is watching the local children dancing. And not for the first time, he has been asked to join in.

He grew up a few streets away and almost went to St Ann's himself. It's something he's fond of reminding children as he tries to visit every school in Tottenham in his first year in the House. He followed his dream to become a lawyer and MP so they can too.

The 28-year-old doesn't show too much embarrassment at shaking his hips and joining the chants in an African dance. And he sings along to hymns with a revivalist air at this school where four out of five children come from ethnic minorities, and most belong to church-going African or Caribbean families.

But then he is a former chorister. Choir school - the voluntary-aided King's School in Peterborough where he was the only black pupil - took him out of a potential cycle of poverty in one of Europe's most deprived boroughs.

Lammy has been tipped for great things since arriving in the House of Commons in June last year, filling the vacancy left by the death of Bernie Grant. Two speeches helped him make his mark - an impassioned maiden speech calling for greater public spending to eradicate poverty, which prompted instant predictions that he would be Britain's first black prime minister; and his highly-praised address at the state opening of Parliament last month.

So his recent appointment as Ms Morris's parliamentary private secretary came as no surprise. Like all good New Labour MPs, he says education is his first priority, and he is proud of the role he played in intervening at Haringey Council. He conveyed to ministers the fears of teachers about the private contractor being lined up to take over the failing council's services. The Government listened, he says, and a scaled-down contract went to another firm, Capita.

Now, he says, heads, local authority and ministers are all "reading from the same page" and improvements are happening. He talks proudly of the "tremendous" spirit in local schools.

As a Millbank favourite, he has his detractors. Mr Grant's widow, Sharon, was among those who accused the party leadership of parachuting in "a black Tony Blair". The implication being that he was the wrong kind of black. But he was born in Tottenham to Guyanan parents; he was educated at Downhill primary; his mother, Rose, worked for London Underground and Haringey council, raising four children after his father left when he was 11.

"I am a product of Haringey. My education was down to Haringey. They put me where I am and the idea that I can't come back and represent this community is ridiculous." Moreover, he knew what it was like to be brought up by a working, single mother, surviving on a low income.

He went on to London University, the Inns of Court School of Law, and a master's degree - self-financed - at Harvard. He practised law for a year in Los Angeles. In between, he took vacation jobs working for Amnesty International in Jamaica and Prisoners Abroad in Thailand. His first taste of the big political stage was as a founder member of the Greater London Assembly.

He hopes to address issues such as exclusions and the retention of black teachers. But he insists: "I am not just a black politician for black people. I am a politician for all people."

Addressing his Monday morning audience at St Ann's he knows the power of symbols. He tells pupils one perk of his job is getting to meet singer Craig David and footballer Dwight Yorke - two others who "followed their dream". No coincidence that they are both black. It's an aspirational message in an area that badly needs aspirations.

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