By Dr. Dhanpaul Narine
David Lammy is a Member of Parliament (MP) in Britain. He represents Tottenham in London. This was a seat that was held by the late Bernie Grant; as it happens both David Lammy and Bernie Grant have Guyanese roots. Grant was born in Guyana while Lammy’s parents are Guyanese from Berbice. Grant left us in 1998 and he was succeeded by Lammy who has since won re-election.
Tottenham could not ask for a better replacement for Bernie Grant. Lammy was born in Tottenham, London, attended public schools there, and furthered his studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies and Harvard.
Lammy held various posts in the Labour Government rising to that of a Minister of Higher Education. In 2011, there were riots in Tottenham that spread to various parts of London and England following the shooting Mark Duggan by the police. Lammy blamed the glamorization of violence and a consumer culture for the violence. There was also poverty and lack of inclusion that precipitated the riots.
Lammy was in the spotlight in the aftermath of the Grenfell Fire. He lost a close friend, Khadija Saye. He has described the fire as “corporate manslaughter.” The Diaspora Engagement Conference, sponsored by the University of Guyana in 2017, gave Lammy the opportunity to outline his views on a number of issues.
Lammy said that he enjoys his visits to Guyana and that the cuisine, the ‘pepperpot and hassa curry in Guyana is second to none!’ He called on planners to think seriously about including the second and third generation Guyanese in their policies.
According to Lammy, “you can’t begin to think about the diaspora unless you include the second and third generations. I am very proud because my parents were both Guyanese. I have a Guyanese passport and since Brexit that Guyanese passport has more value than before!”
Lammy said that because his children were not born in Guyana they do not have Guyanese passports but if the Government is serious then it should regard his children, and others, as part of the Guyanese heritage. Granting them passports might be one way of reinforcing the idea of a Guyanese heritage.
Lammy pointed out that India is doing fantastic work in relation to its diaspora. The evidence points to the fact that over $69 billion are remitted to India annually from its 32 million PIO’s abroad. The Persons of Guyanese Origin (PGO’s) remit about $450 million annually which is a significant percentage of the country’s GDP. The PGO’s number around a million persons.
Lammy said that apart from India there is Israel. He stated that Israel has perhaps “the most powerful diaspora in the world. The Jews give birthright to second and third generations.” He added that the Irish has begun to implement “a very serious program reaching out to their diaspora, and if you are in Boston or London or in Australia the fact that you are able to claim that Irish heritage means a lot. I would ask the Guyanese government to look at this seriously.”
A good idea would be to have a program that encourages young people to visit Guyana and to see for themselves the areas in which they can help. This program can be partially subsidized by the government. Lammy then touched on his experience as a Member of Parliament in Britain.
He said that Tottenham has a historic Caribbean community and he meets people that have never visited the Caribbean. Lammy said, “My father left Guyana in 1956 at 24 years old and he was part of the first generation. My mother came later in 1971 and Britain was not easy. My mother was stripped-searched at Gatwick Airport. That was her introduction to Britain. The standard phrase at the time was no Irish, no dogs, no Blacks.”
The first generation had a desire to one day return home. Home was the place to which you sent remittances. You cared for your families in tough times but some countries have programs in which military service is required to have a local passport. According to Lammy, the children in the Guyanese diaspora will have to deal with issues that place Guyana in the wider international setting.
Lammy said that a Guyanese woman in London related to him how she was on a train in Guyana from Georgetown to Rosignol. The train was so slow that it was overtaken by pedestrians. An American passenger went to the driver and asked, “Can’t you go any faster?” The driver replied, “Yes, I can go faster but I have to stay with the train!” Lammy said that the diaspora is determined to stay with the train. It needs to move faster if it is to make progress.
He stated that he has heard the word ‘potential’ in relation to Guyana too often. He wants to see the potential realized. He wants an end to racialized politics that has held Guyana back. He wants to see brain gain instead of brain drain. The diasporic network can be of great help as Guyana gets to 2020 and its new possibilities. It means that one has to build trust. Security is important, as people want to be safe if they are to do business. Investment should take place with less red tape.
Lammy outlined five recipes for success. They are education, employment, aspiration, community and parenting. He recommends the creation of a Sovereign Wealth Fund that is put aside for education when the oil revenues come on stream. He said that there are real issues affecting young people and parenting is the key.
Member of Parliament David Lammy is a credible voice for the improvement of the human condition, both in Britain and internationally. He is widely respected and given his talent for working with all groups David Lammy could well become Britain’s first Black Prime Minister.