With `Out of the Ashes' David Lammy has risen like a Phoenix from the flames in my estimations. Which is not to say I thought he was particularly bad before - it's just I didn't think he was particularly anything apart from not being the British Barack. I knew he'd been a relatively young and precocious MP, that he'd held various government positions under Blair and Brown, and that he was generally well meaning and well liked.
But given that I have never voted Labour, and under `Two Nose Jobs' Miliband probably never will, Lammy hasn't really loomed large on my political radar. However, having come across `Out of the Ashes', and enjoyed it very much - in fact, I found myself nodding and grunting in agreement on the tube every morning this week - I'll be keeping a close eye on Lammy from now on.
The thing is, while Obama's autobiographical treatise reads a bit like the kind of soaring rhetorical wet dream Aaron Sorkin would have had while writing The West Wing, Lammy keeps things simple and sensible. Sure, the book is part autobiography, part manifesto. But as the MP for the same Tottenham constituency where he grew up, Lammy brings an authenticity and a genuine sense of compassion to what could otherwise have been a standard bit of post-riots lefty hand-wringing from Guardian Books.
Lammy talks about tackling the root causes of the riots, not just the symptoms, but you get the real sense that he means it - that this isn't just another politician spouting off with idealistic, unachievable platitudes. Lammy's upbringing in Thatcher's 80s, with proud working parents who were hit hard by the recession (his father turned to drink and then emigrated to the US, leaving Lammy's mother to raise three boys on her own) gives him a keen insight into some of the challenges facing families in Tottenham today - essentially, low paid jobs, absent fathers and no stake in society. And his response is pleasingly robust: he chides previous Labour governments for trying to provide statist solutions ("we have ended up nationalising society rather than bolstering it") and instead urges government to focus on improving the resilience of our society by bolstering its foundations ("rather than try to replace society, government should seek to reinforce society in everything that it does. This should be the golden thread running through its attitude to families, communities, workplaces, our justice system, taxation, immigration rules and the welfare state.")
In my work with a British health charity called Merlin, we are constantly trying to find solutions for societies in need - often these are countries with chronic levels of poverty which have been hit by some sort of additional disaster (earthquake, famine, conflict). At the other end of the scale, by drawing attention to Britain's chronically materialist, hyper-individualist `my rights' culture, and its devastating impact on the family unit, Lammy shows that disasters like the riots will continue to strike our society in the future unless politics becomes more practical and purposeful.
I kind of hope Lammy can emerge from Tottenham's ashes and do something about it.