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David Lammy, MP for Tottenham
Photograph: Andy Parsons

David Lammy: ‘Tottenham is the beginning and end of me’

North London MP David Lammy on how the city has shaped him

By Isabelle Aron
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David Lammy is a Londoner through and through. Born to Guyanese parents, he grew up in Tottenham and has been the MP for the area since 2000. He’s a diehard Spurs fan, a SOAS alumnus and is known for his impassioned speeches in the House of Commons.

Being MP for Tottenham means the world to me. It’s incredibly special to represent a place I’ve known all my life, to walk the streets and know every inch of them. People know me as ‘Mr Tottenham’.

Growing up as the son of immigrants in the 1970s and early ’80s in Tottenham was seminal to making me the person I am. There was a freedom – we roamed the streets and owned the streets.

I didn’t move far from the N17 postcode for the first 11 years of my life. Then I got a scholarship to a state boarding school in Peterborough. Tottenham was very diverse and Peterborough wasn’t. I’d never experienced that before.

I experienced a sense of injustice growing up. In Peterborough I saw a different kind of life – the juxtaposition of a suburban middle-class Britain and the poorer urban environment I grew up in.

I didn’t always feel that I belonged. Growing up, I felt confined to a part of London and my parents saw themselves as immigrants. But, my God, I do today – I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

My father left when I was 12 years old. The Saturdays he took me to watch Spurs are really warm memories for me. Now I take my children.

I remember the first time I stepped out of Russell Square station to go to SOAS. I was the first in my family to go to university, so that area means a lot.

I went on anti-apartheid marches as a teenager and poll tax riots were a big part of student life. I remember protesting in Trafalgar Square. Those experiences have informed my politics.

I have a platform that many Londoners would give their right arm for so I’m damn well going to use it. What I say in the Commons is a much more sanitised version of what I’m hearing on the tube.

The 2011 riots were devastating, watching the burning and looting of the community I grew up in. There was a lot of anger in the community and I felt responsible to support people who’d been burnt out of their homes and livelihoods.

When I heard the news about Grenfell, I had a feeling I would know someone [involved]. Khadija [Saye] was a young artist who my wife had mentored. I identified with Khadija. When she died in that fire, I felt it could have been me.

Tottenham is the beginning and end of me. When I stand up in Parliament, I’m doing it with the force of the community behind me, it’s like they’re on my shoulders. 

‘Tribes’ by David Lammy is out now. £20.

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