If I’d said that an MP had accused the Church of England of being too obsessed
with gay marriage and women priests — and not worried enough about how God can keep young boys out of harm’s way — you’d probably imagine that a Tory had gone nuts. But this
is the David Lammy, Labour MP for Tottenham, who has gave an interview to our Books
. In it, he elaborates on the theme of his new book: that his colleagues are so keen to help single mothers that they’ve lost sight of what really helps working class boys. Amongst
the contributing factors, he mentions two things that may cast him out as a heretic in Labour’s secular religion: fathers, and God.
Lammy’s book, Out of the Ashes
, was released yesterday. On Monday. the government’s inquiry into the riots is due to deliver its interim report. Not many people know it even
exists — David Cameron said he didn’t want one, but Nick Clegg did, and to compromise they created a rather lame one called The Riots Communities and Victims Panel. This inquiry and
Lammy’s book seek to answer into what I regard as the single most important question facing this country. What were the factors that led to the riots? And how to respond?
In my Telegraph column
say that there have been plenty of inquiries already. From the Metropolitan Police to Harriet Harman, everyone has delivered their thoughts. But opinions are ten-a-penny: it’s facts that we
need. And we’ve see these, in data about those arrested for the riots. From what I can gather, all of it reinforces the case that Iain Duncan Smith was making beforehand: that we have create
welfare ghettoes in this country, and they are breeding grounds for social evil. This evil (William Beveridge’s word) has many elements: drugs, gangs, violent crime. And that night, they
exploded — and caught the world’s attention. For what it’s worth, here’s one set of data that I haven’t seen reproduced elsewhere: dole claimants in the main
epicentres of the riots.
So you can’t blame the recession. Worklessless was as scandalously high at the peak of the boom as it was during the riots. The devil may very well make work for idle hands, but it’s
not the Great Recession that renders them idle. Something else is at work here.
Enter Lammy. Labour’s MP for Tottenham gave perhaps the single best speech when parliament was recalled during the riots: his intervention, in fact, made the whole recall worthwhile. And now
his book, in which he mentions fatherhood — that’s brave enough. “Young boys can still grow up without coming into meaningful contact with a working man,” he says.
“Meanwhile the subversive forces of gang culture are as strong as ever.”
But Lammy moves towards career-threatening bravery when he also mentions the role of the Church. “Without her husband, my mother fought desperately to hold her family together,” he
writes. “Faith was a reason for her children to shun some of the tempting shortcuts offered by street culture and drugs.” This is as close as a British politician dares come to saying
that God helped him. I offer no comment on this, except to say that it’s all very unusual. But lots of kids raised like Lammy go to prison. He went to Harvard and the Commons. And he has to
thank his older brother (as a role model), and the Anglican church — for which he has a few words of advice.
I went to see The Riots
in the tiny Tricycle Theatre this week — a brilliant
reconstruction, simply retelling the story from 50 hours of interviews. I went expecting a leftie stitch-up. Rather, it was balanced, compelling, challenging and well worth going to see (it ends 10
December). At the end, the director said that the theatre prides itself in holding inquiries that the government won’t. It’s a very noble cause.
The riots have dropped out of vogue now. To my dismay. IDS told me at the time that he believed David Cameron saw the riots as being as important to his premiership as 9/11 was to Blair’s.
For a few days, it seemed that way. Then they became a burp: embarrassing at the time, but soon forgotten. I don’t hold out much hope for this inquiry, but Lammy’s book is excellent. Ed
Miliband has a famously voracious appetite for think tank documents, but he could learn a lot from Lammy. The history of welfare reform shows that not much happens without bi-party support.
Miliband should be the one shaming Cameron into action on this. Yes, youth unemployment is a problem, but the riots exposed the bigger, greater evil of Britain’s welfare ghettoes. Unless we
fix them, then the Tricycle Theatre will be ready for a rerun — because the conditions for the riots of 2012 are already in place.