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26 June 2024

The Lammy Doctrine

Labour’s foreign-secretary-in-waiting on why Britain must adapt to the world as it is, not as liberals wish it to be.

By Jason Cowley

The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it. – VS Naipaul, “A Bend in the River”

Questions of empire, identity, race and belonging preoccupy David Lammy. He is a son of the Caribbean diaspora and grew up in Tottenham, north London, in the constituency he has represented as a Labour MP since 2000 and describes as having “the most diverse postcode in Europe, a community of over 200 languages”. He was never part of the London left, or radical Labour, unlike Bernie Grant (his predecessor as MP for Tottenham), Diane Abbott (whom he likes and admires), or Jeremy Corbyn, and believes his role in politics is always to seek “common ground”.

“Sometimes people have said, ‘David’s a bit of a chameleon,’ or whatever,” he said to me over coffee one recent morning at a Turkish-Kurdish café in Tottenham. We were sitting a short walk away from his former primary school, which he left at the age of ten after being awarded an Inner London Education Authority choral scholarship to attend the King’s School, Peterborough, then a state boarding school. “But it’s not that,” he continued. “I’m interested in the common ground and that is the story of my life. David Cameron asked me to do a review on the criminal justice system; I’m able to converse with the left in my party. I’m a product of the inner city and of Middle England, of Tottenham and Peterborough, of Britain and the Caribbean.”

Early in his parliamentary career Lammy, who is 51, was a Blairite moderniser. Today he says he is a communitarian and on foreign policy identities as a “progressive realist”. Yet on a recent visit to Washington, his seventh trip to the United States as shadow foreign secretary – at an early-morning event at the Hudson Institute at which he spoke alongside Jim Risch, a hard-line Republican senator and Beltway fixer – he told his audience he was a “good Christian boy” and “conservative”. Here, then, are the many faces of David Lammy, Britain’s chief-diplomat-in-waiting.

Lammy’s approach as shadow foreign secretary has been to reach out across difference and develop bipartisan relationships in the national interest. He has impressed Elbridge Colby, for one, the Republican foreign policy “realist” tipped as a possible national security adviser in a second Trump administration. “What I like about Lammy,” Colby says in a forthcoming New Statesman interview, “is that he’s… getting in touch with more of a European-focused strategic weight.”

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Colby recently criticised Cameron for attempting to influence US domestic policy over the Ukraine war, as he is sceptical of the notion of “Global Britain”: “If you look at the realistic situation in the UK and the state of the armed forces and spending prognosis and reindustrialisation, and you look at the UK’s ability to project power, that is just not realistic.”

To his disparagers, however, Lammy is a shapeshifter and opportunist who will say whatever he needs to advance. Dominic Lawson, a former editor of the Spectator, recently wrote a Sunday Times column on this theme.

“I’m really relaxed about that criticism,” Lammy said. “If you want a politician who hasn’t changed his mind, then you go and interview Jeremy Corbyn, George Galloway, Jacob Rees-Mogg or Nigel Farage. Serious people change their minds, and they particularly change their minds when the facts change… In an increasingly diverse, sometimes polarised atmosphere, you’ve got to find the common ground. Diplomacy is about finding the common ground.”

But realism? I asked him when he first started to describe himself as a realist. He responded by laughing loudly and slapping me on the back. “Jason, you’re talking to a black man who grew up poor in Tottenham, who’s sitting here on the cusp of being foreign secretary and you ask me if I’m a realist? I’m the biggest realist you’re going to meet, buddy!”

The return of Trump

In May I travelled to Washington to spend several days with Lammy. There, he spoke to me about the desolation he felt during the long Labour civil war, from 2015 to 2019. He recalled standing outside parliament protesting at what had happened to Labour under the Corbyn leadership: the sectarianism, the intractable divisions. “It was one of the lowest periods of my political life,” he said. In the aftermath of the EU referendum, and on the back benches, Lammy chose to become a committed belligerent in the protracted Brexit culture wars, an anti-Trump Twitter warrior and ardent Remainer. He agitated for a second referendum. He denounced his enemies. He was less seeking common ground than taking sides, and he became a divisive national figure.

In his book Tribes, a condition-of-England memoir published in 2020, he wrote with foreboding of the rise of Donald Trump and of hard-right nationalist populism. Now, through necessity, he is more circumspect.

In Washington, Lammy was preparing the ground for what might happen in the autumn presidential election and had private meetings with notable Republican senators, including his “friend” JD Vance, author of the memoir Hillbilly Elegy, and Lindsey Graham, as well as a meeting with Mike Turner, of the House intelligence committee. He visited the opinion department at the conservative Wall Street Journal, where he was received warmly, and recently, in London, he met Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state under Trump.

On our first evening together in Washington, Lammy and I attended a dinner at the home of the Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Russell Mead – other guests included Elliott Abrams, the Reagan-era neoconservative hawk and more recently a Trump envoy, and Ed Luttwak, a right-wing grand strategist – during which we discussed a possible Trump presidency. Lammy has great energy but was fatigued. He’d arrived much earlier that morning, via Newark, having flown overnight from London, and he was travelling around town to meetings in various Ubers. He kept engaged through the evening by drinking iced Coca-Cola but did not eat.

“The privilege of this job,” he told me the next day, “is you can travel, you can listen to friends and foes, to learn and really focus on what your party and country needs to do. I’m here now because we’re in an American election cycle and it’s too close to call. The truth is, if you’re doing your job seriously you have to work with whomever the American people choose. On this trip I’ve focused not just on meeting Republicans but on the breadth of Republican opinion: Reagan Republicans, Asia First Republicans, Maga Republicans – who are the inheritors of the Tea Party and are more isolationist – and it’s important to meet them to understand where those motivations come from.”

When we met in Tottenham, more than a month later, we talked again about his excellent relationship with senior Republicans. But what of Trump, I asked. Does Lammy regret what he wrote and said about him during his first term? When he answered, I noticed he was particular about using Trump’s full name.

“It’s important, Jason, and we sensed this when we were in the United States together: the rhetoric that comes with Donald Trump comes with Donald Trump. That is the man, that is the personality, and he navigates the global stage with huge personality and that rhetoric continues. But you do have to distinguish between the rhetoric and the actuality. It is still the case that a Donald Trump administration will include the broad coalition that is the Republican Party. He likes argument and he likes to see the rows within the party reflected in his conversations. On foreign policy particularly, Donald Trump does not want the United States to be on the losing side, and Donald Trump is a politician who’s been able to change his mind, or be more flexible strategically, domestically on abortion; more flexible strategically on the issue of funding for Ukraine.”

Is Trump a pragmatist?

“He’s a businessman. When he’s talking about America First, he’s not wanting to get, in his language, screwed on a deal. That does make him pragmatic, of course.”

OK, he’s a pragmatist. But do you think he’s reprehensible – in what he represents, how he behaves?

Lammy paused.

“Umm, Trump is part of a United States I’ve known all my life.”

For the first time he had not used the former president’s full name.

“It’s a United States I’ve got tremendous respect for, and, in the end, he’s part of a democratic system, a democratic system that will produce different politicians, politicians different to me… It’s a huge mistake to disrespect a politics that significant parts of the population in America are attracted to, and indeed that we see in our own country.”

So you wouldn’t be worried if his advisers laid out some of your disparaging tweets about him on Trump’s desk?

“No, because I think there’s also parts of Trump’s record that have a very healthy relationship with the UK: he’s known to be fond of Scotland; he’s known to be fond of the Queen; he understands the key partnership that the UK has had with the US, particularly on issues of intelligence and military capability, and wants to find the deal and the common ground. He also understands that you’d be struggling to find any politician that didn’t have strong views on Donald Trump Mark I – and that includes our current Foreign Secretary, who I think called him a xenophobe and a misogynist in his book.”

Donald Trump campaigns for the Republican nomination in Reno, December 2023. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Progressive realism

Lammy has been rethinking his politics. Working on Tribes unlocked new possibilities for him. If you read the book and his most recent essays and comment pieces on foreign policy, or spend time talking to him or his advisers, as I have in recent months, you get a sense of a politician trying hard to understand the world as it is today, not as it was when Tony Blair heralded the start of a new liberal progressive global order in 1997, or as many on the left would wish it to be. He is not an idealist but nor is he a tragic realist. He locates himself in an older Labour tradition of Clement Attlee, Winston Churchill’s deputy in the wartime coalition, and Ernest Bevin: clear-eyed, practical, pragmatic social democrats whose foreign policy was rooted in patriotism and the economic and social interests of the British people. The Attlee government commissioned Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent and was instrumental in the creation of Nato.

Lammy says that Britain faces a challenge in operating according to its values in a world that often doesn’t share them. That is what he means by “progressive realism”, a phrase he first showcased in an essay for Foreign Affairs magazine in April.

Jonathan Powell, chief of staff to Tony Blair, read the essay. “It will be good to have a foreign secretary who has actually thought about the role, expounded some views and even has a theory,” he told me. “There is every prospect he can be transformative as foreign secretary given his background and experience. The truth is Britain has become largely irrelevant around the world since Brexit. A first step will be to re-engage with our European neighbours and allies to create a relationship of trust. Boris Johnson’s antics and lies resulted in a complete breakdown in that trust. And it will be good news for Labour if Biden wins. There’s no doubt who the Biden lot are rooting for. If Trump wins, for whoever is in power in Britain it will be difficult. That is why rebuilding relations with Europe, especially on security and defence, is so important as reinsurance against the risk of a Trump presidency and an unreliable America.”

As we spoke in Tottenham, Lammy expressed particular concern about Britain’s relationship with the Global South and at how neglectful, even disrespectful, the Conservative government had been towards the leadership of states such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. “I came into this job as shadow foreign secretary on the tail-end of the pandemic, with a powerful sense from the Global South that Britain has abandoned them and the West has abandoned them.”

Jonathan Powell said something similar. “We have a big problem with the Global South, especially after Gaza. Many already felt our response to Ukraine in contrast to our response to the wars in Ethiopia, which have killed far more people than the Ukraine war, showed the West’s double standards. The big divergence between the West and the Global South may take decades to fix. And China has in the process set itself up as the shop steward of the Global South.”

As shadow foreign secretary Lammy has made 17 visits to and engaged with 61 governments from the Global South since June 2022. Having made 56 international trips, he is, aides claim, “the most travelled shadow foreign secretary in history”, and yet shadow foreign secretary was a role he was unsure he wanted when Keir Starmer asked him about it in autumn 2021. “I needed time to think about it because I’d not been canvassing for it,” he told me in Washington. “I have young children and there would be a lot of travelling. But Keir said, ‘Look, you’ve just got these incredible networks of contacts and friends across the world. I need you in this role.’”

Lammy, the first black Briton to attend Harvard Law School, is a friend of Ben Rhodes, a former adviser to Barack Obama.

“I’ve known David since 2007,” Rhodes told me. “He has energy, a big personality, and I’ve always known him to be an incredibly curious person. He’s really thrown himself into the foreign affairs portfolio with that curiosity of wanting to learn more and meet more people, go more places.”

In 2018 Rhodes published The World as It Is, a memoir in which he describes his journey from the idealism of the early years working for the first Obama administration to a kind of disenchanted realism about the world and America’s role in it. “Maybe we pushed too hard. Maybe people just want to fall back into their tribe,” said Obama – who believed the most important thing a president could do on foreign policy is avoid a costly error – after Trump had won the 2016 presidential election. And then, even more emphatically, he asked Rhodes: “What if we were wrong?”

It’s a question liberals should be asking themselves more often as they reflect on a world fragmenting into rival blocks.

“Progressives,” Rhodes said when we spoke, “tend to want to remake the world. But we’re in a period in which our ambitions have to also focus on just averting catastrophe and kind of protecting what we have, while looking for those opportunities on things like climate change or technology where you can do something affirmative. To me, David’s ‘progressive realism’ is just kind of calibrating expectations, developing policies that fit a really disordered moment, and then being opportunistic in where you’re seeking the advance of a progressive agenda.”

The title of Rhodes’ book is an allusion to the opening sentence of VS Naipaul’s 1979 novel A Bend in the River, set in Kisangani (formerly Stanleyville), on the banks of the Congo River in what was then Zaire, a post-colonial state already collapsing into ruin. Like Lammy’s parents, who were from Guyana, Naipaul was part of the Caribbean diaspora. His forefathers came to Trinidad from India as indentured labour. His father worked as a journalist and had thwarted literary ambitions. The young Vidia won a scholarship to Oxford and became a writer – he magisterially referred to himself in conversations with me as “the writer” – but never returned home.

Naipaul travelled widely and restlessly in India and Pakistan, in several African states, the deep American South, Argentina, Indonesia and Iran. His subject was the end of empire and the struggles and upheavals of the post-colonial world and decolonised people. “When I talk about being an exile or a refugee, I’m not just using a metaphor,” he said. “I’m talking literally.”

The central character in A Bend in the River is an Indian merchant, Salim, who grew up among traders in East Africa and opens a shop in Kisangani. But he is lost. “He didn’t simply see himself in a place in the bush; he saw himself as part of an immense flow of history.”

Lammy, who references Naipaul’s book, as Obama also did in an interview with Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times, understands how it feels to be part of this immense flow of history. Naipaul was more than a realist, however: he did not believe in progress. But Lammy claims to be a “progressive realist”. He resists the quietism of Naipaul. Towards the end of A Bend in the River, Ferdinand, a town commissioner, warns: “We’re all going to hell, and every man knows this in his bones. We’re being killed. Nothing has any meaning… Everyone wants to make his money and run away. But where? That is what is driving people mad. They feel they’re losing the place they can run back to… But there is no place to go.”

Obama said he returned to Naipaul’s books and the opening line of A Bend in the River, “when I’m thinking about the hardness of the world sometimes, particularly in foreign policy, and I resist and fight against sometimes that very cynical, more realistic view of the world. And yet, there are times where it feels as if that may be true.”

Lammy does not speak like that. He is progressive in his beliefs on climate action and international law – since, as he puts it, “We are realist, not in spite of our realism. We believe that we need climate action and international law to stop the darkness getting so much worse, and the world so much more dangerous. These approaches are not only our values but our necessary, essential self-interest.”

A friend suggested that Lammy’s pragmatism – what he called his “utterly Starmerite approach” – was the real lesson one should take from reading Naipaul’s A Bend in the River. The propagandist fails to read the changing geopolitics and fails practically to look after his shop – allowing himself to become nothing. “This Lammy would never allow,” he said.

The Black Atlantic

Lammy has peered into the Naipaulian darkness, especially when thinking about slavery and the Black Atlantic: “I am a man made of the Atlantic.” He has what Paul Gilroy, adapting the idea of WEB Du Bois, calls a kind of “double consciousness”, or dual self-perception as a member of a colonised group in a former colonial power, of being both English and black. He understands the symbolism of what it would mean to his family, his community, his country, to be the first foreign secretary to be able to trace his “lineage back through the Atlantic slave trade”. Lammy, who is an English patriot, embraces his multiple identities – English, British, European, Caribbean, Atlanticist, a son of Tottenham and Peterborough – as representative of what it means to be modern.

“I’ve read Paul Gilroy’s books,” he told me. “There is a double consciousness – there might even be more than two, inevitably.”

As a child he had few possessions, few of what he calls “tangible things”, but recalls a poster of the world given to him by his father, who left the family when Lammy was 12. David used to study the poster for hours as he sat on the end of his bed. But, as he puts it now, there were important things he got wrong or did not understand or did not know.

“I talk in my book of the war breaking out in the Falklands and being confused and thinking that we were on the side of Argentina because we were Guyanese, and my mum disabusing me with, I think, a slap: that is not the position! So that’s the double consciousness at play. I would have been nine or ten at the time, and that’s been with me all of my life, that juxtaposition, that occupying of different worlds. It’s why, when I am in the Caribbean, in Africa, in the Indo-Pacific, foreign ministers say things to me that I don’t think they do say to David Cameron, because David Cameron is coming from a different place; he’s presenting in a different way. They say things to me about Britain’s past: there’s a formal and there’s an informal. I want to deploy that to the UK’s advantage, as an asset. But I’m also very British. It irritates me when I go around the world, when I’m in India, for example – I went to India the day after Macron had left – or I’m in Dubai, and they’re lauding French diplomacy. Because I am a Brit, I’m competitive, I want Britain with its mojo back! And I think we can get our mojo back.”

Global and local: David Lammy in Downhills Park, a green space in his north London constituency that backs on to his old primary school. Photo by David Vintiner for he New Statesman
The end of the post-colonial era

Lammy believes we have reached the end of something important – not just of a long period of Conservative rule in Britain or of a long period of peace in Europe, but a certain Western-centric way of understanding and ordering the world. “This is the end of the post-colonial era,” he said boldly.

Rachel Reeves declared the end of liberal globalisation “as we know it”, in a speech in Washington last year, and now Lammy is announcing the end of the post-colonial era. These are big, ambitious statements Labour is making. But what exactly do they mean?

“Well, let’s just ground it in the facts,” Lammy said during our meeting in Tottenham. “Let’s go back to the Nineties, if you like. Britain’s economy was bigger than China’s – today, China’s is six times bigger than Britain’s. Countries like Turkey were barely on the map; Turkey had 12 embassies in the continent of Africa – today it has 44. India was just emerging – today India is a global superpower: it’s not a middle power, it’s a superpower with huge amounts of growth. India, China – they are huge manufacturing powers now. And our foreign policy has to meet the world as it is, and in that sense post-colonialism is over. And I might say also there is no room for cancel culture in foreign policy. Forget it: no one cares! Slightly facile arguments about what paintings are on the wall in the Foreign Office! I mean [laughing], let’s meet the world as it is, let’s talk about mature relationships today, and let’s recognise that actually there are other economies, neighbours, I think over this last period that have actually been doing better than us in this new environment – France is an example. If you want to get a sense of the modern world, I would encourage anyone to sit in the airport in Dubai and watch the world meeting one another… There can be a sniffiness to places like Dubai by the European elite, but that’s where it’s at, and, in that sense, post-colonialism is past.”

By announcing the end of the post-colonial era, Lammy is also announcing the arrival of a new era of multipolarity. Labour foreign policy will evolve to reflect this new world order. On the day before Rishi Sunak called the election, Lammy had begun rolling out what will be his first campaign as foreign secretary: an attack on the structure of global kleptocracy. “Given the City and the overseas territories, this is an area where Britain has enormous influence to make a huge positive difference,” a source told me. “It is a huge demand of the Global South which David has heard personally time and again, and key to dismantling the web of authoritarian influence in Western societies, and an issue the Tories have miserably failed to address. It’s practical foreign policy that recognises the foreign and domestic have blurred.”

Broken men

Towards the end of our most recent conversation, Lammy spoke about his father, who is buried in a cemetery in Houston, Texas. Usually so animated, he paused for a while and his voice became quiet. As a student at Harvard, Lammy had gone to America to gain confidence and self-definition among the country’s black professional middle class. “Being part of Harvard’s black alumni opened up a network for me that would not have been possible in Tottenham alone, or even through going to a good school in Peterborough – and it connects me to a certain American president,” he said. “I am very grateful to America.”

But his father died a “broken man” in America: an impecunious alcoholic. “He ended up a tragic figure in a way: a man broken by that Atlantic journey from the West Indies to the UK, broken by a changing economy in the Eighties and the industry he was in, which was taxidermy, running up against animal rights, and broken by alcoholism and addiction. He died a pauper in the United States, and all of us, certainly Labour politicians, tend to be able to recognise in the communities they represent those that have been broken by change.”

During the election campaign Lammy has been visiting former industrial towns, such as Grimsby and Mansfield. There, in those neglected or ignored communities, “you can see men like my father, broken by the changing times. And that’s why I say to you, in a concrete and real way, it’s my job, alongside Keir Starmer’s, to absolutely be crystal clear that we will not allow the United Kingdom to be broken by these tough geopolitical moments. We have assets here, we have capability here, we just need a strategy and a direction, of course, and we need to turn our page, frankly.”

Lammy was a guest at the Trooping the Colour ceremonies in Whitehall. He was invited by Alister Jack, the Scottish Secretary – “He’s got the best terrace on Whitehall on which to overlook the Trooping the Colour” – and among those present were Boris Johnson and James Cleverly, whom David Cameron succeeded as foreign secretary. The mood did not feel right, however; it felt somehow as if time itself was out of joint.

“There was a sort of demob happiness about them, a sort of casual frippery, a certain kind of public-school smallness,” Lammy said.

What he witnessed there on that terrace during the pageantry made him feel uncomfortable. “They are not the class of people that Britain needs to run it now, and that’s what my own life story tells me. The Labour Party’s full of people – Angela Rayner, for instance; I was with her yesterday, campaigning in Mansfield – she gets this.”

The implication is that Starmer’s people are the right class for these times. It’s significant how many senior shadow cabinet members – Starmer, Reeves, Lammy, Rayner, Wes Streeting, Bridget Phillipson – grew up in single-parent families, or with divorced parents, or in households struggling under the conditions of economic or psychological hardship. They were not born into the bourgeois liberal-left. They were all educated at state schools. They have a particular class consciousness.

“There’s something about a certain class of individuals at the end of the Raj not really having an account of the future,” Lammy said of Johnson and his insouciant and careless chums. “These people have squandered something. It just spoke of a class of people who have no real sense of the world as it is, whether it is in our own country or the world as we find it today.”

The revenge of history

The wheel has turned full circle: here we are on the eve of a projected Labour landslide victory. After the protracted upheavals of the pre- and post-Brexit period, can Britain begin to regain some influence and respect in the world? Can decline be arrested? Can Lammy’s “formal” and “informal” style of diplomacy rebuild relations with Europe and the Global South and persuade others to follow him? Can you be both a progressive and a realist? Or is the Naipaulian view of the world, as Barack Obama feared, closer to the truth of the matter in an age of darkness?

“What liberals misunderstand about the world,” Ben Rhodes told me, “is a sense of an inevitability of progress; you know, that we’re living this arc that was inexorably moving in the right direction. You had the end of the Cold War, you had the spread of democracy, you had the sense that the big questions had all been resolved. What we’ve learned is that history never goes away, and the pall of things like nationalism, which tend to run counter to the liberal impulses, is something that is always going to be there, and if you ignore it, you risk losing everything you care about.”

Labour believes if it gets the political and economic balance right, at home and abroad, Britain “can surge forward” through strong government, a strategic state and a mandate for change. Lammy wants to reset our relations with Europe and the EU. “There will be a lot of goodwill for Labour in Europe,” Jonathan Powell says. “It was the same for us in 1997. I remember meeting [Chancellor] Kohl outside the Chancellery in Bonn immediately after the election with Tony Blair – he greeted me with: ‘Ah, it’s the good Powell, not the bad Powell!’ My brother had worked for Thatcher. David Lammy and Keir Starmer will have a chance to make Britain relevant again – not as relevant as we were when in the EU, but as a voice for reason and progress in the world.”

But this is no longer the Europe of the Nineties. Can Labour and Lammy, who took a trenchant and divisive view of Brexit, read the geopolitics of a changing Europe? The war in Ukraine has fundamentally altered the European balance of power. France and Germany are no longer the central guiding powers. Power is shifting to Poland and the east, to what the historian Timothy Snyder calls the “bloodlands”, and it is here that Britain has acted through its unambiguous military and political support for Ukraine and with its alliance with Poland. The Scandinavian countries and Baltic states have gravitated towards this new axis of influence. On Ukraine, Britain, outside the EU and, therefore, more nimble in its response to foreign policy, has not been an onlooker but a European leader.

Lammy said: “We need a new approach to diplomacy with Europe and a new geopolitical partnership with the EU. That means speaking European.”

In the closing scene of A Bend in the River Salim escapes on the last steamer to leave the town as the anarchy of civil war breaks out. They stop at a village, but young men with guns board the steamer and try to take control of it. They are beaten back but the passengers travelling in a barge attached to the steamer are cut adrift. As the steamer continues downriver without them, Salim hears gunfire in the darkness and enraged voices.

David Lammy does not believe in the coming anarchy. He believes Labour has been gifted another chance to renew Britain at home and abroad. And he knows it must not be squandered. He knows that if we are complacent, as the post-Cold War liberals were, and if politicians ignore or scorn the aspirations and anxieties of the people whom they purport to represent, and if they continually break promises, as the Conservative government has, we risk losing everything we care about. Autocrats want us to be cynical and apathetic: cynical, nothing matters; apathetic, nothing can change.

The trick Lammy is trying to pull off is being clear-eyed enough to see the world in a Naipaulian way – that there are always going to be impulses in people under nations to revert to self-interested, atavistic, tribal instincts – but also idealistic enough to realise that these darkest impulses must be resisted, or else they’re going to overtake everything. After all, as he said to me as our Uber pulled up outside the White House on our final afternoon in Washington, “The world is what it is.” He repeated the statement, even more forcefully, as we said goodbye at the café in Tottenham, as a sign-off and perhaps as a warning too: “The world is what it is.”

David Lammy is as comfortable among the tight terraced streets of Tottenham as he is inside the Washington Beltway: local and global settings. Can he bring them together to create a foreign policy that resets Britain’s relations with the world, and works in the social and economic interests of the British people?

This article appears in the 28 June 2024 issue of the New Statesman

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This article appears in the 26 Jun 2024 issue of the New Statesman, The Lammy Doctrine