Out of the Ashes by David Lammy – review

David Lammy has not grasped the scale of the community's mistrust of the police and the judicial system in his analysis of the August riots, says Stafford Scott

David Matthews: David Lammy provides a plausible explanation for the 2011 riots in Out of Ashes

The most authentic, and interesting, parts of Out of the Ashes by David Lammy, MP for Tottenham in north London, involve him talking about his absent father, and the impact this had on the family. It's an often moving story that many of his young constituents will be able to relate to. Lammy also captures well the frustrations of those who became victims during the riots – those whose homes were burnt to the ground and whose businesses went up in flames.

But there is little sense that he has managed to grasp the scale of disaffection felt by those who participated in the riots. In disassociating the initial peaceful demonstration from the riots, he has managed to forget that people at first came out on the streets with good reason. Lest we forget, as he appears to have done, Cynthia Jarrett (in 1985), Joy Gardner (in 1993) and Roger Sylvester (in 1999) and now Mark Duggan all died after incidents involving police in Haringey. Each time, local people mounted demonstrations outside local police stations.

Lammy rashly dismisses the riots as not straightforwardly borne out of despair, frustration and a lack of trust in the authorities – especially the police. He seeks to dismiss these emotions, preferring to view all who participated in these events in the same light. There is little mention of the heightened sense of disaffection, marginalisation and powerlessness that was felt by many of Duggan's close friends, in the immediate aftermath of his killing. Lammy shows no understanding of the reaction of the community to the "news" – it turned out not to be the case – that Duggan had been killed in a shootout where he had fired first at armed police officers. And he fails to acknowledge that this very public smearing of Duggan's name was the tipping point that bought family and friends on to the streets of Tottenham. Instead he chooses to lump all the events of early August together – from Tottenham to Salford, black and white, looters and rioters.

In a political analysis that uses the events of early August as its thread, he argues that the riots were the outcome of consumerism, family breakdown, loss of moral compass and the role of gangs: he has a wider goal, of course, but he misses the reality on the ground. He seems to suggest that all of the rioters were looters; as such they are identified as being victims of a hyper-individualistic society and motivated by nothing more than simple greed: "The riots were an explosion of hedonism and nihilism. People with little to lose lashed out at authority and took what they wanted. The violence and the looting were driven by the sense that, for a few nights only, people could do whatever they pleased."

Lammy tries, unsuccessfully, to argue that the events of 2011 have little in common with the riots of the 1980s. He seeks to contrast the disturbances of Broadwater Farm, which followed Jarrett's death, with the Tottenham riots. However on the very first page he makes a mistake which many, especially those who like me were arrested in the Broadwater Farm investigations, find hard to forgive. Lammy states that 69 people were arrested as a result of the police investigation into the riots and murder of PC Blakelock; in fact, 369 people were arrested, 69 charged, 35 found guilty. This figure does not include the Tottenham Three, who were sentenced for Blakelock's killing, but later released as innocent victims of miscarriages of justice. This is important as it still fuels the community's mistrust of the police and judicial system. It's a mistrust that Lammy does not even mention.

Surprisingly he makes no mention whatsoever of the 6,892 stop and searches that were carried out in the borough in the two months preceding the riots. As black people are allegedly four more times likely to be stopped than white people, this would mean that 5,513 of those stop and searches were carried out on "non-whites".

Rather than exploring how this aggressive policy might have fed into the shooting of Mark Duggan, or how the police failed properly to communicate with the family after his killing, or their poor handling of the peaceful demonstration, Lammy chooses to emphasise that it "was not local police who fired the bullet that killed Mark Duggan. Mark Duggan was killed by Operation Trident … and it was a distant control station that called the shots [sic] during the riots".

It's shocking that Lammy has very little to say about the things that really matter in areas such as Tottenham, and indeed matter in terms of the country's future. There's almost nothing about schools and education. Lammy was lucky enough to have had a private education, but this should not prevent him from addressing the need for an education system that raises aspiration and gives hope to kids, from places such as Tottenham, that they can achieve despite their disadvantages; an education system that does not simply set targets and then excludes those that it thinks will not help it to achieve its objectives; an education system that values pupils equally regardless of race or background, one that does not disadvantage black boys who persistently fill the ranks of the permanently excluded and not the ranks of the heavily-qualified.

Perhaps he should have thought for longer – might it be the case that in writing his book, so soon after the events, Lammy reveals that opportunism is not just the sport of looters?


Stafford Scott

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Out of the Ashes by David Lammy – review

The MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, provides a plausible explanation for the 2011 riots, says David Matthews

David Matthews

09, Dec, 2011 @3:52 PM

Article image
Tribes by David Lammy review – how to mend our divided society
Episodes of memoir, including DNA tests, a police frisking and a death threat, enliven the Labour MP’s first-rate study of social division

Colin Grant

29, Feb, 2020 @11:58 AM

Article image
David Lammy: ‘The book I’m ashamed not to have read? Animal Farm’
The MP on missing out on Orwell, his love for Arthur Miller, and the book that made him cry

David Lammy

13, Mar, 2020 @10:00 AM

Article image
London riots: David Lammy, the MP in the middle, speaks out - video

David Lammy, the MP for Tottenham, where the summer's riots were sparked, predicted the unrest of 2011 a year before. Now, in his new book Out of the Ashes, Britain After the Riots, he analyses the causes of the disturbances and their implications for the future

Zoe Williams and Charley McKenzie

17, Nov, 2011 @4:28 PM

Article image
David Lammy: 'There is a history in Tottenham that involves deaths in police custody'

The Tottenham MP on how the Mark Duggan shooting led to widespread rioting, and what he thinks we all have to learn from what has happened

Simon Hattenstone

14, Aug, 2011 @8:00 PM

Article image
Joblessness and 'toxic relations' with police are blamed for Tottenham riot

Citizens inquiry reports that London borough suffers from lack of employment and 'low self-esteem' after interviewing 700 locals

Paul Lewis

05, Feb, 2012 @5:53 PM

Article image
MP hits out at IPCC for leaving Mark Duggan's family 'floundering'

David Lammy says the family of the man whose death sparked rioting in Tottenham were not told what was happening

Sandra Laville, crime correspondent

08, Sep, 2011 @7:44 PM

Article image
Politicians condemn Tottenham riots
David Cameron among those to denounce violence in north London, while local MP calls riots an attack on ordinary people

Andrew Sparrow, political correspondent

07, Aug, 2011 @7:12 PM

Article image
Sleepless in Hollywood: Tales from the New Abnormal in the Movie Business by Lynda Obst – review
David Thomson on the cynicism and gush of the hard-bitten Hollywood producer Lynda Obst

David Thomson

06, Jul, 2013 @7:30 AM

Article image
The British Dream by David Goodhart – review

David Edgar is troubled by elements of this challenge to the 'leftwing myths' of postwar integration

David Edgar

03, Apr, 2013 @10:04 AM