POLITICS

Published: 07/06/2002, Volume II2, No. 5808 Page 19

David Lammy as a junior health minister, eh? There is a turn-up for the post-Byers book.When I looked up his CV, I could find no evidence of a health vocation. But, nice man that he is, he returned my phone call in mid-column.

I can therefore tell you he was a medical ethics and negligence lawyer.He worries about health inequalities and about mental ill-health, all too aware of the swathe it cuts among contemporaries who didn't make it as he has done.

Whichever way you look at it, all those NHS professionals from the Commonwealth who have helped keep the show on the road for 50 years now have one of their own to attack for the government's failings.

Strictly speaking, the son of one of their own. The first time I met David Lammy was in May 2000, when he was a newly-elected member of the Greater London Authority.

Even more unexpected for a 27-year-old commercial barrister, he had just been selected as Labour candidate for the Tottenham by-election after the sudden death of Bernie Grant.

Mr Lammy was wearing a smart mohair suit in combination with a white T-shirt. I took to him. For a young man born in deprived, multi-ethnic Tottenham and raised by a single mother (his Guyanese father's small business failed in the 1980s and he 'scarpered', so lawyer Lammy told me), he seemed remarkably polished and at ease.He also laughed a lot.

How did he get from A to B ? The usual mixture of luck and judgement. At Downhills primary, they noticed his wonderful voice.

Poor though it is, Haringey borough sends such kids to King's, a state boarding school in Peterborough, which provides choristers for the cathedral there.

And That is it, really. They turned him down for Cambridge ('I was a late developer') but he read law at London University's school of Oriental and African studies, got a job, then the offer to do an MA at Harvard law school, which is as elitist as it gets, except, this being the US, they trawl Detroit, the Bronx - and Tottenham - for smart black kids, too. Just as well: only 25 kids of any colour go to UK universities each year from Tottenham.

Bernie Grant was kind and encouraging, probably a bit too Old Labour for the borough's good (my suggestion, not Lammy's): it needs a serious makeover. Bernie's widow, Sharon, stood for the nomination and lost.

The charge against Mr Lammy was - and will remain - that he's gone so far, so fast, that he's not real Tottenham now.Worse, he's a Blairite.

Like David Miliband, the reshuffle's other teenage star, the onus is on him to prove the critics wrong. 'Mr Miliband and Mr Lammy are like Estelle (Morris), ' gushed one official.

'They've got no enemies.'

During his by-election (the 5,645 majority went back up to 16,916 last June) Mr Lammy promised to help transform Tottenham. 'If in 10 years we are not well out of those deprivation statistics, I will have failed, ' he said.

Sounds Milburnian talk? Yes, and it might explain why he got a job when others didn't.

'He's talented and a Blairite, ' explains my man at Number 10. He is also a London MP: the health team doesn't have one. Mr Milburn likes him (so does Dobbo).As a matter of fact a lot of MPs do, since young Mr Lammy made a brilliant - yes, brilliant - showcase speech on the day the new Parliament opened.

It was serious, but also funny. The bit I remember involved a small boy's misunderstanding (he was eight) when summoned to the head teacher's study for the cane after a fight. 'Take your coat off, ' she said and left the room. When she came back he was naked. Coat, David, not clothes! !

In the Milburn team he will take on Hazel Blears' portfolio, including NHS Direct, emergency planning, patient empowerment (read community health councils? ), even fluoride and organ retention.The bubbly Ms Blears takes over the public health portfolio from the cerebral Yvette Cooper, who goes to Lord Irvine's justice department.

The fact that Ms Cooper (rather shy, I always thought) is felt not quite to have matched Tessa Jowell's success in the new 1997 post is a sober reminder to Mr Lammy that rising stars can also fall.

When he rang me back, one of the tabloids had just reduced his mum to tears on the doorsteps.Welcome to fame, minister.

Contact him on lammyd@parliament. uk