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David Lammy praised for handling of radio caller who told him he is not English

David Lammy appears on LBC Radio. Photograph: LBC/Global. - Credit: Archant

David Lammy has received praise for his handling of a caller to his radio show who said he could not describe himself as English.

The Tottenham MP, 48, was discussing the term BAME on his LBC show when he faced a member of the public who said he “will never be English”.

The caller, named Jean, said: “You will never be English, you are African-Caribbean.”

In response, Lammy gave a brief history of British colonialism, and said his parents were among many people from around the world who “ended up coming back to the mother country”.

He continued: “Here I am, having grown up in this country, have been born of this country, and actually the truth is it’s a myth there’s one English ethnicity – there’s not.

“England has always been a country in which Huguenots, Danes, all sorts of people have passed through.

“So when you say you are English, I’m not saying that doesn’t mean something to you and matter hugely… but it is to say that for me, the fact that I was born here and the fact that my sensibilities are English mean I want to claim that heritage as well.”

The caller went on to say that it was “fine” for Lammy to say he was British, but that he was “not English”.

Lammy, the shadow justice secretary, said: “In countries like Barbados, there are significant white Caribbean populations who have been there for hundreds of years.

“They are significantly more Caribbean than I am.”

Jean replied: “All I can say is the whole world is polluting everybody the way it’s going.”

Lammy responded that her outlook was “negative”, and added: “Just as you can be in America and be African-American, or you can be Italian-American, or you can be Irish-American, how is it that here in England, you can only claim that Englishness effectively, Jean, if you are white?”

The conversation was viewed widely on social media, with the clip quickly racking up more than two million views on Twitter, while David Lammy was the top trend on the same platform on Monday evening.

Among those to tweet their praise for Lammy was Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who wrote: “Huge admiration for my friend @DavidLammy. Well said.”

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner wrote: “This is disgraceful. The way that Black Britons have to justify their Britishness or Englishness is absolutely disgusting.

“Solidarity with @DavidLammy who dealt with this impeccably. David is just as British or English as I am and he’s the best of Britain and the best of England.”

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon wrote: “Bravo @DavidLammy.”

Lammy himself later tweeted to say: “Don’t ever tell me I’m ‘not English’.”

He had originally been discussing the reported recommendation from Boris Johnson’s racial disparity commission that the term BAME, which stands for black, Asian and minority ethnic, should no longer be used.

Lammy said: “I’ve said for ages that the term is lazy, it’s impersonal.

“I don’t like being described as jargon – I’m not jargon.

“I’m black, I’m English, I’m British and I’m proud.

“I want my identities recognised appropriately… I’m of African descent, African-Caribbean descent, but I am English.”