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Barnie Choudhury: The Saj has changed Tory politics forever

Sajid Javid
Sajid Javid

Former BBC Journalist

IF THERE was anyone with any doubt that the Conservative party has tried to get rid of its racist tag, then the support for Sajid Javid should have given them pause for thought.

In the past few weeks, ‘The Saj’ bandwagon has rolled into town and shown that a brown skin is no longer a barrier to aiming for the highest office in our land. What’s even more heart-warming is that white colleagues put their faith in a man who does not look like the majority of Tory voters.

But before we wax lyrical and think the worst is behind us, we need a reality check. The fact is that the home secretary was snubbed by Number 10, inhabited by a Conservative, and refused a seat at the state banquet. Having worked for The Commonwealth, where international diplomacy is key, I can only conclude that this omission was no accidental oversight, but a deliberate political move to appease the leader of our strongest ally who apparently dislikes Muslims and brown people.

Shame on Number 10, and double shame for trying to blame the Palace. Later it said there weren’t enough spaces. Get your story straight. What was the real reason?

The past few weeks have shown us that Javid is finding his prime ministerial voice. He was quick to condemn the Labour leader for questioning that Iran was responsible for an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Javid also stuck the knife into Michael Gove regarding his admission that he took cocaine before he was an MP.

But he hesitated and equivocated when asked whether he wasn’t invited to an important state occasion because he was Muslim. I understand that he didn’t want to play the race card, and if I were his director of communications, I would have advised against his doing so. But what is wrong with saying: “I don’t know, but if what you are saying were true, then shame on Number 10 for allowing that to happen.”

The problem with most south Asians is that we want recognition, we want to hold big offices, and we want to be leaders, but we don’t want others to think we got there because we’re brown. I can understand why. I visibly riled when during the 2005 election results the late MP Michael Meacher wouldn’t give me an interview because he thought I worked for the BBC’s Asian Network.

When I told him I was reporting for, among others, Radio 4’s Today programme, he couldn’t understand why I was no longer interested in speaking to him. Like former US president Barack Obama, no politician of colour wants to be thought of as just the candidate for ethnic minorities. That is probably why we overcompensate and show we are whiter than white.

How else do you explain the number of south Asian Tory MPs and members rushing to support and make excuses for Boris Johnson? Here’s the test. If you were to say that Muslim women wearing burkas “look like letter boxes” would you expect to be branded as a racist? No right-minded thinking person can argue otherwise.

But because it is Boris, suddenly it is okay. No, it isn’t. This is not, as Johnson told a packed leadership launch audience, “speaking directly”. And I have too much respect for my fellow Britons to think that they feel “alienated” from Westminster because politicians “are muffling and veiling our language”.

Also, I am so disappointed that south Asian Tory MPs have failed to support Javid. A part of me dies when this happens. Look, I’ve never been in favour of positive discrimination or voting for someone just because they look like me. But if my non-white colleague has talent, charisma and values which chime with mine, then I would hope that I would help get him or her to a leadership position. Why?

Because often the visible and invisible minority candidate has experiences, ideas and viewpoints which go against group think. They often ask questions which are so insightful that you are forced to question assumptions. They often understand and appreciate that diversity is the key to success and creativity. I also imagine my future grandchild asking me: “What did you do when we had a chance to elect our first non-white prime minister, granddad?” My answer would have to be: “I worked against them.” I couldn’t live with myself.

Politics doesn’t run on reason. Politics runs on emotion – the emotion of best self-interest. What people forget is that just because we’re not white, it doesn’t mean we only serve people of colour. History shows that given a fair chance, and a fair wind, we succeed. Simply look at the immigrants who made this country what it is today