Javid: Being British and Asian

Sajid Javid (Centre) with his Brothers and Cousins.
© Raj D Bakrania.
Sajid Javid (Centre) with his Brothers and Cousins. © Raj D Bakrania.

By Sajid Javid
Britain’s first Asian home secretary

IT IS so lovely to see everyone here from (Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi) communities together, the very best of friends.

While I am very proud to be the first Asian home secretary in our country’s history, tonight is not re-ally about me. It is about expressing a debt of gratitude to the men and women on whom the life story of each one of us rests.

It is about our personal pioneers who staked everything on a country halfway round the globe- and they came here not for their own good but for ours. Tonight is about our parents and our grandparents.

I am the son of Pakistani immigrants who arrived at a cold, dark Heathrow airport in 1961 with nothing save for £1 and a determination to build a better life for themselves and a future generation of Javids.

My father began his story working in the copper mills in Rochdale and then as a bus driver in Manchester. He was nicknamed “Mr Night and Day” be-cause of all the hours that he worked. He scraped together enough to open his own market store and started selling clothes that my mum made at the kitchen table.

When I turned four, our family fortunes started to change a little. We moved to Bristol to a road called Stapleton Road which the Daily Mirror went on to dub Britain’s “most dangerous street” – not because we moved in, by the way.

It was here that my father set up his first shop which he called Kaiser Fashions. And it is through graft and striving and no small amount of elbow grease that Kaiser Fashions went on to become a platform from which my brothers and I could aspire to any career that caught our imagination.

The £1 that my father arrived with in 1961 would have taken the form of a bank note. The reason why you and I are here is summed up nicely in one of the modern-day cousins of the £1 bank note and that is the £2 coin. If you flip it on its side, you would see the words, ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants’ etched into the ring. It is on the shoulders of my mum and dad that I stand before you this evening. If I have enjoyed opportunities, encouragements and successes, I owe it entirely to them – and in this I know that I am not alone.

I understood from a very young age from my parents that Asian values were all about passing on something better to the next generation. It wasn’t until I grew older that I realised this doesn’t just mean money or wealth or family business.

Instead, what this means is recognising our place in a chain of giving and receiving. And remembering that our line of obligation extends to previous generations and beyond to the next. It means gifting an inheritance of principles, of ideals and opportunity to our successors and keeping our own interests in check if they threaten to undermine this.

And it means a belief in the importance of history and family and community. It is these values that place all of you at the heart of what Britain is about today. It is no surprise that British Asians are breaking new ground in every aspect of our national life.

One of the remarkable things about my parents’ values is that, though they were cultivated half a world away and they boast a very different cultural heritage, they are the exact same values that make up the DNA of the Conservative party.

That’s why at this critical juncture of our national history we turn to you to sound a message at this stage at a diaspora event – that there are trade deals to be struck, there are international relationships to be renewed (and) that our cultural ties with the land of our forebears opens doors for Britain as we leave the European Union. And, of course, all of that is true.

But I firmly believe that you are bigger than the cultural heritage you represent. As Britain looks out-wards to restore its place on the global stage, you are a core part of the country’s offering.

As we step back and ask ourselves what kind of country we want to be, you are a key voice in that conversation. And ultimately when the dust settles, you will have played a decisive role in our country’s success. Because as British Asians we have found ourselves – not as outsiders with £1 in our pocket – but as custodians of the greatest attribute to define what it means to be British. Not a special interest group or another demographic to be courted but an indispensable asset to British society, not as a feck-less subject of the Labour party that tells us what they need to do to unlock our talents but as driving force in the Conservative party which reflects the best of our values – British and Asian.

■ This is an edited extract of a speech by home secretary Sajid Javid at a dinner hosted in London last Thursday (13) by the Conservative Friends of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.