AS A banker – that despised breed – Sajid Javid says he experienced a strange sensation when he first became an MP in 2010: “I was the only member of the new intake,” he said, “who was moving into a more popular profession.”
Although maybe not as hated as bankers, politicians were nonetheless very unpopular, competing with estate agents and journalists for the contempt of the general public.
Javid had become the Conservative candidate for Bromsgrove amid this climate of general distrust, soon after Julie Kirkbride was forced to resign the seat over her expenses. This, in fact, formed the beginning of a pattern where he would step into new positions over fallen women, so to speak.
As part of his “march through the institutions”, Javid later replaced Maria Miller as secretary of state for culture, media and sport after her expenses, too, were deemed to be dodgy. He was even promoted to his current, unexpected position after Amber Rudd was sunk by the Windrush scandal back in April. Prime minister Theresa May needed rescuing (the water was lapping at her feet, too) and Javid proved to be the only suitable lifeboat around. May remains afloat at the time of writing.
Javid is the first Asian home secretary – it’s a remarkable feat for the son of immigrant parents from Pakistan whose meteoric rise through government in the past eight years makes him a role model for future generations.
The Home Office came as a surprise, Javid told the GG2 Power List in September. “First of all, big changes in government only tend to come around at reshuffle time and we’d just had one. I was very happy to stay in my then-job, which was local government and housing secretary. And then this job came across in a sad way, because I’m a big fan of Amber Rudd and she’s a good friend of mine.”
At Marsham Street (the Home Office’s address in central London) Javid has revealed himself as a robust, but liberal home secretary – hard on Muslim grooming gangs and mercy-begging jihadists, but soft on parents needing cannabis medication for their sick children, and tender towards skilled immigrants who want to work and settle here. Just the right balance, in fact – and one that seems instinctive with him – to woo the greater part of the tolerant-to-an-extent British public.
Once he took charge as home secretary, Javid wasted no time in distancing himself from the “hostile environment” approach towards illegal immigrants that was one of May’s signature policies while she was in the Home Office (and which she defends to date). Instead, he preferred a “compliant” approach, Javid said. Among his initial decisions as the home secretary were to review a cap on tier 2 skilled migrant workers (such as doctors), while sticking to the Conservative manifesto commitment to keeping migrant numbers to tens of thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands.
He has acknowledged that under current proposals, his (non-highly skilled) parents would not have been able to enter Britain today. He told the media at a Tory party conference event in September that decades ago, there was a route for people like his father to move to Britain because that type of immigration was what the UK needed at the time.
Javid’s father worked at a copper mill in Rochdale, and as a bus driver in Manchester, where his long hours earned him the nickname of Mr Night and Day. The family moved to Bristol when he was four, living on Stapleton Road, once described as the country’s most dangerous street.
In a speech at an event hosted by the Conservative Friends of India (CFI) in September, Javid said: “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, encouragement and successes, I owe it entirely to them.”
Javid told the GG2 Power List: “I’m a great fan of all communities and races and religions in Britain because while they have their differences, the one thing they have in common is that they are all British.
“I saw, for example, in my old role as communities secretary, that there’s lots of great examples of communities who have settled in Britain and contributed a lot and mixed in with everyone else, so to speak.
“But there’s also, sadly, too many examples still of segregation and isolation in some communities. Which is bad for that community… but is also bad for the wider society.”
Javid’s Muslim background allows him to roll up his sleeves when it comes to talking about Muslim crimes, especially sex crimes.
“I think it’s something others in the party have avoided saying because they don’t want to be accused of being racist or something like that,” he said.
Referring to Asian grooming gangs, he added: “I also said I want to investigate why that is the case. Could there be some cultural aspects to that? I think it’s right and proper that we treat all people the same; and if anyone, regardless of their colour or race, is doing anything wrong or breaking the law, then we should be cracking down on them equally.”
Javid is not religious in any way – he calls himself a non-practising Muslim – meaning that his immunity to accusations of racism was supercharged by the fact that he felt no need to pay obeisance to religious pressure groups. This made him an appealing contrast, as a social liberal and fiscal conservative, to that other son-of-a-bus-driver Sadiq Khan, the socially conservative and fiscally liberal Muslim voice on the Left.
When the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) came calling, for example, demanding an inquiry into Conservative Islamophobia, Javid simply swatted them away.
“The Muslim Council of Britain does not represent Muslims in this country,” he said, accurately. “We don’t deal with the MCB.”
No white politician could have dared to be quite so blunt.
The same fearlessness attaches to his views on immigration and diversity – usually Labour’s home ground.
He told the CFI: “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.”
There has been a lot of choppy water to navigate since Javid entered parliament in 2010, but it has mostly been to his advantage. To begin with, as a self-made man, he was seen as competent and possessed credibility for coming from outside the Westminster bubble. He quickly became parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to John Hayes at Business. The next year he was made PPS to chancellor George Osborne, embarking on a series of promotions in the Treasury that soon saw him in the number five position of economic secretary in that department in 2012 – his first ministerial post – and then financial secretary (the number four spot) the following year.
After Miller resigned in 2014, Javid and Nicky Morgan split the job of education secretary between them, with Javid becoming minister for equalities and Morgan, minister for women. As culture secretary, Javid joined David Cameron’s coalition cabinet for the first time.
Javid’s fortunes only improved after the 2015 general election. This time it was at the expense of Lib Dem Sir Vince Cable, who paid the price for having served in the coalition and unexpectedly lost his parliamentary seat. The post of business secretary (along with the presidency of the Board of Trade) fell to the by-now obvious candidate – Javid, the man who, it appeared, could flourish anywhere. And unlike most of Cameron’s cabinet, Javid did not go to Eton or Oxbridge (he studied at a comprehensive and graduated from Exeter).
There were other Asian Tories, of course. But Javid’s eminently narratable rags-to-riches story – (he was earning £3 million per year as a banker) – as well as his principled stand mark him out from his contemporaries.
He told the party conference that immigration rules should be overhauled to reflect Britain’s values better. Javid vowed to revamp the current “Life in the UK” test for incoming citizens, which focuses on British history questions, saying it should be about more than “pub quiz” skills.
“We need to make it a British values test,” he said. “We now have a unique opportunity to reshape our immigration system for the future,” adding that it is more important for potential citizens to understand the “liberal, democratic values that bind our society together”.
Pointing out that there were 700,000 people in Britain who could not speak basic English, Javid was unafraid to add: “How can we possibly make a common home together?”
His private life, too, is a political fairy tale: he married his white-British, church-going wife Laura, after their eyes met over the office stapler on a student summer job. His children – he has four – were unapologetically sent to private schools (“We do what’s best for them.”). This sort of boldness and innocent guile is electrifying for the Conservatives.
The man is also quick-witted, delivering memorable and inventive speeches, and is disarmingly modest and funny. He asked his wife one day, “Laura, did you ever imagine, in your wildest dreams, that one day I would actually be an MP?” Javid said she replied, “Darling, in my wildest dreams you don’t feature at all.” (Rumour has it the joke has been recycled by more than one politician).
Javid has weathered well the various misfortunes that have, inevitably, come his way.
At first there were stumbles and mis-steps; perhaps the big one was trying to save Port Talbot steelworks with a sort-of-promise of public money, after first appearing to be caught completely off-guard by events (he was on vacation). It was an attempt that led Labour’s Angela Eagle to ridicule him and claim the plant’s interim survival was all “the hard work of the steel unions and the plant management”.
Then there was Brexit, which he disavowed only after a meeting with his political allies and sponsors, Osborne and Cameron. Javid emerged to face the cameras and proclaim his faith in Brussels, but his sincere insincerity marked him as the flip-flopper.
Following the Brexit result on June 23, 2016, and Cameron’s resignation the following day came the odd leadership pact with Stephen Crabb – Javid was to have been chancellor and Crabb prime minister. They finished last-but-one in the first round of the contest, to nobody’s surprise, and it later emerged that Crabb was a sex-text pest, which also slapped a “choose your friends wisely” warning on the episode.
May became prime minister a fortnight later and immediately shunted Javid sideways from Business to the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government. When the Grenfell fire occurred in June the following year, it was squarely within his bailiwick.
But if May believed that the inferno would engulf Javid more than her, she was mistaken. In fact, a great service was rendered to him by his housing minister, Alok Sharma, whom the media decided should be the sacrifice for the disaster. Sharma acted with integrity and showed himself to be sympathetic, then broke down while delivering a Commons statement. In doing so he not only managed innocently to deflect public anger away from the Department and Javid – he just as innocently redirected it back at Number 10 and May herself.
This was the second recent piece of misfortune that had rebounded in Javid’s favour. The first had been May’s decision to call for a snap general election a few months earlier to consolidate her unassailable position as leader. After a lack-lustre campaign, she succeeded only in losing the Conservative’s comfortable parliamentary majority, and her future was placed in doubt.
She had lost the political capital to carry out what many thought she had intended to do: sack Javid and thus eliminate a future rival. The Grenfell disaster, occurring just six days after the general election, and before it was even clear that a Tory administration would survive in office, made Javid’s dismissal doubly impossible.
By the time of the next major crisis, the Windrush scandal of April 2018 – with its historic and unbelievable ongoing mistreatment of UK citizens from the Caribbean – May was yet again forced to rely on Javid, this time calling on his immigrant-background credentials to deal with the disaster at the Home Office, which is where he now resides – practically immune to removal (in stark contrast to the occupant of No 10).
Was there anything else she could have done but offer him the job of home secretary? “I wouldn’t say I was expecting a call,” said Javid. “People know it’s an important job, so it gives it a bit more of an edge of speculation. My name was being touted in the media, but I’ve been in this game long enough – actually it isn’t that long, but long enough – to know that you should stay focused on your current job, and what happens, happens.”
The question that now swirls around him, and one he is happy not to dismiss (nor to answer directly), is the very real possibility of Britain having an Asian prime minister.
When the GG2 Power List asked him about it, Javid was enthusiastic. “I think in this country anyone, whether Asian, African-Caribbean, ethnic Chinese, any racial background, can be prime minister as long as they’ve got within themselves what it takes and they are prepared to put in the hard work,” he said.
“I think that for me, my lifelong experience of being British, being born in this country… if you are willing to put in the hard work and the effort, then the sky’s the limit.”
The Conservatives need to win the trust of ethnic minorities if they are to have any sort of majority at the next election, which could arrive sooner than expected. The GG2 Power List suggested to the home secretary that an Asian prime-ministerial candidate would certainly go a long way to instilling that trust. Might ethnic minorities be correct to assume that the Tories would give them something concrete in return for their support, while Labour simply expects it and nothing changes?
“The first thing I would say on that is the Labour party has taken minority voters for granted,” said Javid. “You see that every day in parliament when they talk in debate, and some of their policies, they just assume that if your skin is not white, you’ll vote Labour. Of course, for a minority voter, like anyone else, they think about what’s good for them in terms of politics and who they should vote for.”
That strongly implies he might be the right person to lead the party. “In terms of my role, I think it can only help, at the end of the day, in terms of the attractiveness of voting Conservative, that the Tory party – not just in terms of policy but also who represents it – is a party that’s open to everyone of every background.”
A Muslim-background Asian leading the Tories into battle would be Labour’s worst nightmare. Asians swinging to the Tories would decimate Labour’s inner-city vote and lose them more than a few marginals, making the Asian vote disproportionately effective in a Conservative majority (for which a Conservative government would be duly grateful).
The notion that the UK is simply too racist to make that scenario credible evaporated when Rishi Sunak won the 95 per cent white, safest-in-the-country Conservative seat of Richmond in Yorkshire last year. After the press had found nobody but bigoted sheep-farmers to talk to, he actually increased the Tory majority. Richmond now adores its wellie-wearing Sunak, a Hindu.
The day that the GG2 Power List spoke to Javid, he had just returned to the Home Office from a major cabinet meeting in which he apparently “surprised colleagues with a long list of policies to radically overhaul the UK economy if negotiations with Brussels break down.”
The Daily Mail claimed that “the presentation was widely seen as a pitch to be next Tory leader”. The list, which included ideas for tax incentives and accelerated capital allowances, certainly appeared well-thought through.
That same evening Javid delivered another entertaining speech, this time to the Conservative Friends of India (and Pakistan and Bangladesh), where he spoke about his father’s struggles for success after arriving in the UK, and the lessons British Asians such as himself had learned from their parents’ generation.
“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,” he told the audience.
Javid concluded that it was time for British Asians, if they still did so, to cease thinking of themselves as “a special interest group or another demographic to be courted”.
Instead, the community should see themselves as an “indispensable asset to British society – not as a feckless subject of the Labour party that tells us what they need to do to unlock our talents, but as a driving force in the Conservative party which reflects the best of our values – British and Asian”.
It is sometimes written that Javid is a fan of Ayn Rand, the woman whose ruthless capitalistic Darwinism is loathed by everyone not on the extreme right, economically speaking.
But nothing Javid says places him anywhere near Rand’s eccentric position, and when the GG2 Power List asked him what made really him tick, he responded, “I believe in individual freedom, enterprise. I believe in the power of the family and respecting each other. But also, when it comes to the State, I think that the job of the government is to be an enabler: to help people to help themselves.”
Which sounds very much like a different woman we can think of: a Conservative leader to be sure, but certainly not the current one.