By: Parveen Akhtar
The son of a Pakistani bus driver who became Britain’s home secretary
What links Sajid Javid (Britain’s first Muslim-heritage home secretary), Sadiq Khan (London’s first Muslim mayor), and Sayeeda Warsi (the first Muslim to sit in the British cabinet)? They’re all the children of post-war Pakistani immigrants who came to the UK in the 1960s in search of a better life. And all three had fathers who were bus drivers. Javid, Khan and Warsi, the bus-driver-kid crew, have driven hard and fast to achieve high political office.
Javid’s is a story of rags to riches to political power. With a “£1 note in his pocket,” his father, Abdul Ghani, settled in Rochdale, working in a cotton mill and then on the buses – and nicknamed “Mr Night and Day because he used to work every hour God sent his way.” Eventually the family moved to Bristol, and Javid, like his heroine Margaret Thatcher (he once revealed he had a poster of her on his office wall), lived in a flat above a shop. And though his school career adviser told him “Stapleton Road kids don’t go to university,” Javid went on to read economics and politics at Exeter. He was the first in his family to graduate.
At 25, Javid became the youngest vice-president at Chase Manhattan Bank. His reputation for success led him to be headhunted by Deutsche Bank where, as the head of credit trading, he earned £3m.
Javid entered politics as MP for Bromsgrove (Worcestershire) in 2010 – a move which reportedly saw him take a 98% pay cut.
He enjoyed a close relationship with George Osborne and worked under the then chancellor as treasury minister in 2012. He got his first cabinet post in 2014 as the secretary of state for culture, media and sport. He has also held the office of secretary of state for business, innovation and skills and secretary of state for housing, communities and local government.
Now Javid has taken one of the very top jobs, following the resignation of Amber Rudd as home secretary. Her departure was, on the surface, tied to her “inadvertently” misleading MPs over the use of deportation targets in her department. But her downfall came after weeks of pressure over the way the government has treated the Windrush generation, who came to the UK in 1948 aboard the Empire Windrush, and now face having their rights curtailed because they cannot formally prove their right to stay.
Identity once didn’t seem to matter much to Javid (when asked about his background he used to state “I don’t think about it” but that seems to have changed recently. His immigrant background has coloured his response to the Windrush crisis. Asked about the situation before joining the Home Office, he said: “I’m a second-generation migrant, my parents came to this country from Pakistan, just like the Windrush generation, obviously a different part of the world, from South Asia not the Caribbean, but other than that, similar in almost every way.”
Javid and Theresa May are known to have their differences. He was highly critical of the prime minister’s ill-fated 2017 election campaign. Although, had that all turned out differently, with May being resoundingly re-elected, it could have finished off Javid’s political rise and led him to backbench oblivion.
He is ambitious. In the aftermath of David Cameron’s post-Brexit resignation, he paired up with Stephen Crabb in a joint leadership bid (he as chancellor, Crabb as PM). They may not have got very far but Javid’s leadership hopes will surely only be boosted by this latest promotion. He is now touted as a possible contender for the [premiership] – this time, all by himself.
May and the Conservatives will be hoping that Javid’s personal background will go some way to limit the damage caused by the Windrush scandal. Part of that hope will be that the new home secretary can help hold onto the ethnic minority vote, a tall order given that support for the Tories among non-white voters has plummeted in recent years. That’s at least in part due to the party’s stance on immigration.
But while the party may use Javid as a poster boy for the “ethnic Tory,” his significance is much wider than that. At a time when right-wing populism has made headway across Western and Central Europe on the back of anti-immigration sentiment, Javid’s success is textbook “immigrant dream” success.
While criticising the phrase “hostile environment” in relation to illegal immigration, Javid is a supporter of tighter controls on immigration. He has argued there is “nothing racist about managed migration”.
As home secretary, Javid’s remit will include immigration (Windrush scandal, top of the pile) and he has said “the most urgent tasks I have is to help those British citizens that came from the Caribbean, the so-called Windrush generation. And, make sure that they are all treated with the decency and the fairness that they deserve”. The Tories will be hoping that this is more believable from Javid than it was from Rudd.
He will also have to deal with policing (at a time when knife crime is rarely out the news) and security and counter-terrorism: “My first priority is to make sure the Home Office always does all it can to keep British people safe. That is a huge responsibility, something I take very very seriously.”
Javid, the son of a Muslim immigrant bus driver, has one of the most coveted jobs in British politics. But he starts at a difficult moment for the department. Let’s see how the Stapleton road kid performs in the front seat.