Ashamed of being ‘too Pakistani,’ is Sajid Javid ‘British enough’ to become the PM?

Published: June 17, 2019
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Home Secretary Sajid Javid leaves Downing Street following a cabinet meeting on March 25, 2019 in London, England. PHOTO: GETTY

Home Secretary of the United Kingdom Sajid Javid, son of a Pakistani bus driver, has reached the top of the financial and political world. His life truly does make for an inspiring story. 

Javid has modelled himself around the idea of a ‘British Dream,’ where if you work hard, anyone can make it. However, the greatest irony of his ascent is that he has continuously alienated the community that he was born into.

Throughout his political career, he has become the mouthpiece of the right wing to legitimise their protestation against migrants, the working class and a whole host of progressive international causes. In fact, Javid’s career has been spent justifying why he isn’t “too Pakistani” to climb the British political ladder and why he is “British enough” to represent the nation on the highest levels.

However, let us begin with where we can draw some inspiration. Javid was born into a very humble environment. He grew up in Rochdale, an area that is heavily populated with migrants from Pakistan, particularly Mirpur. There he attended a local comprehensive school where he claims to have experienced a whole host of racial bullying, ranging from taunting to physical violence. (One can only assume this has not influenced his policy decisions as home secretary given their sheer lack of empathy.)

Javid apparently struggled against the school establishment and had to fight for opportunities, some as simple as giving enough A’Level exams to attend university. His diligence and work ethic is something that has clearly translated into his later life, with colleagues continuously remarking about his zeal for getting jobs done.

He attended the University of Exeter, where he joined the Conservative Party. Javid became obsessed with making the most of new opportunities and soon found his way into an investment bank where he climbed the ladder at a blistering pace, becoming a vice president of Chase Manhattan Bank at the age of 25. He eventually became head of credit sales at Deutsche Bank in 2004 before he left the job in 2009 to focus on his political dream, which must have been festering for a while by this point.

So why am I arguing that this talented, hardworking and clearly competent individual will not be a great unifier of a much divided country? It is simply because Javid seems to have created a reality for himself wherein he is either ignorant or complicit in a Conservative Party that still views him as a dispensable mouthpiece rather than an individual who represents the “real” Conservative Party.

One only has to look as far as Trump’s recent state banquet in the UK, where almost all the senior politicians from different parties were invited except for Javid. He has steered clear of commenting on this matter, but for other senior politicians such as Sayeda Warsi, the reason was clear: his background.

Similarly, last year, when Boris Johnson compared women who wear burqas to post boxes, there was an eerie silence from Javid. So which one is it: is he aware that fighting against Islamophobic rhetoric would alienate a quite far right, conservative base, or more sinisterly, does he agree with those views? Neither paints a pretty picture for a future prime minister of the United Kingdom.

In fact, there have been situations where Javid seemed to have been trapped by his race. For example, his involvement in the Shamima Begum case was telling. She was a teenager who had fled to Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) but later backtracked and wanted to re-join the mainstream British society.

This posed a basic humanitarian choice: was Javid going to leave her stateless and without any tangible source of help, or repatriate her and leave her fate to a British legal system while still maintaining some semblance of humanity? He chose the former. Many commentators have suggested that he felt under pressure to prove that he was “British enough,” hence by showing any degree of empathy to this IS bride of Bangladeshi-origin, he may have tainted his quest of not being “one of them.”

For me, his quest is foolhardy. If you look at the Conservative election right now, they are clearly veering in the direction of an Oxford-educated, Estonian in the form of Boris Johnson – it hardly seems to be a mass movement for change, given this has been the archetype of Conservative leadership for much of the last century.

Similarly, in the first ballot, Javid got 23 votes which placed him fifth in the race. This means he is still very much an outsider despite being one of the rising stars of the party for the last decade. In fact, one must wonder what he needs to do to be truly accepted by his party.

He climbed the heights of the financial world and has been a loyal soldier for the Tories and yet his support comes from the rapidly diminishing soft-right members of the Conservative Party who are being outgunned and outshouted by the increasingly rabid swarm of Brexiteers that are adamant on moving the Conservative Party into a space that was previously occupied by UK Independence Party (UKIP).

So clearly, Javid is not the medicine the country needs to heal. Britain is more divided than it has been since World War II and much of the questions the country is facing are existential and about identity.

What does it mean to be British? Clearly Javid seems to have answered this question in a way that has not been satisfactory enough for his colleagues in the Conservative Party, nor has it been satisfactory enough for the community he was born into, where they feel very much betrayed by his political legacy.

If you compare his political approval in Pakistani communities across Britain to that of Sadiq Khan (also the son of a bus driver), they are abysmally low. This is not helped by the fact he has continuously implied that Islam has an intrinsic problem, further implying that there was something about the Pakistani experience that led individuals to join grooming gangs.

After his inevitable loss, it will be interesting to see how Javid places himself in an increasingly hostile Conservative Party, one that he probably didn’t foresee all those years ago when he hung a picture of Margaret Thatcher in his teenage bedroom.

Mustafaen Kamal

Mustafaen Kamal

The author is currently a student at Oxford University and has previously graduated from the London School of Economics. He has founded the Dil Internship Project and is a Laidlaw Scholar at Cambridge University. He tweets @MustafaenKamal (twitter.com/MustafaenKamal)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.