The appointment of Sajid Javid is something quite rare: a bold move, rather than a defensive one, by Theresa May. He was furious about the Windrush debacle and it was his pressure that made 10 Downing Street realise how politically toxic it could be. Not just because – as he put it in the Sunday Telegraph – this could have been him, or his parents. It’s because the whole episode embodies what he most hates about politics, and he had a shrewder eye for its wider implications than many others. When I first interviewed him for The Spectator he said that, when he first went into politics, his family friends all assumed that he was joining the Labour Party because what Asian would back the Tories? He asked his dad why this might be and was told “Two words: Enoch Powell”. To which another word – Windrush – might now be added.
The odd thing about Sajid Javid is that he is not very interested in identity politics, nor in exploiting his back story. He was the son of a bus driver, who went to Exeter University and then became a vice-president of Chase Manhattan bank at the age of 26. In the world of banking, people are not very interested about his ethnicity. It’s a global world, he worked in Singapore for a while, and he found it hard, in politics, to adjust to the importance placed on ethnicity. Or religion: his family are Muslim, but he’s not practising. Broadcasters have even taken to giving an exotic (and concocted) pronunciation to his name: Sajeed Javeed. (Both of his names rhyme with ‘avid’.) His politics is colour-blind, but Windrush isn’t about colour. It’s about the dignity (or lack thereof) with which immigrants are treated. And on a deeper level, it’s what happens when a massive department with huge power over people’s lives is appallingly run.
When Javid ran on a joint ticket for the Tory leadership with Stephen Crabb last year, it was strange to see him as the junior part of that ticket. But he had not emerged very well from the Port Talbot steel imbroglio where his free market instincts clashed with a political appetite for steel tariffs. He then became an endangered species when Theresa May came to power. He’s an economic liberal who believes in lower taxes and small government: he reads the court scene of Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead every Christmas. Quite a contrast with the Prime Minister’s preference for state direction in the economy, and a penchant for Ed Miliband ideas. Javid once said that the words “industrial” and “strategy” should not be uttered in the same sentence: Mrs May has created a department for Industrial Strategy. That’s why he was seen to be on the way out before the general election. After its disastrous result, he upbraided her in Cabinet for the anti-business language used in the manifesto and the campaign. Those who heard him say he spoke like someone who had pretty much given up further political ambition.
Which is why, as Home Secretary, he might not pull his punches. He is against the net migration target, as are the entire Cabinet with the exception of Chris Grayling, Gavin Williamson and Karen Bradley. He is very much against students being included in the net migration target – again, in common with most of the Cabinet. Had Amber Rudd had more confidence in herself, and resisted the Theresa May ‘hostile environment’ policy, she might still have her job. The Rudd debacle will underline, not just to Javid but to other members of the Cabinet, how risky it is to play it safe. Which has never been Javid’s way. The next few months should certainly be interesting.