Britain’s political circles are buzzing with talk of the government’s newest cabinet member — a man who seemingly could change the face of the Conservative Party and shatter the mold out of which generations of Tory politicians have been cast.
Indeed, the latest Conservative minister is not just a millionaire former banker who grew up idolizing Margaret Thatcher, but also one who believes strongly in limited government, capitalism, and the value of a hard day’s work.
OK, so that particular mold is pretty well intact. But it’s not one that fully defines 44-year-old Sajid Javid, or what he may mean for his party come next year’s general election, and beyond.
Unlike many of his Tory (or Labour) peers, Javid does not hail from a posh borough or country estate.
For starters, unlike some of his well-heeled colleagues in parliament, Britain’s first conservative Muslim Pakistani MP has rather middle-class tastes — he loves Star Trek, U2, and It’s a Wonderful Life — and relishes simplicity, opting to hang a portrait of Thatcher in his office over the more ornate offerings available in the government art collection.
Such refined tastes naturally made Javid a prime candidate to head the U.K.’s culture ministry, a position to which he was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron last week. That appointment in turn has prompted critics to label Javid the Tories’ “poster boy” for culture, a token minority minister cynically deployed to boost the party’s election chances in 2015.
But, regardless of his cultural credentials — U.K. cabinet ministers often have no background relevant to their portfolios — the multicultural Javid is no mere election-day pinup. His elevation to the cabinet punctuates a meteoric rise up the political ladder from his entry into parliament in 2010, and when it comes to compelling campaign backstories, his truly is a wonderful life.
Unlike many of his Tory (or Labour) peers, Javid does not hail from a posh borough or country estate, nor has his journey led him through the playing fields at Eton or the halls of Oxford. And, while the former head of Deutsche Bank’s Asian trading division may have had tens of millions of pounds in his bank account when he returned to Britain from Singapore in 2009 to enter politics, his father had but one pound in his pocket when he arrived on the country’s shores 53 years ago as an immigrant from the Punjab.
Abdul-Ghani Javid worked first in a cotton mill and then as a bus driver before eventually setting up his own women’s wear business (selling garments made by Javid’s mother, Zubaid) in inner-city Bristol. Growing up on Stapleton Road — infamously dubbed “Britain’s most dangerous street” — the odds were not in Javid’s favor. A high school career adviser told Javid that he should apply to become a television repairman, but he ignored the tip. His parents had taught him to aim high.
“All they had to rely on was their own drive and determination, a willingness to work hard and the confidence to take risks in the hope of greater rewards,” he says. “This is the root of my conservative belief.”
The bald, even-spoken Javid has two idols: his father and the slightly more famous former conservative mold-breaker, Margaret Thatcher. With Thatcher, it was love at first sight. Javid was just 11 when first saw the Iron Lady on television. “I instinctively thought, ‘I really admire this woman,’” he recalls. “My dad said, ‘Look how she’s sorting out the country.’ I agreed.”
Following his heroes’ footsteps, Javid worked hard to improve his circumstances — from public school to a technical college to the University of Exeter, where he earned a scholarship to study economics and politics and joined the Student Conservative Society.
After graduation, Javid didn’t find work in the City of London — he says his background may have played a role. Instead, he scored a job at Chase Manhattan in New York, where he quickly ascended the ranks, becoming the youngest vice president in the bank’s history at age 25. Deutsche Bank later headhunted him, hiring him as a managing director in charge of Asian investments.
Earning $5 million a year and at the top of his game, Javid shocked his colleagues in 2009 when he declared he was going into politics. When the MP of his constituency, Bromsgrove, had to step down during the expenses scandal that year, Javid jumped in and won the seat with 43 percent of the vote. He also caught the eye of a powerful mentor: Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, who admired Javid’s financial acumen and asked him to be his parliamentary private secretary in 2011.
Javid’s achievements at the Treasury include successfully pushing for corporate tax breaks, creating a “Help to Buy” scheme of equity loans to help folks get on the housing ladder and keeping European regulations at bay. In Javid’s new role as head of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which has broad responsibility for culture, sports, tourism, and media, his first task will be making friends in a ministry he has reportedly supported doing away with in the past.
But Javid’s easy, political style, his financial expertise, and his pragmatic dedication have gained him the respect of fellow party members. “He has a reputation for being extremely hard-working and not engaging in political gossip. He is not factional, so he has a cross-party appeal,” explains Matthew Elliott, lobbyist and chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance.
Still, his cautious approach and rational exterior come at the cost of charisma. This has left some wondering about Javid’s true passions. “Maybe it’s hard to show too much personality when you’re at the Treasury — but what does he actually believe?” asks political commentator Iain Dale.
With his feet planted firmly in the Cabinet, could Javid be on the fast track to becoming the nation’s first Muslim prime minister?
Nor were his years at the Treasury without controversy. After Deutsche Bank was fined by the European Commission for colluding to fix the Euribor rate, Labour MPs like Cathy Jameson raised questions insinuating that Javid, a senior bank director at the time, could have been involved in questionable practices leading to the 2008 crash — allegations the politician has denied.
But having worked his way from Britain’s toughest street to Westminster, Javid has self-confidence to spare. Unlike other Conservatives, who often seem plagued by the U.K.’s pervasive middle-class guilt, Javid is proud that he can send his children to private schools and boasts about unwinding with a good Havana cigar.
With his feet planted firmly in the Cabinet, could Javid be on the fast track to becoming the nation’s first Muslim prime minister? He seems to have all the ingredients: ambition, an impressive financial track record, a powerful mentor, and, most of all, a genuine bootstraps story that should help the Conservative Party connect with minorities and working-class voters.
Raw ingredients alone though will not be enough to transform Javid from a poster boy into a prime minister. “Nothing is more obstinate than a fashionable consensus,” Thatcher once quipped, and the more the new culture minister becomes the fashionable face of change in the Tory party, the less likely he will be to actually facilitate it. But, for a party known for being firmly rooted in its culture and traditions, that might be precisely the point.
Why you should care
Because the son of an immigrant bus driver from Pakistan may be just the breath of fresh air that British conservatism needs to reach minority and working-class voters.