IT is a remarkable story. When Dadabhai Naoroji was elected as the Liberal Party member for Finsbury Central at the 1892 general election, the Mumbai-born became Britain’s first Asian MP. He was soon followed by Sir Mancherjee Bhownagree, elected in 1895 as the Tory MP for Bethnal Green North East.
But it took another 122 years for the next milestone to be reached when Sajid Javid, the Rochdale-born son of Pakistani immigrants, was yesterday appointed secretary of state for culture, media, sport and equalities, becoming the first elected politician of Asian descent ever to join the cabinet (Baroness Warsi, another Tory, was the first to serve in the cabinet, though from the Lords rather than the Commons). This is an important and proud moment for Britain.
All of this comes at a time when the main parties desperately lack any game-changing politicians – none of their leaders cut the mustard. They cling to core votes but are unable to reach out, let alone to enthuse or smash the electoral status quo. It was different in the 1980s and 1990s, when Margaret Thatcher and (at first) John Major recruited aspirational working class voters, and Tony Blair attracted middle class and business support.
Today, the expenses scandal is back, and with it a further decline in the public’s trust in the political classes: Maria Miller was rightly forced to resign as culture secretary yesterday, but the incompetence of the government machine in dealing with the row was astonishing.
It is no wonder, therefore, that the public is desperately on the look-out for a different kind of politician. Hence the appeal of Boris Johnson, who triumphed twice in a left-wing city, who can reach out to people who would never vote for the Tories and is the political equivalent of a rock star. Others in this unusual category include Ukip’s Nigel Farage and the SNP’s Alex Salmond, both strikingly successful in populist electoral terms.
But in my view Javid also has the potential to fall into this exceptional category, hence the significance of his promotion yesterday. Sure, he remains untested in many ways: he was only elected in 2010 and his rise has been meteoric by the preposterously slow standards of British politics. Javid’s big test will be whether he is able to sufficiently soften his cool, rational exterior when he needs to, and whether he is able to cope with the full force of the political and personal attacks that will now be headed his way; but if he is able to deal with both of these issues, the impact he could make over the next few years could be extraordinary.
Unlike many current senior Tories, Javid, 44, who married his childhood sweetheart Laura and has four children, is a self-made man. He was educated at a state school. His father was a bus driver.
His determination, intelligence and hard work allowed him to forge a highly successful career in international finance, from which he retired as a multi-millionaire by the age of 40. His values are a contemporary, modern take on Thatcherism: he backs meritocracy, free-markets, hard work, enterprise and aspiration.
His appointment to the Cabinet means that he will be seen to be entitled to be a candidate for the leadership of the Tory party were David Cameron to be defeated next year, a prospect which still remains likely (Labour is 3-points ahead on the latest YouGov/Sun poll, and the vagaries of the electoral system mean that the Tories need a large lead to win).
Crucially, with Javid, the message and the messenger are very different to anything we have heard and seen from the Tories in decades. With the right platform, and a bit of luck, he could have a transformative effect on the UK political landscape. Many a rising star will find themselves described as future prime ministers, merely to fade into pathetic obscurity. I doubt that this will be true of Sajid Javid.