Underrated: Sajid Javid

The talented new Culture Secretary has been immersed in radical politics since his student days and is far from being a philistine

UK Politics Underrated

Sajid Javid, then the new Culture Secretary, now Home Secretary: A disinterested minister is what the arts need (credit: Michael Daley)

“David Cameron has just appointed the first British person of Pakistani origin [to the Cabinet] — I look at him and I don’t see a Pakistani, I see a banker who earned £3 million a year. That is why he is in the Tory party.”

That is what the former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone said last month on Newsnight about Sajid Javid, who in April became the first cabinet minister drawn from the 2010 intake of MPs when he was appointed Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport after Maria Miller was forced to resign over an expenses scandal. 

Livingstone managed to get his facts wrong on almost every count. Javid is not the first Cabinet minister of Pakistani, or indeed Muslim, origin — that honour goes to Baroness Warsi, whom Cameron appointed Minister without Portfolio and Co-Chair of the Conservative Party in 2010. 

Livingstone also has no way of knowing whether Javid was earning £3 million a year at Deutsche Bank before he left in 2009 for a career in politics, and a supposed 98 per cent pay cut. That figure is a guesstimate from Bloomberg; it may be right but Livingstone has no way of knowing if Javid was being paid £1million, or for that matter £5 million.

More significantly, Javid is not in the Tory party because he is a banker — he was a Tory, and a passionate Thatcherite, long before he  was a banker. As almost every article written about Javid since his appointment has pointed out, he is the son of a penniless Muslim immigrant  who worked first as a bus driver in Rochdale and then as a shopkeeper in Bristol. Javid grew up above the shop on one of the roughest streets in England and from there went on to read Economics and Politics at Exeter University, which is where I first met him in 1990. 

Javid was involved with the university’s Conservative Association, alongside Robert Halfon and David Burrowes, both now Tory MPs, and Tim Montgomerie, founder of the ConservativeHome website. He constantly lauded the achievements of Thatcherism and hoped the Tories would be more radical. 

As an impecunious student Javid also set up, with Montgomerie, another group, Exeter Enterprise Forum, to extol the virtues of the free market rather more robustly. It is typical of the Left that Livingstone assumes that Javid is only a free marketeer and a Tory out of economic self-interest; while most on the Right will happily acknowledge the idealism of many on the Left, the reverse is sadly much more rarely the case.

After graduating, Javid landed a job with Chase Manhattan. In 1994 he became a Vice-President of the bank at 25, the youngest in the bank’s history. In 2000 he moved to Deutsche Bank and continued there until being selected for the safe Tory seat of Bromsgrove, vacant due to Julie Kirkbride — the sitting MP — having difficulties with her expenses.

Various banking colleagues have expressed how surprised they were that Javid chose to go into politics, but he had been convinced that he wanted to do so ever since he was a student. He had previously been selected to be Conservative candidate for Brent North in 2001 but stood down as he found it impossible to combine politics with a banking career and a young family;  he and his wife Laura have four children.Whatever Livingstone may want to believe, Javid’s time as a banker marks him out as an exception on the Conservative benches: few younger MPs have had any career outside politics and its related areas of public affairs and lobbying.

Javid has risen rapidly in government. He was made PPS to George Osborne in 2011, became Economic Secretary to the Treasury in 2012 and was swiftly promoted  to Financial Secretary. It is said that his talents were noted when he pointed out many of the pitfalls of the ill-considered 2012 “omnishambles” Budget before it was delivered. His advice at the time was ignored.

On his appointment to the Cabinet Javid’s supposed philistinism has caused much anguish, perhaps best summed up by a noted music critic’s blog post, “A banker is the new UK Culture Secretary.”

There is, of course, no causal link between being a banker and a lack of enthusiasm for the arts, although Javid is not known to have previously shown much interest in culture. But is this a bad thing? He has been put on a rapid immersion course in the arts and as Polly Toynbee wrote in the Guardian, “With the arm’s-length Arts Council to make judgments, the minister’s job is not to opine on the arts. What’s more, it’s a category error to expect politicians to have natural empathy with, or relevant experience in, their departments.” A disinterested minister is exactly what the arts need. Javid has also made it clear that he intends not to move further down the road of press regulation and is happy to work with the newspaper’s new regulatory model.

There has been talk of Javid being a future prime minister. At this stage of a political career such speculation is usually disastrous, but there is every reason to believe that Javid will go far — and perhaps even right to the top.