Sajid Javid arriving at No 10 after being appointed as Culture Secretary. Photo: Getty
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Sajid Javid and the left, the “extermination” of grammar schools and Pamuk in Oxford

The response of some Labour MPs to Javid’s promotion was idiotic.

Sajid Javid, the first British Asian man to become a cabinet minister, is a politician the Conservatives have been waiting for. He’s not the son of high privilege, a member of the trust-fund class. As has been widely reported, his father was an immigrant from Pakistan who, after arriving in England with £1 in his pocket, found work as a bus driver. The family home was a two-bedroomed flat above a shop in Bristol; Javid attended a comprehensive school and then Exeter University. There he met Tim Montgomerie, who went on to create the ConservativeHome website, and Robert Halfon and David Burrowes, both now Tory MPs.

These Exeter Tories have influence. Halfon, who holds the marginal seat of Harlow, my old home town in Essex, is one of the most thoughtful MPs in Westminster. He advocates a kind of ethical, blue-collar conservatism that resonates in Harlow, where there is energy and aspiration but also entrenched intergenerational deprivation and underachievement.

John Major once asked: what did the Conservative Party have to offer a working-class boy like me? His answer was that it made him prime minister, as it did the grocer’s daughter before him. If the Tories are ever to win a majority again, they must become more than a coalition of middle- and upper-middle-class interests, as they are perceived to be under the plummy Cameron but never were under Thatcher.

The response of some Labour MPs to Javid’s promotion was idiotic: they denounced him for being rich, as if this were some kind of stain on his character. Javid is indeed extremely wealthy, having worked for two decades as a City financier. He is also a dry-as-dust Thatcherite and appears to have little hinterland.

Yet, like Jay Gatsby, he is self-made and has dared to dream. From a flat above a shop in one of Bristol’s toughest neigbourhoods to a seat at the cabinet table: anyone who cares about social mobility and wants Britain to become a more open and diverse society ought to be cheered by his ascent, even if you find his politics narrowly ideological and his professed cultural tastes – U2, Star Trek – uninspiring.

High lights at the Sheldonian

On the eve of municipal elections in Turkey, I chaired the Chancellor’s Lecture at the Oxford Literary Festival. The “lecture” turned out to be a conversation between Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s pre-eminent writer, and me. Pamuk was in Oxford at the invitation of Chris Patten, chancellor of the university. The previous day, Pamuk, who has been persecuted by the Erdogan government, had signed an open letter protesting against Turkey’s censorship of Twitter. Before our conversation – we discussed Islamism, the unique space between east and west occupied by Turkey, the global novel and the melancholy of Istanbul – we were introduced by Lord Patten who, with late-evening sunshine streaming through the high windows of Wren’s magnificent Sheldonian Theatre, delighted me by remarking on the revitalisation of the New Statesman, which he told the audience was “ascendant”.

Literally east

I asked Pamuk whether, in the digital age, the novel had much of a future. As I discovered when I was editor of Granta, overmany people want to write stories and novels – if everyone who wanted to write for Granta actually subscribed to it, the old magazine would be a bestseller – but there is a corresponding shortage of willing readers of literary fiction, especially men. I reminded Pamuk of something Philip Roth had said: “To read a novel requires a certain amount of concentration, focus, devotion to the reading . . . I think that kind of concentration and focus and attentiveness is [now] hard to come by . . .”

He wasn’t convinced. The novel, Pamuk said, was a bourgeois art form and would find a new and eager audience in countries with rapidly growing middle classes: India, China and Indonesia. So the future of the novel, as with so much else, resides in the east.

The old grammar of merit

The NS was the media partner of this year’s Cambridge Literary Festival, where I was present for a stimulating conversation between John Carey and my colleague Michael Prodger. The setting was the Cambridge Union, where Carey was talking about his memoir, The Unexpected Professor. He is a curious fellow: erudite but anti-elitist, thin-skinned and sharp-tongued. He writes clean and very simple sentences, perhaps too simple – Orwell is his model – but he reads with complexity and sophistication. He’s a grammar school boy and was evidently wounded by the slights he endured long ago as an undergraduate and junior don at Oxford. In conversation, he bemoaned what he called the “vindictive extermination” of the grammar schools. “Oxford and Cambridge still take vastly disproportionate numbers of public-school students,” he said.

True enough. But what we call the “7 per cent problem” – the dominance of the privately educated in public life – is the result not of the destruction of the grammar schools, as Carey believes, or of bias in the Oxbridge admissions system, but of deep structural problems to do with class, land ownership and inherited privilege in English society (Alex Salmond is attempting to address these issues in Scotland by breaking up the British state).

As Michael Gove says, “More than almost any [other] developed nation, ours is a country in which your parentage dictates your progress.” Which is why the rise of Sajid Javid is so interesting and why it poses such an awkward problem for Labour (which has never had a woman as leader or an Asian cabinet minister, and whose most successful prime ministers were privately educated) as well as for Ed Miliband’s lofty seminar-room socialism.

Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman. He has been the editor of Granta, a senior editor at the Observer and a staff writer at the Times.

This article first appeared in the 14 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Double

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Leader: The unresolved Eurozone crisis

The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving.

The eurozone crisis was never resolved. It was merely conveniently forgotten. The vote for Brexit, the terrible war in Syria and Donald Trump’s election as US president all distracted from the single currency’s woes. Yet its contradictions endure, a permanent threat to continental European stability and the future cohesion of the European Union.

The resignation of the Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, following defeat in a constitutional referendum on 4 December, was the moment at which some believed that Europe would be overwhelmed. Among the champions of the No campaign were the anti-euro Five Star Movement (which has led in some recent opinion polls) and the separatist Lega Nord. Opponents of the EU, such as Nigel Farage, hailed the result as a rejection of the single currency.

An Italian exit, if not unthinkable, is far from inevitable, however. The No campaign comprised not only Eurosceptics but pro-Europeans such as the former prime minister Mario Monti and members of Mr Renzi’s liberal-centrist Democratic Party. Few voters treated the referendum as a judgement on the monetary union.

To achieve withdrawal from the euro, the populist Five Star Movement would need first to form a government (no easy task under Italy’s complex multiparty system), then amend the constitution to allow a public vote on Italy’s membership of the currency. Opinion polls continue to show a majority opposed to the return of the lira.

But Europe faces far more immediate dangers. Italy’s fragile banking system has been imperilled by the referendum result and the accompanying fall in investor confidence. In the absence of state aid, the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, could soon face ruin. Italy’s national debt stands at 132 per cent of GDP, severely limiting its firepower, and its financial sector has amassed $360bn of bad loans. The risk is of a new financial crisis that spreads across the eurozone.

EU leaders’ record to date does not encourage optimism. Seven years after the Greek crisis began, the German government is continuing to advocate the failed path of austerity. On 4 December, Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, declared that Greece must choose between unpopular “structural reforms” (a euphemism for austerity) or withdrawal from the euro. He insisted that debt relief “would not help” the immiserated country.

Yet the argument that austerity is unsustainable is now heard far beyond the Syriza government. The International Monetary Fund is among those that have demanded “unconditional” debt relief. Under the current bailout terms, Greece’s interest payments on its debt (roughly €330bn) will continually rise, consuming 60 per cent of its budget by 2060. The IMF has rightly proposed an extended repayment period and a fixed interest rate of 1.5 per cent. Faced with German intransigence, it is refusing to provide further funding.

Ever since the European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, declared in 2012 that he was prepared to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the single currency, EU member states have relied on monetary policy to contain the crisis. This complacent approach could unravel. From the euro’s inception, economists have warned of the dangers of a monetary union that is unmatched by fiscal and political union. The UK, partly for these reasons, wisely rejected membership, but other states have been condemned to stagnation. As Felix Martin writes on page 15, “Italy today is worse off than it was not just in 2007, but in 1997. National output per head has stagnated for 20 years – an astonishing . . . statistic.”

Germany’s refusal to support demand (having benefited from a fixed exchange rate) undermined the principles of European solidarity and shared prosperity. German unemployment has fallen to 4.1 per cent, the lowest level since 1981, but joblessness is at 23.4 per cent in Greece, 19 per cent in Spain and 11.6 per cent in Italy. The youngest have suffered most. Youth unemployment is 46.5 per cent in Greece, 42.6 per cent in Spain and 36.4 per cent in Italy. No social model should tolerate such waste.

“If the euro fails, then Europe fails,” the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has often asserted. Yet it does not follow that Europe will succeed if the euro survives. The continent that once aspired to be a rival superpower to the US is now a byword for decline, and ethnic nationalism and right-wing populism are thriving. In these circumstances, the surprise has been not voters’ intemperance, but their patience.

This article first appeared in the 08 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit to Trump