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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The World Cup you’ve never heard of, where the teams have no state

At the Conifa world cup – this year hosted by the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia – ethnic groups, diaspora communities and disputed territories will battle for footballing glory.

Football's European Championship and the Olympics are set to dominate the back pages over the next few months. How will Team GB fare in Rio? Will the zika virus stop the tournament even going ahead? Will the WAGS prove to be a distraction for the Three Lions? And can Roy Hodgson guide England to a long-awaited trophy?

But before the sprinters are in their blocks or a ball has been kicked, there's a world cup taking place.

Only this world cup is, well, a bit different. There's no Brazil, no damaged metatarsals to speak of, and no Germany to break hearts in a penalty shootout.  There’s been no sign of football’s rotten underbelly rearing its head at this world cup either. No murmurs of the ugly corruption which has plagued Fifa in recent years. Nor any suggestion that handbags have been exchanged for hosting rights.

This biennial, unsung world cup is not being overseen by Fifa however, but rather by Conifa (Confederation of Independent Football Associations), the governing body for those nations discredited by Fifa. Among its member nations are ethnic groups, diaspora communities or disputed territories with varying degrees of autonomy. Due to their contested status, many of the nations are unable to gain recognition from Fifa. As a consequence they cannot compete in tournaments sanctioned by the best-known footballing governing body, and that’s where Conifa provides a raison d’être.

“We give a voice to the unheard”, says Conifa’s General Secretary, Sascha Düerkop, whose world cup kicks off in the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia at the end of this week.

“We are proud to give our members a forum where they can put themselves on the map.

“From that we hope to give back in the long run and invest in the football infrastructure in our member nations to help them grow.”

The two week footballing celebration starts with an opening ceremony before Kurdistan and Székely Land kick off the tournament. It follows on from 2014’s maiden competition which saw The County of Nice avenging a group stage defeat to Ellan Vannin from the Isle of Man, to take the spoils in the final via a penalty shoot-out.  There were some blowout scores of note however, with South Ossetia smashing Darfur 20-0 and Kurdistan beating the Tamils 9-0 at the event which took place in Östersund, Sweden. Neither of the finalists will be returning to the tournament – throwing down the gauntlet to another twelve teams. 

This, the second Conifa world cup, is testament to the ever-expanding global footprint of the tournament. Abkhazia will welcome sides from four continents – including Western Armenia, the Chagos Islands, United Koreans in Japan and Somaliland.

Despite the “minor” status of the countries taking part, a smattering of professional talent lends credibility to the event. Panjab can call on the experience of ex-Accrington Stanley man Rikki Bains at the heart of their defence, and the coaching savoir-faire of former Tranmere star Reuben Hazell from the dugout. Morten Gamst Pedersen, who turned out for Blackburn Rovers over 300 times and was once a Norwegian international, will lead the Sapmi people. The hosts complete the list of teams to aiming to get their hands on silverware along with Padania, Northern Cyprus, and Raetia.

A quick glance down said list, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that most of the nations competing have strong political associations – be that through war, genocide, displacement or discrimination. The Chagos Islands is one such example. An archipelago in the Indian Ocean, Chagos’ indigenous population was uprooted by the British government in the 1960s to make way for one of the United States' most strategically important military bases – Diego Garcia.

Ever since, they've been campaigning for the right to return. Their side, based in Crawley, has crowdfunded the trip to the tournament. Yet most of its members have never stepped foot on the islands they call home, and which they will now represent. Kurdistan’s efforts to establish an independent state have been well-highlighted, even more so given the last few years of conflict in the Middle East. The hosts too, broke away from Georgia in the 1990s and depend on the financial clout of Russia to prop up their government.

Despite that, Düerkop insists that the event is one which focuses on action on the pitch rather than off it. 

“Many of the nations are politically interested, but we are non-political,” he says. 

“Some of our members are less well-known in the modern world. They have been forgotten, excluded from the global community or simply are ‘unpopular’ for their political positions.

“We are humanitarians and the sides play football to show their existence – nothing more, nothing less.”

The unknown and almost novel status of the tournament flatters to deceive as Conifa’s world cup boasts a broadcast deal, two large stadiums and a plush opening ceremony. Its aim in the long run, however, is to develop into a global competition, and one which is content to sit below Fifa.

“We are happy to be the second biggest football organisation,” admits Düerkop.

“In the future we hope to have women’s and youth tournaments as well as futsal and beach soccer.”

“Our aim is to advertise the beauty and uniqueness of each nation.”

“But the most important purpose is to give those nations that are not members of the global football community a home.”

George Weah, the first African winner of Fifa World Player of the Year award remarked how “football gives a suffering people joy”.

And after speaking to Düerkop there’s certainly a feeling that for those on the game’s periphery, Conifa’s world cup has an allure which offers a shared sense of belonging.

It certainly seems light years away from the glitz and glamour of WAGs and corruption scandals. And that's because it is.

But maybe in a small way, this little-known tournament might restore some of beauty lost by the once “beautiful game”.