Sajid Javid arrives in Downing Street last week after being appointed to replace Maria Miller as Culture Secretary. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Sajid Javid's father would never have made it into Cameron's Britain

The new Culture Secretary's Pakistani father was welcomed in 1961. But the migration cap means his successors are being turned away today. 

Sajid Javid's ascension to the cabinet has been hailed by Conservatives as proof that "the British dream" really does exist. The son of a man who arrived at Heathrow airport from Pakistan in 1961 with a £1 note in his pocket, after his family lost everything during the partition, now sits at the top table of the UK government.

As the Culture Secretary (the first Asian cabinet minister) recounts in a new collection, The Party of Opportunityby Conservative group Renewal: "My father made his way up north and found a job in a Rochdale cotton mill. Happy to be employed, he nevertheless strived for more. He set his sights on working on a bus, only to be turned away time and again. But he didn’t give up. He persisted and was hired as a bus conductor, then a driver, earning the nickname 'Mr Night & Day from his co-workers. After that came his own market stall, selling ladies clothes (many sewn by my mother at home) and, eventually, his own shop in Bristol.

"My four brothers and I, all born in Rochdale, lived with my parents in the two-bedroom flat above our shop on Stapleton Road (which, although home to us, was later dubbed 'Britain’s most dangerous street'). This – along with our family breaks to visit cousins back in Rochdale and our biannual treat of hiring a VHS player for a weekend to binge on movies – might not fit everyone’s definition of success, but success is always relative. My parents achieved their aims – to help their immediate and extended families and to provide for and educate my brothers and me."

Javid's story is an inspiring one (foolishly disregarded by those Labour MPs who attacked his successful career as an investment banker) but no Conservative paused to consider another issue: would the same be possible today? Under the current government's draconian immigration cap, which limits the number of skilled migrants from outside the EU to just 20,700 a year, Javid's father would have been barred. With no university degree and just £1 to live on, ministers would have rejected him as a potential "burden" on the welfare state, never knowing that he would go on to raise a son the equal of them. 

This scenario is emblematic of the short-sightedness of the government's immigration policy. For the sake of meeting an arbitrary target of reducing net migration to "tens of thousands" a year (which, owing to EU immigration, will not be met in any case), Britain is depriving itself of untold levels of talent. As my former colleagues Mehdi Hasan noted in a Guardian piece in 2011, "Had Avram Kohen not arrived on these shores from Poland in the late 19th century, his son Jack would not have been able to start Tesco in 1919. And had Mikhail Marks not been allowed to migrate to the UK from Belarus in the 1880s, he would never have met Thomas Spencer and created M&S."

The truth that eludes the pessimistic and xenophobic right is that immigrants don't just "take our jobs", they create them too. But when today's entrepreneurs seek to enter Cameron's Britain, all they will be greeted with is a closed door. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The government needs more on airports than just Chris Grayling's hunch

This disastrous plan to expand Heathrow will fail, vows Tom Brake. 

I ought to stop being surprised by Theresa May’s decision making. After all, in her short time as Prime Minister she has made a series of terrible decisions. First, we had Chief Buffoon, Boris Johnson appointed as Foreign Secretary to represent the United Kingdom around the world. Then May, announced full steam ahead with the most extreme version of Brexit, causing mass economic uncertainty before we’ve even begun negotiations with the EU. And now we have the announcement that expansion of Heathrow Airport, in the form of a third runway, will go ahead: a colossally expensive, environmentally disastrous, and ill-advised decision.

In the House of Commons on Tuesday, I asked Transport Secretary Chris Grayling why the government is “disregarding widespread hostility and bulldozing through a third runway, which will inflict crippling noise, significant climate change effects, health-damaging air pollution and catastrophic congestion on a million Londoners.” His response was nothing more than “because we don’t believe it’s going to do those things.”

I find this astonishing. It appears that the government is proceeding with a multi-billion pound project with Grayling’s beliefs as evidence. Why does the government believe that a country of our size should focus on one major airport in an already overcrowded South East? Germany has multiple major airports, Spain three, the French, Italians, and Japanese have at least two. And I find it astonishing that the government is paying such little heed to our legal and moral environmental obligations.

One of my first acts as an MP nineteen years ago was to set out the Liberal Democrat opposition to the expansion of Heathrow or any airport in southeast England. The United Kingdom has a huge imbalance between the London and the South East, and the rest of the country. This imbalance is a serious issue which our government must get to work remedying. Unfortunately, the expansion of Heathrow does just the opposite - it further concentrates government spending and private investment on this overcrowded corner of the country.

Transport for London estimates that to make the necessary upgrades to transport links around Heathrow will be £10-£20 billion pounds. Heathrow airport is reportedly willing to pay only £1billion of those costs. Without upgrades to the Tube and rail links, the impact on London’s already clogged roads will be substantial. Any diversion of investment from improving TfL’s wider network to lines serving Heathrow would be catastrophic for the capital. And it will not be welcomed by Londoners who already face a daily ordeal of crowded tubes and traffic-delayed buses. In the unlikely event that the government agrees to fund this shortfall, this would be salt in the wound for the South-West, the North, and other parts of the country already deprived of funding for improved rail and road links.

Increased congestion in the capital will not only raise the collective blood pressure of Londoners, but will have severe detrimental effects on our already dire levels of air pollution. During each of the last ten years, air pollution levels have been breached at multiple sites around Heathrow. While a large proportion of this air pollution is caused by surface transport serving Heathrow, a third more planes arriving and departing adds yet more particulates to the air. Even without expansion, it is imperative that we work out how to clean this toxic air. Barrelling ahead without doing so is irresponsible, doing nothing but harm our planet and shorten the lives of those living in west London.

We need an innovative, forward-looking strategy. We need to make transferring to a train to Cardiff after a flight from Dubai as straightforward and simple as transferring to another flight is now. We need to invest in better rail links so travelling by train to the centre of Glasgow or Edinburgh is quicker than flying. Expanding Heathrow means missing our climate change targets is a certainty; it makes life a misery for those who live around the airport and it diverts precious Government spending from other more worthy projects.

The Prime Minister would be wise to heed her own advice to the 2008 government and “recognise widespread hostility to Heathrow expansion.” The decision to build a third runway at Heathrow is the wrong one and if she refuses to U-turn she will soon discover the true extent of the opposition to these plans.

Tom Brake is the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton & Wallington.