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

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Leader: Labour is failing. A hard Brexit is looming. But there is no need for fatalism

There is nothing inevitable about the right’s supremacy or a catastrophic Brexit.

Democracy depends on competent opposition. Governments, however well intentioned, require permanent and effective scrutiny to meet the public interest. For this purpose, the role of Her Majesty’s Opposition was enshrined in law 80 years ago. However, at present, and in the week Article 50 is invoked, this constitutional duty is being fulfilled in name alone. (The Scottish National Party speaks only for the Scottish interest.)

Since re-electing Jeremy Corbyn as its leader, the Labour Party has become the weakest opposition in postwar history. It lost the recent Copeland by-election to the Conservatives (a seat the Tories had not held since 1931) and trails the governing party, by up to 19 points, in opinion polls. The Tories feel no pressure from Labour. They confidently predict they will retain power until 2030 or beyond. Yet as the poll tax debacle and the Iraq War demonstrate, prolonged periods of single-party rule run the danger of calamitous results – not least, this time, the break-up of Britain.

Under Mr Corbyn, who formally lost the confidence of 80 per cent of his MPs last summer (and has not regained it), Labour has the least impressive and least qualified front bench in its history. Its enfeeblement has left a void that no party is capable of filling. “The grass-roots social movement of the left that was supposed to arrive in Jeremy Corbyn’s wake has not shown up,” the academic Nick Pearce, a former head of Gordon Brown’s policy unit, writes on page 36.

In these new times, the defining struggle is no longer between parties but within the Conservative Party. As a consequence, many voters have never felt more unrepresented or disempowered. Aided by an increasingly belligerent right-wing press, the Tory Brexiteers are monopolising and poisoning debate: as the novelist Ian McEwan said, “The air in my country is very foul.” Those who do not share their libertarian version of Brexit Britain are impugned as the “enemies” of democracy. Theresa May has a distinctive vision but will the libertarian right allow her the time and space to enact it?

Let us not forget that the Conservatives have a majority of just 15 or that Labour’s problems did not begin with Mr Corbyn’s leadership. However, his divisiveness and unpopularity have accelerated the party’s decline. Although the Unite general secretary, Len McCluskey, elected by a fraction of his union membership, loftily pronounced that the Labour leader had 15 months left to prove himself, the country cannot afford to wait that long.

Faced with the opposition’s weakness, some have advocated a “progressive alliance” to take on the Conservatives. Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the nationalist parties are urged to set aside their tribalism. Yet it is fantasy to believe that such an alliance would provide stable majority government when nearly four million people voted for Ukip in 2015. There has also been chatter about the creation of a new centrist party – the Democrats, or, as Richard Dawkins writes on page 54, the European Party. Under our first-past-the-post electoral system, however, a new party would risk merely perpetuating the fragmentation of the opposition. If Labour is too weak to win, it is too strong to die.

The UK’s departure from the EU poses fundamental questions about the kind of country we wish to be. For some on the right, Brexit is a Trojan Horse to remake Britain as a low-tax, small-state utopia. Others aspire to a protectionist fortress of closed borders and closed minds. Mr Corbyn was re-elected by a landslide margin last summer. The Leave campaign’s victory was narrower yet similarly decisive. But these events are not an excuse for quietism. Labour must regain its historic role as the party of the labour interest. Labour’s purpose is not to serve the interests of a particular faction but to redress the power of capital for the common good. And it must have a leader capable of winning power.

If Labour’s best and brightest MPs are unwilling to serve in the shadow cabinet, they should use their freedom to challenge an under-scrutinised government and prove their worth. They should build cross-party alliances. They should evolve a transformative policy programme. They should think seriously about why there has been a post-liberal turn in our politics.

There is nothing inevitable about the right’s supremacy or a catastrophic Brexit. At present, the mood on the Labour benches is one of fatalism and passivity. This cannot go on.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition