As a rule, I really don’t like Sajid Javid. He arguably hasn’t held a strong enough line against Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, denying the lived experience of many of his fellow party members and others in the Muslim community. Although he congratulated Sadiq Khan on his victory, he did not speak up against Zac Goldsmith’s disgraceful Islamophobic campaign against Khan, and more recently, he cravenly stripped Shamima Begum of her British citizenship, in order to appear tough to the Conservative Party grassroots. Javid has also failed to get rid of the hostile environment immigration policy that he inherited from Theresa May and Amber Rudd – indeed, it’s become harsher since he became Home Secretary, with an added income requirement which he himself has acknowledged would have stopped his own father from coming to the UK.
All this appears to have been in vain, too – he no doubt pursued these harsh immigration policies and stripping Begum of her citizenship to endear himself to the Conservative grassroots, but his leadership campaign was slow to start and stuttered along the way, leading to his elimination from the contest by MPs before even reaching the membership. Not that he would have been a strong contender had he got there; despite one poll last year that effectively put him ahead among members (he trailed Rees-Mogg and tied with Ruth Davidson, with Rees-Mogg unlikely to run and Davidson unable to), in the most recent poll of Tory members, Johnson had a 30% lead over him (39% to Javid’s 9%).
All that said, Javid had a phenomenal campaign launch a fortnight ago. It went against the usual type of speech by Conservatives of an ethnic minority background (which is described excellently by Stephen Bush in his analysis here). Javid directly addressed the racism he has faced, in many cases from people in his own party, but also from his own community when he married a white woman.
It was a risky and brave speech, and it’s possible that he made it precisely because he realised he was so unlikely to make it to the final two (and therefore didn’t have to pander to the grassroots). Freed of that requirement, Javid may have chosen to use his time in the contest to raise these important issues and deliver some home truths to his party. Regardless of the motivation for doing so – be that to take a moral stand, or simply distinguish himself from the pack – it was an extremely welcome move – one he built upon with his condemnation of Donald Trump’s recent attack on Sadiq Khan, and his bouncing the other leadership candidates into a pledge for an independent inquiry into Tory Islamophobia.
As a Labour member and a democratic socialist, who knows that BAME people by and large tend to plump for my party (unless they’re Jewish, which is another issue – although frankly who can blame many of my fellow Jews for not wanting to vote Labour at the moment…), it would be to Labour’s benefit for the Conservatives not to further improvements (however thin they were) made by David Cameron. However, I still want the Conservative Party – and all parties for that matter – to do all they can to tackle, and hopefully eradicate, racism in their ranks.
Javid’s launch went largely underreported, from what I can see. But maybe, just maybe, for all his flaws, he may have begun a very necessary conversation about race in the Conservative Party that needs to be had – not just for their own benefit and survival as a party, but in the interests of ethnic minorities in the United Kingdom more generally.
It is not in the best interests of democracy in this country as a whole if economically liberal (i.e. free-market) or socially conservative ethnic minority voters don’t feel they can vote for the party they are ideologically aligned with, because that party has a problem with racism against them and their communities. Indeed, this is a topic Javid touched upon in his speech.
Representation is incredibly important, but just having minorities in positions of power isn’t enough to change a culture. Whether we’re of a minority or not, we should all make strides to ensure minorities are better represented, and that they are accepted and embraced into our institutions, and society at large. The usual Conservative model of pointing to Margaret Thatcher or John Major, as if their rising to the top of the Conservative Party negates their support for policies that actively harmed women and working class people, applies just as much when it comes to BAME people. Even if the Conservatives were to elect Sajid Javid, that alone wouldn’t get rid of their race problem, just as electing Ed Miliband didn’t mean Labour hasn’t had a longstanding problem with antisemitism (one that predates Jeremy Corbyn).
But it is only by being prepared to deliver these hard truths to our political parties, and to society at large, that we may begin to act on, and eradicate, prejudice. In much the same way that only Nixon could go to China, perhaps only Sajid Javid could deliver the hard truths on race many Tories, and beyond, needed to hear.