Ayesha Hazarika: Why I really want to be hopeful about Sajid Javid

Last week I wrote about how institutional racism was alive and well, especially in politics and especially at the Home Office. And here we are one week on and we have our first ever ethnic minority Home Secretary. Life comes at you fast these days.

Sajid Javid has a unique opportunity, post-Windrush, to reset the policies and narrative around immigration. Picture: Getty
Sajid Javid has a unique opportunity, post-Windrush, to reset the policies and narrative around immigration. Picture: Getty

Sajid Javid becomes the first person of colour, the first Asian and the first Muslim to hold one of the four great offices of state. They are Prime Minister, Chancellor, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary – and they are all held by people who Theresa May wanted to sack at some point but couldn’t ... #StrongAndStable!

Fifty years on from Enoch Powell’s rivers of blood speech, it’s quite something to see the son of a Pakistani immigrant make it to one of the most important jobs in politics. Or so I thought. Sadly the rabid Twitter mob of the left picked up their pitchforks and got to work. A white Guardian columnist who gushes about social justice and equality slapped me down for saying that maybe, just maybe, having a Home Secretary from a community affected by immigration would be positive step forward. Javid spoke in the Commons about how his family could have been affected by the Windrush scandal.

So much of the policies which emanate from the Home Office affect people of colour, immigrants, minorities and the Muslim population including immigration, criminal justice, preventing terrorism and security issues. How can you say it is not a significant step forward to have someone from the communities affected at the helm? The answer to that is unhinged factionalism of course. “Doesn’t matter if he’s Asian and Muslim ‘cos he’s Tory scum innit?” or, even worse, the old racist line he’s an Uncle Tom to the Tories, or my personal favourite, he’s a coconut or a Bounty Bar – brown on the outside and white on the inside. I get that a lot – especially from the left. It’s nice.

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If you give it the big one about being better humans than the Tories, virtue signal about a kinder, gentler politics and you say things like this about black and brown people because they have the temerity to hold different political opinions to you – have a ****ing word with yourself. The message from the left is “we support some minority groups – only our ones”. So, it was fine to cheer Sadiq Khan on the night he was elected, but it’s not acceptable to congratulate the appointment of Javid. Call me old fashioned, but if you believe in equality and representation, surely it matters and should be recognised in all political parties and in all walks of life – not just in your own bubble? I know, I know ... It’s worth noting that as well as the far-left slagging Javid off for not being brown enough for their liking, the far-right has also had a go at him for being too brown and he has also been getting vast amounts of vile racist and Islamophobic abuse for good measure.

But of course, the making history moment will be soon forgotten and Javid’s success or failure will depend on what he actually achieves as Home Secretary. It’s not all about getting power, it’s what you do with it. Margaret Thatcher led an all-male Cabinet and was no supporter of women’s issues or representation. Javid has a big and dangerous job to do. The Home Office is the most difficult job in British politics – apart from being leader of the opposition – and it has felled many a talented and experienced operator. It is a department where bad news happens all the time and comes out of nowhere.

I worked there as a press officer under Jack Straw and it was a department which was on the back foot all the time and lurching from one crisis to another. John Reid famously called it “not fit for purpose” and he was right. You can argue that the Home Office is too big, spanning police, prisons, immigration, security and all the rest. It could be split but I suspect that won’t happen for a while. So, what should Javid do to make sure he doesn’t end up making history for all the wrong reasons by being one of the shortest lived or worst Home Secretaries?

Sorting out the Windrush scandal and righting the many wrongs is, of course, his first priority and he has pledged to do that, but he must be way more ambitious – and his family background demands it. Immigration is a mess and it needs to be sorted out. He has a unique opportunity post-Windrush, at a time when the public mood towards immigration has softened, to make a bold play to re-set our policies and narrative around immigration.

His background, his position and the fact that he is new give him the perfect moment to do that if he has the guts to stand up to the Prime Minister, who has been responsible for the toxic, hostile climate which has existed for too long. He could make a powerful name for himself and win backing from his colleagues to take her on, especially as she is so weak and personally wounded by the Windrush outrage.

With Brexit coming down the track we need a new immigration policy and now is the time to stand up to her and get some sanity and humanity back into the debate. We need immigration across the whole of the UK – whether it’s to pick our crops, clean our hotel rooms, operate on us in our hospitals, the list goes on. It’s time to have someone who can make the positive economic and cultural case for immigration. I hope he also takes the time to talk to Ruth Davidson and Nicola Sturgeon about the unique challenges that Scotland faces with its falling working population. And as Joanna Cherry QC suggested in the Commons yesterday at his first outing at the despatch box, Javid would be wise to undertake a root-and-branch review of immigration policy, put people ahead of draconian rules, scrap unworkable targets and give assurances to EU nationals who are anxious about their status. She is right of course. I am willing to dare to hope that this historic change of personnel at the Home Office will have some positive effect.

I hope Javid draws from his incredible back story and uses it as a source of empathy and courage, but ultimately it will be his policies that define him. He may well disappoint me – they always do – but I hope our first BAME Home Secretary will genuinely try to be our first humane one too.