Sajid Javid: the man who would be prime minister
The FT's politics editor George Parker sketches a profile of Conservative politician Sajid Javid, who seemed set for the sack a year ago but is now thriving as home secretary and has become favourite to succeed Theresa May as UK prime minister.
Filmed by Petros Gioumpasis. Produced by Josh de la Mare. Images and video from Getty, Reuters and Bloomberg.
Sajid Javid is the home secretary, which seems to be teetering on the edge of political oblivion. Only a year ago, Theresa May held a snap general election. She let it be known to everyone at Westminster that Sajid Javid would be for the sack after that election. She felt he'd not done a very good job as the communities minister and Savid Javid himself was ready to pack his bags.
But Theresa May emerged from that election battered and bruised. She was too weak to reshuffle anyone. Sajid Javid survived, and now a year later, he's the bookmakers' favourite to be the next prime minister.
After that general election, Sajid Javid felt he owed Theresa May nothing. He survived as a minister, and he criticised the cult of personality around which the Tory general election campaign had been organised. Nevertheless, his career still looked pretty precarious until the moment when Amber Rudd resigned as home secretary earlier this year.
Theresa May was casting around to try and close down the row about the Windrush scandal, the way the British government had been treating the immigrants who'd arrived on the Windrush boat from the Caribbean and their descendants. And she passed down the cabinet table - a very undiverse cabinet table, it has to be said - and she chose Sajid Javid, the one non-white face around the cabinet, to sort this mess out.
He changed the policy. He ditched the so-called "hostile environment" towards illegal immigrants. And he's questionably got a grip on the home office, establishing himself as his own man. He's never disguised his desire to get the top job in British politics. And now he's got that opportunity.
My parents came to a great country in the '60s. They came from Pakistan to help build this country. I think for them to see one of their sons to rise to this great office of state, I'm sure they'd be very proud. But I haven't called my mum yet. And I will do that later, when you give me a moment.
Sajid Javid was born the son of a Pakistani bus driver, grew up in one of the roughest parts of Bristol. He went to a local comprehensive school, where his careers advisrr told him he should become a television repairman. He ignored that advice. And then he went on to Exeter university, where he read economics and politics.
And from then, he went into the world of banking. He went from Chase Manhattan in New York, and ended up as a managing director of Deutsche Bank, working out of Singapore where it's estimated his earnings at the end reached about £3m pounds a year. He decided to take a fairly substantial pay cut to come and work here at Westminster, standing as Tory candidate in the seat of Bromsgrove in the West Midlands.
Thatcherites in the party loved him for what he said. He was bone dry on economics. People on the left of the party loved him for who he was, the son of an immigrant made good.
Sajid Javid has always been a difficult politician to pigeonhole. And you've seen that during his time, his brief time, at the home office. On the one hand, he's struck some fairly liberal positions. For example, liberalising the British laws on the use of medicinal cannabis, something that Theresa May opposed.
He also persuaded the prime minister to lift the cap on Tier 2 visas. It's the highly skilled visas. That was applauded by the liberals. But at the same time, he courted controversy by deciding that two former British citizens, known as the Isis Beatles, should be allowed to be sent to the United States for trial, even though there was a possibility they could face the death penalty.
The issue of Brexit is one which almost threatened to blow up Sajid Javid's political career. When the referendum happened in 2016 most people assumed that the business secretary at the time would come out against British membership of the EU. That wasn't to be. David Cameron, the prime minister, and George Osborne, the chancellor, called Sajid Javid in for a meeting. They made it absolutely clear there was no way that a business secretary could be on the other side of the argument on Brexit. And reluctantly, Sajid Javid came out as a remainer.
Nine out of 10 economists agree that if we leave the EU, the Treasury would actually be hit. Because we'd have a shock to our economy, which would mean less money coming into the Treasury.
In the end, he earned enmity on both sides of the argument. Pro-Europeans didn't really trust him. And Eurosceptics were furious that a person they regarded to be a Brexiteer had turned his back on the cause.
Now since then, since his arrival at the home office, Sajid Javid has been busy burnishing his Eurosceptic credentials. He joined forces with other Eurosceptics to destroy Theresa May's planned customs proposal in the EU, to the fury of the prime minister. And yet today, many Eurosceptics still believe that Sajid Javid is someone who will swing both ways on this crucial issue in British politics.
And in the end, Sajid Javid is an ambiguous politician. In some respects, that's his strength. With a party as divided as the Conservative party, you need a politician who can span both wings of the party. On the other hand, it's also Sajid Javid's weakness - the view that somehow he's some kind of an opportunist, someone who would jump either way, according to his own political career.
The bookmakers currently have Sajid Javid at about four to one to be the next leader of the Conservative party, just ahead of Boris Johnson or Michael Gove. Can he do it? He's come back from the political dead more than once. He's got an extraordinary backstory. It's within his grasp. He'd be Britain's first non-white prime minister.