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Sajid Javid a triumph of British multiculturalism, belying ‘rivers of blood’ soothsayers

Sajeda Momin

Published: Updated:

Sajid Javid’s appointment as Home Secretary (Minister) in the British government effectively makes him the most powerful Muslim politician in the West.

He has made history by becoming the first BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) to hold one of the three most important offices of state after the prime minister – the other two being foreign secretary and chancellor of the exchequer – and is symbolic of the successful multiculturalism that the UK has been practicing for the last few decades.

Javid’s elevation to this important post is replete with ironies but the sweetest of them is that he broke this glass ceiling within days of the 50th anniversary of Conservative MP Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of blood’ speech which was considered by many as the “most incendiary racist speech of modern Britain”.

Powell had in April 1968 prophesied that if the UK did not stop the inflow of immigrants from the Commonwealth then “whole areas, towns and parts of towns across England will be occupied by sections of the immigrant and immigrant-descended population” whose presence would trigger race conflicts and rivers of blood to flow.

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Powell called for a reduction in the number of immigrant arrivals and a policy to encourage those already in the UK to return to their country of origin. His speech was much-reviled by the rest of his countryman and his promising political career came to an abrupt end.

Ironically Javid was born in 1969 in Rochdale, Greater Manchester in north west England into the sort of immigrant family that Powell would have liked to have seen sent back to where they came from. His parents, Abdul Ghani and Zubeda Javid came to Britain from Pakistan in 1961 with “just one pound in their pockets”.

Javid’s father worked as a bus driver to feed his family, just like the second most powerful Muslim in the West, Sadiq Khan the Mayor of London.

Sajid Javid left, with Karen Bradley Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Amber Rudd the then Home Secretary, Labor MP Diane Abbott, Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, second right and Labor MP Dawn Butler, right, watch the unveiling a statue of Millicent Fawcettin Parliament Square, London on April 24, 2018. (AP)
Sajid Javid left, with Karen Bradley Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Amber Rudd the then Home Secretary, Labor MP Diane Abbott, Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, second right and Labor MP Dawn Butler, right, watch the unveiling a statue of Millicent Fawcettin Parliament Square, London on April 24, 2018. (AP)

Meteoric rise

The meteoric rise of Javid and Khan, both second generation immigrants, in British politics in less than half a century shows the power of hard-work in a truly multi-cultural society that believes in justice and fair play.

Contrary to critics the duo also prove that Muslims have sufficiently integrated into society and are considered British enough to be voted into Parliament by a non-Muslim electorate. While Javid like Powell is a Tory, Khan is a member of the Labor Party and tipped to one day head his party.

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As Home Secretary Javid will now among other things also be in charge of UK’s immigration policy. He replaces colleague Amber Rudd who was forced to resign for implementing a “hostile” immigration policy put in place by Prime Minister Theresa May during the six years she was the Home Secretary in the David Cameron government.

May could almost be called a latter-day Powell as she too wanted to reduce the numbers of immigrants into the country and create a ‘hostile environment’ for BAME migrants so that they would return “home”.

However when details of denial of rights and harsh treatment of descendents of what is being called the Windrush generation (after the boat Empire Windrush that brought 492 Jamaicans to Britain in 1948) became public, there was a massive public backlash.

London's newly elected mayor Sadiq Khan appears on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show programe in a studio in London, Britain, May 8, 2016. (Reuters)
London's newly elected mayor Sadiq Khan appears on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show programe in a studio in London, Britain, May 8, 2016. (Reuters)

May’s fall-guy

The policy conflicted with the high ideals of equality of treatment, opportunity and justice regardless of race, religion and color that the British pride themselves on and of which Javid and Khan are living examples – so much so that Rudd became May’s fall-guy.

Javid does not share May’s vision and he made that very clear from his first speech in Parliament as Home Secretary when he rejected the polarizing “hostile environment” as “unhelpful, as it doesn’t represent our values as a country” in favour of a “compliant environment”.

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Javid said: “Like the Caribbean Windrush generation, my parents came to this country from the Commonwealth in the 1960s…I thought that it could be my mum, my brother, my uncle or even me” who could be denied their rights and have to prove their status in Britain despite having lived here for 70 years.

Javid is not close to May and has been openly critical of some of her decisions giving credence to some political analysts’ argument’s that May has given him the difficult job in order to see him fail.

Only time will tell who comes out on top, Javid or May. What May cannot take away from Javid is that he has broken so many glass ceilings to get to where he has and the only one left now is for a BAME to become prime minister.

Javid is perhaps best placed to become that too. When that happens Powell will really turn in his grave!