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Sajid Javid: the ‘rags to riches to politics’ Tory leader contender

Former health secretary got an ‘early start’ on the ‘leadership jostling’

Before Boris Johnson made his resignation speech today, speculation over who might take his place as leader of the Conservative Party was already rife.

The former health secretary Sajid Javid was the first of Johnson's top cabinet ministers to resign this week, handing his letter to Johnson on Tuesday evening. In doing so, he may have earned himself "early start" in the leadership race, said the i news site.

Who is Sajid Javid?

Javid’s story is one of “rags to riches to political power”, said lecturer in political science Parveen Akhtar at The Conversation

Javid has spoken about how his father Abdul came to the UK from Pakistan at 17-years-old with a “£1 note in his pocket”. Abdul gained employment in Rochdale, where Javid was born, as a cotton mill worker and then a bus conductor, before the family moved to Bristol. 

The future politician and his four brothers were raised in a two-bed flat on Bristol's Stapleton Road, which Javid would later describe as Britain’s “most dangerous road”. It was there that his mother, Zubaida, ran a market stall selling handmade clothes before opening up her own shop. 

Javid attended a comprehensive school in Bristol, and told the Evening Standard in 2012 that “some people, in a friendly way, tried to lower my expectations”. Undeterred, Javid rejected the suggestion that he become a “TV repair man” and instead pursued his goal to work in the City, said the BBC. His interest in financial markets was “sparked by the Thatcher government’s privatisations”, and he reportedly became a “regular reader” of the Financial Times as a teenager.

Javid was the first person in his family to go to university. He studied economics and politics at Exeter University, and met his future wife, Laura, at 18-years-old, while the pair were both working summer jobs at Commercial Union. They now have four children together. 

Javid has been described by Politico’s Jack Blanchard as having “fought his way up from the toughest streets in England to earn £3-million-a-year at Deutsche Bank”. After graduating, he moved to America and by 25-years-old, he had become vice-president at Chase Manhattan Bank. 

He later moved to Singapore while working with Deutsche Bank, where he became managing director before he left finance for politics in 2010 – “a move which reportedly saw him take a 98% pay cut”, said Akhtar. 

Javid’s parliamentary career

The politician was a supporter of the Conservative Party from the early 1980s. “Despite being diehard fans of Margaret Thatcher”, he and fellow Tory MP Robert Halfon “got in a bit of trouble” at the 1990 party conference when they distributed leaflets opposing the then prime minister’s decision to join Exchange Rate Mechanism, said the BBC.

Twenty years later, he was first elected to parliament. He became MP for Bromsgrove in 2010, and began his ministerial career with roles in the Treasury. He became culture secretary in 2014, and was the first person of colour to hold “one of the ‘Great Offices of State’”, said Politics.co.uk.

“It was a surprise to many” that Javid called for the UK to remain in the European Union in 2016. He was “on the losing side” of the referendum, and “there was an ill-fated and very short-lived bid to succeed David Cameron” on a “joint ticket” with Stephen Crabb, said the BBC.

Two years later, Javid “put his head above the parapet during the Windrush scandal to say ‘it could have been me’”, reported the Evening Standard at the time. He succeeded Amber Rudd as home secretary following the scandal, appointed by then prime minister Theresa May, before running for the Tory party leadership in 2019. Javid came in fourth behind runners-up Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove, and was promoted to chancellor by the contest’s victor, Boris Johnson.

“His appointment is set to herald a significant fiscal loosening”, said the Financial Times at the time. He is “the ideal chancellor for creating the magic money trees we were told we were told didn’t exist”, said James Moore in The Independent. But he would hold the position for just six months. Javid resigned in February 2020 following tensions between himself and Johnson’s then-adviser Dominic Cummings. He returned to the backbenches, and took up a role at financial giant JPMorgan. 

Javid was appointed health secretary in June last year following the resignaton of Matt Hancock over a breach of Covid restrictions, giving up his financial pursuits in doing so. He resigned from the cabinet on Tuesday evening, and delivered a personal statement at Prime Minister’s Questions the following day in which he made apparent that he believed other ministers should follow his example.

Leadership chances

Javid and Rishi Sunak are among “the favourites” in the “leadership jostling”, said The Guardian. Javid “bolstered his credentials as a candidate” on Tuesday by resigning minutes before the chancellor, who could be his fiercest competition. 

The MP for Bromsgrove “made an early start” in the contest when he “set out his stall to Conservative MPs” in his resignation speech in the House of Commons the following day, said the i news site. He described himself as a “team player” and said he would “never risk losing my integrity” during his parliamentary career.

The Guardian reported that MPs believe Javid is “the most organised in terms of having a team and an offering”. And though he falls slightly behind Sunak in public popularity, according to YouGov data, his constituents believe he could “do the right thing for the country”, as one Bromsgrove local told the BBC yesterday.

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