What do you do if you’re being touted as a future Conservative leader? Theresa May and Sajid Javid offer a study in contrasts.
May has an unremarkable back story, at least for a senior Tory politician (though not one without family tragedy: her father, who was a Vicar, was killed in a car crash).
Javid, by contrast, has an unusual one – if, that is, it is peered at through the same political lens. Son of an immigrant from India who arrived in Britain with only a pound in his pocket…local comprehensive in Bristol…makes it to University and into banking…becomes a Vice-President of Chase Manhattan…marries his childhood sweetheart…is appointed to the Cabinet at the age of 44. You know the tale. It is an icon of social mobility.
And it was all going so well until Javid was tipped as a future Conservative leader! To be singled out in this way can be the beginning of the end for an ambitious Tory Minister: some of us still remember the fate of John Moore. It is rather like Long John Silver being tipped the Black Spot in Treasure Island. So how did Javid respond?
He could have reacted by commissioning grand interviews and making even grander speeches: “My vision for 21st century conservatism”….”Aspiration: a theme for our times”…”Perish Eton”…”Beyond Bullingdon” – again, you know the form book.
Instead, the Culture Secretary has simply knuckled down and got on with his job. This morning, the Guardian reports that he has written to Sepp Blatter to urge publication of Michael Garcia’s report into Fifa’s reprehensible conduct over recent World Cup bids. Elsewhere, he has dropped hints that the BBC licence fee could be cut, which will go down well with right-wing party activists, and said that press freedom is a jolly good thing, which will go down well with right-wing newspaper editors. These are not unimportant players in Tory leadership contests. Less conclusively, he is wrestling with the Sisyphus of better broadband coverage.
Theresa May has also got on with her job, and then some. There is one big failure. She will miss her immigration target – and faces a difficult end to the week, since the latest figures are issued tomorrow. But she can scarcely be blamed for this, since she has no control over EU migration. Elsewhere, she has been busy closing bogus colleges, raising income requirements and increasing English language requirements. Then there are the new police commissioners, reform of stop and search, policing reform itself, the deportation of Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada…the Home Secretary has been busy. Though a friend of the European Arrest Warrant (in its reformed shape) she is an enemy of the ECHR.
Until almost two years ago, May kept her head down and herself busy. Then came that speech to the ConservativeHome Conference, setting out her view of the world. It had been preceded by the discreet release of childhood photos – an unmistakable smoke signal of further ambition.
Since then, the Home Secretary has once again, pretty much, got her head bent again over her work and buried herself amidst the unvarying toil of her Department. But once you have issued a signal of intent as a politician, you become fair game. Your every move is pored over. Significance is read into things that are of no significance. Coincidence becomes conspiracy.
And so it is that May began the week on the Marr sofa, is reported to have “given up” on David Cameron (not the kind of incautious expression with which one associates her), faces the immigration statistics tomorrow…and the Spectator political awards at the end of the day. This week, her leadership ambitions are once again the talk of the town.
All this has done her no harm in ConservativeHome’s future party leader poll, in which she battles it out monthly with Boris Johnson for the top slot.
But this is a race that the front runner doesn’t always win. And that is a point that the Culture Secretary seems to grasp.