Global Britain need not wait to be conjured up by Boris Johnson. It already exists.
Mohammad Sarwar is not among its most fashionable manifestations. The British press, which has difficulty in attending to more than one thing at a time, does not hang on his every word.
Sarwar is described by one who knows him as “a very affable person”, but has never given a memorable speech. He lacks charisma and passed through the House of Commons without making his name.
And yet he has achieved something astounding. After spending 13 years as an MP, he went off and became Governor of Punjab, and now enjoys in the middle of Lahore, surrounded by 80 acres of gardens, an official residence which is said to make Buckingham Palace look like “a suburban villa”.
We have become accustomed to Cabinet ministers such as Rishi Sunak, Priti Patel and Kwasi Kwarteng whose parents moved to the United Kingdom from various parts of the Commonwealth, but in 2013 Sarwar travelled in the opposite direction, and became a senior figure in Pakistani politics.
The two-way traffic between the UK and the former British Empire, so routine in other fields that it attracts no notice, is being re-established in politics, or perhaps had never gone away, but just slipped from view.
In Sarwar’s case, as perhaps in most others, he has not forsaken the UK. His younger son, Anas Sarwar, is frontrunner to become the next leader of the Scottish Labour Party.
Here is a development which will rejoice the hearts of those of us who regard the hereditary principle not merely as inevitable but as beneficial.
No need to distinguish between nature and nurture. If parents pass on their abilities to their children, society is enriched.
In 2010 Mohammad Sarwar passed on his parliamentary seat, Glasgow Central, to his younger son, Anas Sarwar, who could now be about to save the Scottish Labour Party from extinction.
No less a figure than Alan Cochrane, doyen of Unionist journalists, testifies to ConHome that Anas Sarwar is “very good”.
Here at last is a Scottish Labour politician who knows how to carry the fight to Nicola Sturgeon by exposing the grievous damage inflicted on Scotland by incompetent SNP ministers at Holyrood.
Egalitarians who protest at the flying start in Labour politics which young Sarwar got from old Sarwar might pause to consider not only the son’s ability, but the father’s courage.
He was born in 1952 in a village near Lyallpur, now known as Faisalabad, in the Pakistani province of Punjab. His parents had fled in 1947 from what became India. His grandparents and his eldest sister, who was a baby, died on that flight.
When Mohammad was four years old, his father left in search of a better life in Scotland, where he sold goods door to door. Mohammed followed 20 years later and himself became at first a travelling salesman, after which, in order to be considered fit to marry his cousin Perveen, like him a Pakistani Muslim, he took a shop on Maryhill Road, in Glasgow.
With his brother, Mohammad in due course set up a cash and carry business which prospered:
“People who come from Pakistan and from working-class families in other countries know what it means to be poor, and when they come here their priority is to earn some money and send back some to look after their families. They often work seven days a week to start up. Then you make money, and the money you make starts to make money. It is difficult to make the first million, but then the first million makes more.”
In 1984 Sarwar joined the Labour Party and in 1987 he was asked whether he would like to stand for Glasgow City Council in the hopeless ward of Pollokshields East. He ran, cut the Conservative majority from 700 to 70, and five years later won the seat.
While a councillor, he was told of two Glaswegian Asian girls who had been abducted while visiting Pakistan and subjected to forced marriages. A timid man might have reckoned this was a family matter in which it would be safer not to interfere. Sarwar went to Pakistan and secured the girls’ release.
In 1997, he fought the bitter Labour selection battle for the parliamentary seat of Glasgow Govan, with accusations of electoral malpractice flying to and fro.
Sarwar emerged victorious, and was later cleared of all the charges against him, but some observers thought the bloodletting had done such damage that Labour would lose the seat at the general election, especially as Sarwar, who suffered racist abuse and was somewhat wooden in manner, faced a personable young Scottish Nationalist candidate called Nicola Sturgeon.
He beat her by 2,914 votes, becoming the first Muslim MP at Westminster and the first to take the oath on the Koran. He upheld Pakistan’s claim to Kashmir, and the rights of Palestinians, but proved himself “very sound on the extremism issue”, as a Conservative observes.
When a white, 15-year-old boy was murdered in Glasgow by a Pakistani gang, Sarwar went to Pakistan and with great difficulty arranged the extradition of three of the culprits who had fled there.
While still a student in Faisalabad he had met Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, who was Prime Minister of Pakistan from 1973 until overthrown in 1977 in a military coup. Sarwar’s first political campaign in Scotland, a vain one, was for Bhutto to be spared the death penalty, carried out in 1979.
Two decades later, Sarwar got to know Nawaz Sharif, a former and future Prime Minister of Pakistan, and his younger brother Shahbaz Sharif:
Sarwar got to know the Sharifs while they were living in exile in London after the 1999 coup in which they lost power. He is said to have won their gratitude by lobbying for them to remain in the UK.
“Yes, they had some problems when they were first on British soil, but they deserved to stay on merit, and I think they got it on merit,” he says. “I don’t think they are in debt to me, or I got this job because of that reason.”
The job to which he refers is the Governorship of Punjab, a grand ceremonial role which at moments of crisis can become of great political importance.
A previous Governor, Salman Taseer, was in 2011 assassinated by his own bodyguard for denouncing Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.
Sarwar, who had to renounce his British citizenship in order to enter Pakistani politics, held the post of Governor of Punjab from 2013-15, when he fell out with the Sharifs and transferred his allegiance to Imran Khan.
In 2018 Khan became Prime Minister and Sarwar was reinstated as Governor.
Anas Sarwar had meanwhile lost his Westminster seat in the SNP landslide of 2015, had entered the Scottish Parliament in 2016, and in 2017 had failed to become leader of the Scottish Labour Party.
Various atrocious crimes were attributed to him. His parents had sent him to Hutchesons’ Grammar School in Glasgow, an independent school whose alumni include John Buchan and Derry Irvine.
And although Anas had read dentistry at Glasgow University, and had afterwards practised as a dentist for a few years, he was known, thanks to his father’s business career, to be a man of independent means, which was reckoned to be incompatible with being a socialist.
So Labour chose instead the Momentum candidate, the hapless English-sounding Richard Leonard, under whom its fortunes in Scotland continued to decline, with socialist Scots flocking instead to support the SNP.
Anas will not have long to get those voters back before the elections in May. But he is at once more local than Leonard, and more international than Sturgeon.
He will never be able to enter Pakistani politics, for unlike his father he has not spent the first 24 years of his life there. But he might just be able to make Sturgeon, with her desire to rejoin the European Union, look a bit limited, a bit parochial.