“Rajnikan and Rajnikant
Were offered a bleak choice.
They were asked if opposites
Could speak with just one voice
They said it was impossible
They were an Indian pair
Though one said ‘Can’t’ and one said ‘Can’
Throughout their sacred nation’s span
Of history contradiction was the plan
Of classical despair....”
From Hey Bhagwan What About Hindustan by Bachchoo
This week, amid a lot of manufactured enthusiasm, Theresa May, the hanging-by-a-thread Prime Minister of the UK, announced a Cabinet reshuffle. In the Brexit referendum she was a “Remainer” but switched sides to gain the leadership. She then recruited with one exception, leaders of the “Leave” campaign to high Cabinet positions and there they’ve stayed.
These “leavers” are not prophets who see great prosperity for the population after leaving the EU, but calculating politicians appealing to the “little Britain” lobby, the straightforward xenophobes, others who hark back to an era of Britain’s haughty imperial independence and still others who are intellectually challenged and bought the lying promise that milk and honey would flow if they voted “leave”.
Theresa, trapped in the divided politics of the Tory Party announced this reshuffle promising that her Cabinet would reflect contemporary Britain. That was the PR. Her arithmetic didn’t stretch to appointing 48 per cent of Remainers to her Cabinet to reflect the way the country voted in the referendum. It only meant more women and some token ethnic minority MPs would be promoted to junior, by and large token positions.
The Big Brexibeasts stayed firmly in place.
The pledge to appoint women ended up in two more being recruited to the ranks of the senior Cabinet and three ethnic-minority-wallahs being given positions in junior roles.
Starting with the premise that all politicians in a democratic system are hustlers, from Brutus and Cassius to Boris Johnson and Michael Gove (both waiting with knives in their cloaks), we can make an assessment of the rise of the British Asians to positions of some stamp if not actual power.
Sajid Javid retained his position as the Cabinet housing minister. Sajid and his brother Atif are the sons of a Mirpuri father who came to Britain and got employment as a bus driver. They studied, worked hard and both brothers went into investment and finance. It is not surprising that Sajid landed up in the Tory Party and made his way in it. What is surprising is that while he is minister for housing with recently renewed pledges from Theresa May to spend government subsidies of billions of pounds on new housing, she has nominated Sajid. One of his responsibilities will be to put restrictions on the rented housing sector.
The press is beginning to wonder if this is a wise PR choice as Atif Javid runs a property company, which runs a fund for buy-to-let customers. There is no conflict of interest so far. But will the brothers remain friends?
The sons of Pakistani bus-drivers and conductors have done well. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan is one such and Zubin Mehta.... er..no sorry, wrong kind of conductor!
After the Second World War two historical trends entered the definition of Britain. The electorate who had fought for King and country voted in a Labour government, defeating the war hero Churchill.
Labour reformed education and health provision for all and there was born an optimism that the rigidities of class would be eroded.
The aspiration and the provision of some opportunity resulted in the partial rise of a meritocracy with the sons and daughters of the working class going to universities and occupying the professions.
At the same time, coincident with decolonisation, the reluctance of the British working class to undertake the jobs at the bottom of the employment ladder, made space for immigration from the colonies. The Javid brothers and Sadiq are evidence of the ambition of immigrants to use the meritocratic climbing frame to get into the professions and succeed in politics.
Priti Patel, a Tory minister who resigned because of indiscretion and maverick conceit last year, is also a product of this meritocratic trend. Her parents were, or possibly still are, Gujarati corner-shop owners.
Two new additions to the junior ranks of the Tory cabinet are Nusrat Ghani and Suella Fernandes. Nusrat is an apparatchik in the department of transport and Fernandes has been assigned to the Brexit department to lend weight to the team stuck in the quicksand of negotiations with the EU, with British business and with dissenters within her party.
Neither Ghani nor Fernandes were born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouths. Ghani is the daughter of immigrants from Mirpur and Fernandes is the daughter of parents who came to Britain from India via Kenya after the nationalist African governments began purges of Asians.
Ghani and Fernandes espoused the competitive, rewards-for-achievers Tory ideology, presumably through privations and aspirational promptings of their immigrant backgrounds.
Ghani stood in 2010 for election in Birmingham Ladywood, a constituency with a large Muslim working class population and lost to Shabana Mahmood, the Labour party candidate. In the 2015 election she won a parliamentary seat from the constituency of Wealden.
Suella Fernandes stood as Tory candidate in 2005 in Leicester, another constituency where the ethnic vote is decisive and lost to Keith Vaz, an Indian Christian. She went on to be nominated as a candidate for Fareham in Hampshire, a very white constituency, in 2015 and was duly elected.
Wealdon and Fareham are constituencies which have negligible numbers of ethnic voters. They are inclined to vote Tory. The election of Ghani and Fernandes indicates that these Tory constituencies are voting on ideological lines and don’t care if the Tory candidate is a woman, is brown, black or is a transgender Walrus.
The same can’t be said of very many Labour constituencies with ethnic MPs who are elected with substantial appeals in their manifestoes to their religious affiliations (almost inevitably to Islam) and their ethnicity. But that’s another story = and worth telling.