Sajid Javid has announced that he will stand down as a Conservative MP at the next election. Although he claimed this decision is one he has ‘wrestled with for some time’, he says that Tory MPs being asked to declare by next Monday whether they want to stand at the next election has pushed him to make his choice public. The Prime Minister Tweeted that he was ‘sad’ to see his ‘good friend’ – and former boss – leave politics, and for ‘the Force [to] be with’ his fellow Star Wars fan.
In that reference to a galaxy far, far away perhaps lies some explanation in why Javid has made this choice. In his twelve years so far, he has had a busy political career. Having first reached the junior ranks of the Treasury in 2012, he has been Secretary of State for Culture, Business, Housing, the Home Office, and Health, as well as serving as Boris Johnson’s first Chancellor of the Exchequer. In government and on the backbenches, he has championed important causes, as his recent house-building article for The Sunday Times highlighted.
Yet even with a political career played at such a high speed, Javid has still found himself over-taken by his juniors. It took Rishi Sunak four years from becoming an MP to being Javid’s number two as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. When Javid resigned rather than accept a Number 10 demand about his advisers, Sunak found himself delivering his erstwhile superior’s budget – and as the heir apparent to the Tory crown.
Like Sunak, Javid has fought two Tory leadership elections. Well, three, if you count the 2016 one where he stood as Stephen Crabb’s Chancellor-designate in a no-hope modernizer twosome. In those campaigns for which Javid has had top billing, he finished fourth in 2019, and withdrew before he could be nominated earlier this year. Despite his resignation emerging before Sunak’s, it was the younger man who MPs flocked to – even if party members didn’t share their enthusiasm.
This is no surprise. Sunak spent much longer than Javid as Chancellor and was catapulted into the public spotlight by Covid. Javid’s time at the top table has ensured he can rival Sunak in name-recognition amongst voters. Yet his failure to gain traction in 2019 and subsequent double departure from the Cabinet forever marked him, however unfairly, as yesterday’s man. Obi-Wan Kenobi had to give way so that Luke Skywalker could truly flourish. For a man as career-orientated as Javid, he must know his moment has passed.
Still, Javid’s departure from the Commons is a shame. His most notable achievement in government may well have been to appoint Andrew Bailey. This was a decision with which I have little sympathy. Nonetheless, having occupied so many Cabinet roles, he was well-placed to provide advise to current ministers, pointed out what had been tried or could have been done differently. Although his choice to jump on the Truss bandwagon hindered his entering government under Sunak, he still has more to contribute.
He joins 12 Tory MPs are set not to stand again at the next election. Whilst Dehenna Davison, poster child of the 2019 intake, may be unusual in leaving the House because she hasn’t had the “normal life for a twentysomething”, other members who joined in and around 2010 – like Andrew Percy, Chloe Smith, and Nigel Adams – claim it is because just over a decade of service is the right time. In that sense, their choice can be portrayed as a conscious effort to hand the baton over to a new generation.
A nice sentiment, but not a wholly convincing one. Javid is 52. Percy is 45, Smith is 40, and Adams is 55. One hardly expects them to imitate Churchill and to be hobbling around the Commons into their 90s. But in ages past one would have expected such figures, in the prime of their lives, to have hung around a little longer. This has a long been a concern of our Editor. As MPs fall behind comparable occupations in their pay, and the demands of the job become heavier, the role loses its attraction – especially if the hard slog of opposition beckons.
The obvious solution is to reverse the trend of the last two decades, pay MPs more, and encourage them to hold second roles – or watch as forty or fifty-somethings who can have a nicer career in the private sector do so. Javid might be the biggest name to announce his departure so far from the Commons, but he won’t be the last. Hopefully any future role outside of politics can be combined with an appointment as Lord Javid of Bromsgrove – if Labour haven’t abolished the upper House by then.