Sajid Javid may have the unenviable job of being chancellor – but he still managed to dodge the worst posts in cabinet

Taking Boris Johnson’s lead by waxing lyrical about believing in Britain when the roof is falling in won’t get him far. But other cabinet members may have a bigger task on their hands

James Moore
Thursday 25 July 2019 13:07
Boris Johnson holds his first cabinet meeting

The government’s economic portfolios? They’re the ones most likely to get bitten by the reality of the no-deal Brexit our new prime minister is apparently set upon. And they aren’t the prizes they might seem to be.

Still, let’s at least credit BoZo the clown with getting one thing right now he’s taken up residence in No 10. He’s appointed the ideal chancellor for creating the magic money trees we were told we were told didn’t exist.

Sajid Javid will need Dumbledore on his side to fund the eye-popping tax and spending pledges Boris Johnson has made while at the same time proposing to crater the economy.

Failing that, a conjuring trick or two might well be necessary to keep hold of the No 11 flat. People who cut their teeth in the casino capitalist world of investment banking have proven to be rather good at the creation of mirages. Javid is an alumnus of Deutsche Bank, whose bosses infamously recently got fitted for fancy suits while sacking loads of people. There’s a metaphor there.

Much is made of the chancellor’s background story because it’s genuinely inspiring and allows right wing politicians to say look, see, opportunity Britain really works, despite the overwhelming dominance of white male public schoolboys elsewhere in public life (just look at Javid’s new next door neighbour).

The Rochdale-born son of an immigrant from Pakistan who worked as a bus driver is the first Muslim to serve as chancellor, the second great office of state he’s held.

He’s also the first banker for more than a quarter of century to hold the job. There might be a reason for that. The last one was Norman Lamont. His tricks didn’t entertain for long. He told us he was singing in his bath when the UK crashed out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism. His reputation didn’t survive that. The European problems that bedevilled his undistinguished predecessor will also likely trash Javid’s. Perhaps he could borrow the now Lord Lamont’s rubber duck?

If he chooses to compose a ditty in the tub by following Johnson’s lead and talking a lot of crap about optimism and believing in Britain when the roof is falling in, he’s going to find it a lot harder to escape the fall out than the last lot of bankers to crater the economy.

I’m talking here about the ones who trotted up before select committees to claim they couldn’t possibly have foreseen the credit crunch, which became the financial crisis, even though their institutions had been spreading financial poison around the world for years

Still, if chancellor is an unenviable post in the current climate, it isn’t the worst. Oh no siree.

The new business secretary, Andrea Leadsom, has the difficult job of following Greg Clark, who was popular with that constituency and quietly effective at making its case in cabinet.

The business community will make nice with her at first because it would really rather work with rather than against the government of the day.

The goodwill won’t last long if Leadsom, who has positioned herself as a hard-line Leaver, adopts the hectoring tone she’s been fond of and decides to tell business what’s good for it.

The responsibility of explaining why the party of business is skewering business still isn’t the worst, however.

That’s been handed to born again hardline fruit loop Brexiteer Liz Truss, who had high hopes of snaffling the flat that Javid has moved into. Instead she’s been handed the Department for International Trade, which was created for Liam Fox. It might be the most poisonous of poisoned chalices.

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Fox, the man who claimed a deal with the EU would be the “easiest thing in human history”, went on an interesting journey during his recent stint in government. Always a committed Brexiteer, he nonetheless became an unlikely voice of Brexit reason during the Tory leadership campaign, exposing Johnson’s WTO fantasies for the rubbish they were and embarrassing him in the process at the cost of his job.

How’d that happen? Reality. While in post, Fox promised, and tried desperately, to get a shopping trolley full of trade deals Britain currently enjoys through its EU membership rolled over. He failed.

International trade is delicate and fiendishly complex and Britain suffers from a dearth of expertise because it’s something it hasn’t had to worry about for 40 years. The EU has handled it very successfully. Combine that with the perilously weak bargaining position the UK has and Truss is going to run into the same problems as her predecessor did.

The trouble for her is that BoZo and his acolytes are under the impression that it should be easy, and that with just a little bit more moxie and Johnson juice it will be.

Care to guess who’s going to carry the can when it proves otherwise? (Clue: it won’t be BoZo). Truss is facing a car crash. So is the country. What else did you expect with gruesome Grant Shapps taking over from calamity Chris Grayling at transport?

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