It is a sign of the increasingly extremist nature of the Conservative Party that, during its recent leadership contest, the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid was seen as a relative moderate.
In the TV debates, Javid himself made much of his humble origins as the son of a Pakistani immigrant in a deprived part of Bristol. The impression he sought to convey was that of a ‘common man’ made good and seeking the best for ordinary working people. Closer inspection reveals something rather different – and much more troubling, now that Javid has been rewarded with the post of Chancellor after switching his support to Boris Johnson.
Javid is in fact an ardent fan of the extreme ‘free-market’ philosophy expounded by the novelist Ayn Rand in her book The Fountainhead. The novel’s hero is an architect named Roark, portrayed as a superhuman genius. Frustrated by the failure of lesser mortals to follow his precise specifications in building a housing project, Roark dynamites the project and is then prosecuted. In a famous courtroom scene, he proclaims that he would rather go to prison than bow to the will of the crowd. This is a scene that Javid has said he makes a point of reading twice a year.
Some might take this as a sign that Javid would wish to avoid the crowd-pleasing populism of Boris Johnson. But they would be wrong. What Javid – like Donald Trump – admires in the novel is the portrait of a steel-willed individual who is prepared to stop at nothing to get his way, and for whom tooth-and-claw capitalism is the best system because it places the fewest restrictions on such individuals. And if such superhumans need to use illegal or unethical methods to impose their will, what of it?
Javid himself has certainly used some decidedly questionable methods to enrich himself. As Head of Global Credit Trading for Deutsche Bank in Asia, he was responsible for selling vast numbers of collateralised debt obligations (CDOs) – the financial instruments that ended up crashing the global financial system in 2008. Even at the time, these were seen by some as highly risky, but Javid dismissed such concerns, telling Euromoney: ‘As long as investors understand the risk/rewards of an emerging-market CDO, they are very appropriate. Investors are getting a huge amount of leverage and they are comfortable taking the risk.’
Of course, it was the global financial system and investors who took the fall when these products crashed and burned. The costs of bailing out the world banking system were then shifted onto ordinary people, who could least afford these, via austerity programmes in the UK and elsewhere. For his part, Javid reaped very large bonuses from his success in promoting the dodgy financial instruments. Even better, he was able to enjoy these bonuses tax-free, thanks to a tax avoidance scheme known as ‘Dark Blue’ that channelled bankers’ bonus payments through the Cayman Islands.
In the aftermath of the crash, US Senator Carl Levin described Deutsche Bank as a ‘financial snake pit rife with greed, conflicts of interest and wrongdoing’. In many ways, then, it was the ideal training ground for an ambitious Conservative politician, and one who now has the nation’s financial future in his hands as Chancellor in Johnson’s Cabinet of Horrors.