Within days of his brutal ejection from the Treasury last year, Sajid Javid was already plotting his path back to the Prime Minister’s side – with the help of his spies within Government and a useful friendship with the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson
Within days of his brutal ejection from the Treasury last year, Sajid Javid was already plotting his path back to the Prime Minister’s side – with the help of his spies within Government and a useful friendship with the Prime Minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson.
Mr Javid had fallen victim to a political assassination in February 2020 by Dominic Cummings, who at the time was still unchallenged as Boris Johnson’s pugilistic No 10 adviser.
Mr Javid had lost a Whitehall guerrilla war with Mr Cummings after the adviser demanded that he sack his Treasury aides and subsume his operation into No 10’s – a move that was designed to leave Mr Javid with no option but to quit.
Now, ironically, he is part of a pincer movement to make Rishi Sunak – his successor and potential future leadership rival – bend to the will of No 10 over how to meet the exorbitant costs of the Covid crisis and social care.
Javid watched and waited as Sunak masterminded the economic response to the pandemic, while Cummings discredited himself with his ‘eye-testing’ Covid road trip to County Durham.
Mr Javid retained a foot in the Government’s inner circle via Mrs Johnson, who used to work for Mr Javid, along with backdoor contacts he had maintained with his old officials at the Treasury. He would also bombard No 10 aides with offers to go on to the airwaves to defend the Government during the many crises that erupted during his sojourn on the backbenches.
It meant that, once Cummings had been ousted in a power struggle with Mrs Johnson in November, Javid featured prominently in Cabinet reshuffle speculation. If Matt Hancock had not resigned, Javid had been expected to replace Gavin Williamson as Education Secretary.
But Mr Hancock’s spectacular implosion over the ‘gropegate’ scandal presented Mr Johnson with an opportunity: Mr Javid was installed as Mr Hancock’s replacement within 90 minutes of his resignation being announced – but only, according to sources, after Mr Javid had agreed to help the Prime Minister to put the thumbscrews on Mr Sunak over the need for a multi-billion-pound health tax.
Mr Javid is the perfect tag-team partner for Mr Johnson: a former Chancellor who had been grappling the issue of social care from within the Treasury as recently as last year, and who had researched the issue at length during his time out of the Cabinet.
Javid watched and waited as Sunak (pictured above after his Mansion House speech earlier this month) masterminded the economic response to the pandemic, while Cummings discredited himself with his ‘eye-testing’ Covid road trip to County Durham
For all No 10’s talk about being ‘in lockstep’ with No 11 during the pandemic, the traditional tensions between Downing Street and the Treasury have started to rise over the costs of the pandemic – as have assumptions that Mr Sunak is Mr Johnson’s heir apparent.
For Mr Johnson, Mr Javid represents a useful counterweight against the institutional might of the Treasury and the electoral charisma of Mr Sunak.
Even before he accepted the job, Mr Javid had told colleagues that increased spending will be needed for social care and the NHS for years to come, and noted that the gap between the Government’s day-to-day spending and revenue has ballooned since he left the Treasury. Mr Javid also spent his time in the semi-wilderness researching several different countries’ approaches to tackling the pandemic for the Harvard Kennedy School of government.
His allies say that Mr Javid has even raised the prospect of using ‘wealth taxes’ on properties, higher business rates or other assets to pay the bills – a move that is usually anathema to traditional Conservatives – in addition to new internet and environmental taxes, despite being hemmed in by the ‘tax lock’ in the Tory manifesto, pledging not to raise VAT, income tax or National Insurance.
An ally of Mr Javid said: ‘Saj is aware that the rich have suffered much less during the pandemic, and that it has been a great unequaliser: their asset prices have risen, so it makes sense to raise the money there. He wouldn’t necessarily even rule out a “windfall tax” on people who had done well in the pandemic.’
For Mr Johnson, Mr Javid represents a useful counterweight against the institutional might of the Treasury and the electoral charisma of Mr Sunak
A Government source said: ‘Sajid kept up his sources in the Treasury – basically Rishi’s current officials – and has kept a close eye on the public finances. He would also hold informal talks with Rishi.
‘He has been pretty close to No 10 over the year, and the contacts stepped up when Cummings left.
‘He had also earned himself credit through the dignified nature of his departure and his refusal to hit back when Cummings attacked him.’
By way of contrast, Mr Sunak has been discomfited by praise heaped on him in recent months by Mr Cummings for his stewardship of the economy, giving the – false – impression that the Chancellor is an ally and admirer of the former adviser.
An MP close to Mr Javid said: ‘Saj is acutely aware that even the suggestion of taxing assets will infuriate parts of the Tory Party and that the next big political tension will be over the concept of “who pays” – with a phalanx of Northern MPs trying to tax the Southern MPs to death and fierce opposition from the shires.’
The MP added: ‘Tax rises would be incredibly difficult, but you could probably get people to back one for social care – a hypothecated health tax – if it was sold to them in the right way.’