Sajid Javid’s roughest street versus my old cul-de-sac

Sajid Javid is boasting again about growing up in Britain’s most dangerous street. As someone spawned in Britain’s most unremarkable cul-de-sac, I hesitate to join this game of rough roots trumps.

The home secretary is scratching up his image with tales of his tough childhood in Bristol, much to the irritation of people who still live in the street he left decades ago (‘Wake up, we’ve moved on’ – the Guardian, April 20).

Javid is the sort of Tory politician who likes to brag about his gnarly roots. In 2016 he visited Stapleton Road with the political editor of the Sun, pointing out the two-bedroom flat above the family shop where he lived with his family.

As he shapes up for a tilt at the Tory leadership, he is banging on again about Stapleton Road, telling youth workers in east London about the drug addicts who stood near his school gates offering him easy money, and how instead of being a Cabinet minister he could have “turned out to have a life of crime myself”.

Oh, I don’t know, Javid, don’t sell yourself short: being home secretary in a Tory government is just a different shade of criminality; and you did make a pile of easy money doing different sorts of deals in the City.

Sometimes in moments of dull romanticism, I like to think that growing up in a cul-de-sac in the south Manchester suburbs left its mark. Never mind drug addicts at the school gates, you should have seen those parties in the 1970s when everyone got drunk on my dad’s over-powerful home-brewed beer.

My story doesn’t begin or end in that cul-de-sac, where we lived two doors down from the football writer David Meek, although sometimes lately it feels as if I am turning around and around in the pollarded end of the street, still looking for a way out.

Like Javid, I once lived in a rough part of Bristol; like Stapleton Road, Hartcliffe has or had a reputation. Even now if you type that place name into Google, the option to search for “Is Hartcliffe rough?” pops up.

Two years ago, Bristol Live reported that The Groves in Hartcliffe was one of Britain’s most dangerous streets “for violent crimes and sexual offences”.

Still, I don’t want to start a roots brag-off with the home secretary. My only memory of Hartcliffe is a photograph of me riding something (a tricycle, a toy car?) on the roof ‘garden’ of our flat above the Co-op. We didn’t live there for long and ended up in a different road, before heading north to the cul-de-sac a few years later.

According to that report in last Saturday’s Guardian, community leaders, business owners and residents criticised the home secretary for once again boasting about growing up in Britain’s most dangerous street.

Afzal Shah, a Labour councillor quoted in the article, described Stapleton Road as one of Britain’s most vibrant places – “We talk about 91 languages being spoken in Bristol. You can hear most of them here. There is great energy and great potential.”

A more imaginative politician would boast about growing up in a multicultural street of 91 languages. Sadly, as a Tory leader hopeful, Sajid Javid must appeal to the culturally dim backwoods Tory members who decide these matters. That’s why he dusts off that old “toughest street” brag.

Politicians banging on about their background is one of the least appealing games in town. Sajid Javid having once a long time ago lived in a rough part of Bristol isn’t remotely relevant to the present: that bit’s gone – it’s what you’re up to now we’re interested in, mate. Interestingly, he doesn’t boast about reports in the Daily Mail and elsewhere that in his banking days he earned around £3m a year as a managing director of Deutsche Bank.

You can’t deny that Javid has travelled a long way in his life, but he should stop the “my childhood street was rougher than yours” game. It’s long past its brag-by date.

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