09:07, March 10 188 0 theguardian.com

2019-03-10 09:07:04
Playing politics with the life of Shamina Begum's baby shames us all, Mr Javid

Theresa May famously peddled a story about an illegal immigrant who had won his case because he had a cat and had used article 8 of the Human Rights Act – the right to a family life – to stay in the country.

It wasn’t true but, hey, she didn’t care: she had a point to make about the Human Rights Act and she needed a headline-grabbing story. In the same speech, the then home secretary said: “We must end the Human Rights Act.” As we now know, she, very unfortunately, made it to the office of prime minister.

So step forward “the Saj” – as he may or may not call himself – who has the same ambition and finds himself riding roughshod along the very same Home Office pathway. Sajid Javid couldn’t believe his luck when he didn’t have to invent a cat and was delivered the perfect opportunity to look like the hard man of human rights thanks to Shamima Begum.

The constituency Javid has to appeal to, at the moment, is the handful of people left in the Conservative party. They are the kingmakers here. They loved that fake cat story, so when he had the chance to look tough by saying he would quite illegally revoke the citizenship of Begum and her baby boy he went in hard.

Even the leftiest, the most feminist, even those expert on how girls get groomed, find Begum herself unpalatable. There is little to sympathise with in a woman who joined, and still justifies joining, a death cult responsible for the rape and murder of thousands. I get that she is not Little Orphan Annie. But she is a British citizen – we can’t undo that just because she’s unpalatable. We don’t get to “unBritish” those we don’t like, even if they don’t respect our laws, our values and our idea of the common good. Begum is not other – she is us.

The problem for the home secretary in this whole tragic affair was not Begum herself, though. It was her baby boy, a tiny little cloth-swaddled British citizen. He joined no death cult, he was not unpalatable, or unsympathetic. He had rights that could, and should, have been protected by the Human Rights Act, no matter how much those who want to look hard might want it repealed. His name was Jarrah, and now he is dead.

I am sure that Jarrah was not the first baby last week to die in the Syrian refugee camp where Begum is currently placed. Infant mortality is not uncommon in humanitarian zones. Dying babies pull on the heartstrings of those ringing in to telethons or charity appeals. The great British public feels that we should help stop them dying. The home secretary may very well have the ear of the public in his hard line on Begum, but I don’t think they think her baby should have been be left to die if it could have been prevented – which, of course, he could have at least tried to do.

Politics is rarely admirable at the moment. Pressing on fears and hatred is the quickest way our political actors can get a popularity bump. Divide and conquer isn’t hard – it is the easiest trick in the book if you want to look tough. It is much tougher, in fact, to show humanity, to show that you don’t only care for the popularly vulnerable.

If Javid wanted to act the tough guy, perhaps he could have started by being tough on crime here in the United Kingdom. Perhaps if he were actually made of steel he’d have the guts to explain to the public that to stop blood dripping off knives in London, Birmingham and Manchester we might need to put our hands in our pockets and pay in a little extra to fund our police and our youth services. But he is not tough, he didn’t have a fake cat to lean on, he had a real live boy, and in he leant.

Kindness and humanity are British values. Sajid Javid has shown neither in the pursuit of the hard line. He wanted to appear as if he was taking a no-guts-no-glory approach, Jarrah’s death shows that in fact “the Saj” had neither.

Jess Phillips is Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley

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