David Cameron’s secret weapon against jihadis
Published by The Mail on Sunday (26th July, 2015)
It was billed as one of David Cameron’s most important speeches since entering Downing Street, with tough talk on tackling Islamic extremism and ‘the failures of integration’.
Now The Mail on Sunday can reveal that the Prime Minister’s controversial words on the alienation felt in some communities were shaped by a British Asian aide who admits struggling with his own ethnic identity in the past.
Ameet Gill, born to parents who arrived in Britain as impoverished teenage migrants from rural India, has become one of Mr Cameron’s most trusted advisers since joining his team nine years ago.
The 32-year-old former speechwriter was promoted to No 10’s director of strategy after the General Election. It gives him daily access to the Prime Minister, making him the most influential figure from an ethnic minority background in British politics.
Gill’s background – a testimony to the success of so many immigrant families – ensures he stands out among the elite clique of Cameron advisers dubbed ‘the chumocracy’.
‘I understood these issues of identity and cohesion because I know what it is like to grow up in Britain dealing with them,’ he has told friends.
‘Sometimes you feel British, sometimes you feel Indian, sometimes you feel nothing, and if there was an ideology such as Islamic State around for others like me when I was a teenager, I’ve no doubt some of my friends might have been attracted to it.’
This influence could be seen in David Cameron’s speech last week, which spoke about how jihadis could offer ‘a sense of belonging’ that some young people lack at home, leaving them susceptible to violence against other Britons ‘to whom they feel no real allegiance’.
Gill grew up in Banbury, Oxfordshire, to parents who had an arranged marriage in India aged just 15. Shortly afterwards, his father Darshan, who had only rudimentary education, arrived in Britain to take a job in a car-parts factory.
Darshan was joined a few years later by his wife Parminder, who went on to spend 35 years working in a cardboard-box factory. Her family had previously lost everything fleeing Pakistan in the violence that flared during the partition of India.
The couple, who had three girls before Ameet was born, spoke Punjabi at home. Their sole family holiday was a trip back to India to see relatives.
Yet they saved hard to send Ameet and one of his sisters to private school. He ended up studying history on a scholarship at Oxford before working as a researcher for television historian Niall Ferguson, while his siblings went on to work in medicine and law.
Despite his happy family background, Gill has told friends he felt the tensions of growing up with dual identities as a second-generation Briton. He has discussed the strains of living with an Indian background at home while fitting in with a Western lifestyle and friends at school.
Downing Street insiders say his background brings ‘a different perspective’ to Cameron’s inner circle, which has been criticised for containing a number of old friends, several of whom also went to Eton.
Having seen the struggles of his own family, Gill was also behind Cameron’s speech last month attacking the ‘ridiculous merry-go-round’ of taxing low-earners, then giving them money back in benefits.
This was followed by George Osborne’s Budget assault on tax credits, combined with the introduction of a living wage – a key plank in the ‘One Nation Conservatism’ designed to seize the centre ground amid Labour’s meltdown.
Gill was shocked that his first £1,500-a-month pay cheque as a researcher fresh out of university was larger than the monthly sum earned by his mother after almost four decades working long hours in factories.
He told one friend at a drinks party last week that these were the sorts of hard-working families the party focused on in the General Election campaign and had to keep supporting in government.
His parents wanted him to be a doctor or engineer. They are not political and traditionally voted Labour, although his father – who later set up a building firm – supported the Tories under Margaret Thatcher before switching back when Tony Blair came along.
Gill also started out as a Labour supporter, attracted by a party under Tony Blair which understood ‘the aspirational classes’.
Although now on the liberal wing of the Tory Party, he was among the first in Cameron’s circle to flag up the issue of immigration. ‘People I know with brown faces are being attracted by Ukip. Something is going horribly wrong,’ he told the Prime Minister last year.
But Gill is known to have had qualms with the subsequent tone of some Tory tactics during the fight to see off Nigel Farage’s forces. The party later softened its approach.
The adviser used to date Thea Rogers, a former BBC television producer who is now the Chancellor’s chief of staff. They split up last year, although remain close friends and powerful political allies at the heart of Downing Street.