As I sit on the train on my way to Birmingham, I look down at the notes in my lap. My destination? The main stage at the Conservative Party conference. My job? To introduce Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, the man in charge of the entire British Army.
I read through my preparations: “From working in my family kebab shop to becoming one of the first women to go through SAS selection training...”
I was always the rebel of the family. I refused to confirm to the expectations of a normal Muslim girl: I wouldn’t wear my head scarf, I studied art rather than science and English, and I sidestepped an arranged marriage.
My parents never did understand why there were no takers for their dutiful daughter who could cook and sew. Little did they know I forged the application form describing myself as a 48-year-old divorcee with four children. Some things parents just don’t need to know.
When my brothers and sisters found out I had been hired by the British Army and had been secretly training with the SAS, they said: “Typical Azi.” I never actively tried to trail blaze; I just wanted a bit more out of life.
For me, Britain has always been a country of opportunity, where you are not judged by where you come from or what you look like or how you speak. And even if you are, you can still achieve. There might be a few stumbles and trips along the way. The door might have to be shoved rather than gently tapped open. But, so long as you graft – and that’s in my blood – then you can get there.
I return to my notes: “I am so pleased to have helped pave the way for women to fight on the frontline for the British Army…”
As I think about the other Conservative MPs I will be addressing – and the Prime Minister, too – my mother’s face floats before me. My willingness to break a few eggs to make an omelet comes from her. A die-hard Margaret Thatcher fan, she arrived in Britain from Pakistan in the 1960s as an illiterate child bride. She had two things to do for the rest of her days: be a dutiful wife and mother. There were no other options.
Had she stayed in Pakistan that would have been her entire life. But, instead, she arrived here. She saw a woman take charge of the entire country – the daughter of a green grocer, a mother of two, a grafter no less – and she thought, “here I can be more”.
Borrowing my school library card, my mother taught herself to read and write using Ladybird books. She got her independence by jumping on and off buses and getting lost. She built and built, and grafted, and served and learned until she ended up running a kebab shop and managing staff, and out-earned her husband in his own butcher’s shop too.
The 6 most important issues Theresa May needs to address
The 6 most important issues Theresa May needs to address
The big one. Theresa May has spoken publicly three times since declaring her intent to stand in the Tory Leadership race, and each time she has said, ‘Brexit means Brexit.’ It sounds resolute, but it is helpful to her that Brexit is a made up word with no real meaning. She has said there will be ‘no second referendum’ and no re-entry in to the EU via the back door. But she, like the Leave campaign of which she was not a member, has pointedly not said with any precision what she thinks Brexit means
2/6 General election
This is very much one to keep off the to do list. She said last week there would be ‘no general election’ at this time of great instability. But there have already been calls for one from opposition parties. The Fixed Term Parliaments Act of 2010 makes it far more difficult to call a snap general election, a difficulty she will be in no rush to overcome. In the event of a victory for Leadsom, who was not popular with her own parliamentary colleagues, an election might have been required, but May has the overwhelming backing of the parliamentary party
Macbeth has been quoted far too much in recent weeks, but it will be up to May to decide whether, with regard to the new high speed train link between London, Birmingham, the East Midlands and the north, ‘returning were as tedious as go o’er.’ Billions have already been spent. But the £55bn it will cost, at a bare minimum, must now be considered against the grim reality of significantly diminished public finances in the short to medium term at least. It is not scheduled to be completed until 2033, by which point it is not completely unreasonable to imagine a massive, driverless car-led transport revolution having rendered it redundant
4/6 Heathrow expansion
Or indeed Gatwick expansion. Or Boris Island, though that option is seems as finished as the man himself. The decision on where to expand aviation capacity in the south east has been delayed to the point of becoming a national embarrassment. A final decision was due in autumn. Whatever is decided, there will be vast opprobrium
5/6 Trident renewal
David Cameron indicated two days ago that there will be a Commons vote on renewing Britain’s nuclear deterrent on July 18th, by which point we now know, Ms May will be Prime Minister. The Labour Party is, to put it mildly, divided on the issue. This will be an early opportunity to maximise their embarrassment, and return to Tory business as usual
6/6 Scottish Independence
Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP are in no doubt that the Brexit vote provides the opportunity for a second independence referendum, in which they can emerge victorious. The Scottish Parliament at Holyrood has the authority to call a second referendum, but Ms May and the British Parliament are by no means automatically compelled to accept the result. She could argue it was settled in 2014
Britain and its tapestry of opportunities gave her the chances, and she did the rest. The British Army helped me, her daughter, to find myself and build a whole new career. If, by speaking about my story, I can even help turn one young person on to those possibilities then my work will be done.
Today I have that chance on the main stage in Birmingham. I slice my way through the hustle and bustle of the city and head to the conference building in my jeans, wheeling a small case with my suit, make up and court shoes inside. I’m ready to wear the suit – but when I do, I’ll be telling my own story.Reuse content