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After fighting as a Labour candidate against Francis Maude in 2005, Rehman Chishti was turned by the now Cabinet Office minister – and now sits proudly on the Conservative benches.
Politics was always there in the background. I never saw my father for the first six years of my life. He was in Kashmir in the 1970s, in government, and after the military takeover he came to England in 1978. I joined my father in 1984.
When I was at university I spent time working for an MEP during the summer. Then this opportunity came up to work for Benazir Bhutto as a researcher. My father had worked with her father in the 1970s, so I pitched up to an interview, and the first question I was asked was ‘What can you do for democracy?’. I was 19, in my second year at Aberystwyth reading law, but I always had an interest in international relations.
She once said to me: “Reh, my key to success is perseverance: if you want it, you can make it happen. If you believe it, go for it, and if you believe in it then stand up and fight for it.” She was somebody who fought for what she believed in and paid the ultimate price. She also always made time for the family. No matter what was going on, there was always a date set aside to go to the pictures or for a pizza. Politics is important, but it’s also crucial to make time for family.
My family always voted Labour and they saw Labour as the party which provided hope to people from the minorities and working class backgrounds. In 1997 I was studying A-levels and hearing things like ‘education, education, education’. I bought into that and joined Labour before Tony Blair won the 1997 election.
I fought against Francis Maude in 2005, and I went away from Horsham feeling very disillusioned. Francis and I ended up agreeing on a number of things, and after a lot of soul-searching I decided that Labour was not for me. I saw David Cameron become leader of the Conservative Party and I felt that this party represented the future that I wanted in terms of empowering the community
and giving power back to local people. I had a chat with Francis and explored some more ideas, and then I decided to join the Conservative Party on 13 March 2006.
Yes absolutely. My Labour opponents put a leaflet out saying, ‘Can you trust this man?’. But I had lived in this constituency, I knew the area, I had been on the council, and I got a nine per cent swing and a majority of 8,680.
The first few months were tough. You’ve got constituents wanting help with their concerns, you have to meet your staff, and you haven’t had a holiday for three years – so you’re absolutely shattered. My office is in Abbey Gardens, which is on the other side of the road. I’ve had to time myself to see how long it takes to get from Abbey Gardens to the chamber for a vote.
I was able to show my parents and family that they are repentant sinners. I was brought up to vote a certain way, and then I looked at the bigger picture.