‘Keep going and never accept any limitations’

UNISON women’s conference hears inspiring speech from Rosena Allin-Khan, NHS doctor and MP

Politicians can often seem very distant from the reality of ordinary people’s lives.

But when Tooting MP Rosena Allin-Khan UNISON spoke to women’s conference in Bournemouth this afternoon, she asked to be allowed to tell them her own story.

“I am a proud frontline NHS worker,” she said: “A mum of two tearaway little girls … I want  them to have the very best chance at life.”

Born to a Pakistani father and a Polish mother – that got “a lot of stares at school” – when her mother was left to bring up Ms Allin-Khan and her sister on her own, she had to work three jobs to make ends meet.

A talented pupil, she showed an aptitude for science and decided that she wanted to help other people.

But coming from a “broken home”, she was advised that her chances of becoming a doctor were remote, since the family had no money and she was attending a local comprehensive.

Having initially made a mess of her A levels because of difficulties at home, she was rejected by medical schools after retaking them. Instead, she did a science degree.

Telling herself that “if your mum managed to bring you up and work three jobs”, Ms Allin-Khan refused to give up.

It was suggested that she should apply to a college at Cambridge. She got an interview – and a letter saying she needed to show evidence of having £30,000 because she wouldn’t be able to have a part-time job.

Her remarkable mother got money together – and early idea of crowdfunding – put it in the bank, got a bank statement and then gave the money back to those who had lent it. Armed with the bank statement, Ms Allin-Khan went to her interview and, expecting nothing, managed to simply be herself.

She was awarded a place.

“This Tooting girl, who was told she couldn’t do it, went to Cambridge to read medicine”.

The message is simple, said Ms Allin-Khan: keep going.

But the story doesn’t end there. She entered trauma and emergency medical work – it enabled her to help those who, for instance, had suffered domestic violence. Becoming a humanitarian aid worker was a natural development and saw her travel around the world helping people.

Then, on maternity leave, Ms Allin-Khan was persuaded to stand as a councillor in a seat that had been held by the Conservative Party for many years. Okay, she wasn’t going to win, but “what else do you do on maternity leave?’ she quipped.

But after determinedly knocking on doors, she “won by six votes”.

Then, a little further down the line, it was suggested that she stand for her home Parliamentary seat of Tooting, when it became likely that the incumbent MP, Sadiq Khan, was going to win the London mayoral election.

Now, she is proud to be the elected representative for the area where she grew up.

“Really, what I want to say is that the only limitations we should ever accept are the ones that we ourselves.,” she told delegates.

“So the key is not to place limitations on yourself,” said Ms Allin-Khan, a message roundly applauded by everyone in the hall.