OBV Profile: Zehra Zaidi

“I am extremely proud of having been selected by my regional peers to represent our party in the South West” said Zehra after her selection.

Zehra acknowledges that the pending European elections are of immense importance in the future workings of the EU, along with the possible knock on effect. She goes on to add “that these elections will no doubt be the precursor to the general election which looks like taking place in 2010.”

She has already notched up considerable political experience. Currently working in a number of roles within the party including acting as an Advisor & Researcher to Andrew Mitchell MP, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. In the past, she has worked as a Campaign & Research Assistant to Margot James, Conservative Candidate for Stourbridge and Vice-Chair of the Conservative Party for Women and shadowed Neil Parish MEP, Chairman of the European Parliament Agriculture Committee, she is a member of the Advisory Board of the Conservative Candidates Network, and she is also on the Westminster List of Approved Candidates.

However, it is Zehra's all-round ability that sets her apart. She writes a political blog (web address below) and has written articles for a number of Conservative think tanks and groups. She is also an avid campaigner, sitting on the Political Committee of her local Conservative association and has been heavily involved with the nationwide I Want a Referendum Campaign.

Studying European law at Warwick University, which included a year at the University of Lille II in France, seems an understandable place to start in her current journey in becoming a MEP.

Zehra followed this by studying a Masters in Law at the London School of Economics. Zehra goes on to explain that after successfully completing the Legal Practice Course at the College of Law, she began work as a trainee lawyer and then as a qualified solicitor for a top US law firm in London specialising in Mergers & Acquisitions and general corporate law.

She explains that her clients “were mainly multinationals and investment banks and the deals were invariably of a cross border nature.” It was at this law firm that Zehra gained experience of European institutions after having been transferred to the Brussels office to work on EU Competition Law.

Zehra’s passion and drive for social activism led her to seek and gain further experience in human rights and the realms of international development which resulted in her taking on pro bono work for such organisations as the British Council and UNICEF, in areas as diverse as access to justice, governance, gender, humanitarian work, HIV & AIDS and health.

She was subsequently offered the chance of combining her legal and development background as Deputy Director (Legal) at the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan. As well as being Head of the Advisory Wing, she worked on a wide-ranging Asian Development Bank legal and economic reform programme and drafted laws, formulated policy and even advised the Pakistan Government on a Bilateral Investment Treaty with the US. It not surprising that given her background, she speaks a number of languages including fluent French and Urdu as well as Italian.

Zehra’s enthusiasm is coupled with her diligence within her local community and the surrounding area. Taking a keen interest in local issues she currently has a role as school governor of a Gloucester grammar school and trustee for the Forest of Dean Voluntary Action Forum in Gloucestershire.

Zehra’s commitment to civic duty and her local community was illustrated following the floods in Gloucestershire of 2007, when she volunteered to distribute clean water and later went on to support activities to raise money for the flood relief fund. She explained, “My politics is inspired by the work that I have done within the community. I believe in individual and social responsibility.

I have seen through my community and development work how you can make a real difference to people lives.” In the past, she has fundraised for the Leukaemia Care Society, helped set up a charity with friends in Pakistan to provide IT training, library skills, legal advice and language classes (she acted as its Vice-President during its first year of inception) and at the time of the 2005 Asian earthquake, galvanised donations, delivered relief supplies and even helped out a local triage centre.

She gains most of her inspiration for politics close to home. Her paternal great-uncle was a member of the Indian Congress Party and sat in the first ever Lok Sabha (lower House of Parliament) in independent India. He served as Chief Minister of Rampur State and then Vice-Chancellor of the renowned Aligarh University. Zehra tells me how he passed down the values of hard work, public service and standing up for what you believed in. Both her grandfathers were officers in the Imperial Indian Army at a time of great upheaval in the region and she described how she grew upon a diet of foreign affairs and diplomacy!

But despite the legacy passed down by prominent men in her family, it was a woman that inspired her the most and fuelled her interest in social justice - her paternal grandmother. She describes how this incredible woman was widowed at a young age and proceeded to set up a charity in Karachi, Pakistan to empower other women, turning her house into a virtual cottage industry. “The family would visit my grandmother during the summer holidays and I would sit at her feet, watching her in action completely transfixed”.

Zehra acknowledges the importance of engaging young people and people of diverse backgrounds right across the country, which is reflected in her commitment and involvement in two prominent London based programmes - ‘Uprising’ which is aimed at improving youth participation in politics and ‘Gain’ a programme aimed at enhancing diversity in arts, heritage and sporting organisations.

Although Zehra has been selected as a Conservative MEP candidate for the election next year, she is ranked sixth on the party’s list, a seeding which may have dampened her enthusiasm but for no more than a second. Zehra’s inner strength and resolve have made her all the more determined to succeed. “I am grateful and honoured for the opportunity to represent my region, especially as it was the first ever selection I had ever gone for and even if I got six, I was going to make the most of it and soak up the entire experience and I knew that I would be a better politician and person because of it.”

So despite this small barrier Zehra’s upbeat and positive attitude to life has helped and aided her to see this as part of the learning process on her political journey. Within the South West Euro Team, she has been given primary geographic responsibility for Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol and is the regional spokesman for Legal, Constitutional and Home Affairs. She has grasped the reins and fully intends to shape her own destiny, whilst making a positive impact during the ongoing campaign and eventually in Europe as an MEP for her party.

Looking forward her sight is firmly set on her immediate campaign and long-term aims for herself and others. “Let’s see where it takes me. After immersing myself in European issues and campaigning hard for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, I would love to represent the party in Brussels one day or perhaps in Westminster.”

She adds, “I want to continue evolving at the grassroots level, working hard to increase membership and getting our candidates – local, national or European elected. I also want to focus on some issues very close to my heart: fighting poverty both here and abroad, as someone from a state school background making sure that everyone has access to a first class education, stemming the tide of European integration and finding sensitive solutions to combating extremism in the world. But perhaps the most important thing for me is to get more people involved in politics, especially from my own generation and from diverse backgrounds.”