Author Archives: Merlene Emerson

The Chinese are coming!

Vince in ChongqingChinese Premier Li Keqiang left on Monday this week on a 5 day visit to Britain and Greece.  With him, according to the press, is a 200 strong business delegation, expected to sign up some £18 billion worth of deals.

Just over 2 weeks ago, I was part of Business Secretary Dr Vince Cable’s business delegation to China, taking in 5 cities in 6 days.  Vince was scheduled to be in Beijing to attend UK-China Joint Economic & Trade Committee (JETC) talks with his opposite number, Mr Gao HuCheng, the Minister of Commerce.

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Chinese Liberal Democrats publish e-book on twinned cities

In today’s globalised world, twin city links with China can be profitable bridges between knowledge economies if approached in a creative way by local Councils, business clusters, educational institutions and research establishments working together.  But there are many pitfalls and long-term, multi-layered commitments, leveraging existing core strengths, are required to make them work.  This report by the Chinese Liberal Democrats is a useful handbook on how 21st century twin city-led partnerships can bring valuable results in trade, investment, science and education.

Richard Pascoe- Executive Director, Great Britain China Centre

I  welcome this interesting report.  Twinning links with China, with political leadership

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Launch of EMLD Achievement Awards

It was an idea hatched on a train journey a few months ago whilst travelling with colleagues to an EMLD executive meeting. At our Annual General Meeting last month the hosting of the “EMLD Achievement Awards” as a way of recognising and rewarding those who have fought for and championed race equality in the UK received the approval and endorsement of our members.

There is currently a Federal Party award, the “Dadabhai Naraoji Award”, given to the local party that is the most successful in its outreach to the BAME communities but it was felt that EMLD as an organisation would …

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Opinion: Yin and Yang in China

Images of Mayor Boris Johnson and Chancellor George Osborne in China have featured large in the media over the last week. They have been dubbed Yin and Yang: Boris must be Yin, the softer, cuddlier one, the one that makes school girls giggle over references to Harry Potter and his first girl friend, and Osborne, Yang as he tackles tougher subjects, such as going nuclear with China.

In fact critics such as Will Hutton have been less kind and have instead suggested that the duo have sold out and opened the UK to all manner of risks …

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Conference: Emergency Motion – Home Office Immigration Poster Vans and Attitude to Migrant Communities

Go Home Poster VanI was a witness at an Immigration tribunal hearing earlier this year for a friend. Let’s call her Little Red. She came to the UK from China as a masters student and worked for the NHS on graduation. But following a painful divorce she found she no longer had the right to work and live in the UK. Little Red has appealed the Home Office’s decision but is still waiting for an answer. Hers is merely one case in half a million back log of cases currently with the Home Office or in the appeals system.

At a packed meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration at the House of Commons on 9th July, I met a Welsh lady who had responded to their enquiry. She recently became a grandmother and her new grandson was only two weeks old at the time. But as her daughter did not earn more than £18,600 per year, she could not sponsor her non-EU spouse under the Family Migration Rules that came in a year ago. It was heart breaking to see a young family torn apart.

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Opinion: More than a Fly on the Great Wall

Great Wall of ChinaLast November I blogged here about my trip to China shortly before the Chinese leadership handover at the 18th Party Congress.  On Sunday 17 March that hand over was finally completed with Xi JinPing installed as President and Li Keqiang as Premier of the world’s emerging second super power.

China watchers have been keen to study the background of these two men to predict the future direction of the Chinese Communist  Party under  their leadership.  Their fluency in the English language and easy manner might suggest that they are more westernised hence would be “modernisers” or “reformers”.   I believe it is still early days to be using such labels.

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A postcard from… China: a fly on the Great Wall

Great Wall of ChinaIt was not my first visit to China (in fact my third time climbing the great wall) but certainly the most intense: ten days from 22nd October to 1st November.  Along with 26 other Overseas Chinese delegates involved in politics from eight nations in Europe and Africa, I was on a study visit at the invitation of the Chinese Government on the eve of the 18th Peoples’ Congress.

Amongst our number were an MP from South Africa, an ex-Minister from Mauritius, a special advisor to the Mayor of Cologne, Germany (twinned with Beijing), Councillors from the Netherlands and France, as well as representatives from all 3 major parties in the UK. Other Liberal Democrats included Councillor Sam Li from Lewes, Jerry Cheung from Sheffield and Anna Lo from our sister Alliance party in Northern Ireland.

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The new Naoroji Award

Dadabhai Naoroji

I have written here before about the case for community outreach by our Party and cited amongst other statistics results from the Ethnic Minority British Election Survey (EMBES) which showed in the 2010 elections: 68% of ethnic minorities had voted Labour, 16% Conservatives and only 14% Liberal Democrats.

To encourage local parties to do more to promote support from diverse communities, we have of course implemented various initiatives. These range from the appointment of a National Diversity Advisor for the Party in Issan Ghazni (2007-2010) and permanent staff …

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An historic address

“Aung San Suu Kyi – the only woman to have addressed both houses of Parliament apart from the Queen #Burma #WestminsterHall #bbcnews” I had tweeted at 3.44pm on June 21st.

“@merleneemerson The only woman to do so internationally, the only person from Asia and the only non head of state. She’s a record breaker!!” came a reply within seconds from one @gregjudge.

We weren’t the only ones excited by the recent visit by Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the Opposition in Burma to London. Celebrated in Norway where she finally accepted her Nobel Peace prize 21 years after the event, entertained by …

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Opinion: Shedding Light on Community Outreach

A recent British Election Survey commissioned by the Runnymede Trust asked if the Government should make the effort to improve equal opportunities.

The results of those in agreement were roughly as follows: Indians 65%, Pakistani 71%, Black Caribbean 74% and Black African 75% — but in the case of the white majority, only 19% agreed.

This was a huge eye-opener for me. I had previously assumed that most educated and fair-minded members of the public would support an equalities agenda to address the democratic deficit. However, that was clearly not the majority point of view.

The survey also found …

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Opinion: 100 years on from the Xinhai Revolution

Today is 1st October, the National Day of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This year is also the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, which in celebrations in July, was marked by a 90 minute speech by the Party’s General Secretary Hu JinTao.

Perhaps more significantly, this year is the 100th anniversary of the XinHai revolution, that had begun with the Wuchang uprising on 10 Oct and led to the abdication of the last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty.

Dr Sun Yat-Sen, hailed by all as the father of democracy in China, had …

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Merlene Emerson writes: Reflections on Media Freedom in China

I am writing this on the 22nd anniversary of ‘Six Four’ (the codename for the Tian An Men incident that occurred on 4th of June 1989). Perhaps no better day to reflect on the subject of media censorship in China and to question the role of international broadcasters?

Only yesterday I was with some 200 people at a talk organised by BBC Chinese Service at Chatham House. To my amazement even the English panel speakers such as Dr Kerry Brown (Head of the Asia Programme at Chatham House), Madeline Earp (Research Associate at the Committee to Protect Journalists) and Prof Hugo de Burgh (Director, China Media Centre) all managed to deliver their speeches in Mandarin. Sadly no interpretations were provided at this over-subscribed event.

I attempt here to disseminate some of the content (Chatham House rules have officially been suspended).

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Opinion: The road to Leicester and multicultural Britain

I was one of about 20 on the Team London coach to Leicester last Saturday to help our candidate, Zuffar Haq

The lucky people of Leicester South will have 4 ballot papers to fill on May 5th: to vote for their ward Councillors, elect their Mayor, their MP as well as vote in the referendum on Fairer Votes.

We were briefed to keep our canvassing strictly to the by-election. Fortunately our man, Zuffar was easy to sell at the door step. He is the only candidate of the 3 major parties who is local, born and educated in Leicester.

Moreover …

Posted in Op-eds and Parliamentary by-elections | Tagged and | 6 Comments

Merlene Emerson writes… Countdown to the Census

As at the time of blogging this, there are only 32 days to Census Day on 27 March 2011. On that day every household will be required to complete and return a census survey (on pain of a fine of up to £1000 and a criminal record) with information on every member living at that address including any overnight visitors!

The first census conducted in March 1801 revealed a total population for England and Wales of just under 9 million. By 2001, the population in England and Wales had grown to over 52 million (58 million in the UK). Every ten years the census provides a benchmark. It not only counts the population but tells us about the percentage of young and old, what jobs people do, the type of housing we live in, our ethnicity and religion.

So why is it important that we should have an accurate head count of people living in Britain?

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Opinion: In pursuit of excellence

Earlier this month David Lammy MP highlighted the problem of the low number of black students admitted to Oxford and Cambridge Universities and called it the ‘Oxbridge Whitewash’. He wrote in the Guardian (6 Dec):

“Just one British black Caribbean student was admitted to Oxford last year. That is not a misprint: one student. Merton College, Oxford, has not admitted a single black student for five years. At Robinson College, Cambridge, a white applicant is four times more likely to be successful than a black applicant. Last year, 292 black students achieved three A grades at A-level and 475 black

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Opinion: Beware of Tesco towns

The Government’s chief design adviser has warned against the danger of supermarket led developments in town centres. Mixed-use developments involving the building of housing, schools and parks linked to supermarkets are often badly conceived and may not thrive in the long term, said the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) in its report published this week.

While developers are keen to sign up a key anchor tenant such as Tesco, Sainsbury or Homebase to lease their retail and commercial spaces, this may not be what residents or local communities want or need. A formula that works for an out-of-town …

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Opinion: Let’s put the C back in the FCO (in celebration of Black History Month)

The Commonwealth Games ended last week. This probably means that the Commonwealth will not be mentioned in the media for another 4 years. But surely there should be more to the vestiges of the British empire than mere staging of the Commonwealth Games? What does the Commonwealth actually do in this day and age and is it still relevant?

Representing a quarter of the world’s governments, a third of its population and a fifth of global trade, this network of 54 countries is a diverse community. Yet we share many common traits, not least the use of …

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Opinion: the future of the Clean Tech Industry is in our hands

“Beijing’s plans for renewable energy could blow a hole in Britain’s eco-industry”, wrote Sunday Times writer Danny Fortson (5/9/10).

I struggled to understand the angle of the story: surely we should be delighted to know that rather than more dirty coal powered plants polluting the atmosphere and choking China’s population, she is now investing in wind power with a vengeance?

By the end of last year, China already had an installed base of 25GW which is a fifth more than all of Europe. And by 2020, her government expects to generate 150 GW from wind turbines or 6 times …

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Opinion: Reflections on UK-China relations under the new Lib Con Coalition Government

The Coalition Agreement stated under paragraph 15 on Foreign Affairs that, “We will work to establish a new ‘special relationship’ with India and seek closer engagement with China, while standing firm on human rights in all our bilateral relationships.”

Labour commentators have speculated that by making a distinction in UK’s relationship with the two Asian giants, India and China, the Coalition may be seeking to pitch one against the other.

I disagree and believe this careful choice of words was used to encapsulate the different historical links UK has had with these two countries and to point the way forwards.

India …

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Opinion: Tories’ housing plot uncovered?

The Evening Standard published a bold article last Thursday suggesting that Hammersmith & Fulham Council and the Tory leadership were in a plot reminiscent of the days of Dame Shirley Porter (‘Plot to rid council estates of Poor’, 9 July 2009)

Hammersmith & Fulham Council is currently consulting on their Local Development Framework (LDF) Core Strategy Options which repeatedly refers to a need for ‘decent neighbourhoods’. Neighbourhoods that are currently not ‘decent’ have been identified throughout the borough.

It seems to me that if these neighbourhoods contained homes which do not meet national ‘decent homes standards’ then the Council and Hammersmith & Fulham Homes should be working to bring them up to standard. Where the neighbourhoods have residents who are jobless and on benefits, then the Council has a duty to provide training and improved skills. The solution should not be to demolish and decant whole estates.

The Council has, however, shown a preference for the easy fix by proposing the rebuilding of properties primarily for sale. The only assurance they provide existing residents is that the equivalent number of ‘habitable rooms’ (not number of units) for social renting will be preserved, and this over the next 20 years!

There are two conclusions that we can draw from this. First, many local residents will be without a home in Hammersmith & Fulham in years to come and will be likely to have to seek housing outside of the borough. Second, the Tory Council seems to be focussed on changing the demographics of their voters in this marginal constituency.

The present Labour MP Andrew Slaughter has felt suitably threatened and has raised the alarm claiming to have uncovered a trail of evidence showing possible complicity amongst the leadership of Hammersmith & Fulham Council – the Tory leadership as well as the right wing think tank, Localis – on this subject.

So what can we do about this?

Posted in Local government, London and Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 3 Comments

Unlock Democracy with VOTE MATCH

I was at the Vote Match European Election launch held at Apple’s palatial showroom on Regents Street this past Monday, drawn by the special guest appearance of Stephen Fry. Appearing in a tuxedo and bow tie, he did not disappoint as he opened with an apology for the rest of us being under-dressed for the event.

What I hadn’t expected was to discover that the collective consciousness of the 200 or so guests in the audience, on answering the 30 specimen questions by democratic show of hands, managed to produce a Liberal Democrat voter!

Following the success of Vote Match London …

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Opinion: The Air We Breathe

Some things are plain to see such as graffiti, neglected estates or general grot spots. However, in the case of the quality of the air we breathe, it is less apparent where there has been a breach of safety standards set by the World Health Organisation. Perhaps this is also why it is easier for the Government and local authorities to ignore the warning signs.

But should we be complacent and take the view that air quality problems are too big for us to tackle at the local or even national level? Sometimes it takes an external force …

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Opinion: Safe as houses

I agree with Vince Cable MP that cuts in interest rates have reached their limit and that we now need different policies to stimulate the economy .

Despite general support for Keynesian economics (cf the Paradox of Thrift), Vince spoke out in favour of the virtue of saving and pointed out that there are 7 times more savers than mortgage borrowers who are being penalised under the present climate.

The global recession was first brought about by the collapse of the sub-prime housing market in the US. Hence it is back to the US that I …

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Reflections on Morecambe Bay

Today is the 5th anniversary of the tragedy at Morecambe Bay. Many are surprised to learn that 5 years have passed already. Perhaps it is because shock and sorrow have a way of lingering on after a death… or 23 deaths in this case.

You may recall that there were a number of casualties. In addition to the cockle pickers from the Fujian Province of China who drowned in Lancashire, there was the Tory MP, Ann Winterton. The latter was suspended by Michael Howard, then leader of the Tories, for a month for an offensive and insensitive …

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