Author Archives: Merlene Emerson

The teaching of colonial history

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I have been championing the teaching of black and colonial history in schools for as long as I can remember and was a member of the task force set up in 2012 under Baroness Meral Ece on Race Equality in Education and Employment. Through learning about the impact and legacy of colonialism, we can forge a modern British identity, bridge past divisions as well as better inform Britain’s dealings with the rest of the world.

I had previously held a benign view of the Commonwealth legacy.  Today Singapore students rank in the top 3 places on OECD’s PISA league tables for schools, while 16 and 18 year olds still subscribe to the Cambridge board examinations. It meant I could, when aged 18, move with ease to London to study law.

The legacy of empire is controversial but the spread and use of the English language as the lingua franca is undoubtedly a positive.  The introduction of maritime trade links, development of ports and rail infrastructure are other commendable outcomes. There is also a “Commonwealth advantage” where countries with similar legal systems, professional training and a common language are better able to trade with each other across continents.

On the flip side (as the Black Lives Matter movement has brought into sharp focus), the slave trade promoted across the Atlantic between the 16th and 19th centuries has led to entrenched racism and inequalities. Though other colonial powers were involved, the British had played a key role in transporting 12.5 million Africans to plantations in the Americas, with some 2 million dying en route.  When the slave trade finally ended, it was the slave owners who were compensated, not the victims and their families.

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The geopolitics of Covid19 – international webinar

On Sunday 28 June at 1400 BST, a time chosen to suit a global audience, LibDems Overseas (LDO), a g(local) party, co-hosted our first webinar with the Paddy Ashdown Forum, the centrist think tank supported by the European Liberal Forum. Participants who joined via Zoom were largely drawn from LDO’s 1000 members and supporters living in over 40 countries outside Europe. The event was moderated by LDO Chair, George Cunningham.

Covid19 has been called a “game changer”, knocking all countries sideways economically and in the sphere of public health. It has also awoken the world to the rise of China, where the outbreak started, and which may be perceived as the nation to come out “on top” after the pandemic.

Our first speaker Dr Christine Cheng, (lecturer in War Studies at Kings College London and key member of the Federal Policy Committee) focused on the impact of Covid19 on UK-China relations. Based on a 2019 Delta poll, Brits over-estimated UK’s influence in the world as #2 after the US and ahead of China at #3. Cheng recommended that the UK should stay aligned with the EU for greater clout. The diplomatic row between China and Canada, sparked by the detention of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer, was followed by China’s arrests of two Canadians on suspicion of espionage. More recently, Australia’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of the Coronavirus resulted in tariffs being imposed on Australian goods. These instances point to a more confident China, ready to defend its ground.

Posted in Europe / International | Tagged , and | 18 Comments

The Dawn of Webinars

Whilst we have been physically isolating due to Covid19, the virtual world has turned into a global village. Not a day passes without seeing news of another virtual conference or webinar.

A less propitious phenomenon, however, has been the alarming rise in hate crime towards British Chinese and other East Asian communities due to the pandemic. This has exposed deep seated racism against those who look Chinese in our society. Meanwhile misinformation in the media, whether deliberate or unintentional, has heightened fears and bigotry, leading to harassment, abuse and in some cases physical attacks.

To better understand the history of the …

Posted in Events and News | Tagged and | 8 Comments

Interview with Chair of Covid19 Anti-Racism Group (CARG)

Dr Yeow Poon

ME: Dr Yeow Poon, you have been the Chair of the Chinese Community Centre in Birmingham since 1995, founded the England China Business Forum in 2013 and are also a trustee of the Chinese Welfare Trust national charity. Why was it necessary to set up the Covid19 Anti-Racism Action Group (CARG)?

YP: The spread of COVID-19 in the UK has led to an increase in racism and hate crime towards British Chinese, East and Southeast Asians. Incidents ranged from children being taunted in schools to international students being violently attacked. The insistence of some political leaders and media commentators calling COVID-19 the Chinese virus, and attempts to deflect blame to China, has also further inflamed racism. CARG was set up to counter these negative narratives in the media.

ME: As of today, COVID-19 has infected nearly 2m people globally, and the UK is in lockdown with over 10,000 deaths. Why would the British public be concerned with the rise in hate crime against the Chinese and East Asian communities?

YP: Hate crime towards any community should never be tolerated. COVID-19 does not discriminate ethnically. On the frontline in the NHS, in care homes and the community, we are working together to combat and mitigate the effects of COVID-19. These selfless acts by individuals from diverse backgrounds should be applauded. Also, the many examples of mutual help and research collaboration between the UK and China should be encouraged and strengthened.

Posted in Interviews, News and Op-eds | Tagged and | 17 Comments

Out of the haze

You may have seen images in the news of Indonesia with blood red skies and mired in choking smoke, looking more like Mars than on earth.

Runaway forest fires in Indonesia has been a recurring problem, and the cause of the “haze” in Singapore and Malaysia, depending on which way the wind blows. The fires can rage on for days and weeks in the carbon-rich peat forests, and has so far affected an estimated 69 million people in the region. We can’t even begin to count the cost to the wildlife.

Each day in Singapore we look …

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We Demand Better for Race Equality

Last week, the Resolution Foundation found that UK black and ethnic minorities (BAME) lost an estimated £3.2bn a year in pay gap and called for equivalent gender pay gap reporting for BAME workers. There was another report from the Centre for Justice Innovation on how community sentencing has decreased due to the loss of trust between the judges and magistrates and the probation service since the latter was privatised.

It seems like there is report each week of evidence of race discrimination or breakdown of trust between the UK establishment and the ethnic minority communities. …

Posted in News and Op-eds | Tagged and | 11 Comments

The City and me

Last week (9 October) I stood for the first time in the City of London elections in Castle Baynard ward that stretches from Fleet Street to Blackfriars, taking in St Paul’s Cathedral.  It was a 3-week whirlwind of a campaign. The by-election was called as one of the Common Councilmen in the ward was elected as an Alderman elsewhere and created a vacancy.  There were 8 of us contesting one place.  

My fascination with the City started way back when I landed my first real job as an articled clerk in the City firm of Norton Rose and then working as a solicitor involved in securitisation and cross border finance.  My renewed interest in the City came about when I tried to get on the board of governors of my sons’ independent school.  No parent governors there.   It was all in the hands of the Worshipful Company of the Mercers.  This then led me to investigate the intriguing world of Livery Companies, only to discover that membership of the Mercers was closed (at least to me). 

I persisted in my enquiry and 6 years ago joined a newer and more welcoming livery company, that of the World Traders in the year that Mei Sim Lai OBE DL became Master, the first Master of Chinese heritage in the City’s 800 history!  Yes that would be the livery company for me.

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Inaugural meeting of the Race Equality Policy Working Group

On 13 February, eve of Valentine’s Day, members of the Race Equality Policy Working Group met for the first time at LDHQ. I mention Valentine’s Day because this is very much a labour of love for those of us who have volunteered to assist the Party in its policy making on this important subject.

The first meeting was also timely for another reason: it follows the issue last week of Lord Alderdice’s report on Race, Ethnic Minorities and the culture of the Liberal Democrats and an email from our leader, Vince Cable MP, calling on each and every member to …

Posted in Party policy and internal matters | Tagged , , and | 6 Comments

Post-Christmas musings on the R word

The Queen has in her Christmas speech welcomed new members into the royal family in 2018.

Prince Harry will soon have a mother-in-law who is African American and the young couple’s future children will be of mixed race heritage. The society pages lap up the fairy-tale love story and we all cheer ourselves on how liberal we have become as a nation.

Vogue Magazine has a new editor-in-chief, Edward Enninful, and we can’t help but notice the change in the complexion of many of the supermodels that grace the glossy pages. Sir Mo Farrah has not only been knighted but has also …

Posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters | Tagged , , , and | 9 Comments

Populism and the French elections

Lord Malcolm Bruce, Marianne Magnin and Dr Sean Hanley

On the evening of 5 April 2017, the Liberal International British Group held our first joint forum with MoDem (Mouvement démocrate), France’s liberal, centrist party.

Given the recent rise in populist parties, the topic for debate was on ‘Populisms in a Post Truth World’.

Chairing the forum was Mathieu Capdevila, President of Northern Europe MoDem who introduced the speakers:

  • Lord Malcolm Bruce, Member of Parliament for Gordon from 1983 to 2015 and the chairman of the International Development Select Committee from 2005 to 2015
  • Dr Sean  Hanley, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Central and East European Politics, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, UCL
  • Marianne Magnin, Board Chair of the Cornelius Arts Foundation and MoDem’s Parliamentary Candidate for Northern Europe.

Lord Bruce began by asking what constituted “populism”.  Citing Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, he said that Brutus spoke in prose, but Marc Anthony spoke in poetry. On BREXIT, there were no good reasons why the EU Referendum should have been taken as ‘binding’ as opposed to only ‘advisory’.  However, what we needed to do now was to acknowledge that the electorate had valid reasons for voting against the establishment and to find solutions to manage the economy and the wealth more equitably.

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Rock or Island? Disputes in the South China Sea

Whilst researching this subject, I couldn’t help thinking that here were the ingredients ripe for the design of a board game.  It could be something of a cross between “Diplomacy” and “Vendée Globe”?

Each player representing a country of choice could set its mission and collaborate with other players to achieve their desired outcomes.  Chance cards might include whether, say, an international tribunal has decided in their favour.  And tokens could be earned along the way to enable them to reclaim rocks and reefs, build air strips or even patrol the islands with clone submarines?

We are, of course, not speaking of a game but of what is happening in reality, and the countries involved in a potential war game include South East Asian countries (such as Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei) and also greater powers such as China (Taiwan) and the US.  At stake are the rights to valuable resources such as oil and gas, fishing rights and the protection of vital sea routes.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 17 Comments

Romancing the Silk Roads

As someone fascinated by the Central Asian countries, I was delighted when the All Party Parliamentary Group for China (APPCG) organised a talk this week by Peter Frankopan, author of “The Silk Roads – A New History of the World”.

“The Silk Roads are rising again”, said Richard Graham MP, Chair of APPCG at the end of a fulsome introduction of the Oxford University historian.  Yet, there are not many other Parliamentarians, let alone the British public, who are in tune with the zeitgeist.

Frankopan was keen to put into historical context the dramatic changes that we are witnessing today with a shift in the world order. The declining influence of western colonial powers,  the UK’s vote for BREXIT and the election of Trump, were contrasted against a China growing in confidence and pursuing the “One Belt One Road” initiative, the lynchpin for Xi JinPing’s foreign and economic policies.  

Posted in News | Tagged | 5 Comments

Implications of the European Union Referendum Bill

We have all heard about the European Union Referendum Bill but I suspect most do not realise how close we are to it becoming law. Whether you are a Europhile or Europhobe, you may be interested to know that the Bill will be getting its 3rd reading in the Lords today (1 Dec), after which there will be no more opportunity for the introduction of any new amendments.

I have to confess that I live in a household of Europhiles. My husband spent the early part of his life between aged 2 and 11 living in France, then Netherlands, as his late father was the English Head of the AFCENT International School for families of NATO. My in-laws subsequently retired in France and my step mother-in-law still lives there. She will sadly be barred from voting in the EU Referendum even though it could affect her right to continue to live in France. Brits who have lived abroad for more than 15 years do not currently have the right to vote in any UK elections, let alone in the EU Referendum.

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Vince Cable’s “After the Storm – The World Economy & Britain’s Economic Future”

after the stormWider in scope and more ambitious in its reach, “After the Storm” is the acclaimed sequel to “The Storm” published after the financial crisis of 2008.  Having spent the last 5 years as Business Secretary within the Coalition Government (2010-2015), Vince has the added clout of first-hand experience introducing economic policies that have steered us out of the storm, not least an industrial strategy.

His professed motivation for penning a sequel were to update readers on the state of Britain’s economy in “a climate of guarded optimism,” and to share his insights, no longer bound by collective responsibility as Secretary of State at the Department of Business Innovation and Science.  Whilst the US and UK are expected to record 3% growth this year, Vince’s previous analysis of the underlying weaknesses still apply, such as UK’s over reliance on the banking sector and on the housing market for recovery and growth.

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Opinion: Bridging Futures – Young Migrants in London

When is a Migrant an Expatriate? When he or she is a Brit abroad, obviously.

Inspired by the twin concepts of emigration and immigration, Prof Caroline Knowles posed this question at the launch of her research and report last week, supported by the Runnymede Trust and Goldsmiths College and hosted by Baroness Hussein-Ece at the House of Lords.

Posted in Op-eds | 6 Comments

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.

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 12 Comments

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.

Posted in Conference | Tagged and | 4 Comments

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.

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 8 Comments

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.

Posted in Europe / International, News and Op-eds | Tagged and | 3 Comments

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 …

Posted in News | Tagged , and | 11 Comments

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 …

Posted in News | Tagged and | 1 Comment

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 …

Posted in Op-eds | 2 Comments

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 …

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged and | 1 Comment

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).

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 4 Comments

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 | 9 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?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 17 Comments

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

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged , , , , , and | 15 Comments
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