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 he is something of local hero: is on the patient panel for the Leicester Mercury, co-chair of Leicester Link, vice chair of Leicestershire Crime Stoppers… the list goes on!

Those of us who had not been to Leicester before were given a quick guided tour on the bus and soon got our bearings with Victoria Park and the London Road, where our Lib Dem HQ was sited. It was there that we gathered following different sessions of canvassing and leafleting, and where we all enjoyed a splendid curry lunch!

However the highlight for me was a visit to a nearby Sikh temple where we were joined by DPM Nick Clegg, guest speaker that afternoon on the eve of the Sikh community’s Vaisakhi celebrations.

Nick was asked about various issues of concern to the community, such as on the need for greater tolerance of the articles of faith which Sikh men were required to wear, and on possible redress of past injustices to the Sikhs during 1980s India.

Though I have grown up in multi-racial Singapore, that was in fact my first visit to a gurdwara, donning a head scarf and sitting side by side Sikh women. But what really took me by surprise was meeting members of the Sikh diaspora community, some of whom had moved to Leicester from Hong Kong after the 1997 handover. As one of them had confessed to me, his spoken Cantonese was in fact better than his spoken English (and certainly better than my Cantonese!)

This led me to reflect on Cameron’s multiculturalism speech and on my own views on the subject. Does the holding to one’s original cultural identity and faith prevent one from integrating, or contributing to British society? And is it even realistic to expect all immigrants to be fluent in English or behave any different when politicians spout their doctrines, theories and prejudices?

I certainly have come across countless Chinese living in UK who struggle with the English language, just as I will be as unlikely to be fluent speaking French despite years of French lessons. Language skills can be cultivated but the results can hardly be guaranteed!

Coming back to my canvassing in Leicester. I was pretty much over the moon when I returned to HQ to report I had about 90% of ‘defs and probs’ from 2 streets canvassed, only to be told by my more experienced fellow Lib Dems that they were probably only being polite or trying to humour me when they said yes they would vote for Zuffar! (I am of course more familiar with the East Asian response of expressing hesitation or doubt by saying ‘maybe’, ‘don’t know’, or plain.. .‘go away ’).

But I am determined to find this out for myself and will be returning to Leicester on polling day to make sure those who had promised us their vote will honour their word. That way, strive to fulfil the prediction in our election literature on the “Final score match report: Leicester 1 Mansfield 0” !

Merlene Emerson is a London Assembly Candidate for 2012. Anyone interested in joining the EMLD bus from London to Leicester on Polling Day please email [email protected]

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Parliamentary by-elections.
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6 Comments

  • Interesting but:

    “… countless Chinese living in UK who struggle with the English language, just as I will be as unlikely to be fluent speaking French despite years of French lessons …”

    He didn’t say people had to be fluent though (according to the transcript on the 10 website)- he said that they should be able to speak the language (which to me means making themselves understood or understanding what is being explained). If you went to France (after all of your lessons), there is a good chance you would understand most of what is being said, you wouldn’t have to be fluent. I think the idea is that they speak enough to be able to communicate without interpreters, which again doesn’t mean fluent.

    “Does the holding to one’s original cultural identity and faith prevent one from integrating, or contributing to British society? ”

    “so people feel free to say, ‘Yes, I am a Muslim, I am a Hindu, I am Christian, but I am also a Londonder or a Berliner too’.”
    Again from transcript, i.e. keep your identity but realise that you are in a country that also has an identity and values, embrace the identity and cherish the values. Again, I don’t think that should be to much of a big deal for some one who wants to live here.

    Can’t believe you’ve never been to Leicester before – it is the hub of the universe 😀 (OK, I admit, my family tree starts there so I’m biased 😉 )

  • “I was pretty much over the moon when I returned to HQ to report I had about 90% of ‘defs and probs’ from 2 streets canvassed,”

    To which they probably thought it hadn’t been done properly to be honest! Only twice have I seen canvass cards like that – Ribble Valley in 1991 and Newbury in 1993!

  • So where is the east Asian voice about Cameron’s multiculturalism speech? the Brits were the colonial masters in Hong Kong did they ever attempt to learn the language or integrate? Ok I admit a few did but there are ex pats all over the world and I ve met quite a few in Europe who never bothered with learning the local language. I think it’s the case of your financial standing, see if Cameron will ever bother if you can speak English or integrate if you have a few million to invest

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