Amanda Jeyaretnam reporting back from Spring Conference

March 31, 2022 7:56 PM

Amanda JeyaretnamLast weekend The English Council of the Liberal Democrats met, giving us an opportunity to hear the report of the Federal Conference Committee. This spring was my fourth conference but my first experience of helping run a booth. In this case the virtual booth for the Chinese Liberal Democrats. I was surprised to hear at the ECC meeting that a lot of the booths and staffing areas such as the help desk, seem to have been under-utilised because I had an overwhelmingly positive experience in our booth.

Luckily every time we opened our booth we gathered a small group straight away. This I think, is reflective of the camaraderie amongst CLD members and maybe the topicality of China in current geo-political matters or maybe due to the timing as we are now in the run up to local elections. The booth itself was easy to manage, technical support at conference superb and hop-in easy to get the hang of but mostly, Merlene Emerson, CLD Treasurer has done it all before and was on hand to help. Merlene also posted a poll for our visitors.

What should be the priorities of Chinese LibDems?

A.

To help recruit Lib Dem voters and supporters from E and SE Asian communities

30.8%

B.

To help inform party policy (domestic and International)

15.4%

C.

To help elect candidates of ESEA background to public office.

53.8%

Given that one of CLDs' aims is to establish better understanding between the UK and China the lack of support for option B might seem surprising. The results in favour of A and C are maybe easily understood. Spring Conference is in the run up to elections in many places across the country. CLD have a grant available for candidates of ESEA background and a few of our grantees visited and voted in the poll. It seems likely they voted for C. Even though I'm responsible for membership development, I voted for C - it nearly always leads to achieving A.

So why was option B not a more popular choice? CLD often talk about the desirability of nuance and the need to be sensitive around language including the use of the word "Chinese." Are we actually using the excuse of needing nuance to such a degree that we avoid confronting sensitive issues altogether? That's not my experience of being a member of CLD. Certainly we're not apologists for the PRC but at the same time for many of our members, when the tabloid press work up hysteria over "China" and the "Chinese" it is the demographic that our membership covers, that will bear the brunt of any ensuing Anti-Asian hatred.

At the same time, as I shared the booth with my colleague Robert Kim who is one of the 45,000 strong British Korean community, it is impossible not to be aware that CLDs (despite the name) are a diverse community. Whilst all are against authoritarianism and in favour of liberal values they hold views on and relationships with Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan best presented on a spectrum rather than through false binary choices.

An issue that concerns all of us, which is maybe something that we are trying to address by C (encouraging more candidates) is one of visibility both within the party and outside. The party will discuss China at Conference without any British Chinese members or representatives of CLD as speakers. Maybe that is a failure on CLD's part to put ourselves out there.


Outside of the party we seem to have some success with visibility. Cllr Sarah Cheung, CLDs Chair was asked by her children why no-one who looked like them ever read for the CBeebies Bedtime Story. Similarly, they struggled to find a book with a family like theirs engaged in everyday activities. She was heart-broken but then she started a petition and on March 17th CBeebies viewers enjoyed Gok Wan reading, My Mum Is a Lioness. Appropriately enough this was a story about a "totally marvellous mum."

CLDs was started more than 18 years ago yet we still don't have an ESEA MP. Meanwhile the pandemic in the UK has led to an increase in racism and hate crime towards British Chinese, East and SE Asians inflamed by media and politicians referring to Covid-19 as 'The Chinese Virus'. This prompted Dr Yeow Poon, President of CLDs to set up CARG (Covid19 Anti-Racism Action Group) with Linda Chung and Victoria Collins being very active this last year. CLDs are also actively working with LibDems Overseas and the Paddy Ashdown Forum to support British National Overseas (BNO) passport holders from Hong Kong who have moved or want to move to the UK.

CLDs represent a plurality of opinion that can help inform party policy both domestic and international. Still, I voted C in our poll because increasing candidates is a win-win situation countering prejudice, increasing visibility and bringing authenticity to the geopolitical debate. I hope you will be encouraged to reach out to us, join us and of course stand in elections and apply to us for a grant.

You can join Robert's Action Day, door knocking in New Malden, Kingston on April 16 th at 4:00pm.