How did I become a UK councillor candidate in three weeks?

March 24, 2023 9:09 AM
By Yue He Parkinson in FT Chinese
Originally published by Chinese Liberal Democrats

[The following is an English translation of an article in Chinese FT by the author.]

Yue He Parkinson LibDem Candidate for Portishead, North SomersetThe UK local councillor elections in England are scheduled for May 4. For me, who has been writing about British politics and diplomacy, this had been off my radar. But recently I started to catch up on my homework about the local community, and it took me less than three weeks to join the Liberal Democrats, the third largest party in England, and become the party's councillor candidate for Portishead South.

Chinese political participation has always been a challenge, especially for first-generation immigrants, because in addition to being fluent in English, you need to know about political parties and have a passion for politics. Enthusiasm for politics is a resource most mainland Chinese immigrants lack, as most have not been educated about political elections while in mainland China, and have even had their curiosity and interest in politics erased.

But there was a golden period of political participation for the first generation of mainland Chinese migrants in the UK, roughly between 2013 and 2019. The reasons for this were twofold.

Firstly, there was the BC Project, a Chinese participation in British politics movement, led by Ms Christine Lee, a first-generation immigrant from Hong Kong, and a lawyer. This was partly initiated by the Electoral Commission as they found that only one third from our community were on the electoral register, circa 2005. It was only in 2015 when I started to get involved in British politics. I had already started writing for the BBC Chinese website when the then editor-in-chief, Raymond Li, realised my passion for politics and commissioned me to cover Chinese immigrants in politics in the UK. This gave me the opportunity to understand the basic broad picture of Chinese participation in politics in the UK.

Secondly, the then Conservative government had established golden diplomatic relations with China and, out of political necessity, chose two first-generation immigrants from the mainland to stand for Parliament in the 2015 general elections in a historic move that surprised all of us mainland immigrants at the time - didn't you need to be eloquent to stand for election? How could anyone with poor English and incomplete political knowledge stand for election to the British Parliament? The year 2015 was a golden year for Chinese in politics, as the two major parties held their respective Chinese New Year receptions and invited various Chinese media reporters to attend. I still remember the Conservative Party's Chinese New Year reception, where the then Culture Secretary Sajid Javid and the then Chinese Ambassador to the UK Liu Xiaoming appeared at the same time (something that is now largely unlikely to happen again).

During the golden years of diplomatic relations, it seemed that all doors were open to China. But as relations between Britain and China declined, the Chinese participation political movement in Britain came to a halt as Christine Lee, once a guest of the Chinese and British governments, was accused by MI5 in 2022 of being a "Chinese Communist agent" or even a "spy" after a dramatic change in the political climate.

My passion for British politics has never diminished, and I have gradually transformed myself from a journalist who only watches to a commentator of British politics and society. But I have not thought about joining a party because I know that the peak of Chinese political participation has long passed. If there is a future peak in Chinese political participation, it will be dominated by BNO immigrants from Hong Kong. So far about 150,000 Hong Kong BNOs have emigrated to the UK. Home Office estimates suggest that there will be between 258,000 and 322,400 Hong Kong migrants within five years. In 2011, there were 393,141 Chinese ethnic groups in England and Wales, representing 0.7% of the total population. It is expected that Hong Kong BNO migrants will make up half of the Chinese immigrants in the UK in the next few years.

By the end of 2022, it seems, I was in the sights of Merlene Emerson, one of the founders of the Chinese Liberal Democrats (CLD). By then I had already started publishing articles in English in the South China Morning Post; in early December I was invited on air by the BBC World Service to comment on current affairs in China. Soon after, Merlene and I got in touch on Twitter. Oddly enough, the Chinese branches of the Conservative and Labour parties, which were so active back then, are now largely absent from Facebook and Twitter, while the Chinese branch of the Liberal Democrat Party, which had not been very active at that time, has been very active on English social media.

At the beginning of 2023, I was invited by Merlene to attend the Chinese New Year party of the CLD in London's Chinatown. This time it was not as a journalist who went there. In what capacity then? Was it as a supporter of the CLD? It was then that I started mulling over in my mind whether to join the LibDems.

In 2019, I wrote Why does the Labour Party struggle to attract mainland Chinese? : "Actually both Labour and Conservative are in favour of protecting human rights, ruling the country by law, taxing the rich heavily (the difference is in the scale of taxation), and looking after the weak (in this country and around the world), but The Tories are at least still defenders of capitalism, and the Chinese can barely catch up to that realm if they run a couple of steps." So, from the information I have, it seems that there are almost no mainland Chinese joining the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. The reason why the mainland Chinese have by and large joined the the Conservative Party, has to do with their lack of beliefs and the exalted pursuit of power only - because for the past 13 years, the Conservative Party has been the majority ruling party.

And since the Conservative Party messed up with three prime ministers last year, its image has fallen in my mind; and I still have no possibility of supporting the Labour Party. The two main parties in the UK are either left or right in their political views, and only the left-of-centre Liberal Democrats are acceptable to me.

At a Chinese New Year party in London's Chinatown, I met and communicated formally with Merlene, and met so many Liberal Democrat members for the first time. In early March, I saw a post on Facebook from the CLD saying: "We are willing to provide funding for Chinese candidates to stand in the May local elections", and this immediately caught my attention and I left a comment "I'm interested in this". The CLD quickly replied, "Join us and you too can be a candidate for council. "I had never heard such inspiring words before and I joined the LibDems that day. The process was particularly easy, just go online, fill in your name and address, pay the fee, and you're done. I joined the CLDs then.

Subsequently Merlene sent me an email saying, "I know you usually interview a lot of people, can you turn around and let me ask you a few questions this time?" She arranged for the interview to be posted on Liberal Democrat Voice, and it was published the next day - International Women's Day on March 8. But she also told me, "There are no local councillor elections in your constituency this year, it will have to wait until the next one. " Well, I was willing to wait.

But reality is more magical than a TV episode!

I was unable to contact the LibDems in my area because I had yet to be contacted by the LibDems headquarters, so Merlene wrote an email introducing me to Huw James, the local Councillor for my area, with the interview she had written about me. To my surprise, Huw replied immediately with enthusiasm and a sincere invitation to apply to be councillor candidate for our area. I met formally with Huw and Sue Mason (our local LibDems leader, and by the next day I was ready to go through the process of filling in the 'Application to be a LibDems councillor candidate' form and preparing for the interview, Deborah Yamanaka emailed me and said, " I was really pleased to hear from Huw & Sue that you are all happy for you to stand in Huw's old ward of Portishead South. In view of what they said, I really don't think there is any need for a further approval process, so please consider yourself approved, subject to you returning the application form I sent you. " I was surprised, I have got used to British rigid and low efficiency compared to Chinese super speed way, such flexibility of approach is probably only possible within a British political party? Which ones can expedite procedures like that when there is voter oversight of matters?

As I was running for two councils (District and Town), the town council elections required an agent to plan the campaign, allocate funds, run the campaign, etc. I was lucky enough to have Cllr Huw James as my agent, who was an incumbent (but was stepping down soon and I was standing in his place), knew the local community well, is 27 years old, but has ten years' experience in politics. and is very passionate about politics.

I'm already in campaign mode as of this week. Hugh beat his Conservative rival in the 2019 election by three votes and a narrow margin. I am banging the drum in my heart, wondering if British voters will be willing to vote for Chinese immigrants? The election results will be announced after election day on 4th May.

After I finished this writing, I received an email from Merlene, in which she said: '' I stood for local elections in 2006 as did Linda Chung and neither of us were picked up by the Chinese media - so we decided to set up Chinese LibDems. But in fact LibDems had councillors and PPCs since long before then with David Nam (1976) and James Main (2001) - well before the other 2 major parties''. The email made me realize that she is the most persistent person supporting Chinese participation in politics, and it is only a matter of time before I join her.

Editor: If you would like to support Yue He Parkinson's election campaign please contact or her agent Cllr Huw James in North Somerset Libdems at