Chinese for Labour is one of the Socialist Societies affiliated to the Labour Party. We were founded in 1999, affiliated in 2010 and act as a bridge between the Labour Party and British Chinese and East Asian communities. Our activities including fundraising, campaigning for the Party and raising awareness on issues that affect our ethnic communities. With over 400,000 ethnic Chinese in the UK it is the fastest growing ethnic minority population and on top of this are many other East Asians and those of mixed heritage.
As part of the Labour Leadership election campaign we asked the leadership candidates a series of questions. We've split the questions into two parts. The first part are more general questions directed to BAME communities, while the second released tomorrow are specifically related to the Chinese community.
1. What should Labour’s response be to the Immigration Bill coming forward in this Parliamentary session?
AB: Immigration has made an important contribution to the UK, our public services and the diverse country it makes us, but we must address the real concerns of people across the country. That is why I am seeking to reform EU rules. Under my leadership we will continue to support free movement, but freedom to work will not be a freedom to claim benefits before contributing.
I will hold the government to account in delivering a package of reform that meets public concerns. If David Cameron fails to address these concerns, he risks sleepwalking the UK into EU exit.
YC: Britain for centuries has been an outward looking, diverse nation – that is what has made it possible for our small island nation to punch above our weight on the world stage, for British inventions to lead the way from the industrial revolution to the world wide web, for the English language to become the dominant worldwide currency. In today’s global economy, that outward looking approach is more important than ever and migration is more important than ever.
But if we are to maintain it we have to tackle the challenges that globalisation brings, and the real problems in our immigration system which are in danger of undermining confidence. That means stopping the exploitation of low-skilled migration that hurts everyone, starting with making exploitation a crime. It means tackling abuse of the visa system to make sure confidence is upheld, and it means sorting out the Home Office so the system works properly and efficiently.
JC: We should oppose it. The proposal to expel migrant workers who are not on a certain salary level is simply unjust.
If workers are underpaid then exploitative employers should be punished not the workers themselves for a second time.
Expecting landlords to police their tenants is unworkable. It will increase discrimination towards BAME people in getting tenancies, as landlords will see non-white applicants as ‘risky’.
LK: For all the benefits that immigration brings, we should also recognise the impact of globalisation on everyone in society. Eliminating low pay would be one of my top priorities as leader, and I want to see more done so that workers cannot be exploited by unscrupulous employers.
The tough talking from Theresa May and the Tories on issues like student visas has been seriously misplaced. The UK’s universities are recognised around the world for their outstanding quality, and our efforts should be put in to making sure they continue to succeed, not making foreign students feel that they are not welcome to come here to learn.
2. BAME voters have been part of Labour’s core vote over the past few decades, yet polling by British Future and Survation has suggested that they are beginning to swing away from Labour to the Tories in large numbers. This will obviously be significant (especially in marginal seats) as the BAME population is set to grow. What should Labour do to get them back?
YC: In the Labour Party we pride ourselves on our commitment to fairness, equality and social justice. But with over a million ethnic minority voters choosing the Tories at the last election, Labour cannot be complacent. If we are not representative of our voters, how can we hope to keep their support
The Parliamentary Labour Party still falls short when it comes to the representation of BAME communities. As Labour Leader I will put that right. I want to see Labour more than double the number of BAME MPs in a Labour majority Parliament. I will oversee a taskforce engaging with BAME MPs, councillors, NEC members and local Party activists, to ensure a step change in support for BAME candidates and activists. Labour’s BAME taskforce will report to me and will also look at measures such as bursary schemes to support aspiring candidates with training and support with selections.
LK: As an MP who has spent years building trust and respect in a constituency with a hugely diverse community, I was concerned to see that at the last general election our support declined amongst BAME voters. I have no doubt that this cost us the chance of winning many seats. There are many people out there who clearly didn’t trust Labour with their vote, many of them in the BAME community.
We need to rebuild trust in our party across the electorate. That starts by building a credible alternative to Conservative government that works nationally, but we need to also understand how we can win back voters at a local level.
As leader, of course I want to see many, many more Labour MPs after the next election and I want more of those to be BAME MPs. I want to hear more from groups like Chinese for Labour on how we can address that issue of trust at a local level. I also want to hear how you think we build the national campaign needed the win a broader spectrum of the BAME vote next time around.
JC: Labour has a proud record of tackling racism and defending migrants' rights. We are the party that introduced the Race Relations Acts and the Equality Act.
But Labour has lost votes right across the country and from all ethnicities. We have lost touch with our supporters, been cowed by the press and powerful commercial interests. We need to reconnect with our communities right across Britain, involve members, affiliates and supporters in making our policy, and be proud to stand up for what we believe in.
We can win back support if we draw on our greatest strength: our people, listen to them and provide credible policies that meet their concerns.
3. The government has resurrected Labour proposals on helping to close the gender pay gap by increasing pay transparency. How should Labour close the ethnic pay gap and how can we ensure that there is fair promotion and progression of BAME people in the both public and private sector jobs?
JC: As well as the gender pay gap, there is an ethnic minority and disability pay gap too. That's why I have proposed equal pay audits be published by all employers so that discrimination cannot be hidden, both within pay grades and across staff structures.
By raising the minimum wage to a living wage and giving all workers equal rights from day one, we can address the low pay and exploitation that affects workers in many sectors.
But we know that there is further discrimination against BAME people.
YC: Equality for all goes to the very heart of my politics. We must always do everything we can to improve diversity across both public and private life.
As Labour leader, I would place a legal requirement on police forces to increase diversity and will change the law to allow New York-style “affirmative action” in recruitment policies. For our Armed Forces, we need change so that recruitment processes reach out to all areas of British society. BAME representation in the civil service is still below the national average, especially at senior levels. So as Labour Prime Minister, I will require annual updates on progress from every Government department to improve BAME recruitment at all levels.
LK: The working-age population of ethnic minority groups is growing faster than the average but on current projections by 2022 the existing ethnic inequalities in the labour market will remain stubbornly persistent.
So as leader Labour I'd champion increased BAME representation across the public and private sector - working with businesses and the public sector to make all organisations - including the Labour Party - far more representative of the country itself.
4. How can we encourage more diversity in the arts and media?
YC: We cannot underestimate the importance of diversity in the arts and media and more needs to be done in this area. For example, we need to put the arts and media back at the heart of education, so children from all backgrounds have access to these fields throughout their lives.
I want to smash the glass ceilings of British society. Because it is only by improving diversity and increasing opportunities across all areas of society that Britain can finally become a country where people are able to fulfil their potential regardless of background, colour or their start in life.
LK: It’s essential that schools teach pupils about chances in life they might not know exist - there should be no door closed on you simply because you didn’t grow up in London, or that your parents didn’t know the right people. Arts and media should no more be a closed shop to the BAME community than science and engineering should be to young women.
JC: The bias in arts funding against ethnic minority and diverse assets has been exacerbated by the cuts to the Arts Council.
The first thing that’s needed is an economic policy to restore growth that can increase the funding available to government for the arts in general. We need an end to the Tory approach that only the market should determine what arts are available. This inevitably advantages the most commercial, mainstream and profitable cultural products and undermines minority, community and more diverse assets.
We need government to be a vocal champion of greater diversity in the arts and media.
Our party has made great strides in becoming more representative of British society (and groups like Chinese for Labour have helped us achieve that), but there are still challenges to overcome in our party, in politics more widely, and in all fields of British life.
5. Chinese for Labour has always held a strong interest in immigration policy and its links to the labour market. For example, during the early 2000s we lobbied for a points-based immigration system and a Gangmasters Licensing Authority. We’ve heard a lot from Leadership candidates about dealing with challenges of immigration. What do you think the benefits of immigration are and how would you maximise them?
AB: Over 80,000 of China’s brightest and best students come to study in our universities every year. I condemn the current government’s unfair policy towards international students and believe we should instead look to develop our relationship with communities and connections around the world.
YC: Over many centuries Britain has benefited from the ideas and talents of those who have come here from abroad – including from the Chinese Community. We need managed migration to get the top talent and investment we need, for our world class universities to compete internationally, or to meet skills shortages in the NHS.
We need more brilliant students coming to study, to make sure we can get the top talent to grow our businesses, and ensure skills shortages are filled. And British citizens need to travel and trade to promote our exports, and seek new opportunities.
JC: Immigration has been of great benefit to our country economically, socially and culturally - and we must protect freedom of movement in any EU renegotiations.
We also need to improve the procedures for non EU migration. The attempts of the last coalition government to limit immigration to an arbitrary target figure meant they could not take account of business needs, undermined family reunions, and attacked economically beneficial migration such as students coming to study here. It has also undermined tourism from newly emerged economies like China, when visitors are put off by the hurdles they have to go through to get a visa.
We have just seen the ridiculous spectacle of the British government defending Ai Wei Wei in China then having to apologise for blocking his visa to come here. The tourism visa for visitors from China had to be overhauled. We should stop treating Chinese tourists like potential ‘illegal immigrants’ and start treating them like the high spending visitors they actually are. Rather than the hangover colonial attitude to China we should treat it and its citizens with respect.
The grounds for skilled migration need to be changed to include skills like Chinese cuisine and cookery.
The proposal to expel long term migrants who are not earning above a certain amount is ridiculous and must be opposed. As well as the obvious injustice it will impact on the NHS in particular and on workers in restaurants and hospitality industry which need diverse language and cultural skills.
But we need to do more to prevent the exploitation of migrant workers: strengthening workplace and trade union protections; putting extra resources into enforcement of the minimum wages; and extending the remit of the gangmasters licensing authority.
We also need to ensure that the housing crisis is tackled by allowing councils to borrow to build a new generation of council housing. We must explain how austerity is a political choice not an economic necessity, and oppose any attempt to scapegoat migrant communities. We must never pander to xenophobia and racism, but address issues in a rational and open way.
LK: I’m very proud to represent a constituency in one of the UK’s most diverse cities. Immigration has not just been good for places like Leicester, it has been essential to them maintaining their place in the national and global economy. In order for that to continue, we need to make sure that we have an immigration system that is fair for all concerned. I think, for example, that Chinese for Labour were absolutely right to advocate a points-based immigration system as a means of making sure that we have the necessary skills for our economy to grow.
Tomorrow, our second set of questions to the leadership. If you would like to write for Chinese for Labour, or have any events that would be of interest to our community then please email at [email protected]