Updated: Nov 12
David Lawrence, Labour PPC for Basingstoke
The highlight of Labour conference this year, for me, was when we were bundled into a minivan (or a ‘面包车’, ‘bread van’) and taken to Liverpool’s Chinatown. It was a breath of fresh air away from the hectic networking and endless panel events in the main conference centre.
Liverpool’s Chinatown was the first in Europe, dating back to 1834. Its population grew significantly when Chinese seafarers were invited to serve in the British merchant navy during the First World War. They set up their own social club, right in the centre, for drinking and playing mah-jong. They opened several authentic Chinese restaurants and constructed the largest Chinese arch outside of China.
But there is a darker side to this story. Many Chinese seafarers were forcibly deported after the war, often torn apart from their British families. The Home Office set up secret, racially-motivated operations to quietly remove Chinese migrants, coasting on a wave of anti-Chinese hatred.
Kim Johnson, one of Liverpool’s Labour MPs, has been a forthright advocate for the seafarers’ legacy, and fought for a proper inquiry into the matter, and ultimately sought justice for the families affected.
Like me, Kim is a second-generation migrant. She is one of many Labour MPs who have used their platform to champion the rights of minority groups in the UK. Migrants have given so much to Britain: in the case of the Chinese sailors, some of them gave their lives, to defend a country which ultimately rejected them.
This is one of the reasons why I, as a British-Chinese, mixed-race son of a migrant, decided to go into politics. There are not many of us, particularly of East Asian heritage, and we need to do more to encourage and support young East and Southeast Asians in the UK to enter the political arena. This is important not just for the sake of representing one of the UK’s largest minority groups, but also for helping the UK and Labour Party navigate difficult geopolitical tensions with an increasingly assertive and difficult Chinese state.
But there are reasons to be hopeful, and one of those reasons is East and South East Asians for Labour. The organisation has grown in recent years, and many have taken inspiration from the young pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong. Indeed, the growth in the British Chinese community in recent years has come almost entirely from this community, many of whom are politically active, and Labour needs to offer itself as a natural home for them.
As a candidate for the next General Election, I have found East and South East Asians for Labour encouragement, friendship and bubble-tea trips a source of great support.
After Kim showed us around Chinatown, we finished in a Chinese cultural centre, where we were served delicious char-siu buns and other homemade treats, and were treated to a performance from one of Europe’s only traditional Chinese Youth Orchestras.
Of all the lunchtime events at Labour conference, eating Chinese baked goods and listening to traditional Chinese music (played by the students from memory!) was definitely my favourite.
David is out campaigning every week in Basingstoke and would love your support.
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