Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and Sheela Mackintosh-Stewart: How Conservative Friends of the Chinese are winning support
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP is Chairman of Conservative Friends of the Chinese, and Sheela Mackintosh-Stewart is a board member.
Having recently celebrated the Golden Year of the Pig, including the Prime Minister’s highly successful Chinese New Year reception in Downing Street, we wanted to share and highlight the successes, challenges, and aspirations of the Conservative Friends of the Chinese (‘CFOC’) group.
We set up CFOC in 2013 with the Party’s full support, as there was a need to revamp our visibility and engagement with the British Chinese communities (‘BCC’) and meet the Party’s objectives for a more representative, inclusive, and progressive national agenda.
The Party has much to offer the BCC, who are naturally conservative and largely identify with many of our shared values of hard work, entrepreneurship, strong family, good education, self-reliance, and aspiration. In fact, the BCC are in fact very much at the heart of every community – there is a Chinese restaurant in virtually every town.
The BCC were hugely under-represented in 2013, with with no MPs and Lord Wei (Conservative) being the only Parliamentarian in the Upper House (which he still is today). We tasked ourselves to address and tackle the challenges head-on including filling the diversity pipeline gap and achieving a fair and balanced representation from the BCC in both Houses. Today we have an additional Parliamentarian and our first-ever British Chinese MP in Alan Mak, who represents Havant.
However, we still have much work to do to redress this imbalanced under-representation, given the estimated one million British Chinese population in the UK today.
Demographic change through internal migration is happening rapidly and altering the make-up of cities, towns and suburb, making it more important than ever that engagement with communities is prioritised. By 2051, the BME population is expected to be approximately 20-30 per cent of Britain’s population, a large jump from the current 14 per cent (ONS Ethnic and National Identity in E&W 2011’.) So, CFOC’s efforts to ensure the Party’s increased engagement, support, opportunities and representation from the BCC is very much a necessity.
Our current team has five Chinese board members and two volunteer Chinese co-Directors, Johnny Luk and Leona Leung. We are extremely proud of our successesm including introducing and nurturing a record-breaking five BCC parliamentary candidates in the 2015 general election, which resulted in our first British Chinese MP. The work of our previous director, Jackson Ng’s, to engage CCHQ with the BBC during the 2015 general election, resulted in YouGov and the Times reporting that ‘Tories have won over Britain’s Chinese community and the Party’s 22-point lead among Britons of Chinese origin’.
In the 2018 local elections, as a result of our pro-active presenteeism and identifying the candidates to come forward, we had a record-breaking 18 BCC standing as councillors UK wide, with four Councillors elected and more British Chinese representation on the Candidates List.
Regarded as a successful ‘Friends of’ group fully affiliated to the Party, we have worked closely with CCHQ’s Outreach Team on community engagement, including hosting a joint event with the Candidates Team, attracting 80 attendees, many now Party members and on the Parliamentary Candidates List or involved in local politics. We also held many local community engagement events in London, Birmingham, and Manchester to grow and maintain on-going relationships, listening to their concerns and addressing them with the right help from politicians.
We have successfully grown our members database to over 6,000. Through our continued sustained efforts, we maintain and grow our existing links to the BCC by working closely with local business and community leaders who are ‘plugged in’ and have intimate local knowledge, so that we are best placed to continue the Party’s engagement with the BCC.
Through our social activities, we have also successfully garnered proactive and mobilised campaign support from many young activists, and created an active and sociable team of campaigners who work tirelessly on foot country-wide and in call centres supporting local, mayoral, and national elections. Our many fundraising efforts have supported marginal seats across the country and we also regularly organise business breakfast seminars to keep Parliamentarians abreast of industry leaders views on China.
Our challenges have included managing the diversity of the BCC, which compromises four generation of global immigrants from places like Mainland China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong as well as Commonwealth countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius, and the Caribbean. Despite their common ancestry and culture, many British Chinese don’t necessarily identify with one another – partly because they often identify themselves with their countries of origin. These factors contribute to disparity and a lack of cohesion as a united community.
The British Chinese are also widely spread out and highly integrated compared to other BAME groups, with no real concentration in one area with the exception of London, Birmingham, and Manchester city centres, making them more difficult to reach. Widespread belief that political engagement will not make a difference or enhance their lives is also a factor and, being immigrants, they have traditionally been more focused on their ‘survival’, working hard to earn enough or do well professionally to look after their families, which also explains their perceived reluctance to come forward and engage in politics.
But undeterred, CFOC will continue to soldier on, recognising that we need to nudge many more able and talented people from the BCC and other diasporas to engage with the Party as members, leaders, local, and national politicians, volunteers, and voters. Working with CCHQ’s Outreach team, our two strategic priorities going forward, are:
Filling the local and national political Candidates pipeline
We need to do much more to proactively and consistently identify, approach, and encourage more members from the BCC to come forward and become involved in politics. Supporting them on their journey to become politicians and being ‘Party-confident’ is important too, as many are unaware of the process of getting involved with the Party. We aim to do this through awareness days, social networking events, and meet and greets with local, regional, and national politicians.
Working more closely with known Conservative community champions
These are principally third party endorsers, including doctors, teachers, and faith leaders. Our goal is maximising the impact of our engagement and visibility with BCC. Laying down vital preparatory groundwork for the next General Election in target seats with significant British Chinese populations is crucial. Pre-boundary changes proposals, some ten seats in the Greater London area fall into this category, and possibly seats in Manchester and Birmingham too.
In a post-Brexit global Britain, we must look East for further trade and commercial opportunities. We clearly need many more Chinese representatives in both Houses, who can harness and leverage their language skills, cultural knowledge, and expertise to build important international friendships.
We still have some way to go but with consistency, focus, and hard work, we believe it is only a matter of time.
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