Merlene Toh Emerson (杜淑真) : London Assembly’s first female Chinese candidate

By Tomos Povey – Nee Hao’s Political Editor

With just 2 months to go, 5th May will see Londoners excitedly choose their successor to Boris Johnson as the next mayor of London. This election, however, will not only reveal the new mayor, but will also see fourteen constituency and eleven list London Assembly Members either elected or re-elected.

Set up in 2000, the London Assembly is an elected body which has power over policing, transport, housing, planning and the environment. The twenty-five elected members have the role of scrutinising the mayor’s policies and representing Londoners. Assembly Members are elected through the Additional Member System.

A lot is at stake. Excitement and celebration could occur but for a slightly different reason.

The first female ethnic Chinese person standing for election for the London Assembly

London Assembly history was made when a political party adopted Merlene Toh Emerson (杜淑真) as their candidate for an Assembly Member.

Merlene, who is the candidate for the Liberal Democrats, is the first female ethnic Chinese person standing for election for the London Assembly. She has been selected as number three on the London wide list and has a strong possibility of being elected if 10% of the vote goes to the Liberal Democrats (names are not on the ballot paper but the party the candidate represents). 

If elected, people can be in no doubt that Merlene Toh Emerson (杜淑真will continue fighting for greater rights for the Chinese and East Asian communities in London.

The London Assembly candidate, who is married with three children, has an impressive CV to proudly boast of. Born in Singapore to Strait-Chinese parents, she was accepted to read law at the prestigious Kings College London and completed her Master of Law postgraduate at Clare Hall, Cambridge University. Subsequently she trained as a solicitor.

After graduation she pursued a career in law and worked at City law firm, Norton Rose, before heading back to her native Singapore, where she became partner of PK Wong & Advani until 1996. Upon return to Britain she retrained as a mediator and became an associate member of the restorative justice council.

Merlene felt her convictions were best represented by the Liberal Democrats, so decided on joining the party in 2004. The move proved to be the start of her political career. Since 2004, she has gained a plethora of political experience, having firstly stood for West Central constituency in the 2008 London Assembly election and later in 2012 ranked fifth place on the London-wide list. In the 2010 General Election she gained considerable insight as parliamentary candidate for Hammersmith and was credited with running a highly effective campaign.

The continued promotion of Britain’s Chinese communities

Since her youth, she has made no secret of her constant activism and promotion of Britain’s Chinese communities.

Problems facing the Chinese communities clearly are of great significance to Merlene. In 2006 she co-founded the Chinese Liberal Democrats, with the set aim of attempting to encourage the under-represented Chinese communities to become fully involved in political affairs.

Additionally she has also been actively involved in the BC Project, which similarly pushes for Chinese communities to become politically and socially active.

Merlene 2

Following her period as a parliamentary candidate in 2010, she was presented with an honourary membership to the 48 Group Club – an organisation which seeks to bolster Sino-British understanding. And most recently, in 2008 to present day as director of Chinese Welfare Trust, Merlene oversaw the charity’s main aim of providing services to elderly Chinese people.

Philanthropic work

As a product of immigration, Merlene passionately believes in achieving a fairer society for all people. This can best be seen through her various philanthropic work which places people at the forefront. For instance, since 2014 she has been chair of Lien Viet Housing Association (the charity provides housing accommodation for Vietnamese refugees).

Currently, and as well as being a candidate in the upcoming London Assembly Election, she finds time to work part-time for Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece and is director of Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association.

Merlene Toh Emerson (杜淑真), through her diverse experiences and activism, can certainly relate to the whole of society. Her tireless work always places people at its centre. Most significantly, she appears to be politically unique as, not only has she identified problems many Chinese communities encounter, but has presented solutions for solving them.


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