At age 38, Nat Wei, is not only the youngest member of the House of Lords but is also the first and only British-born Chinese person in history to become a member. Over the past few years Lord Wei has already accomplished a lot in his political career and his status is something that all British Chinese who are interested in and looking to get into politics should admire.
Some of the projects Lord Wei has taken part in prior to his current post include being an adviser at Absolute Return For Kids and to the government’s Big Society project, being a founding partner of the Shaftesbury Partnership and a member of the founding team of Teach First. He is also a former fellow of the Young Foundation, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and perhaps more prominently, the current Co- Chairman of the Conservative Friends of the Chinese, the largest political membership organisation run by and for British Chinese people.
However, with a background in business, investing and technology (he worked at McKinsey & Company for three years), Nat says he never intended to enter politics but wanted to help start up and think about social enterprise and reform. “This finally culminated in policy development and being invited in mid-2009 to enter the House of Lords,” he says.
Nat’s three main areas of focus as a politician are social reform, East Asia and future cities:
“My desire is to help foster a revival of social reform activity in my lifetime, harnessing the skills and resources that business people and entrepreneurs can bring.” Nat says, and notes that the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury and the Quakers are two of his inspirations in being a social entrepreneur.
He also believes he has a “particular duty to support East Asians as a community” due to his ethnic background and the fact that he is the only active peer of Chinese origin in the House of Lords. “At a time when the eyes of the world are looking East, there is huge potential for East Asians and diaspora generally to help promote peace, prosperity, and poverty alleviation,” he says.
Nat says that other, smaller cities besides metropolises such as London are key to social reform and represent a future economic driver, adding that he is fascinated by the potential that many have to create jobs, social impact and cultural understanding: “Such cities are founded and have been founded by great, creative, and entrepreneurially spirited civic leaders. A renaissance of such leadership today could help bring about renewal as power shifts to both a global and local and not just national level.”
Nee Hao asked Nat a few things in regards to his experiences with the British Chinese public and their relationship to politics and how he hopes this will continue to improve in the future.
He also had this advice to give to any young British Chinese person who has a keen interest in politics or is considering a career path or change towards politics.
Nee Hao: What have your past experiences been with British Chinese people’s attitudes towards politics been like? Have many shown a great deal of interest in it and if not, what sort of things have you tried to encourage or educate them on it? But if so, how have you seen some of them grow as young people on the track to a career in politics?
Nat Wei: The British Chinese’s engagement in politics has been improving all the time. In an era where political apathy is rife, it’s encouraging to see those positive signs.
Over the last two general elections we have had more British Chinese candidates apply to run for Parliament. We have five ethnic Chinese parliamentary candidates from the Conservative Party, which is a record. These things take time – it’s hard to jump straight into running for parliament in a major party, it takes years of work, just like qualifying to be a lawyer or an accountant, but there is an encouraging pipeline coming through.
It’s all about building a talent pipeline. I founded The Diaspora Programme a few years ago, where we found a dozen young people from the Chinese Diaspora and helped accelerate their careers, some of which were in politics. We are now two cohorts in and they are active, not necessarily in just campaigning, but in social change and public service.
Nee Hao: What are some of the issues you feel that East Asian people in the UK face today that still need to be tackled and how?
Nat Wei: We still need more representation in Parliament, in the Civil Service and in Media and the Arts. It is so important to maximise the skillset in our community. We are a community that has the highest average grades in our education system but it does not yet correlate to gaining many prominent roles in UK society.
Nee Hao: What advice do you have to any young British Chinese person out there who has an interest in politics or wants a career in politics?
Nat Wei: Have a passion and work hard at it. Getting involved is quite easy, most major parties have a lively youth wing, some with a Chinese focus, like the Conservative Friends of the Chinese (CFOC), which I chair. We host regular events with Cabinet Ministers throughout the year. Politics is one important mechanism to make things happen and create a positive impact for our society. Don’t believe in the cynics because politics and policy does matter. With enough diligence, people take notice, the issues you are fighting for will get heard, and you could make a difference and be a role model for the next generation.
For many British Chinese, we sometimes wonder what our identity is. There is nothing wrong with identifying yourself as both British and Chinese – be proud of your heritage. Go out there and be counted.
Nee Hao: You have said before that you never intended to enter politics but how have you found it now working within the House of Lords? Was the slight change in career tough or an eye-opener for you?
Nat Wei: I think it is fair to say it was quite a change for me. Within the House of Lords itself, it felt like being back at university, with a very high caliber of colleagues who were very supportive and it’s an inspiring arena to work in. The hardest part was being in the public eye and dealing with the media. It comes with experience and something I want more people in our community to be exposed to as well.