City councilor eyes future on national political stage
Alex Yip is only 34 but he is a man to watch. He serves on the local council in Birmingham, Britain's second-largest city. But he has his eye on the national stage and hopes to stand for the Conservative Party to become a Member of Parliament in the 2020 British general election.
Alex Yip wants more people to be involved in local issues. [China Daily]
Yip, whose Cantonese-speaking family is from Hong Kong, is active in several groups that promote ties between China and the United Kingdom and is busy trying to improve his Mandarin.
"I had a really nice chat with the Chinese ambassador (Liu Xiaoming) in London just a few days ago, and as I left and said goodbye, he told me: 'Alex, you really need to improve your Mandarin!'"
As well as serving as a Birmingham City councilor since 2015, Yip is involved in several organizations that aim to give a louder voice to the Chinese community and deepen ties between the UK and China, such as the British Chinese Project, the All Parliamentary Chinese in Britain Group, and the Confederation of Chinese Business UK. He is also governor of the Overseas Chinese Association School, which offers Chinese language tuition in Birmingham.
He says he knew from an early age that he wanted to "make a difference" through civic and political activism. He studied history and politics before doing a master's degree in international relations, both at the University of Leicester.
He then worked as a volunteer in Ghana, Zambia and Botswana. He also taught English at Chang Zheng Secondary school in Shanghai.
"I loved my time in China and traveled to as many places as I could, including as far away as Jiayuguan (a prefecture-level city in Gansu province in the northwestern part of China)," he says. "I strongly identify with my Chinese heritage."
On his return from his travels, aged 24, he agreed with his parents to take over the family takeaway business while he started to explore a possible role in politics. He bought a couple more takeaways and ended up with roughly 20 staff.
Meanwhile, he joined the Conservative Party, which appeals to some immigrants and small businesspeople because of its emphasis on self-sufficiency.
"I believe strongly in striving for success from your own efforts," he says.
Yip, a committed Christian and member of the Church of England, also became a school governor and trained to become a magistrate. Magistrates, in the British legal system, hear more than 90 per cent of criminal cases, ranging from drunken driving to assault. They are volunteers who are given only travel and subsistence expenses. They do not have to be qualified in the legal profession but are given some training.
Yip said he wants to see more people from minority ethnic groups become magistrates. And younger people too.
Yip said: "In the UK, our legal system is based on being judged by your peers－your own community. Britain is very diverse and in Birmingham, almost 50 per cent of the people come from a minority ethnic group and we are one of the youngest cities in Europe. Having a representative bench is so important for people to have faith in our system."
"While I have been able to give something back as a magistrate, I feel I have learned and gained a lot more."
When his local councilor stepped down, Yip jumped at the chance and was elected in 2015.
He has found the job fascinating, fulfilling and frustrating. He gives the example of trying to get speed-restricting measures installed at a junction where many accidents have occurred. There was overwhelming local approval for it but not the£37,000 needed for "just for a few signs and a bit of tarmac," he says.
"I felt it quickly became a political issue with the council run by the Labour group while the Conservatives are in opposition. I was surprised by how frustrating the whole process can be. The council is a huge monolithic beast and it can be hard to make simple and commonsense changes quickly for residents," he says.
"At the same time, being able to help an elderly resident get a£200 rebate from her council tax, to help another with assistance with their waste collections, or getting funding for a local woodland area or community group, is very satisfying because you have helped someone in a small but meaningful way."
He is hopeful he will be selected by the Conservatives to stand in parliamentary elections in 2020 while being aware of the many problems facing the UK, not least Britain's decision to quit the European Union. He campaigned locally for the country to remain in the EU.
"Politics has always been something that the Chinese community has stayed away from, they are seen as a withdrawn and hidden minority ethnic group. But it's a true privilege to be part of our democratic system and visibly representing the British Chinese community. We need to use our voice. As they say: use it or lose it."