OBV Profile: Merlene Emerson

Last year Emerson was selected to stand as the Lib Dem candidate for Hammersmith at the next General Election, rumoured to be called in 2010.

Although the London borough is not a secure Lib Dem seat, Emerson is positive about her selection and campaign for the parliamentary seat. She explains, "Although, I'm only a nominated candidate I see this as a platform where I now have authority to effectively make campaigns and have people who once did not listen now sit up and take notice."

This in fact is not the first time Emerson was put forward as a candidate for the party. In May 2008 she stood as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the Greater London Assembly for West Central (Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster).

The mother-of-three believes that this experience gave her opportunities to work with her local Lib Dem party in Hammersmith and four other constituencies at a much higher level. She cites her visions for Hammersmith as bringing communities together; improving standards in education; to stop the introduction of ID cards and campaign to change the voting system to include everyone's vote.

Emerson, a former solicitor in the city's business capital, was born in Singapore. She says that when she came to Britain at the age of 18, she and other immigrants did not feel as though they did not belong but instead only saw themselves as foreign students living in a foreign country. It was during this period that there were early signs of her political activism when at King's College she lobbied against student fees.

Emerson went on to achieve a Master of Law degree at Cambridge University and later qualified as a solicitor, working primarily in finance and banking.

After many years in the field she decided to leave. She explains, "I felt that I needed a change and I wanted to spend more time with my family. I left the legal practice in 1996, the year I had my third child, and then I trained to be a yoga teacher and later retrained as a mediator."

Today the working wife and mother, who manages to juggle her political activism and family, is also heavily involved in charity work, fundraising for Save the Children and is presently the Director of the Chinese Welfare Trust.

She adds, "In my role working with charities I realised that a lot of decisions cannot be taken without considering policy issues. It was through these experiences that I made a conscious decision to go into politics."

It took her 25 years before she decided she was ready to become a British citizen and during which time she decided to join the Lib Dem party in 2004.

She notes some of her role models as Lib Dem Susan Kramer, who she helped on her political campaign in 2005. She also mentioned Jenny Tonge and Northern Ireland Assembly Member Anna Lo.

Emerson is particularly active in the Chinese community. She is involved with the BC Project whose slogan 'Get Active Get Voting' seeks to encourage Chinese communities to vote.

She has also worked within the EU Voters initiative. The initiative, similar to that of the BC Project but for those who cannot vote in General Elections but who can vote in local elections.

Emerson says, "Coming from a country of the Commonwealth I feel I have a connection with those whose countries are also in the Commonwealth as we have a shared English history."

Emerson will often speak in England's Polish and Kurdish communities. She finds that when she speaks to these communities they always find it interesting to see a Chinese woman in politics as their societies can be less diverse.

Not only does she speak for marginalised and ethnic minority communities but she has recently campaigned against the use of surveillance cameras in local authorities, which she believes is imposing on peoples' rights to privacy.

Emerson has many aspirations for the future and still has ambitions to be a member of the GLA at a later time. But in particular she says, "My aspiration is to continue to fulfil the potential I have with the given powers I have, and continue to push myself while there are so many issues to campaign on."