OBV Profile - Mia Jones

Mia's position as a Lib Dem councillor was the latest step in a long line of political activity going back to her family roots in Malaysia; she speaks to James Gill about her commitment to representing under-represented communities and giving a platform and encouraging participation amongst ethnic communities.

Born in Malaysia under the sweeping movement of independence, both Mia's mother and father were heavily involved in grassroots campaigning and activism for political representation after Malaysian independence dawned in 1957. "In the subsequent election my godfather stood as a candidate and I recall being taken out campaigning as a child to encourage people from the Chinese community to vote." says Mia, demonstrating her bloodline of political enthusiasm.

Mia's family aimed to make a better life for themselves on entering the UK, following racial violence and bloody riots in Malaysia in 1969. In Mia's own words, "It was a painful moment for us and ever since then we always had to be mindful of elections. My mum would drag us to the polling station whenever there were local elections and tell us that we were governed by those who go to the polls."

Mia was raised in the Toxteth area of Liverpool, a 'real ethnic melting pot' and the site of the 1981 Toxteth riots. It was here that Mia went to primary and secondary school as well as college, eventually going to read business studies at Liverpool Polytechnic - now Liverpool John Moores University.

At polytechnic, there was no time for student politics, explained Mia, "I had to work continuously to fund my education, in contrast to my time at college where I had time to debate in and around my subjects in literature, economics and history".

Mia cites both Margaret Thatcher and Shirley Williams as inspirations for her entry into UK politics. Margaret Thatcher "broke the mould for class and sex barriers" in UK politics in her position as the first, and so far only, woman to lead a political party and to become prime minister. Continuing to speak about Thatcher, Mia says "She was more of a female icon rather than a personal political inspiration, bearing in mind her Conservative politics".

Meeting Shirley Williams, on the other hand, was in her words 'like meeting God (!)She is such a powerful, charming and intelligent woman, who I sometimes encounter while campaigning up and down the country'. Upon getting involved in local politics, Mia joined the Lib Dems, and became a councillor for Chester City Council in 2000, going on to serve at Cabinet level in Health and Well Being, until the fall of Lib Dem control in 2008. Mia says, "The Lib Dems were the party I felt most comfortable with, particularly their values for individual liberty and freedom as well as maintaining a strong sense of collective responsibility".

Her experience witnessing the Toxteth riots and their aftermath, followed by the Liberal council's successive dealing with this profoundly international community won her over to the party. Commenting about the other parties, Mia says 'the Conservatives seemed to put individual prosperity above all else, and I was not convinced by the champagne socialism from Labour'.

As a councillor, Mia says she sought to bring attention to the more deprived rural and urban areas of Chester, doing away with its 'chocolate box image', part of which involved campaigning and lobbying to make affordable housing a national political priority.

Although she is no longer a member of the Chester City Council, Mia continues to work with organisations to raise awareness about social injustice and equality issues. She is also a member of the Black Asian Minority Ethnic Women Councillors Taskforce.

Although the official electoral census shows less than 2% of the community of Cheshire is from an ethnic minority, Mia says there might be a higher number than the census implies 'as more ethnic minorities have settled into Chester over the years'. With Chinese as the second largest ethnic minority community in Cheshire, Mia helped set up and currently chairs the Wah Lei Chinese Community Association, where she leads the organisation to 'promote cultural harmony, improve language, education and skills opportunities as well as raise concerns experienced by the Chinese community'.

She also encourages members of other ethnic minority communities to become more directly involved in the political process. Beginning at home, Mia's 15 year old daughter has ambitions to stand as a candidate in the Youth Parliament for Cheshire. She highlights the enormous communal work and activity the Chinese are becoming involved in, which make a critical indirect contribution to Cheshire politics and overcoming the stereotype that the Chinese have little time for politics, focusing on business and private family matters.

Mia's role as a councillor has led her to an indirect contact with OBV for the BAME councillor shadowing scheme. She says, "It's really important for ethnic minorities to have greater political access and opportunities, not to mention the re-engagement of young people from all backgrounds, who seem so disillusioned and disengaged from the political process. According to the Electoral Commission, the Chinese nationally have the second lowest election registration rates of the different ethnic groups, after African Caribbeans. As many as 30 per cent of those who are entitled to vote are not able to do so, because they are not on the electoral register. This compares to just 10 per cent of the eligible population in the UK as a whole."

Away from politics, Mia runs her own private company, Alpha Partnerships, which after starting off as a modest domestic initiative, has grown into an international logistic and marketing enterprise, the result of over 20 years of international trade experience.

Filling a vital gap in the international trading market, Alpha transports specialist products around the world and tailors services to meet clients' needs which may not be typically offered by competitors. "I provide a first class discreet service and have sourced and shipped specialist products from micro valves out of China, aircraft machinery and secure cargo from UK to the USA and Middle East." Mia explained.

Mia says her mission is "To help and encourage people of all backgrounds to involve themselves in public life and politics, irrespective of party, so that we can have a voice and make a difference in our community through the democratic process".

James Gill is a history student at the University of York currently undertaking an internship at Operation Black Vote.