Acrobats, lion-dancers and dragons parading in the rain to the ear-splitting clash of cymbals and drums: that’s what Chinese New Year celebrations in London’s Chinatown are usually about.
Last Sunday however, a 30-foot yellow duck bobbed amongst the crowd, next to a stationary bus. Hardly the traditional auspicious decorations you’d come to expect. Meanwhile, on Gerrard Street, Chinese for Labour volunteers handed out fortune cookies containing election pledges, not glib prophecies. While their rivals, the Conservative Friends of the Chinese staked their spot in Trafalgar Square and canvassed hard.
What’s going on? The Year of the Goat is also the year of the UK’s general election. And with the race expected to be closely fought, British politicians are out to get every single vote they can muster. Especially those from the Chinese community, because surveys show 30% of them have not even registered to vote.
So how does a giant duck help? It’s the official mascot of The British Chinese Project (BCP), a non-partisan, voluntary organisation encouraging Chinese people to the ballot boxes.
“We adopted it as our official mascot, after the previous manager saw the one in Hong Kong harbour and joked that we should buy one if we found it for under £500. We found one on Amazon for £499,” says Michael Wilkes, vice chair of BCP.
Those within the community believe that having Chinese politicians could help raise voter turnout. As yet, there is no ethnic Chinese member of parliament in the House of Commons. But this might change come May 7. The Conservatives and Labour have confirmed that they’re fielding between them a total of seven candidates with Chinese ancestry, some of them Malaysian Chinese.
In the meantime, it’s back to the duck and bus. “The response on Sunday was great. We registered about 50 voters inside the bus. We’ll be doing it all again in the city and around the country over the next few months,” says Wilkes.