John's Jottings for January 2007

John Ward

Please note: these Jottings are purely personal comment, and do not necessarily or directly represent the policy of either the Conservative Party or the Conservative Group on Medway Council.

Looking East

At the last meeting of the full Council, it was agreed that Medway Council should pursue a "twinning;" type of relationship with the city of Foshan in China. The council is already twinned with Valenciennes in France, and has similar cultural relations with several other places such as Cadiz in Spain and the two Japanese cities of Ito and Yokosuka.

Now, with China being the fastest-growing economy in the world, and numerous other British councils already having this kind of link with other towns in China, one might think that this idea would be welcomed by all.

Not a bit of it!

All the Liberal Democrats on the Council opposed the proposal on the grounds of China's human rights record, and some (but not all) of the Labour group did the same. Indeed, the LibDem member of the committee that deals with all these cultural relations has walked out of that committee—not just boycotting the Foshan question but all of it, including in effect shunning our existing cultural relations with the places I listed above.

Seems a case of overkill to me: babies and bathwater spring to mind...

Anyway, they and the others who objected quite vocally to our forging links with a Chinese city missed the point—in fact, two points.

Foshan First is the whole reason for these links, which is to foster economic and tourism connections and exchanges. Indeed, Medway is one of the few officially approved tourism locations in Britain for Chinese citizens (that's how it works over there!) and we have already had visits from, and displays by, their people. The local Chinese community here welcomes this move by the Council as they know it would help to improve the situation back home in their country of origin.

And that's the second point. You can't make a difference by shunning someone or something you don't happen to like. You go in and you deal with it, with care and love.

This is precisely what William and Catherine Booth did, in another eastern setting—the East End of London—when they founded the Salvation Army. They saw the poverty, the drunkenness and the appalling lifestyle of so many. When a number of the men would get themselves drunk, and then go home and beat their wives and frighten their children, did the Booths turn away from them in disgust?

No. That wouldn't have achieved anything.

Rather, they began what has become a worldwide movement, very well known for its social work and for so frequently being first on the scene at trouble spots to offer aid and comfort. Centres for drug users and alcoholics have been established and run by the Salvation Army for many years, and accommodation for those who would otherwise be living on the streets.

Many of those people helped by the Booths and all who came after them have changed their ways and instead of being negative members of society, creating problems and misery, they have emerged reformed and making positive contributions to society. This was possible only because they were not shunned or ignored, but because good people went to them and showed them that a better way is possible.

That's exactly what we should be doing in and for Foshan. Anything less will be a dereliction of our duty in pursuing improvements in human rights in China.

Next time: Toys out of the Pram