Ms Merlene Toh-Emerson 杜淑真女士


Date 16 June 2014 Interviewed by Ben Fielden 
Language English Audio Edited by Ben Fielden 
Venue Chinese Liberal Democrats office, London and Toh-Emerson's house    

Merlene was born in Singapore and came to the UK on her own in 1979 at the age of 18 to study law at King's College London. She went on to pursue her Master of Laws at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge followed by a Legal Practice Course (LPC) at Moorgate Polytechnic. She qualified as a solicitor of England and Wales and worked at the City firm of Norton Rose in the banking and commercial sector.

She married Mark Emerson, whom she met at Cambridge, in 1984, and settled in the UK. They have three sons, Guy, Hugh and Ian. In order to rebalance her career and family life, Merlene left legal practice (she was then a Partner at a medium sized firm) when her youngest son was born. She decided to retrain as a Mediator in 2000 and subsequently became more involved in community and charitable work.

In 2004, 25 years after her first arrival in the UK, she finally applied to become a British citizen and to join a political party. Two years later she co-founded Chinese Liberal Democrats in 2006 to help bridge the gap between the Liberal Democrats and the Chinese community in the UK, and to ensure better representation of the British Chinese in parliament. Through the Chinese Liberal Democrats she has worked to help British Chinese individuals better understand their rights and obligations to their adoptive country. In addition to campaigning on issues such as migrants rights or against proliferation of gambling shops, she is also involved in the "Ensuring We Remember" campaign to memorialise the contributions of the Chinese Labour Corps during World War 1.

Merlene was the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Hammersmith in 2010, stood in the London Assembly elections in 2008 and 2012.

Merlene was a former Director of Richmond Housing Partnership, a Registered Social Landlord, of the Chinese Immigration and Advice Centre and is currently co-chair of the Chinese Welfare Trust, a charity set up to meet the housing needs of Chinese elders in the UK. She is passionate about helping the younger generation and has been active as a fundraiser for Save the Children for many years. She is also involved with the King's College Alumni through the Principal's Circle.

Merlene is also interested in helping UK build stronger business ties with China and South East Asian countries and has been on a number of official visits to China and Silk Road countries, most recently as a member of the business delegation accompanying UK Business Secretary, Dr Vince Cable MP (May 2014).

She is an honorary member of the 48 Group Club, a freeman of the World Traders Livery Company and works part time at the House of Lords, lobbying on equalities and other issues. In October 2014, Merlene was appointed Chair of Lien Viet Housing a subsidiary of Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association.