Falun Gong is a constant reminder of Chinese oppression

The Chinese government has a long way to go in learning how to treat and respect humanity

A recent Saturday morning, a short, colourful and dignified procession set off from outside the Chinese embassy in Portland Place. It was composed of practitioners and supporters of the Falun Gong movement, a slightly bizarre quasi-religious organisation that believes in meditation and bits of various Eastern religions.

To me, as a mainstream Christian, it may be slightly odd but it is entirely harmless and believes in peace and goodwill and the general well-being of mankind. However, to the Communist Chinese regime it is a major threat to their very survival and needs to be ruthlessly put down in a manner worthy of Hitler’s approach to the "Jewish question".

Why? Because as with all totalitarian regimes the Chinese cannot tolerate any organisation they cannot control, hence their approach to the Roman Catholic Church over recent decades. However, Falun Gong does not have the Pope to defend it, and the wholesale persecution of Falun Gong has gone largely unreported in the West.

Members have suffered spells in labour camps, murder and a particularly brutal Chinese practise; the forced removal of organs for transplant. Falun Gong worshippers are not unique in this respect: Buddhist monks, Tibetan nationalists and political deviants of all kinds continue to suffer. Despite the rise of modern cities, China trails only Burma as the most repressive Asian regime.

Yet, in 2005 Her Majesty the Queen was forced to entertain President Hu Jintao to the full panoply of a State visit. Not since 1978 when President Ceausescu of Romania peed over the wallpaper of Buckingham Palace, has the leader of such a cruel and vicious regime been feted by the British establishment.

The Mayor of London is not alone in spending hundreds of thousands of pounds opening offices in China and encouraging tourists to come to London, but he seems oblivious to the fact that only the "well behaved" are allowed to leave China.

The City Corporation fawns over the People's Republic to the extent that last November I found myself walking the length of the Guildhall Library between the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the Chinese ambassador as we were announced at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet. The Communist functionary looked far better in white tie and tails than I did, and it rather reminded me of King George VI receiving Ribbentrop in the 1930s.

I once visited the Chinese Embassy to meet the ambassador who, at the time, was a rather pleasant chap who had been educated at Ealing technical college in the 1950s and complained that from his first floor office window he could constantly see the permanent demonstration on the pavement opposite.

“That,“ I told the Ambassador, “was the price of democracy.“ However from the sparsely furnished, heavily marbled and thick red carpet (a la Kremlin 1950s) in the embassy, his excellency could not see the irony.

Town Halls up and down the country are besieged by requests from Chinese towns for twinning arrangements and reciprocal visits, but as mayors serve the tea and cucumber sandwiches they do not realise that the polite man who calls himself “vice mayor” is usually the official responsible for sending dissidents off to the Chinese gulag.

The Chinese regime craves recognition, and, sadly, British politicians, businessmen and university vice chancellors are prepared to afford that recognition in exchange for contracts that are helping the Chinese to destroy their environment, persecute their people and stifle democracy.

I am in no doubt that the evil and corrupt regime that currently represses so many of our fellow human beings will fall. Then, perhaps, its many sycophantic supporters in the UK will hang their heads in shame as low as they do now in respect to these Communist butchers.

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.