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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Politicians: it's no longer OK to know nothing about technology

It’s bad enough to joke about not being "techy"; it's worse to write a piece of legislation from a position of ignorance. 

Earlier this week, facing down a 600-strong battalion of London’s tech sector at a mayoral hustings in Stratford, Zac Goldsmith opened his five minute pitch with his characteristic charm. “I’m not very techy!” he exclaimed. “I understand coding about as well as Swahili!”

Pointless jibe at a foreign language aside, this was an ill-chosen way to begin his address - especially considering that the rest of his speech showed he was reasonably well-briefed on the problems facing the sector, and the solutions (including improving broadband speeds and devolving skills budgets) which could help.

But the offhand reference to his own ignorance, and the implication that it would be seen as attractive by this particular audience, implies that Goldsmith, and other politicians like him, haven’t moved on since the 90s. The comment seemed designed to say: “Oh, I don't know about that - I'll leave it to the geeks like you!"

This is bad enough from a mayoral hopeful.  But on the same day, the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament filed its report on the Draft Investigatory Powers Bill, the legislation drafted by the Home Office which will define how and how far the government and secret services can pry into our digital communications. Throughout, there's the sense that the ISC doesn't think the MPs behind the bill had a firm grasp on the issues at hand. Words like "inconsistent" and "lacking in clarity" pop up again and again. In one section, the authors note:

"While the issues under consideration are undoubtedly complex, we are nevertheless concerned that thus far the Government has missed the opportunity to provide the clarity and assurance which is badly needed."

The report joins criticism from other directions, including those raised by Internet Service Providers last year, that the bill's writers didn't appear to know much about digital communications at all, much less the issues surrounding encryption of personal messages.

One good example: the bill calls for the collection of "internet connection records", the digital equivalent of phone call records, which show the domains visited by internet users but not their content. But it turns out these records don't exist in this form: the bill actually invented both the phrase and the concept. As one provider commented at the time, anyone in favour of their collection "do not understand how the Internet works". 

Politicians have a long and colourful history of taking on topics - even ministerial posts - in fields they know little to nothing about. This, in itself, is a problem. But politicians themselves are often the people extolling importance of technology, especially to the British economy - which makes their own lack of knowledge particularly grating. No politician would feel comfortable admitting a lack of knowledge, on, say, economics. I can’t imagine Goldsmith guffawing "Oh, the deficit?  That's all Greek to me!"  over dinner with Cameron. 

The mayoral candidates on stage at the DebateTech hustings this week were eager to agree that tech is London’s fastest growing industry, but could do little more than bleat the words “tech hub” with fear in their eyes that someone might ask them what exactly that meant. (A notable exception was Green candidate Sian Berry, who has actually worked for a tech start-up.) It was telling that all were particularly keen on improving internet speeds -  probably because this is something they do have day-to-day engagement with. Just don't ask them how to go about doing it.

The existence of organisations like Tech London Advocates, the industry group which co-organised the hustings, is important, and can go some way towards educating the future mayor on the issues the industry faces. But the technology and information sectors have been responsible for 30 per cent of job growth in the capital since 2009 - we can't afford to have a mayor who blanches at the mention of code. 

If we’re to believe the politicians themselves, with all their talk of coding camps and skills incubators and teaching the elderly to email, we need a political sphere where boasting that you're not "techy" isn’t cool or funny - it’s just kind of embarrassing. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.