Bridging The Generation Gap

The gulf between our young people and the administration now yawns like a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon.

Some three quarters of a million people voting in the referendum, perhaps half a million marching in blazing heat and pouring rain.

It is probably the single most important issue facing our community – yes, of greater urgency even than political reform itself or any of the other individual issues that arise from time to time.

The question is not whether a largely student-fuelled movement can occupy Central and cause chaos for a period of time – anyone who didn’t know it already has just seen convincing proof that they can. Nor is it a question of whether the police can carry them all away – given enough time, they will surely manage it eventually without the need for assistance from the PLA Garrison.

While we are on this last point by the way, it might help lower the temperature if certain people stopped talking about the possibility of military intervention.

But at the end of the day what do these actions and reactions achieve?

The real questions are what has caused this extreme disaffection and how can the government coax the young people back into the mainstream political process.

As a first step, a way needs to be found of starting a dialogue. That means talking and, even more important, listening.

It won’t be easy. The two sides are not communicating with each other at all at the moment, just shouting slogans. Every cry of "Civil Nomination" is met with a chorus of "Basic Law" and this is not very productive.

Moreover, bad manners have become the order of the day. There is simply no excuse for the discourtesy shown to Chief Secretary Carrie Lam by students at the Academy for Performing Arts when she presided over the graduation ceremony recently. Apparently because she was acting as chief executive on the day, this merited treating her to a series of insulting gestures and actions.

Apart from the personal injustice of this behaviour – Mrs Lam has done nothing to upset the students, and is always unfailingly courteous herself -- the event was ruined for many parents and students for whom this was one of the most important days of their lives.

Who should be responsible for communicating with them?

In an ideal world it ought to be the chief executive Leung Chun Ying himself. However he is politically toxic at the moment so it would be better to keep him at arm’s length for the time being.

Given the APA saga, it probably should not be Mrs Lam who takes the lead either, at least in the opening rounds.

It can’t be the hapless education minster Eddie Ng, he of the ill-advised and counterproductive "Don’t take part in Occupy Central, it will adversely affect your future" warning.

On another day, Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen might have been an option. He is earnest, professionally respected, mild-mannered. But since he is the person who has publically advised – quite correctly in my view – that civic nomination is contrary to the Basic Law, he gets a pass.

Which leaves us with the minister for constitutional and mainland affairs Raymond Tam who has been almost invisible in the whole political reform exercise.

One glorious opportunity has already been missed. What change in atmosphere might have been achieved if Tam had sat down in Chater Road with the students and invited their views directly? After an hour or so in their chosen meeting place, he could have invited them to meet in his conference room next time once the sit-in was over.

Some might argue that such a step would give too much face to a bunch of rowdies and would only encourage more bad behaviour on their part. That is as maybe, but a society that abandons trying to connect with its young people has no future.

When it comes to dealing with protesting students in prominent public places, give me Zhao Zhi Yang over Li Peng every time.

Many marchers adopted "Can you hear the people sing" from Les Miserables as their unofficial theme song. It only works if you go to the concert.