A Lesson from History

The Bourbons have learned nothing and forgotten nothing, Talleyrand is famously quoted as having said after the first fall of Napoleon in 1814 and restoration of the French monarchy under Louis XVIII. He was alluding to the fact that they had learned nothing about why one of their predecessors had been the only French king ever executed at the start of the French Revolution. And they had forgotten nothing about their appalling conduct which had helped to spark the revolution in the first place.

And to the list of people with similar erratic memories we can now add the name of the People Power Party.

Looking back at the history of the Tsang administration, we can see that things first began to run off the rails as far back as 2005 when the pan democratic camp vetoed (by failing to endorse) the political reform package. From that point on, our Chief Executive never really forgave them and began increasingly to hitch his star to the pro-Establishment forces led by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (the DAB) notwithstanding that many DAB members initially had reservations about him.

The democrats justified their opposition by saying that the reform package did not go nearly far enough. They thought that by killing it they could force the administration to produce something more to their liking.

How wrong they were. Instead, for the 2007 CE election and the 2008 LegCo elections, they got nothing at all.

It was clear to many people at the time – and with the benefit of hindsight it should now be clear to everyone with eyes to see – that the democratic camp got their tactics wrong. What they should have done was pocket the concessions that Beijing was prepared to offer at that time in those areas for which Central Government endorsement was required, and then pressured the SAR Government to make further improvements in those areas that lay within its discretion. An opportunity missed.

When the Minister for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam returned – half heartedly – to the idea of political reform, his next set of proposals actually represented a step back in the sense that the Election Committee would henceforth comprise just 1200 members instead of the 1600 which had been on offer in the 2005 package.

The Democratic Party then showed that it had learned from history. Instead of rejecting outright this woefully inadequate set of proposals it thought long and hard about how to improve it and zeroed in on the five new "Functional Constituencies". If the electorate for these could be expanded to include the three million plus voters who did not already have a vote in an FC, they would effectively become almost as good from the perspective of democratic reform as the five new Geographical Constituency seats.

Neatly sidestepping the becalmed local administration, party elders took their compromise package directly to the CPG and did a deal. Like all political compromises it was not perfect and did not please everybody. But it did rescue Hong Kong from another bout of stalemate, and achieve some real progress.

The stage was now set for the democratic camp to substantially increase its representation in the legislature – and indirectly increase its influence in the 2012 CE election – by coordinating tactics with a view to winning as many seats as possible.

But like the Bourbons the People Power Party showed they have learned nothing from history and are determined to repeat past mistakes. In the upcoming District Council elections, the party has nominated some of its high profile candidates to run against incumbent Democratic Party councilors. In this way, says the PPP, it will punish the Democratic Party for betraying Hong Kong. The only beneficiaries of this strategy will of course be the DAB.

Quite why it would have been in Hong Kong’s interest to repeat in 2011 the disaster of 2005, and why it would now be best to strengthen the hand of the most conservative forces in LegCo, has never been convincingly explained.

It will be interesting to see whether the League of Social Democrats and the Civic Party follow the PPP in pursuit of this exercise in self cannibalism. If only they could be persuaded to become political vegetarians and eat those damned bananas.