Shall We Dance?

No-one should envy Emily Lau for the burden she has taken on by becoming chairman of the Democratic Party.

But amidst the difficulties there lurks an opportunity for her to strike a bold blow for the further advancement of democracy in our city.

The question that remains is whether Lau will spot the opening and have the courage to once again talk to the relevant authorities and cut a deal. It does not matter if she makes the first move, or accepts an approach by the other side, what is important is whether they can get together.

First the burden: for some while now the party has been publically scorned by most other pan democrats for having had the courage to do a deal with Beijing over the 2010 political reform package which secured, inter alia, the five new "super seats" in the Legislative Council. This criticism has been monstrously unfair because without the agreement there would have been little meaningful progress in 2012 at all and we would just have stood still.

But some of the mud stuck – as it always does, however unreasonable the basis – and the party suffered in the recent polls.

Perhaps for this reason, in an attempt to mend fences, the Democrats have been slow to condemn some of the recent foolish behaviour of their counterparts or even lent their support. The filibuster by "Long Hair" Leung Kwok Hung to block introduction of the proposed old people’s allowance is one glaring example.

Fancy snatching food from the mouths of hungry elders simply in order to make a point.

And for an exercise in sheer futility, the repeated attempts to drive Chief Executive C Y Leung from office by procedural means are hard to beat. Maybe the court case was borderline understandable as political grandstanding. But once that had been lost, what was the point of the Motion of No Confidence (defeated), the bid to set up a Select Committee with special powers (same result), the move to Impeach (sure to meet the same fate), the call for a protest march to demand his resignation etc. The last was particularly pathetic. There were more domestic helpers in Chater Road playing poker on their day off than aggrieved citizens marching to Government House.

Be all that as it may, where should Emily lead the party from here.

The first part of the answer is that she needs to focus. People – or political parties – who set out to be all things to all people soon end up being not much to nearly everyone.

For the second part of the answer, Lau need look no further than the name of her party. For the next four years, the absolute number one priority should be to secure a significant step forward in our democratic development.

How should she go about doing this?

It would be a big mistake to sit around waiting for the government proposals to emerge and meanwhile merely to assemble an arsenal of potential criticisms.

What the Democrats should do is come up with their own road map of how to get to a fully democratic LegCo in 2020, starting with a clear and practical reform package for 2016 as an interim step. If they can sell it to the Civic and Labour Parties too, so much the better.

By coming out with their version first, the Democrats will have created a benchmark against which the administration’s version will be measured.

Trying to completely scrap all the Functional Constituency seats in one go would fail the practicality test because some of those very Members would still have to be persuaded to vote in favour of change in order to secure the necessary two thirds majority.

But a moderate reform package – one that scrapped only the most outrageous rotten boroughs, say, and set a reasonable minimum threshold for constituency size for the FCs remaining -- would pass the smell test of public opinion and would be difficult to resist.

Successful implementation would then set the scene and provide a basis for going all the way in the next round.

There will still be other challenges: how to secure a directly elected CE in 2017 while reassuring Beijing Hong Kong is not preparing to jump off a political cliff; how to meet our constitutional obligation to enact Article 23 security legislation; but these can be addressed once we have got LegCo reform right.

Cinderella only got to meet Prince Charming because she went to the ball in the first place. So Emily, get those dancing shoes on. The band is playing and Messrs Leung and Zhang are waiting to mark your card.