Why Carrie Lam thinks we are all stupid

December 30, 2016 18:30
Carrie Lam (inset) gave an assurance that she would not be discussing her bid for the chief executive post in her Beijing trip and that the visit was purely for the Palace Museum project. Photos: HKEJ, Xinhua

How stupid does Carrie Lam think the people of Hong Kong to be? After cutting short her Christmas break for a suddenly called meeting with Beijing officials for the second time in the space of a week, she told us that the purpose of her visit was to discuss pressing "cultural heritage conservation" issues, presumably arising from the secretive plan to establish a local branch of Beijing’s Palace Museum.

And, adding contempt to her hopes of amnesia among Hong Kong people, Lam gave an assurance that, as on her first trip, she would not be discussing her bid for the chief executive post, a post that just weeks ago she declared to be of absolutely no interest to her.

However, visiting Beijing was definitely the right place to be for a fulsome exercise of double talk. For it was here, while Lam was busying herself on "cultural matters", that China’s top leaders were showering praise on Leung Chun-ying, the man they had just been forced to rule himself out of the race for a second term as chief executive.

The way this was done was very much like a scene out of those wonderful mafia movies where the Cosa Nostra bosses decide that one of their number has to retire and they shove him out of the door at a splendid banquet where he is showered with praise while they check their weapons to make quite sure that he heads for the exit without turning back.

So it was with the hapless CY who was feted in Beijing for his many achievements in office, endorsements that he repeated to the media without blinking while being told to clear his desk. And he is sticking to his story that no one pushed him but that he suddenly decided to go following an outbreak of concern about his family.

This reminds me of attending a posh event marking the departure a most senior official from the old colonial regime who had just given a speech waxing lyrical about how she would have more time to spend with her family. I happened to be standing near the back and met her husband, who had come late. "What’s she been saying?" he asked, "apparently she’s going to be spending more time with you", I told him. "That’s news to me", he said unhappily.

Of course, politicians who are either aspiring for office or are being squeezed out of office tend to be fact-challenged. In this respect, the rag bag of demi-politicians in Hong Kong are not that different from their counterparts elsewhere in the world.

Nor are they that different in assuming that the Great Unwashed a.k.a. the public are gullible souls who actually believe everything they say. Or do they?

Does CY, for example, really believe that he has taken great strides toward poverty alleviation or that he has acted decisively to improve the housing situation? It’s hard to furnish a definitive answer here because politics is a cynical business, yet it is quite amusing to see that these claims are being repeatedly made by the exiting chief executive and are being echoed by his small but perfectly formed band of supporters.

Talking of which, support that is, just wait and see how quickly this small band of supporters shrinks even further once CY takes his leave of Government House. With no patronage to offer and no chance of making cosy deals, he will find that those who were closest to him have short memories or indeed memories in altered states that suddenly allow them to recall the many faults of the departed leader.

In a curious way, this is one of the reasons why Regina Ip, another contender for the chief executive job, is rather admirable because she does not strive to alter history or pretend that things did not happen.

Her supreme self-confidence is sufficient for her to believe and publicly state that, for example, her stewardship of the controversial Article 23 legislation, that provoked her departure from government, was not a mistake and she has no regrets. She maintains that it is her critics who are at fault.

Ip is also candid about her previous failed attempt to secure the top job. She better get prepared for the consequences of a similar bout of candid talk as a failure to rearrange the facts is considered something of a black mark for office seekers who need the approval of Beijing where no fact is too small as to be incapable of reinterpretation.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author. His latest book, Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published by Hurst Publishers in early 2021.