What's in a word?

May 10, 2019 19:18
Pan-dem lawmaker Claudia Mo is ordered evicted from the chamber by Legco president Andrew Leung (inset) on Thursday. Photo: HKEJ

Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen moved the goalposts when he had Claudia Mo Man-ching ejected from the chamber for accusing Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor of lying.

It is a sad indictment of a decaying legislature that the president ignores precedent and makes up a new rule, evidencing that he is only the government's hand puppet.

Similar criticism of Leung Chun-ying, also justifiably laid, did not result in Legco members being ejected. So, what is the message that Digital Leung is conveying other than that criticism must be suppressed? Such sentiments are all too familiar across the border.

Andrew Leung – perhaps we should call him "Fingers Leung" – is laughably deluded if he thinks it appropriate to draw a comparison between the House of Commons and Hong Kong's Legislative Council.

But even that comparator was wrong. Erskine May, the guide to parliamentary practice in the United Kingdom, makes clear that words have to be seen in context.

There are occasions when to tell the truth is to give offense but it is all a question of how you set about the task and the context in which one does so.

When the Scottish Member of Parliament Tam Dalyell accused a minister of lying, the Speaker required him to withdraw the statement, whereupon Dalyell accused the minister of not telling the truth, which was acceptable language.

Had Claudia Mo, one of the few articulate and informed legislators, accused Carrie Lam of not telling the truth, Andrew Leung would have had his little cloth legs cut away from under him.

But, there again, given his proclivity for Sir Walter Raleighesque gestures before Carrie Lam, he would probably have invented some further rule to protect this insufferable woman.

Sadly, too many of our current legislators are so pitifully lacking in their command of language that they have neither the wit nor the vocabulary to dress up their criticisms in a form that would escape the president's ire. (He is similarly limited, hence it is really no great challenge to outwit the witless.)

Even as long ago as 1796, Edmund Burke stated: "Falsehood and delusion are allowed in no case whatsoever: But, as in the exercise of all the virtues, there is an economy of truth."

Had Claudia Mo said that Carrie Lam was being economical with the truth, doubtless she would have escaped ejection. "Fingers" would probably not have understood it anyway.

I recognize that English is a more accommodating medium for eloquent insult or correction but in the past, even our Cantonese-speaking legislators were infinitely more loquacious.

The standard of debate in Legco is, in my less than humble opinion, even lower than the bottom of the barrel. Most legislators either read from their catatonically boring scripts or resort to hurling abuse and missiles.

Consequently, there is little, if any, real debate and the opposing sides adhere religiously to their views. None more so than Carrie Lam and the Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah.

The Legco chamber is a grandiose ventilator for hot air.

Though objectionable, it was understandable to describe the chief executive as the female form of a dog, save that the average dog has an infinitely larger capacity to empathize with human beings.

When Carrie Lam's erroneous citation of the history was drawn to her attention, all it excited was her mulish criticism of all and any opposing views as "rubbish". Even mainland historians first rewrite the history books before they start to quote from them.

The public's concern over the proposed extradition law that would expose everyone to the risk of institutionalized rendition into the vagaries of the mainland Chinese criminal justice system is thoroughly justified on any objective analysis other than through the prism of the Chinese Communist Party.

The architects of this dreadful proposal, the chief executive and her myrmidons, the secretaries for justice and security, are incapable of answering the detailed criticisms leveled at them but present a stubborn intransigence and mental vacuity that would be envied by the most intractable of mules.

When faced with people, especially those in positions of power, who refuse to address specific issues logically and intelligently, it is not surprising that even the most patient of individuals would be driven to intemperate language.

Taiwan has exposed the ridiculous attempt to clothe this vicious proposed legislation in a cosmetic appearance of an altruistic endeavor to realize justice for the parents of the poor girl who was killed in Taipei. Taiwan's authorities point out that their approaches to the Hong Kong government in relation to the alleged offense have been ignored.

Only the purblind, crassly stupid or totally dishonest would imagine that Taiwan would willingly expose their citizens to this infamous rendition scheme.

The proposal is morally indefensible.

Our chief executive is so firmly devoted to furthering the mainland's interests that she really ought to move her office to Beijing and stay there for all the good she does for Hong Kong.

The fact is that the mainland's Communist Party legal system is inimical to that of any civilized jurisdiction; but as Oscar Wilde said, this is a truth that cannot be told.

The miracle is that so far Hong Kong has maintained the common law, cheek by jowl with a legal Marlboro country.

Now the pressing question is, for how much longer?

Hong Kong deserves a better class of legislators across the board, informed, mentally flexible and above all articulate.

There will be moments when the rank stupidity of both government officials and legislators needs to be addressed and individuals roundly berated for their crassness, but it does require some linguistic skill.

In the House of Commons, the Labour MP Bessie Braddock accused Winston Churchill of being drunk. His wicked but truthful response was: "I may be drunk, Madam, but in the morning I will be sober and you will still be ugly."

Do we have a tomorrow morning to look forward to?

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King's Counsel