Now all the fuss about his marital infidelity is long-forgotten history from the dim and distant past, Henry Tang and his friends can get back to focusing on the serious business of sort of indicating a desire to be the next Chief Executive of Hong Kong without actually saying so or expressing any hint of how he might actually run the city. The introduction of death by stoning as the penalty for adultery – while never very likely to begin with – can, I think, now be totally ruled out. Otherwise, we are in the dark about Henry’s policy agenda.
What we have just witnessed is a fairly competent public relations exercise, in which someone instinctively trying to cover up bad news gets convinced to take the opposite tack. By telling the truth sooner rather than later, he gets the inevitable over with, perhaps impresses us with his openness (in the US he and his wife would cry for the cameras) and regains at least some control over the story, drawing the line at naming names.
The next step, as with a company that has to pull adulterated food off the shelves (same root word – ‘to pollute’), is a re-branding exercise. The food manufacturer, after withdrawing the product, paying compensation and taking out full-page ads assuring the public of its commitment to safety, lies low for a while, then re-launches the line with a similar but noticeably different package design, as if to say ‘the same stuff you always enjoyed but without the poison that somehow got it in’. An image remake for Henry would perhaps have him dressing in Giordano T-shirts, doing some voluntary work helping homeless puppies, being seen dining out on instant noodles at 7-Eleven, stop hanging out so obviously with all these tycoons and so on.
If one rule of PR/politics is ‘get bad news out early’, another is ‘kick your opponent when he’s down, really hard, but discreetly’. Now, in other words, is the time for Henry’s rival for the coveted CE title, CY Leung, to come storming onto the scene waving a big banner saying ‘Here comes the guy who doesn’t cheat on his wife, wasn’t born into wealth and isn’t a dimwit constantly being told what to say by publicity advisors or moderately cute-looking Administrative Officers who think they’re publicity advisors’.
What CY Leung should now do is make a blockbuster speech addressed to the whole of Hong Kong. Ideally, it would be next Tuesday, just 24 hours before Chief Executive Donald Tsang presents his last ever Policy Address, which is likely to include some exceptionally lame attempts to resolve Hong Kong’s deadly conundrum: allowing the people to live in their own city without making homes affordable. Just before Sir Bow-Tie delivers his pathetic proposals to drip-feed a few subsidized shoeboxes onto the market to shut up the riffraff, CY could say something like…
“Our colonial-era land and housing system is forcing you, the people of Hong Kong, to pay far more than you should for your homes and workplaces. Even if you own a home or a workplace, you have to pay for other people’s every time you buy something. If rents were lower, companies could afford to pay higher wages and dividends, and charge less for their products. If housing prices were lower, workers could be property owners and the middle class would have more money to spend on other things. More jobs would be created. A wider range of industries would come into being, with no artificial assistance from government. It would be possible for poorer people to open a small shop or other business. There would be more opportunities, more prosperity, probably more tax revenue, and it would all be shared out much more fairly. In other words, the wealth you create through your hard work will no longer be forcibly diverted into the revenues of a small number of landlords, developers and cartels. It is your money, and it is unfair – indeed, it is immoral – that it is being taken from you in this way. If I become CE, this will stop.”
Some of this may be naïve (companies charging less?), it may be unfair (smaller landlords are in cutthroat competition at times), it may be bordering on economically illiterate (how, pray, will this happen?). It may all be one huge lie. It doesn’t matter. It would, to put it mildly, raise the stakes, if not knock Henry back onto the ground before his buddies have even finished dusting him off.