The dynamics of Hong Kong’s fractured political scene offers some intriguing notional possibilities for realignments, as former partners separate and one-time enemies find themselves on the same side. To encourage potential shifts, there is the longstanding tradition of the ‘feuding-schoolgirls’ approach to relationships, displayed by both past Chief Executives, who brazenly cut off individuals and parties over perceived slights. There is the culture of ‘face’, with its often-ludicrously exaggerated regard for symbols of respect and obeisance. And there is the heavy-handed Communist tactic of the United Front, which forces everyone to choose between being an unquestioning, kowtowing loyalist or a non-person, with no fence to sit on.
The tycoon faction of the pro-Beijing camp was always going to have a hard time adjusting to despised outsider CY Leung as Chief Executive. The measures he has introduced to cool the property market have cost them sales revenue. It doesn’t matter how much: the very principle to their minds is as unthinkable and outrageous as abducting and killing a baby is to ordinary people. You can say or do pretty much anything you like, but threaten their profit margins (look at how Park N Shop deals with an outlet that undercuts it) and Li Ka-shing and his peers become fiercer than a mama bear protecting its cub.
It looks as if the Chinese Communist Party won the Hong Kong tycoons’ loyalty back in the 1980s and 90s by guaranteeing them this privilege and monopoly. They have certainly enjoyed and exploited it to the full post-1997. But then in 2012 nice-but-dim textiles heir Henry Tang mysteriously had the top job-handed-him-on-a-plate swiped out of his hands at the last minute. Beijing appointed CY, and the tycoons were left supporting the wrong side.
The ‘pro-business’ Liberal Party had already split in two back in 2008. The breakaway group – now the Business and Professionals Alliance – comprised purer reactionaries who were uncomfortable with the LP leadership for occasionally dabbling in sort-of populism and for implicitly accepting that a more open political structure might be inevitable in Hong Kong.
And so Christmas rolls around, and everyone’s inviting (almost) everyone else to their respective festive gatherings. But not everyone shows up, and this is where the schoolgirl-bitchiness and the imperious United Front-freeze-out show us who’s on good terms, and who isn’t. Basically, the Liberal Party are the season’s social outcasts. All that moping and sniping and sullenness has got them crossed off the list. Top government and Mainland officials are conspicuous by their absence at the party’s 20th anniversary bash, with lowly deputy-assistant-shoeshine-kit-carriers coming along to make the humiliation complete. This is the day after all the top people available made a point of attending the BPA’s first birthday do, among others. Ouch.
The LP’s Felix Chung darkly warns that such snubs will only make them more likely to, er, side with the people of Hong Kong. The opposite, that is, to what the administration does? Apparently so. Unless you’re nice to us. Triangulate your way out of that.
Needless to say, the non-business, genuinely ‘patriotic’ part of the pro-Beijing camp merrily carries on obediently supporting whoever and whatever they are told to – namely CY. That leaves the pro-dems.
The pan-democratic camp comes in a rainbow of flavours, from hoodlums, to Trotskyists, to dull middle-class to fragrant middle-class to intellectual to Christian. But a centrist grouping clustered around the Democratic Party can drag enough of the other non-extremists, at least, to enable us to refer to a roughly cohesive ‘pro-dems’ unit, if only for the sake of argument, not to say sanity.
A truly lateral-thinking pro-dem faction would have screwed up everything for the tycoons and for their own tormentors in Beijing by declaring support for CY Leung when he came into office. After all, the property tycoons hated him. And this desperately needed support would come with strings attached; any strings they wanted in terms of domestic policy, like schools, housing, pollution. But of course the pro-dems would sooner jump off a cliff than take the chance to force a leadership to make Hong Kong a better place. They were born to oppose, and they had CY’s illegal garden trellis and undemocratic appointment to fight.
So now we have the Liberals in a big pout after CY’s gang all go to some other party’s party, but not theirs. Big face-loss. Big urge to scratch someone’s eyes out. Big incentive to make friends with the pro-dems, perhaps? That’ll make the others sorry.
There is, in fact, a considerable potential overlap between the moderate pro-dems and the tycoons. The lawyers of the Democratic and Civic Parties do a lot of work for our big conglomerates, and in a few cases the kids of one group call some seniors of the other ‘uncle’. But let’s not ruin our Christmas by going there.
Although the Liberals will latch onto a populist gimmick – the courts’ decision that new immigrants are eligible for welfare is ideal – we are talking about vested interests, inherited wealth, a sense of entitlement and a blindness to the long term and to enlightened self-interest, resulting in that charming, hyena-like compulsion to gobble up every single last scrap lying around now before anyone else gets a chance. We are talking, for example, about ‘gimme gimme cheap labour now’ as sophisticated economic-development policy. We are talking James Tien. We are talking odious slime. (We are also talking about family fortunes tied up in Mainland assets, thus an eventual, sulky, tail-between-legs trudge back in the direction of the holders of power.) No less than with their fellow lepers in the pro-dems, the obvious and necessary and practical and ultimately optimum course is too subtle to be imaginable.
I did say ‘notional’.
I declare a week or two of semi-hibernation open.