• Wed
  • Nov 26, 2014
  • Updated: 12:24pm

MacLehose years not so rosy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 March, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 March, 1994, 12:00am

IN his article headlined, ''Patten strays off MacLehose trail'' (South China Morning Post, March 12), Kevin Sinclair assures readers that ''Lord MacLehose is careful not to criticise directly the politician who is now governor'', but he has actually cobbled together a piece that is far more damaging to Mr Patten than a direct censure by his eminent predecessor.

Selective quotes reflecting the former governor's concerns are given greater plausibility by highlighting Lord MacLehose's unmatched record of creative administration and his long experience in diplomatic relations with the government of the PRC.

The reader is invited to contrast this impressive background with the inexperience of Mr Patten, a brash and badly advised up-start professional politician who is held to be responsible for creating ''mindless political polarisation which cannot be in Hong Kong's best interest''.

Mr Sinclair is particularly well qualified to write of Lord MacLehose's past achievements.

Indeed, as the only journalist singled out to interview the retiring governor in 1982, Mr Sinclair wrote 16 of the 40 pages of the text of the Post 's farewell tribute, The MacLehose Years - 1971-1982.

I know of no one who served in the MacLehose administration, even those who experienced the rough side of his high-handed style of governance, who would begrudge him the Post 's fulsome acknowledgement of his outstanding services to Hong Kong.

As 1997 approaches it has become expedient, even for those who never had it so good as under British rule, to celebrate their coming liberation from the undemocratic colonial yoke.

But that is not how the public perceived the Hong Kong Government in the early 80s.

On the contrary, its benevolent authoritarianism was praised rather than criticised as was shown when on June 6, 1980, your paper ran a letter from a Mr M. A. Ashton calling for ''the democratic reforms and leadership that this community begs for''.

In a reply which would probably have been endorsed by the majority of Hong Kong residents, published on June 25, 1980, a Mr P. L. K. Simpson made, inter alia, the following classic comment: ''Personally, I would rather have Sir Murray, Sir Jack and Sir Phil at the helm than any assortment of naive pseudo-democrats. Our guardians have been trained to rule and not surprisingly therefore do a much better job of it than most elected governments. Instead of criticising Hong Kong, people like Mr Ashton should attempt to understand that the Colony represents the ultimate symbiosis between governors and governed.'' Unfortunately this ''ultimate symbiosis'' was fatally flawed by such intolerance of criticism that its guardians were ready to condone organised breaches of the rule of law by civil servants in attempts to immobilise those perceived as serious opponents of their system of rule. Mr Sinclair would surely do better service to Hong Kong by writing what he knows about such misuse of power than by helping Lord MacLehose to undermine the credibility of Mr Patten who, as I see it, is at least trying to ensure that the mistakes of the MacLehose years are not repeated in years to come.



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