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  • Dec 29, 2014
  • Updated: 3:38am
CommentInsight & Opinion

Could Hong Kong use some of Thatcher's 'conviction' politics?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 10 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 April, 2013, 2:45am

Margaret Thatcher, Britain's longest-serving leader of the 20th century, once claimed credit for "New Labour" and Tony Blair, who served almost as long as she did as prime minister. That the former Conservative Party leader could get away with that pronouncement, without attracting derision, says something about her dominance of British politics and her legacy. Blair did indeed persuade his party to adopt many of Thatcher's tough economic reforms before being elected to office in 1997, such as privatising state-owned industries and embracing free markets.

However, she was not only inspiring, but also deeply divisive - even in death, as we have been reminded by street parties in Britain to celebrate her passing, aged 87.

The year that Blair came to office is better remembered here for the handover of Hong Kong to China on terms that Thatcher broadly agreed upon with paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. It was a meeting of two strong wills. Her death has revived memories that this too was divisive, with some still having not completely forgiven Thatcher for not fighting harder for the city. The chief architect of Britain's handover policy was Percy Cradock, former ambassador to Beijing. Realising that Beijing held all the cards, Cradock advised Thatcher not to try to hold on to all or even some parts of Hong Kong and cautioned that democratic reforms were bound to provoke Beijing. It was one of the few times the Iron Lady - a mocking nickname Thatcher revelled in - did not get her way.

At home, she forced through free-market solutions to the problems of a stalled economy and broke union power. Financial deregulation turned the City of London into a rival to Wall Street. Overseas, her stand against compromise with the Soviet Union helped end the cold war.

Enemies within her own party finally forced her out over unpopular local government reform. But Thatcher remains the most dominant political figure since Winston Churchill. Her take-no-prisoners governing style is foreign to the present Hong Kong way of consultation and consensus and, anyway, we have long had the economic freedom she fought for. One day, however, the city may have reason to reflect on one of her many memorable quotations: "I am a conviction politician ... consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects."


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One of the problems I have with Thatcher and many conservatives is that they think a person's status in life strictly correlates with hard work, and that not being able to own a house or have a job is all the person's fault. It's not.
Yes, hard work plays a vital major role in success, but if only that was the case countless single mothers in impoverished countries would be billionaires by now. It's not their fault that they're living in a place with little opportunity, or where they're probably considered inferior for being in a certain economic or social group.
And look at what Thatcher did to her own country with her philosophy. North England's industry was devastated under her and and it's economy is still recovering even now, privatization of industries caused 3 million to be left unemployed and suffer under high taxes, all while the rich are given tax cuts. She even tried to kill the National Health Services.
I'm not the denying the good she did, of course. As a Hongkonger, I appreciate her effort in making a smooth handover of the city. But while I admire her strong will, the problem with fighting with absolute conviction is that you leave out the consideration that your actions are wrong. And that's what a lot of Thatchers policies are to a lot of the middle class in England: very, very wrong.
Also, this is the lady who labeled Nelson Mandela a terrorist and refused to apologize for apartheid in South Africa.
Dai Muff
Hong Kong has always been Thatcherite, and with the gap between rich and poor widening and upward mobility reducing, as well as a government (in Beijing) that demands absolute deference, it is still well ahead of even the authoritarian greed of Thatcher.
Dai Muff
She also took tea with murdering dictator Pinochet and refused to allow him to be prosecuted for mass murders as long as it was within her power.
Hong Kong is a neither nor place particularly of its economy. It is neither a free economy nor a state economy. It is not a free economy to all only free to only the established vested interests. It is not a state economy by appearance but the tight ownership of land by government affects everything and everybody all inescapably to make what Hong Kong is. Its seven million populations are held hostage to this neither economy. What potential entrepreneurship and creativity can be had if Hong Kong can have a dose of Thatcher’s will to reorganize the government and to take on the vested interests.
It is such a paradox that being a tiny place that good policy and a civilized culture could be easily to be had but Hong Kong chooses not. Perhaps human impulses still rule us all in Hong Kong.
The dynamics of HK and UK are very different and so one must be careful whether Tory (as well as New Labour policies) should be replicated in HK. Few can deny that there is greater economic and social inequality in HK compared to UK whereas the UK still preserves many socialist aspects of old Labour (NHS, free education, progressive tax and generally a lot more stringent government regulation).
If anything, HK has already gone way beyond what Thatcher would have done if she were ever to have governed HK: vast monopolies or duopolies in many of the pillar industries in HK, regulation being so loose, the absence of a Competition Commission and consumer protection being very weak. Once must also remember, Thatcher was elected by the UK electorate and her administration was put there, as Lincoln would put it “of the people, by the people, for the people". By contrast, the HK population are disenfranchised and unless there is universal suffrage and stronger accountability in HK, the current set of affairs would only continue to worsen.
Actually, HK has recently passed the Competition Ordinance and is in the process of setting up the Competition Commission. Its practical effects will of course remain to be seen.
Indeed HK had practiced widespread privatization in the late 1980"s:
1.privitization of housing:to follow the market force;retreat from public housing commitment;to expand Home Ownership Scheme.
2.similar plans such as postal services,medical care-to lessen the burden of a "big government".
Decades after,the aim is not reached to a larger extent,but a rolling back of a bureaucratic ideology
Then we have a small but big government and a opened and closed economy.
Why in UK cities celebrating Thatcher's death is mainly due to loss of jobs(in some arenas),cutting of benefits.
Handing over of HK to China is irrevelant:at that time UK is weak politically and economically:Britols are not bordering:relationship with Europe bothers more.And being the "obedient" partner of the US;it hurts at the thought of the losing colonies and is mocked as a second or third power in Europe.
Thatch will remain controversial of her work as a prime minister. Since she ran such a long career, inconsistency in her policy and belief is inevitable. So pick what you like for or against. I like what I read in WSJ: ‘Through a radical program of structural overhauls based on free markets, a willingness to confront vested interests …. But within five years, Britain was booming.’’ So UK was revitalized.
Absolutely C Y Leung can use that for Hong Kong ?


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