THE Co-operative Resources Centre's mission to London has shown that even our most seasoned politicians have yet to grasp the basics of symbolic communication. Negative images about the delegation were televised in the territory after the councillors arrived in Britain four days ago. The CRC has appeared to be little more than a group of enthusiastic amateurs, when juxtaposed with the new US President's dexterity in manipulating political symbols. Mr Bill Clinton's use of a bus journey to the capital, his visit to the John Kennedy graveyard and his handshake with his predecessor at the inauguration all underlined the message that this was a peaceful transition of power to a younger leadership determined to revive the American national ideas. In contrast, the CRC team was seen being snubbed not only by the Prime Minister, Mr John Major, but also by the British press. Unlike its cosy reception for the United Democrats, the Prime Minister's Office did not arrange a photo-call for the CRC visitors at Downing Street. The subsequent British media coverage on the CRC delegation, led by Mr Allen Lee Peng-fed, was scanty, The few articles there were, were mostly critical. One commentary dismissed the CRC leaders as a group of unfaithful servants of London who have switched allegiance as 1997 draws closer. The way they were treated by Whitehall and the British media is, of course, beyond the group's control. But it was the CRC's own choice to be identified with former British officials sympathetic to its cause. The members met with former special foreign affairs adviser, Sir Percy Cradock, and two ex-governors, Lord Wilson and Lord MacLehose. Despite their important roles while they were in office, these men are now only marginally relevant to Hongkong in the era of Chris Patten. The most telling encounter of the CRC's mission was their meeting with Lord MacLehose who had handpicked Mr Lee to serve on both the Executive and Legislative Councils. This crystallised the embarrassing position the CRC now finds itself in, in the fast-developing local political scene: it is regarded as a spent force unable to keep up with changing times. CRC member and former Executive Councillor Mr Edward Ho Sing-tin insisted that their trip to London had succeeded in reflecting residents' views on the current Sino-British row over Hongkong. The nine-member delegation wanted Mr Major to revise Mr Patten's constitutional reform package to make it more palatable to China. But they remained elusive about what the CRC, with 17 votes at its command in Legco, would do next if these calls were rejected. The group will obviously have to sharpen its message when it embarks on the second leg of its mission to Beijing. But CRC members have painted themselves into a corner now that they have been slighted by Whitehall. If Zhongnanhai decides to roll out the red carpet for them, the occasion will be frowned upon as united front tactics to honour a group of former colonial proteges. If it is snubbed by the Chinese, the CRC will be perceived as carrying little influence in either London or Beijing. Neither scenarios will help boost the image of the CRC which is at a crucial stage in its transformation into a political party. It is not that the CRC is insensitive to its image. On the contrary, the group is so aware of the problem that it has recently commissioned the Hongkong Foundation, headed by CRC member Stephen Cheong Kam-chuen, for advice on how to impress the public. In a brief handout for prospective founding members of the future party, the CRC has highlighted the importance of improving its public relations' efforts. And core members of the centre have been swift in answering their critics. Mrs Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee has volunteered two articles to the Chinese-language Economic Journal to counter criticism. She has taken issue with a contributor to the paper who denounced the CRC's performance in the aftermath of the Lan Kwai Fong tragedy as an attempt to seek votes. Mrs Chow argued that the columnist had abused his privileged position and freedom of speech. Meanwhile, lawyer Mr Moses Cheng Mo-chi, who is in charge of upgrading the CRC into a political party, has crossed swords with a commentator from the University of Hongkong. Through the Post's Letters Page, another active CRC member, Mr Ronald Arculli, has become involved in a similar war of words with a Baptist College academic. Soon after CRC delegates came back to Hongkong, three liberal councillors - Dr Leung Che-hung, Ms Christine Loh Kung-wai and Ms Emily Lau Wai-hing - embarked on a separate lobby mission to London. Much of what the CRC tried to put across in Britain will be negated by the trio who will argue for the proposed reforms to be accelerated. Unlike the CRC mission, the three councillors seem better prepared. Apart from pushing for more direct elections in Hongkong, they also want to broaden the debate on establishing democracy here. Together with the Hongkong Journalists Association, the liberal councillors have conducted a survey on how the provisions on freedom of expression and opinions, as enshrined in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, have been implemented in the territory. A joint press conference with the association is scheduled for February 4, upon the councillors' return from London. They will join forces to put forward demands on how freedom of expression can be better protected. The CRC, on the other hand, has yet to demonstrate that they can take other concerned parties on board in their campaigns.