Trade unionist and legislator Lee Cheuk-yan's ingenuity in successfully amending the vote of thanks last week in response to the Governor's last policy address enabled the Legislative Council to record its displeasure at the British Government for denying the people of Hong Kong full democracy. I have heard the Governor say that ultimately it will be for history to judge Britain. But we don't have to look backward in order to look forward. The present speaks for itself. Hong Kong does not have a representative system of government after 155 years of British rule. In the 1950s, Britain excused itself by claiming there was no demand in Hong Kong for change. In the 60s, Britain began absolving itself by highlighting the China factor. In 1967, the then British minister of state, Judith Hart, said in parliament: 'Because of Hong Kong's particular relationship with China, it would not be possible to think of the normal self-government and not possible, therefore, to consider an elected Legislative Council.' In the 70s, after China successfully got the United Nations to remove Hong Kong and Macau from its decolonisation agenda, Britain also dropped the description 'colony' and replaced it with 'territory'. In place of genuine representation, the British and Hong Kong Governments sought to create a semblance of legitimacy for British rule by appointing local worthies to the Executive Council, the legislature and a network of consultative bodies. The appointment system was, and remains, a patronage system. Reliability to support government policy is often more important than ability. This colonial culture created a local political elite which is conscious of where power emanates from. Those most influenced by this culture least want to openly criticise the government for fear of losing favour. Now that Britain's power is waning and China's on the ascendant, many senior members of the local elite have rushed over to offer their support to the mainland, sometimes even at the expense of Hong Kong's own interests. For example, supporters of the setting up of the provisional legislature acknowledge such a body is undesirable, but they justify its necessity by saying the mainland has no choice because Britain forced through constitutional reforms without China's agreement. They could stand on the side of Hong Kong and insist the provisional legislature is not in the territory's interest, but they do not. Another characteristic of this colonial culture is paternalism. Colonial administrators believe they know what is best for the people. A few officials take all the important decisions in Hong Kong. The teaching of politics was actively discouraged in schools until this decade. The colonial administration did not want people to question the decision-making process. In this day and age, it is shocking to find would-be chief executives who advocate bringing back the appointment system to district boards and municipal councils. They probably, like old colonial administrators, do not trust elections which could throw up a group of people who come from different backgrounds and hold diverse views. What they don't like is the fact that elected representative are harder to manage than appointees. The civil service's negative attitude toward private members' bills in the Legislative Council is another example of the colonial culture's distaste for political initiative coming from outside the government. History will judge Britain poorly for holding people back from political life because of its own preconceptions, preoccupations and prejudices.