IT is often forgotten these days. But in the early 1980s, some of today's Democratic Party legislators were among the first people to back Hong Kong's return to China. That was long before it became fashionable to do so. Back then, some of the Hong Kong guests invited to this year's National Day celebrations in Beijing were still pushing for Britain to extend its lease on the colony. Jardine Matheson, which was represented in Beijing on Friday by director Martin Barrow, was so hostile to the prospect of China taking control that it moved its legal domicile to Bermuda. By contrast, Democrats such as Yeung Sum, Cheung Man-kwong and Szeto Wah openly advocated a resumption of Chinese sovereignty. It was a view at that stage only shared by a few local leftists. Meeting Point, one of the groups which later joined together to form today's Democratic Party, even declared the mainland had been right to take the path of communism in 1949. So the Democrats can consider themselves far more patriotic than the numerous 'instant noodle patriots' - to coin the famous phrase used by the late Liu Yiu-chu, a maverick leftist - who only began singing Beijing's praises after the handover became inevitable. But not, it seems, patriotic enough to be allowed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the People's Republic. The selection of Hong Kong's delegation to attend the festivities in Beijing was an appalling display of manipulation and personal favouritism. Apparently Tung Chee-hwa's administration actually had some difficulty finding enough people to fill the 200-strong quota the SAR had been allocated by Beijing. Many people initially on the guest list declined their invitations. These reportedly included Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong chairman Tsang Yok-sing and Federation of Trade Unions leader Cheng Yiu-tong. Both preferred to stay in Hong Kong to organise National Day activities. That explains why publication of the final list was delayed until the delegation was almost in the air for Beijing, as the Government struggled to find substitutes for 30 to 40 unfilled places. Even then, the Government refused to consider inviting Hong Kong's popularly elected representatives. Instead, an odd assortment of civil servants were drafted in to make up the shortfall. Mr Tung's choice of which ones to invite shows how far the mainland concept of guanxi, where personal connections are paramount, is beginning to take root under his leadership. Director of Education Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fan and Director of Trade Joshua Law Chi-kong were both included, although neither has the seniority nor portfolio to justify an invitation. But they do have one advantage not shared by other civil servants: Mr Law was Mr Tung's private secretary until recently, while Mrs Law was head of his office during the handover. Also included was Law Officer Ian Wingfield, right-hand man to Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie. He has already been awarded a Gold Bauhinia Star, apparently for his services in helping to push through the recent reinterpretation of the Basic Law, and is now being accorded preferential treatment once again. But it is the exclusion of directly elected legislators that is the most damaging. There can no longer be any serious doubt that Mr Tung is trying to marginalise his democratic foes. Dialogue is restricted to occasional meetings which are kept as short as possible. Whenever it comes to any official guest list, whether it is for National Day or meetings with mainland leaders visiting Hong Kong, some excuse is always found to exclude them. It is hard to see how this can be reconciled with Mr Tung's emphasis on the need for social stability and harmony. By shunning a party which represents more voters than any other, he is giving them a message that there is no point remaining in the political system. This has already been reflected in the debates within the Democrats over whether they should stop wasting their time in the legislature and take to the streets instead. That cannot be what Mr Tung wants. But his own behaviour is encouraging this, and doing Hong Kong a disservice in the process.