The climbdown on the goods and services tax is a slap in the face for the self-proclaimed 'can-do' administration. At the same time, it is another reminder of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's political pragmatism. Two months after the government rejected lawmakers' calls for the GST consultation to be shortened in the face of public opposition, the Tsang team has shown itself to be a quick learner. It was just last weekend that visiting state leader Wu Bangguo reminded them of the need for a harmonious society. Keeping the proposal going was risky in the charged political environment ahead of the chief executive election in March and the 10th anniversary of the July 1 handover. Never mind the repeated assurances since the exercise began in July that a consultation is a consultation and that no decision was about to be taken. Forget Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen's subsequent comment that, even if the consultation ended inconclusively, it would still have been a worthwhile civic education exercise if people understood the importance of striking a balance between rights and obligations. That there has been no meeting of minds on substantive tax-related issues speaks volumes for the lack of political will, or skill, to secure support for difficult policies. Following the constitutional reform fiasco and the scrapping of the original proposals for the West Kowloon cultural hub project, the government's about-turn says much about its political conundrum. The administration, deep in its heart, may be convinced it is on the right side of history. But given that it commands no votes in the Legislative Council, Mr Tsang seems to have grown increasingly realistic about the difficulty of trying to get things done. However keen the chief executive may be to lead a strong government, he has shown he has the skills of a gymnast - able to step down from the high moral ground of the elite when the people say no to policies like a GST and the plans for the cultural hub. Mr Tsang has been given the benefit of the doubt, having been handed only a short term of office when he took over from Tung Chee-hwa in the middle of the latter's second term. If he is given five more years, his supporters believe he will show his true colours and make his mark on history. But with no sign the structural constraints will disappear, nor that Mr Tsang will stop being politically expedient, the failed GST consultation is indicative - like it or not - of the shape of things to come in his likely second term.