After 20 years, it’s time Patten gave it a rest
A dignified silence is advised for the last governor of Hong Kong whose criticism of the decision to jail Occupy activists was seen as an attack on the judiciary and rule of law
Chris Patten never seems to grow tired of Hong Kong. Every year or two, our last British governor is back in town, whether to promote a book or give a keynote speech.
He is like the prom queen who keeps going back to every high school reunion because that time in her past was far more exciting than anything she has done since.
I have no doubt that Patten genuinely loves Hong Kong and wants the best for it. But it’s not clear that by inserting himself into contemporary debate and conflict he is being helpful or making things worse. There is a fine line between showing support and stealing the spotlight.
Most top officials retire and move on. That’s not just decorum, but the ethical thing to do. Times have changed. Your time to do good is past. That’s why former heads of state and other leaders usually try to maintain a dignified silence about their successors. They have the good grace to get out of the way.
Hong Kong’s greatest post-war governor, no sorry, it’s not Patten, was the late Murray MacLehose.
He stayed out of Hong Kong affairs after retirement even though he arguably had far greater interest because we are still living with many of the institutions, especially in social welfare, education, anti-corruption and housing, which he founded. Patten’s, sadly, is a legacy of ashes.
His greatest contribution, if you can call it that, was the democratic reform that extended the franchise in Legislative Council elections. As predicted by his own Foreign Office, it angered China, which simply scuppered it by setting up the so-called Provisional Legislative Council. The ironic thing is that Legco today has far more directly elected seats – and more Hong Kong people have the vote – than anything envisioned under the ill-advised reform of Patten.
In a speech this week, he advised university heads to talk to their student activists. He said people should pursue democracy but not independence. Such pearls of wisdom!
But when they are not anodyne, they are positively harmful, such as when he said the jailing of three Occupy activists was politically motivated. As Ken Macdonald QC, a former director of public prosecutions for England and Wales wrote in this paper, such unprincipled criticism amounted to an attack on the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.
It has been 20 years, Mr Patten. It’s time for you to move on and let us find our own way.