I miss the student leaders of the “umbrella movement”. Compared with the boorish and even violent young protesters of today, they were indeed angels. Politically, they might have been wet behind the ears. But they were passionate, well-educated, self-aware and smart, perhaps even brilliant. I would not have argued if you said they could represent the future of Hong Kong. But the young, leaderless protesters of today hiding behind masks and helmets? I hope not! Having watched with horror how so many protesters degenerated into violent mobs assaulting bystanders, you realise most of those who led the Occupy protests in 2014 were indeed young ladies and gentlemen of high calibre. They would not have allowed such things to happen nor turned a blind eye to them. The latest: an elderly man was jeered and manhandled at the airport by a crowd that was there to make the anti-government case to international travellers! The viral clips were too distressing to watch. Viral video shows protesters jostling elderly man at Hong Kong airport I was wrong – terribly wrong – back in 2014 to have underestimated or even mocked in this column the likes of Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Alex Chow Yong-kang, Lester Shum Ngo-fai, Tommy Cheung Sau-yin and Yvonne Leung Lai-kwok. I was wrong to let my own political conservatism blind me to their undeniable merits. Given time and opportunity, they could become real leaders and play a significant role in public policymaking. Looking at the mobs today, this is especially obvious. Despite lip service being paid by the government, the greatest failure of our political system is to have offered no place for young people of independent and critical mind to play a meaningful role in public affairs. Law did win an election and become the city’s youngest lawmaker, only to be disqualified for his dodgy oath-taking antics. If only he had played ball for just two minutes and finished the oath like a normal person. Don’t get me wrong; I am perfectly fine with the other cases of disqualification. When you go after the best and brightest our education system has produced and get rid of them, you end up with the rejects who are now wreaking havoc and turning our streets into battlefields. With no education, no career and no money, many young protesters today have nothing to lose. Our political class has proved to be a total failure. Hong Kong can still crawl its way back, but we need those young people of quality.