Confidence in the ability of Hong Kong’s political system to deliver competent, responsible administration continues to decline. Popular despair at the dispiriting race to the bottom that characterises most public debate causes many to wonder whether the current crop of so-called leaders really are the best Hong Kong can produce. History offers little grounds for confidence. The talent pool of those prepared to enter public life (for reasons beyond their own personal advantage) has always been small, and continues to decline. “Cometh the hour, cometh the man,” optimists aver – but, so far, who on Hong Kong’s political horizon displays genuine leadership ability? The territory’s current political impasse and the underlying socioeconomic issues that contribute to rising levels of unrest bear comparison to Northern Ireland in the late 1960s, luckily without the poisonous religious bigotry. Like Northern Ireland, contemporary local politics displays the nastier characteristics of a pack of brawling drunks. Hong Kong’s public life has declined beyond the point where it matters who threw the first punch, hurled the initial insult or dropped the first kick; right across the political spectrum, all participants are now horribly in the wrong. Inevitably, Occupy Central will happen; with equally unstoppable momentum, lines of intransigence have been drawn on all sides of the debate. Whatever form the protests take, the drama will end in floods of tears all round. But however many tears are shed – and let’s fervently hope that they are all that will flow on the streets in the coming weeks – eventually responsible adults will need to step forward, hand out the tissues and instruct (perhaps compel) everyone to wipe their eyes, blow their noses, pipe down and get on with their lives. Increasingly, comparisons are being drawn between Hong Kong’s emerging political disaster and the general situation that resulted in the 1967 Leftist riots. Youth anger, then, was largely driven by limited meaningful educational opportunities. Now, the clear inability of the local economy to deliver expected rewards to increasing numbers of under-employed local graduates fuels disgruntlement. Other comparisons to 1967 are seriously wide of the mark, principally because the current situation is, potentially, much more incendiary. Back then, the general population supported the government; political agitators were highly disciplined internally (although operating without general approval from “on high”); the police enjoyed widespread public respect and, most critically, Hong Kong had leaders prepared to lead. These factors – in particular, the last – are now absent. During the 1967 riots, effective leadership was displayed by those who combined solid personal integrity with wartime records for calmness under fire. Many individuals were excellent, but two were outstanding – police commissioner Edward “Ted” Eates, who replaced Edward Tyrer overnight in controversial circumstances, and Jack Cater, later the defence secretary. Others were less than stellar. Governor David Trench, interviewed about the situation on British television, was such a bundle of nerves that he could barely light his cigarette; once it was ignited, Trench was almost too twitchy to get it into his mouth. Widely rumoured to be a nervous wreck at the time (although this was strenuously denied), the governor was kept away on leave and out of the public eye until calm was eventually restored later in the year.