Opinion Politics & Protest

God has a direct line with an out-of-touch Hong Kong bureaucrat?

So Carrie Lam is going to run for Chief Executive of the SAR. This does not come as a surprise. In fact it must be the most extensively pre-reported event since the death of Chairman Mao. It does, though, raise a number of questions.

The first one is, what are we to make of all those pundits who said that John Tsang was forced to keep his candidacy on hold until his resignation had been accepted by Beijing? This was a repeated trope in all the toad media and some of the others: until his resignation had been given the green light Mr Tsang could not announce his candidacy, recruit a team, pen a manifesto, etc…

Leung Chun-ying, Carrie Lam and John Tsang.

Incumbent leader Leung Chun-ying, Carrie Lam and John Tsang. Photo: Stand News.

Personally I disagreed with this. I think once an official resigns he or she is free to be as political as they wish. I am surprised, though, to find that Ms Lam apparently agrees with me. Handing in her resignation she announced straight away that it was for the purpose of running in the CE election. She proceeded to launch her campaign (before a private audience of fat cats – old habits die hard) and we were told who was leading it, and other details, while the “acceptance” was still awaited. Mr Tsang, on the other hand, is still hovering. So maybe the acceptance from Beijing wasn’t what was holding him back after all.

Next we come to one of those media “coincidences”, like the TVB Palace Museum programme. Ms Lam’s announcement was followed in suspiciously short order by a double page spread on her many merits in the SCMPost. This paroxism of sycophancy was headlined “Iron lady with a will of steel”. And this leads one to wonder what on earth the headline writer was thinking of. Surely we do not need the Chief Executive to be quite as ferrous as this.

I know lady candidates have to overcome some prejudice that the “fairer sex” is not tough enough for the big decisions, but there are limits. Ms Lam is not running for the job of supervisor in the lampshade workshop of a death camp. Indeed in the light of the Palace Museum saga one might wish that Ms Lam’s steely will had enough flexibility in it to accommodate some public consultation before a much-needed performance venue is summarily replaced and the whole deal secretly reaches the stage where we are told it would “not be fair” to ask people if they actually wanted it.

carrie lam palace museum

Carrie Lam (C) and members of the core group in preparation for the development of the Hong Kong Palace Museum. Photo: WKCDA.

Actually, the attempt to portray Ms Lam as a sort of human halberd is misguided. Her problem is not that she is a woman but that she is a bureaucrat. Nothing wrong with that, in the right places.

Here is the great theorist of bureaucracy, Max Weber: “Bureaucracy develops the more perfectly the more it is dehumanised, the more it succeeds in eliminating from official business love, hatred, and all personal, irrational and emotional elements which escape calculation”.

Electoral politics is an entirely different matter. Jeremy Paxman, in his admirable The Political Animal notes that there is one piece of personal history found more often in successful politicians than in the rest of the population: the loss or absence at an early age of one or both parents. Deprived of the usual emotional satisfactions at home, they develop an enhanced ability to share themselves with outsiders.

john tsang

John Tsang met with a family after he resigned. Photo: John Tsang, via Facebook.

This is probably not something which can be taught. Bill Clinton has it; Hilary hasn’t. John Tsang seems to be at ease with people, Carrie Lam, I fear, does not. And no amount of supportive gush about her family or personal history is going to fix this. The Chief Secretary’s palace on the Peak is very nice, but living in it does not foster the common touch.

Another Carrie question concerns the voices in her head. Ms Lam said in her announcement that “God told her to run”. This is open to a number of objections, some of which are explored in the video below. I am not sure who sent me that video, but thank you.

On the whole, although the upper reaches of our civil service contain a surprising number and variety of religions, we do not get this sort of stuff in Hong Kong. I think this is a good thing. I am not personally into religion, but neither would I categorically state with the enthusiasm deployed by eager atheists that the idea of God is entirely a figment of the human imagination. If there is someone there, though, I find it very hard to believe that He takes an interest in local elections. Which of course leads one to wonder who Ms Lam was actually talking to.

Generally, it seems God engages in conversation through some physical intermediary — His Son, an angel, a burning bush, a dove… Communications which occur entirely inside your head are more suspicious. I also note with regret that if God told Ms Lam to run in the election then his standards seem to be slipping. Surely a higher priority should have been given to more traditional advice about such matters as keeping your promises and telling the truth, which Ms Lam is perhaps in need of.

God has a direct line with an out-of-touch Hong Kong bureaucrat?