Sometimes – but, frankly, not that often – my heart goes out to the serried ranks of pro-government legislators who really need to be more careful over what they wish for.

Here’s an example of what I mean: they are desperate to be appointed as members of various Mainland advisory bodies but are then confronted with the reality of what this entails.

Over the past two weeks, many of these poor souls have found themselves spending far more time in Beijing than any reasonable person would have liked.

Starry Lee at the two sessions in 2019. Photo: Facebook/Starry Lee.

Along with thousands of others they were summoned to join the televised displays of synchronised clapping and trying to look interested as they sat with no more than tepid cups of Chinese tea for comfort, while important officials delivered interminable reports to the sessions of China’s so called parliament and its lower level consultative conference.

The delegates barely dare to move as the cadres drone on and on and then they have to applaud and occasionally raise their hands or shuffle up to a ballot box to cast a vote.

They also must take care over their choice of attire. Nothing too flashy is allowed but on the other hand the poor old Hong Kong delegates are loath to don the ill-fitting suits worn by their Mainland counterparts. And for the female participants there are both make-up and jewellery issues to be tackled.

The exotic ‘tribal’ costumes that are required wearing for certain minority delegates are clearly not appropriate for the Hong Kong delegation, who might otherwise be compelled to find costumes festooned with $ logos.

Lo Wai-kwok at the two sessions in 2019. Photo: Facebook/Lo Wai-kwok.

The formal meeting sessions are bad enough but then there are the dinners and lunches. Under new edicts spending on these events has been curtailed and the quality of the fare has been lowered accordingly.

Moreover the prospect of drowning their sorrows in copious quantities of the very best maotai, or even better, a rather cheeky early vintage Chateau Something or Other, no longer exists. Not only has the word come down of a crackdown on such extravagance but also there is always the fear that tongues loosened with alcohol might end up spluttering something embarrassing.

The question of tongues and spluttering is generally rather troubling for some Hong Kong delegates – their grasp of Mandarin is less than perfect – but they have to maintain the myth that everyone speaks perfect Putonghua regardless of reality. Behind their backs the uppity southerners are often mocked as they struggle with the northern dialect.

Then there’s the awful weather in Beijing, the smog, the queuing for just about everything ending up with the scramble for the exit at the airport where – despite special arrangements for the delegates – lines are even longer and the prospect of flight delays ever present.

Hong Kong representatives to the two sessions in Beijing in 2019. Photo: Facebook/Starry Lee.

Trust me: none of this is a picnic or even a perfectly formed northern dumpling. And then there’s the need for self-criticism, a point made with finger wagging yet again this year.

So far, so bad. But when the voting machine, otherwise known as the pro-government legislators, get home they are confronted with another careful-what-you-wish-for dilemma because in Legco they are being told to vote for all manner of proposals that even they know to be both dubious and unpopular.

A case in point is the government’s determination to boost the profits of retail property landlords with its half-baked scheme for buying up premises in shopping malls to house care centres. Then there’s the universally unpopular proposal for changing cross-harbour tunnel fees.

Lantau Island. File Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Typhoonchaser/cc-by-sa 3.0.

But in terms of cash these matters pale into insignificance as legislation is being brought forward for the funding of the 1,700 hectare Lantau land reclamation project and the HK$32.9 billion required for the Kwu Tung North & Fanling North Development Area works.

Following the expulsion of pro-democrat legislators the pro-government camp has full control of Legco and therefore has to accept ownership for all its decisions. They have even changed the rules of procedure to reduce scrutiny of legislation and to avoid the possibility of voting defeats. But, as the old saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.

So, there is nowhere to hide when it comes to blame shouldering. This would be of less concern were it not for the fact that district elections are to be held in November and, horror of horrors, the voting machine might just be called to account by the electors.

Sometimes preferment and taking control is not half as fun as it first appears to be.

Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship