I note what I think is an interesting new ritual: when the government holds a press conference it is preceded by what is technically known as a photo op.

This means that all the top officials present – it usually seems to be either the entire Exco or the entire collection of secretaries – line up in two rows to be photographed by the assembled press people.

Photo: GovHK.

The photographers present all obligingly flash away. I am not sure why – most media outlets have plenty of pictures of these people as individuals and the group shot is very uninspiring.

This is partly because it is the sort of group pose that serious news photographers are taught to avoid: two rows of people, shoulder to shoulder, looking in front of them. This is barely acceptable for a picture of a victorious football team.

Unfortunately, the assembled official line-up does not look like a victorious football team. Of course, they must all look serious. But when forced to gaze at the assembled paparazzi the odd hint of hostility creeps in. Suits in shades of grey do not help.

The overall effect is not so much of an efficient team ready for action as a casting call for bit parts in the next Resident Evil movie.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

This seems to be connected to a change in the oratorical style of our leader. It seems Mrs Carrie Lam has restrained her ambition to be a “proactive official doing good things for Hong Kong.” All new initiatives are now attributed to lengthy and profound thought by “the government team”.

I am not sure that this produces a great increase in confidence. Beholding the assembled team brings back so many happy memories. There is the Financial Secretary (“blame my wife”) the Secretary for Justice (“what swimming pool?”) the Chief Secretary (“I apologise for apologising”) and of course the Chief Executive (Ou est le papier?) This little squirt of French, if I may digress for a moment, is from what I am fairly confident is the only song about the absence of toilet paper.

The government team, like Mrs Lam, has moderated its ambitions of late, and now aspires, it seems, only to an end to violence, on the dubious assumption that after this has happened Hong Kong will be like it was before June.

Well we all deplore violence, though not enough, I fear, to listen in comfort to hearing it denounced by the police spokesman at their daily press do. Hearing a senior policeman denouncing violence is like hearing Hannibal Lecter denouncing cannibalism. We agree, of course, but…

Deputy police commissioner Tang Ping-keung. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Anyway, there is a point which seems to have escaped the “government team,” or at least that part of it which stays to sit behind a desk and do the actual press conference. About half the team mysteriously disappears after the photograph, which as a result seems to be a rather serious waste of some people’s time. Is it intended just to share the blame?

You cannot, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus observed, step into the same river twice. We now know what we did not know before: about Cathay Pacific, about the MTR, about the police force, and of course about Mrs Lam and her team.

The violence and vandalism are not the disease – they are symptoms. The disease is a government which has lost the consent and approval of the people it governs. The cure for this is to reform abuses and redress grievances.

There must be some members of the “government team” who are perfectly well aware of this. From time to time we are treated to carefully phrased explanations that decisions have to consider “the China factor,” or the Chief Executive is “not responsible only to Hong Kong.”

“Residents cover their faces, Carrie Lam covers her heart”. Photo: May James/HKFP.

In other words, they know what ought to be done but they are not allowed to do it. It is perhaps a tribute to the care and caution which goes into the selection process that the entire team seems to be willing to go on working, or pretending to work, on this basis.

Is there none among you, one might ask, with the gumption to stand up and say out loud what many are no doubt thinking in private, which is that Hong Kong is going to hell in a handbasket because the decisions made in Beijing have very little connection to the facts on the ground here?

This would, of course, have to be followed, or perhaps preceded, by a resignation, leading to loss of earnings, no more free parking in Central, much diminished chance of Bauhinia Medal in any colour you haven’t already got and no hope of a regular free trip to Beijing for the NPC meeting.

Photo: Tim Hamlett.

It might, though, do something for one’s self-respect. Many years ago reluctant recruits were urged to consider their future answer to “what did you do in the war, Daddy?”

Career civil servants can, of course, say that they did their duty. It is harder to defend so-called policy secretaries, who are supposed to be at the helm of the ship of state, but are going to have to tell their grandchildren, if they are honest, that “I followed orders.”

This excuse has an unhappy history.

Tim Hamlett

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.