The rats are scrambling off the sinking ship and there are no prizes for guessing who the rats are or the name of the fast-sinking People’s Tug Boat CENO, captained by Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive in Name Only.

Only the terminally loyal and relentlessly stupid will have failed to notice that the days of the CENO and her waxwork administration are numbered. They are to be sacrificed under the slogan of ‘when it comes to saving the party – no one is too big to be spared’.

What always matters is the preservation of the Communist Party’s authority and control. If this involves the sacrifice of its loyalist supporters, it matters not one bit. Anyone familiar with the Cultural Revolution will know how this works as cadres were dispatched to the great red beyond screaming ‘what have I done?’. ‘No one loved Mao more than me.’

Carrie Lam. File Photo: inmediahk.net.

These poor deluded fools, called upon to make the greatest sacrifice, failed to appreciate their insignificance. And here we are again; the CENO seriously believes that if she can make enough visits across the border, secure enough audiences with leaders and obey their instructions to the letter, they will spare her.

However, this will not happen. The first signs of her imminent demise came as Beijing made it clear that she and she alone was responsible for the extradition bill debacle. This was followed by a slew of subtle and not so subtle hints about the need for the CENO to improve her governance.

And last week, ironically, when legislators were discussing a democrat-tabled motion calling for Lam’s dismissal, we saw her being excoriated by members of what was once known as the pro-government camp.

Starry Lee, Chairwoman of the Communist Party in Drag, otherwise known as the DAB, let rip against the CENO, describing her as ‘weak’ and ‘ineffective’. The waxworks were even worse, she said, lashing out at the Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng, the security minister and even the hapless Environment Secretary whose crime, apparently, was sticking to environmental matters while failing to ‘do anything to stop the violence’.

Teresa Cheng and Liu Xiaoming at the Chinese Embassy in London. Photo: Chinese Embassy in UK.

What matters here is not Lee’s words, nor those of the other loyalist legislators who piled in to castigate the government, but the fact that they did what they did. These are people who hesitate over brushing teeth before obtaining authorisation from Beijing. It is unthinkable that they would speak like this without having been given the green light either from the Liaison Office or the more powerful Hong Kong control centre now located in Shenzhen.

Amusingly, in a way, was that all these fierce government critics ended their speeches by declining to support the CENO’s dismissal. This too reflects Beijing’s dilemma because although it is clear that the time has come to distance the party from responsibility for Hong Kong’s chaos, the bosses have yet to identify suitable replacements for the incumbent administration and the CENO herself.

Although there is no shortage of flag wavers and sycophants, there is a profound shortage of talent in the pro-China camp.

Kenneth Lau. Photo: LegCo.

This problem was inadvertently underlined by Kenneth Lau, who inherited his father’s position as head of the Heung Yee Kuk, and his other positions in Legco and Exco, but clearly failed to take on board the new line from Beijing. During the dismissal debate, poor old Kenneth embarrassed himself by vigorously defending Lam and declaring that she was good at settling disputes.

Lau apart, all the other flag-wavers have taken on board the central message that the current administration is little more than walking dead.

The Communist Party’s problem is that its determination to allow no concessions in the face of protest and refusal to appoint anyone to office who has not attended obedience training classes is a recipe for stalemate at best, and disaster at worst.

Lamentably, as the history of the Chinese Communist Party repeatedly demonstrates that if there is a choice between ceding control and other disastrous consequences, ceding control will not be the chosen option.

However, nothing is forever and there’s always a first time for common sense. Were that to happen to Hong Kong normality would resume with remarkable rapidity.

As for the CENO and her waxworks, well, they can look forward to a lifetime of shuffling across the border to raise their hands at any number of CPPCC, NPC or indeed gatherings with another combination of initials.

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Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist, writer and broadcaster and runs companies in the food sector. He 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. Vines is the author of several books, including: Hong Kong: China’s New Colony, The Years of Living Dangerously - Asia from Crisis to the New Millennium and Market Panic and most recently, Food Gurus. He hosts a weekly television current affairs programme: The Pulse. Vines’ latest book, Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published in 2021 by Hurst Publishers, London