In light of recent events, you would think local politicians would realise that after you lose an election, trying to reverse the result by legal manipulation is a bad look. This point seems lost, alas, on the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong.

Last week the party unveiled a plan to get their snouts back into the district funding trough: wholesale disqualifications. You may think it’s a bit late for this. The district councillors elected in 2019, when the DAB was massacred in every district except Islands, have duly taken their seats.

Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

Never mind. The suggestion launched by the surviving DAB members goes like this. Firstly, all district board members will be required to take The Oath. This of course could have the disappointing effect that all the existing councillors do indeed take the oath, and the DAB stays in the wilderness.

So this gets us to stage two, outlined in an open letter to the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Secretary last week, which involves setting up some mechanism to disqualify councillors who “breach their oath.” This was justified, said the DAB councillors, because so many councillors were “blatantly opposing the central and SAR governments… made the district councils a critical platform to advocate anti-Chinese ideas and cause chaos in Hong Kong.”

These Trumplets evidently have a vivid imagination. I believe many of us would have noticed if District Councils were causing anything worth calling “chaos”. I cannot speak for the prevalence of criticism or opposition to the central or local governments because District Council meetings are rarely reported, so opportunities for subversive oratory are rather thin on the ground.

Tsuen Wan District Council’s first meeting in 2020. Photo: Stand News.

I have noticed, though, that in my immediate vicinity – I realise this is just the well in which I am the seated frog – the standard of municipal services has shown a considerable improvement since the change of regime. This rather confirms the experience of other places, which indicates that control by the same party for long periods leads to cronyism, complacency and corruption.

It would be nice to see the DAB engage in some soul-searching, with a view to discovering why the party is so unpopular. After all, the prestige and perks attached to being a district councillor depend to some extent on the democratic legitimacy of the members. A display of bad losership is not going to endear.

Instead, though, the whole pro-Beijing camp seems besotted with disqualification. They want close-circuit TV in local classrooms, so that teachers who fail to push the pro-Pooh line can be expelled from the profession. They want a committee to consider complaints about judges, with no doubt the long-term objective of debenching those who display unseemly attachment to the rule of law.

Paul Harris, chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association. Photo: StandNews.

The Op Ed page of the China Daily had an interesting piece last week suggesting that the Bar Association was unfit for purpose and should be replaced by a committee “appointed by the Chief Executive” (!?) which would approve qualifications and, in due course, disqualifications.

We seem to be progressing surprisingly quickly towards what we might call the Stalinist model for controlling the population through a stranglehold on its ability to earn a living. In due course there will be a Wheel-tappers and Shunters Association of which all wheel-tappers and shunters must be members. Dissident shunters will be expelled from the association and will no longer be able to work in that capacity.

It seems that thousands of people are planning to take advantage of the opportunity to move to the wet, cold, Covid-riddled island where I was born. This regrettable haemorrhage is not caused by a fear of criticism or of chaos. Freedom is like indoor plumbing. You can do without it, but once you have had it you won’t want to.

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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.