David Alton MP
THERE is a temptation in politics to be a bit too clever by half. Take, for example, the very worthy idea that a campaign aide had during my last election campaign: write to all the ethnic minorities in their own languages, explaining how to vote and why they should consider voting for Good idea, I said: letters were duly prepared in Hindi, Gujuratti and Chinese. Likely looking names were meticulously extracted from the electoral role and the letters sent oil, Then about four days later a Mr Wong wrote back to me. His letter was in impeccable English and, as he was unable to speak Cantonese, he asked me to send him a translation in English.
Like many other third and fourth generation Chinese living in Liverpool, Mr Wong was well aware how to vote and held his own views.
It therefore came as quite a surprise to discover just how politically disinterested and uninvolved are the people who live in Hong Kong, Being a Crown Colony most decisions are still in the hands of the Governor and the appointed urban council. Certainly the regime is a benevolent one but it does seem a shame that it is only now that the authorities are getting around to registering all citizens as voters and giving them the chance to elect the equivalent of British local councillors.
Like Mr Wong of Liverpool. I would not have even known which end of the Cantonese electoral registration form to begin at, let alone understand it. The English version is not much better. As in Britain, lunatics and members of the House of Lords, in that order., have no vote. Then there is a curious section which asks whether by November 30 the elector will have attained the age of 21 years by Western reckon ing, and whether he is a 'Hong Kong belonger' — an odd word which even Mr Wong might have wondered about and which featured heavily on the Hong Kong television adverts promoting the registration campaign.
We will have to wait for another month before knowing how many belongers have been interested in this extension of the franchise but if the Chinese family that 1 stayed with was anything to go by, relatives incidentally of some of my Liverpool constituents, Hong Kong residents are not going to be rushing to the polls.
According to my hosts, Hong Kong people are far more interested in making money than in democracy. This pretty cynical view did not, however. prevent them from expressing firmly held views on three important issues: Britain's Nationality Act; the expiration of the Hong Kong lease, and China's overtures to Taiwan.
Most Hong Kong people regard the new Nationality Act as a racialist piece of legislation which is mean minded and divisive. How is it that British citizenship is alright for the citizens of the colony of Gibraltar but not of Hong Kong? What is that other than blatant racialism?
The new legislation is seen as a way for Britain to disentangle itself from its colonial responsibilities well before the hot chestnut of the Hong Kong lease. which expires in less than 20 years. might cause an exodus of Hong Kong people to Britain.
The Nationality Act is seen as not dissimilar to the Labour Government's Commonwealth Immigration Act 15 years ago which renaged on Britain's responsibilities toward Kenyan Asians.
Having been jettisoned by the colonial power, the most encouraging development for Hong Kong 'belongers' is that their enormous Communist neighbour has begun the long thaw and the new regime in Peking positively welcomes the free enterprise outlets of Hong Kong and Taiwan.
With the 70th anniversary of the 1911 revolution upon us, both Peking and Taipei have stepped up their propaganda on the reunification issue. China's Vice Chairman, Mr Deng Xiaoping, has put forward a proposal for joint leadership with the Kuomintang, with Taiwan keeping its own army and Foreign Office and its own system of enterprise.
This withering of hard-line Communism is good news too for Hong Kong — and points to a pragmatic settlement of the lease which need cause Britain's legislators few sleepless nights. Trying to defeat mythical armadas with racialist legislation simply undermines Britain's position of respect in the world and does nothing to underpin the democratic values which we as a nation have rightly been proud of.