Greg Wright: The Government must speak out over Hong Kong

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SOME sights are so surreal that they stay with you forever.

On a wet day in 2007, I arrived in Hong Kong on a press trip to see how the former colony was coping with Chinese rule. I was a guest of the Hong Kong government, which was keen to promote it as a low-tax, lightly regulated, economic powerhouse, In the middle of the deluge was a crowd of protesters, who carried a coffin to commemorate the day a pro-democracy rally was crushed by Chinese tanks. It seemed hard to believe that such a display of dissent was taking place on Chinese territory. As the procession weaved through the streets, there were calls for the perpetrators of the Tiananmen Square massacre to be brought to justice; a decade after China regained a colony hailed as the world’s most successful experiment in capitalism. The procession seemed to prove that the pessimists who feared China would rule Hong Kong with an iron fist were wrong.

Nobody tried to disperse the crowd, which had gathered to mark the 18th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Many of the Hong Kong crowd had been incensed by comments from a local politician who questioned whether a “massacre” had actually happened. They wanted to prove that he wasn’t speaking for them.

Over the last few weeks, other peaceful demonstrators have gathered in Hong Kong to demand democratic change, and the response has been alarming. Riot police have used tear gas against unarmed students. In a show of defiance, thousands of people joined the rallies and blocked off parts of the financial district. The crowds have been appalled by what they see as China’s attempt to deny them a real democratic choice. Tens of thousands of protesters have called on Hong Kong’s leader Leung Chung-ying to quit. They are demanding that China allows them the right to vote for a leader of their choice in the 2017 elections. As Edward McMillan-Scott, the former MEP, observed in The Yorkshire Post yesterday, the main grievance is China’s interpretation of Article 45 of the Basic Law governing Hong Kong, adopted in 1990. It states that “the ultimate aim is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures”.

In August, China said it would allow direct elections in 2017, but it upheld its right to pre-approve candidates; a move which triggered the latest demonstrations. If we truly believe in democratic principles, then we must be unwavering in our support for these dissenters. This support must come from the top. The British Government’s failure to speak up in uncompromising terms in support of these polite protesters is shameful.

Can nothing save us from corporate gobbledygook? The latest prime example has been spotted in Leeds and Partners’ annual report by Ajaz Ahmed, the co-founder of Freeserve, who is a passionate advocate of plain speaking. He contacted me yesterday after being driven to distraction by parts of the report into the activities of the publicly-funded body, whose future is under review.

“I’ve always encouraged people to communicate clearly in a language that the ordinary person can understand,’’ said Ajaz. “Have you got anyone who can translate this into simple English?”

The document hails Leeds and Partners “holistic, strategic approach” which will help it to achieve “maximum cut-through and return through differentiated offers that create value”.

It includes the following gem: “In order to deliver our priorities our focus has been fourfold - the results of which emphasise the effectiveness of our strategy and the impact of its proactive execution.

I beg your pardon? If taxpayer-backed organisations are to command our respect, they must first appreciate the beauty of plain English.