After UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation earlier this month, which had been long overdue, Britain’s future is facing even more uncertainties than ever. While the UK is, geographically speaking, far away from Hong Kong, our close historical ties mean that Britain’s issues have an impact on Hong Kong (and vice versa).
Furthermore, over 100,000 Hong Kong residents have been granted UK visas so that they can begin the naturalization process through the specially designated scheme for British National (Overseas) passport holders. Over 80 percent of those who have been granted visas have already “emigrated” to Britain. However, these people will probably be disappointed by what they find when they set foot on British soil. Even those who were psychologically prepared to tough out the six years and then return to Hong Kong now find it hard to stomach.
The British economy has been in turmoil since Brexit and has faced multiple crises such as the heavy-goods vehicle driver shortage and the Ukrainian conflict-induced inflation across Europe. Britain’s inflation rate stands at 9.4 percent, its highest level in four decades, which has set off a series of cost of living crises felt across the country. Unions representing a broad spectrum of trade and professions have of course demanded pay raises to at least match inflation and have already launched ceaseless strikes.
Life for ordinary Britons is becoming increasingly difficult. Basic commodities such as food, fuel and utilities have risen fast in price, so much so that shoplifting has been on the rise, prompting some supermarkets to install anti-theft devices on products such as butter.
And it is not just repeat offenders that are shoplifting; there have been a considerable number of first-time shoplifters who have resorted to desperate measures to feed themselves and their families. Because of the rise in shoplifting, police officers have been advised to prosecute shoplifters at their discretion.
Even professionals are unhappy with the current living situation. Earlier this month, barristers in England and Wales staged a five-day strike to incite the UK government to increase legal-aid funding.
Britain may have been one of the earliest nations to launch Western-style democracy — just looking at the Magna Carta (the Great Charter of Freedoms) — but the current system in practice is not as democratic as it touts itself to be, as exposed recently by the “small circle” election of the prime minister.
Within the framework of its parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy — of which Queen Elizabeth II is merely a figurehead — there are two houses, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Both houses hold political power, but members of the House of Commons are publicly elected by all registered voters, while members of the House of Lords are appointed by the queen and the prime minister.
The political party that holds the majority in the Commons forms the government and the prime minister is elected by members within the party; this includes only members of the public who have joined the party. For the Conservative Party, currently the ruling party, this comprises approximately 160,000 members.
However, there are only two major political parties in Britain — the Conservative Party and the Labour Party — both of which have been dominating the British political landscape for nearly a century.
Further to this, there is also the 1922 Committee, another cabal that wields a great deal of political influence. It’s a small group of backbench Conservative MPs (members of Parliament) who meet weekly away from frontbench MPs; they also convene with the prime minister monthly.
The vote of no-confidence in June was triggered by the 1922 Committee, after Conservative Party members wrote letters demanding the vote. And let us not forget that this same committee triggered the two votes of no-confidence against Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May. Although she survived the first vote, she resigned before the second vote began.
And now that Johnson has announced that he will step down as prime minister, the group will establish the rules and timetables for selecting the next leader of the party (i.e., the next prime minister), the identity of whom the British people will be told on Sept 5.
In summary, the reality of British politics is that its leader is chosen by a small pool of party members, as opposed to a system of “one man, one vote”. In a nation of over 67 million — nine times the population of Hong Kong — only 0.27 percent of the country have a say in who will be running the country in which they live. In comparison, Hong Kong’s political system is far more broadly representative.
To become an elected MP in Britain, a candidate is normally required to gain some 20,000 votes to secure a majority. In Hong Kong, legislators need to secure far more than 20,000 votes to be elected; and keep in mind that Hong Kong has a far smaller population.
It’s also pertinent to mention that when Johnson became prime minister, it was only because he secured 53 percent of the votes in his party. While it is a majority, it is certainly not representative enough.
Without broad representation, we run the risk of allowing self-interests, under-the-table deals, political deals, and trading of political favors to run amok.
But with our improved electoral system and our 1,500-strong Election Committee, Hong Kong now has a broadly representative political system. This means our chief executive and legislators have a strong mandate to rule.
Many locals, especially our young people, wrongly believe that Western-style democracies, including the British system, have to be by definition the best systems and that they all have some kind of direct elections (i.e., “one man, one vote”). Some of them even believe that Western democratic systems are the panacea for societal ills.
But just look at the current state of Britain; its economy, political system, law and order, transport infrastructure and healthcare system are on the brink of collapse. Even the British Medical Journal recently wrote that “The NHS is not living with COVID, it’s dying from it.” It’s fair to say that no news in the UK is good news these days.
We need to speak truth to our people, especially our politically gullible youth. Western democracies cannot be copied and pasted, and they are not as transparent and fair as they purport themselves to be. We need to design our own system that suits local and national conditions — a system that fosters economic growth, social justice and advancement, and at the same time free from foreign meddling.
The people deserve a government that can, and will, improve their livelihoods.
At least in Hong Kong, we are blessed with a new government that is strongly advocating a results-oriented approach rather than presenting ambiguous promises to its electorate. All social indicators show that Hong Kong has been doing better than the UK in the 25 years since the British left. This is perhaps why those who say they have “emigrated” to the UK have refused to surrender their Hong Kong identity cards.
The author is president of think tank, Wisdom Hong Kong.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.