Hong Kong unimpressed by 'second-rate' Hanley

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ONE OF the kinder things said about the appointment of former Conservative Party chairman Jeremy Hanley as the minister responsible for Hong Kong affairs came from the legislator Emily Lau: Hong Kong people, she said, had such low expectations of ministers holding this position that it was hard to express disappointment over any appointment.

The South China Morning Post, the largest English language daily newspaper, said that Mr Hanley's appointment reinforced the impression that the Territory is seen as a place for "second-raters".

The newspaper's editorial yesterday described the appointment as "a worrying sign that the Territory is beginning to slip from the political agenda in London".

The Eastern Express newspaper seemed to think that Mr Hanley's appointment derived from his role as "a bag carrier" for the Governor Chris Patten, when he served as Mr Patten's parliamentary private secretary in a previous incarnation.

The blunt fact of the matter is that people in Hong Kong have very little regard for the clutch of ministers who have had the Hong Kong portfolio dumped on them.

Mr Hanley's predecessor, Alistair Goodlad, now promoted to Chief Whip, was said to have so little knowledge of Hong Kong affairs that his minders never allowed him to conduct a single interview with the Hong Kong media.

His predecessor Lord Caithness, widely known as "ET" because of an uncanny resemblance to Steven Speilberg's creation, is better remembered for his marital problems and the tragic suicide of his wife. His true views on Hong Kong were never discovered as he could only manage to emit a string of platitudes on any aspect of policy.

In between Lord Caithness and Lord Glenarthur, a Monty Pythonesque figure who actually knew a great deal about Hong Kong but failed to communicate this to its people, was Francis Maude.

He made a brief but favourable impression before he was rapidly removed to higher office, presumably because his talents were being wasted in Britain's last remaining major colony. Perhaps the best news for the accident- prone Mr Hanley is that he will be required to do very little in his new role.

The presence of another former Conservative Party chairman, Mr Patten, in the governor's chair means that much of the policy formulation work once undertaken in London has now moved to the colony where the Governor has a direct, and apparently active, line of communication to the Prime Minister.