Chris Patten: You Ask The Questions

The last British Governor of Hong Kong answers your questions, such as 'Should MPs earn more?' and 'What has been Hong Kong's fate since you left?'

Sunday 23 October 2011 05:20

Do you ever wish you had been the leader of the Conservative party? Would you have been good at it? Katherine Hitchcock, Shaftesbury, DORSET

If you are a tennis player, you want to win Wimbledon. So, of course, when I was active in politics I occasionally thought I'd like to get right to the top but I don't think, to be realistic, that the modern Conservative Party would ever have chosen me as leader. When I look at some other people who have done the job, I'm not overwhelmed by a sense of my own inadequacy!

Who has been the worst Tory leader since you lost your seat? Jean Heselton, Worcester

Two of them had an impossible job. John Major had to lead a party part of which was hell-bent on suicide. William Hague came to the job too young and could never have won in 2001. Michael Howard and Iain Duncan-Smith share the wooden spoon.

When you were an MP, did you make any expenses claims that you find embarrassing now? Alan Simons, Northampton

No. The allowance regime was very different in those days. If the record of my expenses claims, such as they were, was still available I would be very happy to see it published.

Should MPs be paid more? Siriol Jenkins, Llanelli, DYFED

Yes. One reason why we have got into this dreadful mess is because governments have been gutless in making a case for higher MPs' pay. MPs were in effect given a wink and a nudge that they could make up for this through generous and laxly policed allowances.

What marks would you give David Cameron out of 10 since he became leader? What about Gordon Brown since he became Prime Minister? Paul Davies, Sheffield

I don't think I should mark anyone out of 10. I think David Cameron has done very well. He is intelligent, tough and likeable. We are certainly going to need the intelligence and the toughness over the next few years. Gordon Brown has performed just about as I, and most of his colleagues in the Cabinet, would have expected.

Do you remember crying at the handover of Hong Kong? What was going through your mind? David Bayliss, Stockport

I didn't actually cry but I felt very choked. I was leaving a place my family and I loved to live in. I was leaving many friends after a very happy five years, and I had a sense I was involved in something really historic.

What do you make of Hong Kong's fate since you left? When did you last go back? Niravta Patel, London

I was last in Hong Kong in November 2008. I go back about every 18 months. Hong Kong recovered well from the Asia crash in the late 1990s. It remains a free society living under the rule of law. There is a strong sense of citizenship and a commitment to the values of pluralism, as was demonstrated this summer by the demonstrations to commemorate the killings in Tiananmen Square.

How would you feel in Ken Clarke's shoes, forced to bite your tongue on Europe if you wanted a decent job? Leslie Parsons, Teesside

I don't think Kenneth Clarke has returned to the Shadow Cabinet because he is ambitious for another job. Like many of us he wants to get rid of the Gordon Brown government.

Why do you think your party is so anti-European? Is it anything to do with right-wing xenophobia? Florence Westenrah, Dorking, Surrey

It's partly to do with a profound ignorance about the way Europe works. It is not on the way to becoming a super-state. Since the Conservative Party has said it wants to be part of the EU, it would make more sense for us to play our part in Europe more positively and strongly.

Does the rise of anti-European parties in the UK worry you? What can be done to stop it? Jane Peterson, Liverpool

The two parties that call for getting out of Europe are the fascists and Britain's version of the Poujadists in blazers. They milk the most ignorant sort of populist nonsense and pretend they are acting in the tradition of Winston Churchill. He spent much of his life fighting attitudes like theirs.

What job would you most like to do that you haven't? Finn Kempson, Bury, Lancashire

Apart from captaining the England cricket team? I suppose I would like to have been Foreign Secretary.

How have your politics changed since you left Parliament? Benjamin Dickie, Fife

I don't think my politics have changed much for years. I'm still inclined to say the same thing in public as I say in private. And I'm still strongly and sanely pro-European.

How can you oversee foreign relations for the EU when there are so many different agendas within it? Isn't it an impossible job? Michael O'Meara, St Helens, Merseyside

It's almost impossible! Foreign and security policy go right to the heart of what it means to be a nation state and there will always be as many foreign ministers in Europe as there are members of the EU, but we need to learn we pack a bigger punch when we act together, for example in dealing with economic disputes with China.

What is going to be the biggest foreign policy problem for this country in the next decade? Gary Llewellyn, Sunderland

Firstly, adjusting our spending on defence and foreign policy to what we can afford. We are going to emerge from the recession much poorer and saddled with huge debts. We have to think through rather more clearly what role we can play in the world. Secondly, we still have to decide whether we want to be an enthusiastic member of the EU or a semi-detached moaner.

As chancellor of Newcastle and Oxford universities, which would you support in a sporting fixture? Anna Rourke, Belfast

Cambridge I suppose. Fortunately, Newcastle and Oxford don't compete either in the sporting field or in research. I'm standing down as chancellor of Newcastle after 10 years. It's a very good university. I'm delighted to have been associated with it.

You've held so many jobs. Which was your favourite? Which was the least rewarding? Tom West, Exeter

I most enjoyed by time in Hong Kong. I had almost two years Secretary of State for the Environment. This should have been hugely exciting and, truth to tell, we did produce a very good White Paper on the environment and made a big breakthrough when dealing with the thinning of the ozone layer, but I had to spend too much of my time dealing with the bloody poll tax. If ever there was a hospital pass!

What do you consider your greatest achievement? And what is your biggest regret? Lisa Faulks, London

I'm proud of the job we did reorganising the police service in Northern Ireland. I'm also pleased we left behind a real sense of civic pride in Hong Kong, though alas we didn't secure democracy for the territory. That is my biggest regret.

How did you feel about your nickname in Hong Kong, Fat Peng? Phillip Gura, Chester

Very relaxed. It showed the people knew who I was and the phrase in Cantonese indicates well-being and cheerfulness, as well as girth.

Have you really never eaten a Big Mac, as you wrote recently? Would you like to try one? What about a whopper? Sara Potter, Neath, West Glamorgan

A Big Mac has never crossed my lips nor do I intend that it should do so.

What Next? Surviving The Twenty-First Century by Chris Patten is published by Penguin, price £10.99.

Next week in You Ask The Questions: Douglas Alexander, the Secretary of State for International Development. You can email your questions for him to

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