• "Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best."|戴啟思

  • 發布日期:2021-01-16 15:30


"Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best."
Otto von Bismarck, German Statesman (1815-1898)

"Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best."
Otto von Bismarck, German Statesman (1815-1898)

Some people go into politics to change things. Some people do the same to try and keep things as they are. Both sets of would-be politicians must accept the rules of the game before they are elected. Once elected, they are free to promote their policies in the legislature subject only to the constitution's constraints.

Sometimes politicians win arguments in the legislative chamber. Sometimes they lose. Often, they do not win, but they do not fail. They strike a compromise with the opposing party. That is the reality of politics: achieving what is possible-‘the next best' in Bismarck's words-rather than pursuing an objective and failing to reach it because of uncompromising ideological reasons

To succeed in getting at least 'the next best' in a law-making body, politicians organise parties. These parties generally vote along party lines so that maximum pressure can be brought to bear on an issue.

This week, it came as a surprise to fifty-odd would-be politicians that planning how best to maximise political power in the Legislative Council could be regarded as a serious offence under the National Security Law.

Their sin, so it appears, was to organise unofficial primaries last summer to identify the best candidates to run in the elections and to make a compact that they would make life difficult for the proposers of Government bills.

Some, it is reported, said that they would use the nuclear bomb called Article 52 of the Basic Law which provides that if the Legislative Council votes down important bills on more than two occasions after a prior dissolution, the Chief Executive must resign.

First I need to deal with the argument that has been made in some quarters that because no law made provision for pre-election activities like holding unofficial primaries, then such activities must, by definition, be outside the law and, therefore, unlawful.

That is a nonsensical argument. For the present, we live in a society where, unless a law, be it the common law or written law, provides that an act or activity is unlawful, it is lawful. It is not outside the law because it was never within the law in the first place.

Next, I need someone who purports to know a bit about the National Security Law to explain why it is 'subversion' to get together with like-minded people and plan to use the Legco rulebook to maximum advantage, even if this seriously upsets Government plans.

The suggestion that some of the arrested persons, if elected to Legco and committed to an Article 52 showdown, would bring down the Government and then all would be ruin and confusion, is far-fetched.

Article 52 does not stop the Government working. It only requires the Chief Executive to resign. Article 53 Basic Law provides that the Chief Secretary, the Financial Secretary and the Secretary of Justice stand next to run the show until a new Chief Executive can be selected. Such selection has to be within six months of the Chief Executive leaving the ship of state.

Before the use of Article 52 seemed a real possibility, somebody would find a solution to the impasse. That solution would be a compromise-‘the next best' for all concerned. No one would be entirely happy with that result, but a grumbling discontent on both sides is often the hallmark of a solution that works for everybody.

The saga reminds me of the day when the Government of the day in Britain threatened to use the day's political nuclear weapon.

In 1909 a Liberal Government brought in legislation to provide a state pension to people over 65. The funds to pay for this new expenditure would be from increased taxes that would hit the extraordinarily wealthy and propertied classes.

The House of Lords had the power to veto a bill passed by the House of Commons. Members of the House of Lords were unelected and extremely wealthy. Members of the House of Commons were, on the other hand, popularly elected and the majority Liberal Party represented middle class and workers' interests.

The House of Lords refused to pass the money bill that would provide for the increased taxes needed to fund the new pensions. According to constitutional precedent that was a settled right vested in the House of Lords.

The Liberal Government would not accept the blocking of the bill. It had recourse to another constitutional power.

By convention, the Prime Minister would guide the King in using his limited political powers by the Government of the day. The Liberals approached some 250 supporters and asked them if they would be prepared to become ennobled to enter the House of Lords and outvote the Conservative Lords who were blocking the bill. King George V said he would follow his prime minister's advice and ennoble as many persons as needed to secure a majority in the House of Lords.

King George V did not have to use this power of creating new peers. The House of Lords was appalled at the possibility of trade unionists and prosperous tradesmen becoming peers and backed off. It consented to an Act of Parliament-the Parliament Act 1911- that would remove its veto power and, instead, give it the right to delay bills coming from the House of Commons for a limited time. That sensible compromise over political power remains even today.

Although many were incensed at the Liberal party's use of this lawful power to bring to an end the House of Lord’s veto power, no one called it ‘subversion’.