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Lord Patten: Final Governor British Hong Kong at Gibraltar Literary Festival

Peter Schirmer · Photos: Shutterstock / Gibraltar Literary Festival

Final Governor of British Hong Kong, Lord Chris Patten, to speak at Gibraltar Literary Festival

When the organisers of next month’s Gibraltar Literary Festival (14th – 17th November) invited Lord Patten to be one of its keynote speakers, Hong Kong’s peaceful pro-democracy protests had not yet begun – let alone exploded into the mass violence and anti-Chinese riots that continue to grow each week.

The choice was fortuitous, for the last Governor of the former British colony is better placed to comment on and interpret the events of the past five months than any other Westerner.

Gibraltar Literary Festival Chris Patten Hong Kong
Lord Chris Patten, the final British Governor of Hong Kong

For though the main thrust of his talks are likely to centre on his three published books – dealing with his years in Hong Kong; his own interpretation of world affairs; and relations between Britain, the US and Europe – most of his questioners are likely to seek the ‘truths’ of what is happening in the former Colony and in Beijing.

The ‘umbrella protests’ which rocked Hong Kong five years ago had their roots in the new democratic approach and the ‘people power’ which Patten introduced, while, in turn, the current violence stems from the aftermath of the umbrella marchers – all viewed against the lingering shadow of the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989.

Hong Kong Cityscape

For during the final five years of British control as the 28th in a chain of Governors stretching back to 1842 – when Hong Kong island was ceded to Britain by China under the Treaty of Nankin after the first of the Opium Wars, and Lieut. Gen. Sir Henry Pottinger took control – Patten encouraged a steady rise in the living standards of Hongkongers and also drove forward the colony’s social welfare and electoral system.

His championship of the people’s democratic rights earned him the sobriquet ‘Pang Ding-hong’ – a Mandarin melange of the words meaning “stability” and “calm; joyous; healthy”.

Unlike many of the Colony’s former Governors, Chris Patten was not a Foreign Office career diplomat but was plucked from John Major’s Cabinet and the parliamentary ranks of the Tories – where he represented Bath in the House of Commons from 1979 to 1992 – to oversee the end of 155 years of British rule of the last of the ‘Empire’s’ Oriental jewels.

Gibraltar Literary Festival
Gibraltar Literary Festival 2017

Before this appointment he filled several, varied junior ministerial posts under Margaret Thatcher, joining her Cabinet in 1989 as Environment Secretary. After John Major moved into No 10 the following year, Patten – regarded by some political pundits as ‘the best Prime Minister Britain never had’– was chosen as Chairman of the Conservative Party and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. As chairman he orchestrated the Tories’ unexpected general election victory in 1992, but, surprisingly, lost his own seat.

At the time it was rumoured in Westminster that Major had appointed Patten to the Governorship to remove him as a potential threat to Major’s premiership. Others thought he would have been the PM’s choice for Foreign Secretary; however, in his autobiography Major writes that Patten – had he accepted the ‘safe’ Tory seat which was offered – would have been his choice as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Gibraltar Literary Festival Chris Patten Hong Kong
Gibunco International Gibraltar Literary Festival 2019

Patten’s most controversial moves as Governor relate the electoral reform which he introduced in 1994 and took effect a year later when members of the Legislative Council were elected – to Beijing’s horror – by an all-inclusive franchise. The members should have served beyond Britain’s departure, so providing institutional continuity after the Chinese takeover, but the Legislative Council was almost immediately dissolved and replaced by a Provisional Legislative Council which did not have any democratic functions.

After returning to Britain he chaired the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland, which had been established in 1998 as part of the Belfast Agreement before becoming one of the Britain’s two members of the European Commission from 1999–2004.

He became Chancellor of the University of Oxford in 2003 and was made a life peer in 2005.

Final Governor of British Hong Kong, Lord Chris Patten, to speak at Gibraltar Literary Festival

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