Power to the people: Hong Kong says no

Arguments in the 19th and early 20th Century against extending votes to non-property owners were largely based on the fear that doing so would empower classes of people who could not be trusted to wield such power responsibly. Without a real stake – ie property – the enfranchised poor would inevitably use their majority to wage class war on the rich, expropriating their wealth. Alexis de Tocqueville warned of the “tyranny of the majority”. Ayn Rand too, in more recent times.

Not surprisingly then, socialists were to the fore in the struggle for the extension of the vote, and conservatives came late to support it.

Ironic then, comments last week from Hong Kong chief executive CY Leung, "communist" Beijing's manager of the territory, explaining why democratic elections are "impossible" for Hong Kong – because if candidates were nominated by the public, then poor people, the largest sector of a society with the highest inequality in the developed world, would most likely dominate."You would end up with that kind of politics and policies," he warned.

That kind of politics would be the sort of politics that the Communist Party of China once promoted. And still, notionally, does.