China is no Singapore, a stable country with an authoritarian regime that guarantees harmony and keeps capitalism, crime and its evil poor under control. Every year, thousands of rebellions by workers, farmers and minorities have to be put down by the police and the army. Much as in Singapore, one is supposed to turn a blind liberal eye to authoritarian excess for the greater good. One can feel more free in both places than Britain. There are aspects of society that might improve with much firmer, zero tolerance policing. This is not the end of matters though, as many denizens in these countries will tell.
Official propaganda insists obsessively on the notion of the harmonious society: this very excess bears witness to the opposite, to the threat of chaos and disorder. We have it here, with our unwalkable streets, the threat of scum being drafted in to live nearby, and noisy, violent teenagers of any age to 50 making lives a misery. I always bear in mind, from the days when a Zil pulling over to glide alongside could send a chill down my spine, the basic rule of Stalinist hermeneutics: since the official media do not openly report trouble, the most reliable way to detect it is to look out for compensatory excesses in state propaganda: the more ‘harmony’ is celebrated, the more chaos and antagonism there is in reality. China is barely under control. It threatens to explode.
I’m due to make a few visits to the far east. I’d like to avoid them because the plane rides make me ill. Nulabour were crassly Stalinist and”harmonious” for most of their 13 years, but we seem to have forgotten just how similar the 18 years of Tory bullies and sleaze were much the same. Our press has been almost useless. I think it’s likely that all the years of ‘falling crime’, ‘raising standards in education’ and the rest were our “harmony” and something as vapid as the hairspray. If we protect bank worker better, the van security guards get it in the neck; if we do heavy policing in one area we reduce crime, but it just pops up somewhere else and comes back when we leave.
I am round to a frame of mind beyond cops retaking our streets. I want to retake my country. There is much less difference here than there used to be in terms of feeling free.