Anticipating Keir Starmer’s ascent to the office of Prime Minister, I’m reminded of that great Bob Monkhouse line: “When I said I was going to be a comedian they all laughed. Well, they’re not laughing now!”
As a radical Left-wing schoolboy, Starmer probably envisaged a future when Britain became something like Cuba, but without the weather. Later, as he matured maybe the social-democratic paradise that was Sweden became the model. But, now on the cusp of power if he were to look around the world which society might his gaze alight upon as the model for British society within the next generation? I’m not sure. But my fear is that whatever our potential next Labour Prime Minister aims for, I suspect where we will end up is something dispiritingly like South Africa, but with Chinese characteristics.
The adoption of ‘capitalism with Chinese characteristics’ has had a remarkable effect on the Chinese and world economies over the past 40 years or so. But it’s another set of ‘Chinese characteristics’, this time relating to the ‘surveillance’ society, utilising facial recognition technology, social credit scoring and fiscal cancelling, when allied to South African style social breakdown, that may become the societal model that Britain and many other parts of Europe and the West are destined to follow unless steps are taken to resist this trend.
Contemporary South Africa is characterised by extreme levels of violent crime with an annual homicide rate 40 times greater than the U.K.’s. Over one third of the population is unemployed, with rates among the young even higher.
South African society has always been a two-tier society. The apartheid racial split is still evident, but the simple racial divide has to some extent been overtaken by the emergence of both a black and Asian middle class moving into what were previously exclusively white areas. Increasingly segregation is class based, with the middle-class living in gated compounds or migrating.
In the 30 years since the ANC came to power, the share of GDP going to the poorest 50% of the population has halved. Conversely, the share of GDP going to the wealthiest 0.1% has doubled.
It’s not so different in the U.K. A recent report by the Centre for Social Justice, ‘Two Nations: the state of poverty in the U.K.‘, draws attention to the ever-growing divide between the ‘have’s and have nots’ and the social breakdown that this can lead to. It highlights that many people turn to welfare rather than work and that wages tend to do little to improve people’s financial well-being.
Back in South Africa we find that in addition to a worsening of the social class divide public services have failed to improve. South Africa now is plagued by rolling power cuts, with many households and businesses using petrol generators to keep the lights on. It doesn’t take much imagination to foresee a similar situation in the U.K. with unreliable power provision. Already, people are being paid to switch off their electricity and last winter it was only the mild weather that allowed us to escape power outages.
In South Africa crime, particularly violent crime is endemic. The police have largely withdrawn from many urban areas. In Johannesburg, the commercial centre has largely relocated itself to Sandton, a purpose-built Central Business District, and in the process abandoned the old centre to urban decay.
We see similar patterns beginning to emerge in many European cities. ‘Working from home’ has exacerbated the trend that’s seen the hollowing-out of our cities. Empty shops and offices in city centres have permitted the emergence of tent cities and squatters.
Riots have broken out in Dublin and many other European cities. Islamist inspired stabbings across Europe have lost their ability to shock, though this may, in part be due to the suppression of the details of the story by the mainstream media. As in South Africa, the police in areas of Stockholm, Brussels, Dublin and Paris observe ‘no-go’ areas.
Elon Musk, discussing his motivation to buy Twitter with Joe Rogan, attributed the decision to the social collapse of downtown San Francisco, which he blamed on the widespread adoption of woke ideology. This collapse is more fully explored In a recent UnHerd piece, where Freddie Sayers investigates the causes of San Francisco’s decline. Despite the self-evident problems there are plans to partially ‘defund the police’ with the loss of hundreds of officers. The suspicion must be that the residual police officers will spend their time policing the more ‘well-to-do’ areas while, effectively ‘no-go’ areas will be left to ‘police’ themselves.
Like our haircuts, fashion sense and dance moves, we hit a rut in our late teens or early 20s and never really break out. So, it is with much of our politics. I rather suspect that Keir Starmer in his dreams still hopes that one he’ll wake up and magically we’ve all morphed back into 1980s Sweden, Abba will be number one again and Volvos will be rolling off the production line.
In contemplating the prospect of ‘South Africa with Chinese characteristics’ there are three fundamental questions to ask. Firstly, is it inevitable? Secondly, is it desirable? Thirdly, is there the will to stop or reverse the trend?
Sad to say, but I think unless something is done very soon to control it then it’s inevitable. What’s more, there’s no obvious sign that many people either recognise it as a threat or, if they do, are minded to fight against it.
The surveillance society is not going back in its box anytime soon. Let’s look at a few examples. Facial recognition technology is already widely deployed. It makes policing easier and cheaper; it’s here to stay. Likewise, electronic payments. Like it or not, cash is disappearing fast, and unlike cash, electronic payments always leave a trail. Stephen Timms MP in a recent speech in Parliament highlighted new legislation that will allow Government to look inside your bank account. Your phone tracks you, ANPR cameras track you. Your spending and viewing history tracks you. The surveillance society is here, we’re already living with it.
Fifteen-minute cities appear to be coming fast, but even without them various forms of ‘zonal’ control allow the authorities to track people in real time via mobile phone and facial recognition of ANPR cameras.