Dear British People, Don’t Be Fooled Into Trading Civil Liberties for an Illusion of Prosperity
Dear British People
Your Government is rushing through its new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 which imposes new conditions on your rights to freedom of expression and assembly. In particular the police gain new powers to “impose conditions on protests, including a single person protest, to include where noise causes a significant impact on those in the vicinity or serious disruption to the running of an organisation.” The police gain the power to impose conditions on static protests, even if only by one person, which were previously exempt from the requirement to give the police notice.
This might all seem innocuous and even sensible. Now that the UK has finally left the EU and is looking to pivot towards the Indo-Pacific region (though it will require some herculean shifts in trade volumes with the region for it to reach the 50% that trade with the EU currently occupies), what better way for the UK to demonstrate that it is open for business than to imitate what many in the Conservatives, Labour and LibDems regard as a shining example of success.
Of course the UK Government is still a long way away from reducing its citizens’ rights to the almost zero that Singaporeans enjoy but clearly they are moving in that direction. In Singapore even a one person protest requires a police permit (in contrast to the UK where notice merely has to be given though conditions may be imposed) which will never be forthcoming. See the extract from the Singapore Public Order Act of 2009 below:
In Singapore we have seen the absurd spectacle of lone activists like Jolovan Wham being arrested, charged, convicted and sent to jail merely for holding up placards or for conducting vigils outside Government buildings.
Perceptions of Singapore among Britons are shaped by the perception that it is a great place to work and do business in, with no taxes on interest, capital gains, dividends or foreign income and a top tax rate of 22% (but only above S$320,000 or approximately £170,000). British expats also love the great degree of inequality (the Gini coefficient is one of the highest in the world but understates inequality because it does not include foreign workers and maids), the respect and deference paid from Government Ministers downwards to the former colonial masters which mean that those with second and third rate qualifications get to live like kings and queens with none of the nasty obligations and the lack of labour protections which makes any kind of unskilled labour very cheap and means they can hire domestic staff in conditions of virtual slavery which invite abuse, which frequently happens.
I remember accompanying impoverished Singaporean gay blogger Roy Ngerng (who stayed with my wife in London when he came to meet with the Open Society Foundation, the Free Word Centre and Stonewall after PM Lee sued him for defamation and had him sacked from his public sector and had him rendered unemployable by a concerted campaign of vilification by his former employer) when he went to Paris in 2014 to meet a journalist from France24 and we travelled on Eurostar. On our outward journey we were sitting across from four City brokers who, with no knowledge of who we were, talked loudly and enthusiastically about the merits of working in Singapore as a great place to accumulate wealth. Later of course Roy was driven into exile but will still continue paying off our billionaire PM’s roughly £100,000 damages and legal costs that were awarded to him by the Singapore judiciary (which he appoints).
So, dear British people, when you hear your Government talk glowingly of turning the whole of the UK into a “Singapore-on-Thames” (an absurd proposition because firstly, despite much fudging of categories and manipulation of statistics as well as using cheap foreign labour and foreign investment driven by tax avoidance strategies to artificially boost GDP like Ireland, Singapore is no economic paragon, and secondly because for the vast majority of Britons imitating Singapore would mean cuts in real wages, longer working hours, no safety nets and competing with virtually unlimited quantities of cheap labour from some of the world’s poorest countries) you should be very wary, particularly when your Government suggests that the price of this boundless prosperity is just a small erosion of civil liberties. This is not to suggest that I am in any way, shape or form, some unreconstructed socialist and generally I prefer lower taxes to higher ones.
UK Government Ministers, like Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson before them, also no doubt love the fact that in Singapore salaries for those in Government are so enormous. Furthermore, that is only the tip of the iceberg since starting with the PM’s wife (whose salary as head of one of the country’s sovereign wealth funds, to which role she was appointed by her husband, is so gigantic that it remains a closely guarded state secret) downwards, spouses and children also get to take their place at the feeding trough of public sector largesse. And instead of being condemned for cronyism and glaring conflicts of interest, Singapore is lauded by organisations like Transparency International as being virtually free from corruption.
Britons, you should think very carefully before you give up your freedoms as Singaporeans were intimidated into doing. They are easy to lose but very difficult to get back.