It’s no surprise many Brits would prefer ‘some form of dictatorship’
It’s been a highly turbulent week in British politics, even by modern-day chaotic standards. Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned 45 days into her term, to be succeeded by her former leadership rival Rishi Sunak.
On the other side of the globe, China concluded its 20th national party congress, which saw leader Xi Jinping reappointed for an unprecedented third term. The mainstream media like to say that he is the “most powerful Chinese leader since Mao.”
And not surprisingly, there has been a concentrated effort in the Western press to shine as negative a light on China as possible throughout the course of the event. This led to one extraordinary article being published in the Times of London by columnist Dominic Lawson, who, reflecting on recent events in both Britain and China, insisted: “Our chaos is healthier than China’s ‘harmony’,” while his sub-title complained that “too many Britons would exchange messy democracy for dictatorship.” The article cites a poll that shows that 46% of Britons would prefer “a strong leader who doesn’t have to bother with parliament/elections” – in other words, “some form of dictatorship” – to the current tumultuous state of the country.
For him, and presumably many others, to stick to democracy over “China’s model” is a matter of common sense. It has to be noted that China has offered no indication that it wants its model imposed on Britain, and in practice the idea of doing so is inconceivable. It is just a matter of fact that communism is incomprehensible in Britain’s political culture where classical liberty takes precedence, and if you ask 90% of the population the answer will be the same.
But this focus on ideological preference avoids the elephant in the room, that is, does Britain’s political system deliver for its people, in contrast to China’s? When looked at it from this angle, the answer is a straight and resounding ‘no’, which makes one immediately question the notion of whether “Britain’s chaos” is truly better than “China’s harmony” even if one can advocate for the former on grounds of principle.
While it is true that China has had its own periods of ‘chaos’, such as Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the post-Mao consensus of China since “reform and opening up” commenced in 1978 has been to preserve political stability with the aim of accelerating economic development, thereby placing pragmatism above ideological dogma. And whether you like the Communist Party or not, this has been a success when viewed from a historical perspective.
China has advanced from being one of the world’s poorest countries, having a GDP per capita of a mere $60 in 1960, to nearly $12,000 by the start of 2022 (now overtaking some countries in Europe). Its GDP as a whole has grown to become the second largest in the world, and surpassed the entire total of the European Union in 2021. Similarly, its average life expectancy had increased from a shockingly low 34 years in 1950, to over 76 by 2021. This has also overtaken the United States, which has dropped due to the massive number of deaths inflicted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Given this, supporters of the Communist Party will argue that China’s model has worked best for China’s circumstances, and, as the old saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Why would China need to consider a British model of democracy, when all indicators from the UK itself increasingly show that this system isn’t working, even for its own circumstances? The British might be able to vote for their leaders, but the disastrous performance of the recent government, jumping from one leader to the next, making ill-conceived policy choices based on ideology and populism, and the fiasco of Brexit, does not offer a decent return to voters.
While China continues to grow, despite criticism over its zero-Covid policy, Britain on the other hand is facing severe economic turbulence and has reportedly officially entered a recession, being described again as “the sick man of Europe.” The underlying theme of the past 50 years in British politics has been a question of how to avoid the word ‘decline’, which is precisely how the turn towards Thatcherism, anti-trade unionism, aggressive neoliberalism, and of course Brexit itself, can all be described in a long-term perspective. Britain’s best days are arguably behind it, with all of the above having contributed to growing political instability and uncertainty.
But the same cannot be said about China, where there might not be freedom, but there is certainty. So if you ask the average Chinese person if “Britain’s chaos” is preferable to China’s “strict harmony” then the answer will be a resounding ‘no’, and one merely has to look at the trajectory in the two countries’ fortunes to see that.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.