I’ve argued before that Britain is part of an emerging bloc of authoritarian nations with a varied approaches to asserting control over the public. This piece from last week on the government security measures for the 2012 Olympics allows us to make some comparisons.
…But civil rights campaigners are worried about several clauses in the London Olympic Games and Games Act 2006. Section 19(4) could cover protest placards, they said, as it read: "The regulations may apply in respect of advertising of any kind including in particular – (a) advertising of a non-commercial nature, and (b) announcements or notices of any kind."
Section 22 allows a "constable or enforcement officer" to "enter land or premises" where they believe such an advert is being shown or produced. It allows for materials to be destroyed, and for the use of "reasonable force". The power to force entry requires a court warrant. Causing still further concern is a section granting the powers to an enforcement officer appointed by Olympic Delivery Authority.
This is supposedly directed at ambush marketing. Whatever. It fits in with one consistent thrust of government policy, namely to act as a kind of authoritarian franchiser, subcontracting enforcement to various groups either created by itself or operating essentially in the private sector. Just as “enforcement officers” can now break into private homes to enforce sponsorship rights, so nightclub bouncers can issue on the spot fines. Likewise, owners of malls and other private developers are allowed to use private security companies to enforce their own regulations.
By contrast, here’s how the Chinese handled Olympic security for 2008:
Meanwhile, political activists say, police have arrested and detained prominent dissidents and stepped up telephone and e-mail surveillance.
A fairly classic centralized operation: high-tech surveillance at one end, a public mobilization at the other and the whole panoply of official security forces in the middle of the sandwich. Everything is ultimately controlled from the centre. Of course, as the 2012 OLymnpics approaches in Britain we can expect more surveillance and intelligence operatiuon against those identified as likely troublemakers too.
It’s hard to believe that the Chinese government would adopt a New Labour style role of authoritarian franchiser. It’s just not the way they do things, and it has uncomfortable echoes of early 20th century warlordism. And New Labour couldn;t adopt the Chinese style. There isn;t the same tradition or capacity in briotain for large scale, centrally directed mobilization. But both approaches express a shared conviction that no large scale event can go ahead without greater general control of the public. What’s at issue here are the forms of authoritarianism best suited to local political conditions.