DISCUSSING the danger of state repression under authoritarian regimes, and the trend in Britain towards more state regulation of private life in 1941, George Orwell noted with pride that the English character was a barrier to such developments. "The most hateful of names in an English ear," he noted, "is a Nosey Parker".

Listening to the discussion about Boris Johnson’s argument with his girlfriend I wonder what Orwell would have made of politician and police calls to always phone the police if you hear your neighbours arguing.

Boris’ neighbours, Tom Penn and Eve Leigh, recorded the row, phoned the police and sent a tape of the argument to a newspaper. Their motives for doing so have been questioned. Leigh, for example, has written an anti-Brexit play and, in a past Twitter post, told the world that she, "just gave Boris Johnson the finger".

The police arrived at Johnson’s house and left with nothing to report, unlike the anti-Brexit paper which reported the row verbatim. This being the same paper that campaigned for privacy from press intrusion during the Leveson Inquiry. One again feels a certain political motivation to this intrusion.

But the response to the incident has been, if anything, more troubling than the thing itself. Like many victim-based issues today, there appears to be only one response that is acceptable or allowed. The neighbours have been strongly defended by politicians from all sides. Domestic violence charities have come out to explain that the neighbours' response was "best practice". Likewise the police have talked down the idea that this might be seen as interfering in a private matter. But if you are not committing a crime, if you are not being violent and you are just having a row, surely this does become a matter of interference in a private matter?

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In the real world people row all the time and people hear people rowing all the time. I remember my childhood with the neighbours screaming at one another regularly. There was never any violence and the police were never called but then we knew our neighbours and perhaps that’s part of the problem. Back then the discussion about matters of this kind were more likely to result in complaints about wafer thin walls and the need for better housing to allow people some privacy.

Today we are less inclined to look for social solutions to problems we face and more inclined to see problems as stemming from other people. One of the outcomes of this is that privacy itself has become problematised and seen as a place and space of increasing danger. For some of course this is the case and there is a need for police involvement. For the many, however, facing a knock on the door after every row would rightly be experienced as an imposition.

Calling the police is sometimes a necessity but in most areas of life, most neighbourhood conflicts and disturbances, what used to be called nuisance behaviour, the police should be the last not the first port of call. Today, however, we are increasingly being encouraged to pick up the phone. Don’t get involved is the modern message. Just phone the police.

Taken literally, if this is how we really did all behave, Orwell’s nightmare would have come true. We would have created neighbourhoods without neighbours, a world of Nosey Parkers on first name terms with the local bobby but never knowing the names of the couple who live next door.