Butt Out and Mind Your Own Business

 If you were asked to name a country where holding certain opinions could prevent you from earning a living, how many of you would name Britain? Yet recently we heard of a man removed from his job on the council because of his opposition to gay marriage. Apparently how we vote is no longer exempt from penalty either – at least if you want to foster children and happen to vote UKIP.

 I don’t know about you but I demand the old-fashioned right to say anything I please and if it offends someone – well, that’s the definition of freedom of speech. The same with freedom of conscience: I expect be able to vote or not, in whichever way I like, without comeback. It’s no one else’s business: in fact, they’ve no right to know.

 It used to be a truism, didn’t it? That’s how it used to be. But no more. Our sneaking towards fascism is all of a piece with that other current phenomenon disguised as public-spiritedness: accusing people of crimes – whether it’s of racism or paedophilia – without proof.

 Where does this leave writers, especially those of crime? Crime novels reflect society and its changes more widely than other genres, which in the present political mood makes them more vulnerable to censorship, not least from writers themselves.

 In the area of race, for example, do you as a writer feel free to show not just crime but racist crime being committed by blacks as well as whites? It’s something we hear very little about in the media, so much so that the majority of people probably feel racist for just thinking it happens. But aren’t writers supposed to be more honest and less timorous than that, more than mere propagandists?

 In my own novel I touch upon arranged marriages. I’m against them. I think they lead to forced marriages and for that reason should be illegal. Much to my surprise my editor let what I’d written stand. But supposing this amongst other subjects which some would construe as unacceptable had been cut? Would I have defended them to the point of ultimatum? As a first novelist I know the answer is ‘no’. I’d have convinced myself they were unimportant as far as the plot was concerned, even though they completed the picture of the world I was writing about, its cause and effects.

 I feel bad about it. I feel a cheat. Novels, even when they’re not great ones, have always been the place where the truth about society can be found while the press and polticians are lying through their teeth. But that’s only in a democracy, where writers weigh their words for no more than artistic effect. And I don’t feel I live in a democracy anymore.

 Cant and humbug – according to Byron these are what would be the ruin of Britain. What we’re seeing now is the start. As writers, dare we stand up against them, fight against the prevailing culture of words not to be uttered and opinions not to be countenanced, and maybe in the process make jobsworths everywhere think twice before they bully and sack whomever they disapprove of? In future I’m going to have a go at doing so – as long as my editor agrees, of course.

19 Comments

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19 responses to “Butt Out and Mind Your Own Business

  1. I’ll be there, shoulder to shoulder unless the health and safety police’s risk assessment says I should stand a little further away :)

  2. Accusing people without proof is fine by me – accusation usually follows suspicion or comes from someone who knows but may not have what counts as proof and then once the accusation is made either a proper investigation should follow (or a judgement made to disregard the accusation) and proof is either found or not found and appropriate action taken.
    If all proof existed at the accusation stage then investigative police wouldn’t be necessary. Accusation is another form of free speech after all. But accusers should be prepared to face the consequences of their accusations such as libel or slander suits if appropriate.
    I don’t think anyone should be prevented from carrying out their normal lives for political reasons. I’m pretty sure there are laws about that too – the European Human Rights Act covers that sort of behaviour by governmental or large organisations. The councils who have been overstepping the mark are laying themselves open to expensive legal cases and possibly large payments of compensation should the individuals concerned choose to take that route.

    • Accusation through the media with the individuals named? That’s not following the process of law. Why don’t they go to a police station the way we did in the past? Has any action been taken against the footballers who wrongly accused the referee of racism? Have the children in the council case been returned to their foster parents and the councillors sacked, not least for ‘laying us open to expensive legal cases’? Will any action be taken against the women who accused Savile of sexual abuse if found to be lying? No, because Savile being dead, it’s impossible to prove. His reputation and the life of his family has nevertheless been ruined through accusation and I don’t see the European Court rushing to put it right. But that’s fine by you? This is a new way of accusing people, like being in The Crucible. It’s unlawful but starting to go unpunished – very dangerous. Soon it won’t need to ‘follow suspicion’, just ‘follow the grudge’ or ‘follow the big media payout’. Anyway, there are plenty of suspicious people in the world and lots of them deranged. That’s why there are laws, unimplemented recently, to treat their suspicions with caution, so they can’t ruin the lives of the innocent.

  3. S. Thomas Summers

    Free speech. Sadly, it is becoming a right that we can remember, not
    practice.

    S. Thomas Summers
    Pushcart Nominated Author of Private Hercules McGraw: Poems of the American Civil War

  4. [Pardon my lateness.] We’re suffering from suppression of free speech here, as well, despite the very first amendment to our written constitution. It started with political correctness, then with special categories for crime where racism might be part of the motivation. All in all, Orwell seems to have been a bit before his time.

  5. Are you gone from the blogging world for good, my friend?

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