Friday Fictioneers – Playing Hard Ball

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

FF - Playing Hard Ball 180207



The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, is an international body charged with investigating and prosecuting serious crime in Guatemala. It is particularly concerned with rooting out corruption.

Playing Hard Ball

Lilian, immaculate in white blouse and cherry-red pencil skirt, sat waiting as Hilmar Benitez crossed the bar of the Hotel Henry Berrisford to join her.

She slid a business card across the table.

“’Personal Assistant to the Interior Minister’? I want the organ-grinder, not the monkey.”

“This is not a negotiation. Have you spoken to CICIG?”

“No. But without we reach an agreement, I certainly will.”

“That wouldn’t be wise.”

“I know enough to gaol the minister for life!”

Lilian rummaged in her handbag. There was a muffled report.

Hilmar slumped back, crimson trickling from the hole between his eyes.

From a liberal point of view – December 2016

Health warning

This is my personal view, as a liberal with a small “l”, of one aspect of our current political situation.

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The resurgence of populism

2016 has been an annus horribilis for us liberals. We have been stunned, first by the Brexit referendum, and then by President-elect Trump’s victory in the USA. When we look at Europe, we see a surge in support for populist far-right parties. Why? And what can we do about it?

Let’s start by thinking about the differences between progressive economic policies, and progressive social policies.

When I say progressive economic policies I mean policies that tend to reduce inequality in wealth and/or income; traditionally called left-wing policies.

When I say progressive cultural policies I mean policies that tend to make society more tolerant of difference (for example, by being in favour of immigration, by championing women’s rights, gay rights, BAME rights etc).

You might imagine that people who advocate progressive economic policies would also support progressive cultural policies, but sociologists have found that this is not, actually, the case. Some do, and some don’t. There is no correlation between the two at all.

This is important.

Think of people suffering poverty as a result of the way business and government interact. People on zero hours contracts, for example, or people on the minimum wage in London.

Now, suppose nothing is done to reduce their poverty, but progressive cultural policies are implemented.

In the first place, because nothing has been done to help them economically, they will all be unhappy, and many will be angry.

For some of them, perhaps about half, socially progressive legislation will be welcome but far from sufficient (remember the maxim “It’s the economy, stupid”). The remainder, who oppose socially progressive legislation, will feel that it adds insult to injury. The harsh fact that they are still in poverty will exacerbate the feeling that the progressive legislation is “Political correctness gone mad”. This means that policies that deliver progressive social results but don’t deliver progressive economic results will not satisfy those who are experiencing economic hardship, and will outrage some.

This unhappiness and outrage will be fruitful ground for unscrupulous politicians to exploit by blaming the economic hardship on the minority groups. “You’re poor, because immigrants are stealing your jobs,” for example.

“Political correctness gone mad”.

Are we liberals guilty of that?

One supporter of Brexit to whom I have spoken made the point that until they won the Brexit referendum, people like her couldn’t speak out and argue their case. They were vilified as ‘racist’ and ‘xenophobic’. After the referendum she felt that she could argue for tight controls on immigration because she knew that many people felt as she did.

She has a point. It is democratically legitimate to argue the case for tight controls on immigration. There are all sorts of arguments that can be made, from the strain on infrastructure such as houses, schools and healthcare provision, to the change in our national culture and identity that high immigration levels bring. Not everyone who makes such arguments is a racist or xenophobe. How dare we, the very people who should champion tolerance, instead use ridicule and insult to silence people who want to make these arguments? No wonder they’re angry. No wonder they’re hostile.

And, while we’re at it, let’s think about those who genuinely are racist and xenophobic. Internet memes often refer to such people as assholes. But, guess what? All they’re doing is what humans have evolved to do; be wary of the stranger. For nearly all the history of the human race this has been a survival trait. Of course, it’s no longer helpful and could be disastrous given modern weapons technology, but it’s human and natural. The only way the attitude will change is by education, not by hostility and ridicule.

So, how do we move forward?

Firstly, the issue of massive – and growing – inequality of wealth must be tackled. There really is no way round this.

Secondly, while continuing to make the case for socially liberal policies, we must remember that our opponents’ views are democratically legitimate. We must be respectful, and we must be open. Almost certainly some of their arguments could contribute to policies that will lead to a happier, more stable and harmonious society.

Thirdly, while racism and xenophobia are anathema and have to be opposed, the only way to eliminate them is by education.

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I would imagine that, as you’ve read this far, you have been stimulated by this blog post. If you have, I would be grateful if you would click ‘Like’. If you feel that it is a worthwhile contribution to political debate, I invite you to share it or reblog it.

Thank you for visiting ‘Autumn Leaves’, my blog.



From a liberal point of view

This morning I shared a Facebook posting of two young women singing a very rude song. It showed evidence of hours of diligent research using the Urban Dictionary. It was funny. It neatly encapsulated some of the reasons why those of us who hold liberal values feel that the world has been turned upside down. Above all, it made me think.
Has the world been turned upside down in 2016?
No, of course it hasn’t. The election of Donald Trump, the farce that is Brexit, the rise in far-right political parties in mainland Europe, the tragic reality of hate crime, these are trends that were already present. They have always been there in our society. The reasons for them have always existed. The political events of 2016 have merely made them more visible. More people are prepared to speak out, and to act, because they have role models legitimising their feelings; but they had the feelings before they had the role models.
What can we do?
Above all we mustn’t give up our advocacy of liberal ideals. Looked at in the long term, liberal ideals have made great progress. Slavery is no longer legal. Genocide, while far from eliminated, is widely recognised as an abhorrent crime. Minorities have greater rights, and are better tolerated.
We have lost a few skirmishes, not the war.
Nobody said that holding liberal ideals is easy. It isn’t. We are all going to need to gather our courage to maintain them in the immediate future.
Then we must make a very clear distinction between rejecting people’s political views and rejecting people. There are two reasons for this.
Firstly, if we are offensive to people, they will not listen to our arguments. If you shout at someone, what do they do? Shout back – or thump you. And who can blame them?
Secondly, if we reject people, or ridicule them, we are not listening to them. Millions and millions of people voted for Brexit, voted for Trump, will vote for far right parties. We believe that they have the wrong answers, but what questions are they posing? What grievances are they holding? What is wrong with our society that they feel as they do?

It is not good enough for us to ignore their opinions.