The principle stands

Consistency is an often over-rated value, particularly in politics and public life. When we cry ‘hypocrite’, as if in victory, for pointing out the fact that someone is doing something different from what they did before, we often ignore the utter horror of what can happen when people always apply the same principle across the board.

Discussing the ban on Geert Wilders on a radio show last week, I was asked if the Home Office was guilty of ‘double standards’. ‘Not really’, I replied. The problem is not with double standards, but rather a spectacularly bad single standard applied universally.

That single standard has been applied again this week, with the announcement that Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church has been barred from entering the country.

Westboro Baptist Church, for those of you who don’t know, is a tiny organisation of about 70 people (mostly extended family) who have made a name for themselves with their obsessive campaigning against homosexuals and homosexuality. They periodically turn up on British documentaries of the sub-Louis Theroux genre, as your classic kerazee Americans. Sometimes it seems like the church exists solely for the easing of the lives of harassed TV commissioning editors (one gets a similar feeling about White Power pop-singing twins Prussian Blue). Either way, they’re weird, not very nice and publicity hungry –– which now seem to be the criteria for being barred from Britain.

Westboro Patriarch Phelps announced his intention to protest an anti-homophobia play being performed in Basingstoke. Now, Phelps announces his intentions to protest against things all over the world all the time. He has international ambitions – indeed he runs a rather nifty web portal called, detailing his condemnations of various countries, in a manner reminiscent of the Skibbereen Eagle warning the Tsar of Russia that it had its eye on him.

Most of the time, Phelps does not follow through on these threats, and everything goes back to normal.

But not this week. The Home Office, perhaps keen to be seen as consistent following the Wilders debacle, decided to ban Phelps and his daughter from the country. It’s as if the Tsar of Russia had come up with a policy to counter the Skibbereen Eagle’s attentions. This order is, at best, a monumental waste of stationery, and at worst, a further signal of the obsessive narrowing of debate by a government that is increasingly reactionary, authoritarian and short sighted.

But hey, at least they’re consistent.