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Monday, April 05, 2010 

The freedom to be a horrible bigot.

Somewhat predictably, Chris Grayling's secretly recorded comments on how he felt that the owners of B&Bs should be allowed to freely discriminate against anyone they don't like the look of have caused, in that newspaper cliché, a pre-election storm.

As it goes, this is probably one of the less stupid of Grayling's gaffes, his past greatest hits involving describing parts of our septic isle as reminiscent of the Wire, manipulation of violent crime statistics in an effort to claim that it has sky-rocketed under Labour when the British Crime Survey says the opposite, and his policies on law and order in general (with the exception, for the most part, of the Tories' stance on civil liberties such as the DNA database, ID cards etc). Most embarrassing is that he's been found out to not be in tune with Cameron's "some of my best friends are gays" policy, trying to banish all those memories of far more insidious anti-gay legislation like Section 28, which Cameron himself voted in favour of keeping.

The coverage is also somewhat unfair because it is clearly only Grayling's personal view, having voted for the legislation in question when it came before parliament. That does make him a terrific hypocrite, but at least a honest one when questioned on it and he doesn't think the media's around. Doubly though, Grayling has something approaching a point: while he would doubtless not make the full libertarian argument for why the owners of a bed and breakfast should be allowed to refuse entry to a gay couple, there's one freedom that has been increasingly encroached upon in recent years, and that's the freedom to be a horrible bigot. Iain Dale and Claude both argue as to why you shouldn't be allowed to discriminate on such grounds, Dale saying that you're providing a service and that your house ceases to be public once you invite paying guests into it, Claude comparing the ban to health and safety legislation. Devil's Kitchen however makes what I think to be the best comparison: the smoking ban. While it's difficult to argue that the smoking ban hasn't been a general success and that it's lovely to come back from either a pub or club and not have your clothes absolutely reek of tobacco fumes, I see absolutely no reason why certain establishments shouldn't be allowed to deign themselves as places where you are allowed to smoke, and that if you don't wish to breathe it in, then you can go elsewhere.

The same should be able to apply to small businesses like B&Bs. If you're such a horrendous bigot that your conscience won't allow you to permit entry to two gay men, presumably on the grounds that as they're gay men and all gay men are sex mad and can't possibly resist the temptation to indulge in anal intercourse in-between your clean white sheets, then you should be perfectly within your rights to do so. The general public however though will then be perfectly within their rights to be told about your petty little irrational prejudices at every possible opportunity, hopefully resulting in your business either failing or only similarly clean-minded Christians or members of other religions patronising you. Would this result in, as some have also mentioned, the return of the likes of "no blacks, no Irish, no dogs" signs? Possibly. Can we seriously though not handle that returning, and not actually further put it down to their ignorance and let them get on with it, with perhaps similar consequences to the above? In any case, we already have establishments where it's well known that certain people are either not welcome or conversely are welcome, and that few not belonging to those cliques therefore venture to them. At least with this option we have open discrimination rather than covering it with a veil; let the bigots be bigots and let everyone else mock them. Perhaps we can start with, err, Chris Grayling?

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