Tony Blair, recently converted to Catholicism, is giving a lecture at Westminster Cathedral this evening. His talk, at 7pm, is entitled Faith and Globalisation. He'll be arguing that we risk driving religious groups to the margins, and even into extremism, unless we're prepared to engage with them in the mainstream of public life.
Unfortunately for Mr Blair, Stop the War Coalition are planning to come along to the lecture as well. They're holding a demonstration outside the Cathedral, and are planning to create a "wall of sound" to drown out the ex-Prime Minister's speech. They've asked supporters to bring along every possible kind of musical instrument and noise-making device, with the stated aim of "drowning out the speech of a man who should not be in a cathedral pulpit but in the dock of a criminal court".
Far be it from me to defend Mr Blair. I have a lot of sympathy for the calls for Blair to face the consequences of his disastrous foreign policy. His appointment as peace envoy to the Middle East stretches the definition of a bad joke beyond breaking point. And Stop the War Coalition are right to point out how utterly hypocritical it is for a man who has done so much to damage good community relations in Britain to stand on a pulpit and lecture us about religious tolerance.
But for all that, I am completely exasperated by the hypocrisy and idiocy of the anti-free-speech left. In the run-up to the controversial Irving/Griffin debate at the Oxford Union (which I've already debated to death on this blog, and will try to avoid returning to now), anti-fascist campaigners continually reminded me that free speech is one of the most highly qualified rights we hold. They argued (correctly) that fascists often misuse their right to free speech to incite harm against innocent people, and that it was legitimate to stop them when they threatened the rights of others. They then argued (incorrectly, but using the same logic) that Irving and Griffin should be pre-emptively barred from debating because of the risks to other people. In all of that argument, they appeared to accept the principle that your own rights end where the rights of others begin.
Now, of course, the far left has decided that such lofty and justifiable principles are inconvenient, and can be cast aside. However wrong Tony Blair may be about a great deal of things, there is no risk whatsoever of him inciting tangible harm against others from the pulpit. Surely by the logic these same lobby groups used to oppose Irving and Griffin's right to debate, it is clear that Tony Blair has a right to be heard? By all means protest against him - you're quite right to - but if you explicitly try to drown him out, you're trampling all over his entitlement to free speech, just as badly as the fascists trample over the rights of minority groups.
The truth is starting to dawn on me slowly. The anti-free-speech left doesn't have anything approaching a consistent and justified approach to the acceptable bounds of freedom of speech, and I was wasting my time in sifting through the rhetoric looking for an argument to engage with. They're just after a licence to shout down anyone they don't like.