The angels weren't very impressed by Mr Phelps. Photo: Getty
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What happened when the Westboro Baptist Church’s Fred Phelps arrived at the gates of heaven

It didn’t go quite as he’d imagined. . .

“Next!” says Saint Peter, beckoning an old man with cold blue eyes and a cowboy hat towards the Pearly Gates.

“Ah, Mr Phelps,” says the gatekeeper as the old man approaches. “What time do you call this? Twitter has had you down as practically dead since Monday.”

“Tweeter. . .” says Phelps, gazing furrow-browed into the clouds.

“Never mind. Right, let’s get started, shall we? I’m afraid we’ve had to up security here a little, since the Thatcher Incident last year. I’m going to start by asking you a few questions about your time on earth.”

“By all means, sir. I know darn well I’ve led a righteous life. Ask away.”

“Great! Right then, Mr Phelps,” says Saint Peter, picking up a clipboard, “I’m going to present you with some statements. In response to each one, I need you to tell me if you strongly agree, agree, somewhat agree, disagree or strongly disagree. All clear?”

Phelps slowly nods his Stetson-topped head.

“Number one: ‘To the best of my ability, I did unto others as I would have them do unto me.’”

“Strongly agree,” shoots the unblinking Phelps.

“Right,” says Saint Peter, chewing on the end of his pen. “I’m afraid that answer presents us with a slight administrative problem. I’m not actually cleared to deal with this sort of thing yet – these security measures really are very new. I’m going to have to get Maureen from the Department of Heavenly Prerogatives and Standards to come and lend a hand. Please bear with me.”

“But sir,” says Phelps, eyes widening into vicious blue marbles, “I’m a true Christian. I lived my entire life according to the Lord’s word. Surely there’s no need for this?”

Ignoring Phelps, Saint Peter picks up a crackling walkie talkie, “Maureen,” he says into it, “We have a possible A1327 violation here.”

The walkie talkie squawks something indecipherable to Phelps, but a winged woman in a pencil skirt, with a Heaven Border Security tag on a lanyard, soon appears.

“Hello Mr Phelps, my name’s Maureen. I’m going to be helping you through security today.”

“This is a downright outrage!” bellows Phelps, “I did not dedicate my life to preaching the word of our Lord Jesus Christ to be held here, outside of Heaven’s Gate, like a godforsaken sodomite.”

“I understand that you’re upset, Mr Phelps” says Maureen in a tone that suggests that she has no experience dealing with the upset whatsoever, “But I’m afraid you’ve violated section A1327 of the Heavenly Security Code – that’s the Love Thy Neighbour clause.”

“This is BS!” says Phelps, raising his arms.

“Please, Mr Phelps,” says a decidedly bored Maureen. “If you’ll just bear with us. . .”

“I want to speak to God,” says Phelps, “He knows I’m a good Christian.”

“Mr Phelps, I’m afraid it’s that church of yours,” says Maureen, emphasising the word “church” with a pair of elaborate air quotation marks. “Your whole ‘God hates fags’ thing. See, what you’ve actually done is libel God. And to put it mildly, Mr Phelps, he’s not a happy bunny.”

“Libel?!” shrieks Phelps, his red face twitching like an electrocuted rump steak, “Leviticus 18:22: ‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable’. Those are His own words.”

“I’m sorry Mr Phelps, but all of that. . . wrathful stuff was overwritten in the Gospel of Matthew. You know, ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’. God decided to do a bit of a rebrand at that point, you see. And to be quite honest, you can’t just hate your way into Heaven like in the olden days. In fact, all of these security measures are part of Operation Cuddly Pants. Jesus has personally demanded a crackdown on all the ‘haters’ (his word, not mine) getting through the Pearly Gates.”

Phelp’s jaw creeks into its full extension.

“I’m afraid you’re going to have to fill out these forms,” says Maureen.

Phelps is nudged out of his catatonic state by the thud of a War and Peace-thick stack of paper hitting Saint Peter’s desk.

“It’ll take six to eight months to process,” adds Maureen, “In the meantime, you’re in luck – a room has just become available at the YMCA in Purgatory.

Two muscle-bound angels appear.

“Adam and Steve,” Maureen addresses them, “Please will you escort Mr Phelps downstairs.”


Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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Labour must reclaim English patriotism if we are to beat Ukip and the Tories

We can't talk about the future of our country unless we can discuss the past. 

I was a parliamentary candidate for Thurrock, but the place which I currently call home is Hackney, London. This distinction is worth explaining. The questions of Labour and Englishness – what exactly is the English problem that we’re trying to solve, why do we need a progressive patriotism, does it already exist, if not why not and if we had one what would it look like? – are, above all, questions of identity and place. We need to build a patriotism that includes and resonates with residents of both Hackney and Thurrock. Currently they are very far apart. 

I’m the little girl who sat on her dad’s shoulders to wave a flag at Princess Anne’s first wedding. And I was also, like Sadiq Khan, waving a flag at the Silver Jubilee in 1977. I’m an ex-Catholic, I’m a Londoner, I’m English and I’m a woman, and all of those identities are important although not necessarily equally so and not necessarily all of the time.

But I’m also a member of the Labour party, not only as a candidate, but now as an activist in Hackney. And that is where I see the difference very strongly between Hackney and what I experienced in Thurrock. 

Thurrock was Ukip ground zero last year - 12,000 people voted for Ukip in a general election for the first time, on top of the 3,500 that had voted for them before in 2010. Most of those 12,000 people had either not voted before, or had voted Labour. 

This isn’t just about being in two different places. Sometimes it feels like more than being in two different countries, or even like being on two different planets. The reality is that large swathes of Labour’s members and supporters don’t identify as patriotic, fundamentally because patriotism has been seized and colonised by the right. We need to understand that, by allowing them to seize it, we are losing an opportunity to be able to reclaim our past. 

We do not have any legitimacy to talk about the future of our country unless we can talk about our past in a better way. We have tried but our efforts have been half-hearted. Take Ed Miliband's call for One Nation Labour, which ended up amounting to a washed-out Union Jack as a visual for our brand. It could have been so much better – an opportunity for an intellectual rebranding and a seizure of Conservative territory for our own ends. Ultimately One Nation Labour was a slogan and not a project. 

There is a section of the left which has a distinct discomfort with the idea of pride in country. It has swallowed the right-wing myth that England’s successes have all been Conservative ones. This is a lie, but one that has spread very effectively. The left’s willingness to swallow it means that we are still living in a Thatcherite paradigm. It is no wonder progressives revolt at the idea of patriotism, when the right’s ideas of duty and authority quash our ideas of ambitions for equality, opportunity for all and challenging injustice. But we risk denying our successes by allowing the right to define Englishness. It’s England that helped establish the principle of the right to vote, the rule of law, equal suffrage, and the fight against racism. 

If Englishness is going to mean anything in modern England, it needs to be as important for those who feel that perhaps they aren’t English as it is for those who feel that they definitely are. And a place must be reserved for those who, though technically English, don’t see their own story within the Conservative myth of Englishness. 

Although this reclaiming is electorally essential, it is not an electoral gimmick. It is fundamental to who we are. Even if we didn’t need it to win, I would be arguing for it.

We need to make sure that progressive patriotism reclaims the visual language that the Conservatives use to dress up their regressive patriotism. Women need to be as much in the pantheon of the radicals as part of the visual identity of Englishness. Women tend to either be there by birth or by marriage, or we are abstract manifestations of ideals like "justice" or "truth" – as seen on city halls and civic buildings across the country. But English women need to be real, rather than just ideal. Englishness does need to be focused on place and connection, and it should include Mary Wollstonecraft and Sylvia Pankhurst as well as Wat Tyler and Thomas Paine. 

We can’t pretend that we’re always right. The most patriotic thing you can do is to admit sometimes that you’re wrong, so that your country can be better. I love my country, for all its faults. But I do not live with them. I try to make my country better. That is progressive patriotism. And I know all of us who want to be part of this can be part of it. 

This article is based on Polly’s contribution to Who Speaks to England? Labour’s English challenge, a new book published today by the Fabian Society and the Centre for English Identity and Politics at the University of Winchester.