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« There's no escape | Main | The Freedom Zone - Day 1 »

The Freedom Zone - Day 2

Tuesday ... Although I didn't get to bed until 4.00am I still managed to crawl into The Freedom Zone shortly after nine. Our first task - following several cups of coffee and a bacon butty - was to hand out more promotional leaflets to conference delegates. Needless to say the Forest/Free Society team of Brian Monteith, Sarah Bland, Neil Rafferty and yours truly had just taken up our positions outside the main conference area when it started to rain. I didn't mind at all. Nor, for the first hour, did Brian or Sarah. Neil, on the other hand, looked a picture of misery. Not a pretty sight.

Shortly before midday we returned to The Freedom Zone for the lunchtime meeting - "Libertarian Paternalism and the Nanny State" organised by The Free Society and Progressive Vision. Chaired by Claire Fox (Institute of Ideas), it featured rather a good panel - Tim Montgomerie (editor, Conservative Home and an influential figure in Conservative circles), Dr Eamonn Butler (director, Adam Smith Institute), Brian Monteith (The Free Society) and Shane Frith (director, Progressive Vision).

Tim was the lone voice in defence of libertarian paternalism (aka "nudging") and without him the meeting would not have worked half as well as it did. Eamonn expressed sympathy for the concept, but doubted that politicians could implement it without going too far. Brian talked of the "bully state" and Shane criticised the extent to which government intrudes into people's lives. A lively discussion, well chaired, in front of an appreciative audience.

With the afternoon session in the hands of The Freedom Association (Chris Monckton, I was told, delivered a withering rebuttal of the "evidence" on climate change), I wandered over to the International Convention Centre where I was being interviewed by CNN. I was very impressed. It's a fantastic venue with superb facilities including Symphony Hall where the main conference was taking place. The ICC is a far cry from the Winter Gardens, Blackpool. It's light, modern, compact. There are meeting rooms galore, plus coffee and other catering outlets. In competition with this, I marvelled that we had managed to entice anyone - let alone hundreds of delegates - to brave the rain and visit The Freedom Zone at Austin Court.

And the best was yet to come because at 5.30 I was back in The Zone for the Forest reception (aka Cigarettes and Civil Liberties) featuring - all the way from London - the Boisdale Blue Rhythm Band. Sadly the rain prevented the band from playing outside, alongside the smokers, but the weather didn't deter 200 or more guests from turning up. At one stage the lounge bar was seriously crowded. Fortunately the rain did stop and the smokers took up residence in the sheltered courtyard (where the 'No Smoking' signs had been covered up for the evening).

Last but not least it was time for Tories Got Talent which I conceived as a political rival to Britain's Got Talent. Contestants were invited to speak for up to three minutes on a topical political issue. (Believe me, three minutes is quite a long time. Next year it's going to be two!) Their contributions were then commented upon by a panel of judges including compere Iain Dale, Nadine Dorries MP and Jonathan Isaby, soon to be co-editor of Conservative Home but currently working for the Daily Telegraph.

To be honest, some people (yes, you, Iain Dale) had their doubts about this event. They thought it wouldn't work. I felt that if we got the right compere, the right judges and enough contestants everything would be fine!! We did and it was. The only problem was that, unexpectedly, too many people (15) wanted to take part with the result that the event over-ran and we had to drop three speakers as the clock ticked on ... and on.

Tories Got Talent was exactly what I hoped it would be - good entertainment allied to some serious political messages. There were two deliberately funny speeches and one inadvertently funny speech as speakers tackled Europe, the Post Office, the smoking ban and so on. Some were better than others (as you would expect) but the judges hit just the right note, offering constructive criticism without being too harsh.

The winner - chosen by the audience from a shortlist of five selected by the judges - was Rupert Matthew, a prospective European parliamentary candidate for the East Midlands, who enacted a brilliant piece of satire on the subject of, what else, Europe.

And that, as they, was that. There were lots of things I would have done differently (and some things I wouldn't have done at all!), but for a first attempt The Freedom Zone was a success. Thanks to those who worked hard to make it happen - notably Simon Richards and Vicky Stephens of The Freedom Association.

Thanks too to everyone who helped out in Birmingham, whether it was handing out flyers, manning stands, meeting and greeting, or crisis management! A long list includes Sarah Bland, Brian Monteith, Kenny Irvine, Josie Appleton, Dolan Cummings, James Panton, Suzy Dean and many more.

Finally, thanks to the staff at Austin Court who were very helpful and extremely professional. I exclude the over zealous member of staff who (allegedly) escorted a couple of smokers from the open courtyard to the car park; stared at them, arms folded, while they smoked their cigarettes; and then produced a broom which he used to brush the ground around them.

The Freedom Zone? We did our best.

Reader Comments (6)

"Finally, thanks to the staff at Austin Court who were very helpful and extremely professional. I exclude the over zealous member of staff who (allegedly) escorted a couple of smokers from the open courtyard to the car park; stared at them, arms folded, while they smoked their cigarettes; and then produced a broom which he used to brush the ground around them."

Allegedly? Nope it was me, not only that but with a wine glass filled with water, yes H2O another member of staff warned me about the police confiscating it as I moved away from the doors. However they were only doing their job and their "justification" was Birmingham City Council had banned it themselves, as they were a big user of Austin Court. I did make a point of talking and apologising for being not my usual gracious self. So there was Claire Fox, Mark Littlewood, James Panton, and my good self in a huddle, muttering about this is not quite right as a gentle drizzle reminded us of the absurd smoking ban.

October 2, 2008 at 13:16 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

Now for serious stuff. I arrived just after lunch on Monday with Richard Longhurst, being held up by the jobsworths at Slough station, but I was there for the rest of the programme. At the risk of sounding gratuitously sycophantic, Simon worked incredibly hard to make the event a success, from being gracious to all the participants and guests to moving chairs and glasses. He was on duty from before 8.00 am to the evenings, never letting up in enthusiasm and commitment to the smoker’s clause. Cynics may say that is what Simon is paid for, but his input was entirely beyond ones duties. If we all matched Simon’s best efforts the Labour Party would on its knees begging us to see if the ban reversal was enough to our liking. Being blunt, smokers, Taking Liberties contributors, F2C members should of looked at their diaries a lot more closely and cleared some space, even if it is only for a couple of hours or half a day. I am not saying that because I went I am anything special, as a couple of days off work and £90 hotel bill is not going to put me on the bread line. I can only hope at the next event Simon can expect a little bit extra from everyone.

Sorry if I have been shamelessly obsequious but the event in my opinion was a success and can only further our cause.

October 2, 2008 at 14:08 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

Thank you for you are doing in Forest.
I may be quite a distance away (N. Ireland) but I do appreciate all that Forest is doing on behalf of the smokers.
I wish I could have been there.
Best wishes, M

October 2, 2008 at 17:14 | Unregistered Commentermary smoker

The simple truth like this don't get public attention...and they don't move the possible ending of the smoking ban along one jot!

It seems like a few people having a bit of fun, and nothing more.

October 2, 2008 at 18:59 | Unregistered CommenterChris F J Cyrnik

Well done Simon. We won't win overnight, but your events are getting bigger and better. Keep up the good work.
Dave. You didn't mention the cost of travel. You have said that you played at a fair standard of football. Your best position was obviously a sweeper?

October 3, 2008 at 9:27 | Unregistered Commenterchas

Chas: We could always go for the old chestnut, Left back in the changing rooms.

Travel was £20 in petrol split two ways, £10 parking and, er, um, a bar bill of £50.

October 3, 2008 at 13:26 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

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