Thoroughly enjoyed the Voices of Freedom series of debates which finished last night. For the fifth week in a row it was standing room only. I can't tell you how relieved I was when 40 people turned up for the first event, on June 3. A day or two earlier I was seriously panicking, thinking we would do well to get double figures.
Well, after that first week, the numbers got better and better and we averaged between 70 and 80 for the subsequent debates - not bad for a room with 40 chairs, but a little uncomfortable for those who had to stand or sit on the floor.
(As I pointed out last night, the more intelligent members of the audience worked out that they had to arrive early if they wanted a seat. As you can imagine, this observation didn't go down so well with the people standing at the back!)
It didn't help that the series coincided with a hot spell but the air-conditioning coped - just.
I am flying to Ireland today but when I get a moment I will publish a review of the series. In the meantime, thanks to our partner groups (the Institute of Economic Affairs, Big Brother Watch, Adam Smith Institute, Manifesto Club and Liberal Vision), our chairmen (Mark Littlewood, Iain Dale, Claire Fox and James Panton) and, most important, our audience.
A number of people helped bring the series to life. Special thanks to Karen McTigue (The Free Society) and Mark Littlewood (IEA). Thanks too to Ruth Porter (IEA), Eamonn Butler (ASI), Alex Deane (BBW), Josie Appleton (Manifesto Club) and Julian Harris (Liberal Vision) who helped promote the various debates.
Thanks to Sue and Nicky (in our Cambridge office) and thanks to everyone at the IEA who helped out: Sam (Collins), Clare (Rusbridge), Glynn and Dan - you were all very patient. (Apologies to Clare for all the fag butts in the "garden"!)
Last but not least, thanks to Ranald Macdonald (and Barbara) at Boisdale who very kindly supplied the pre-event drinks. I lost count but I think, over the five debates, that we consumed around 12 cases (144 bottles) of good quality wine. (Perhaps that's the secret to a good event.)
The Voices of Freedom programme is not yet over, of course. It concludes with a Smoke On The Water boat party on Wednesday July 14. If you haven't yet registered please book your ticket/s asap.
Below: speakers at last night's Voices of Freedom debate - Mark Pack (Liberal Democrat Voice), Michael White (Guardian), James Delingpole (The Spectator), Julian Harris (Liberal Vision), Paul Staines (aka blogger Guido Fawkes), Brendan O'Neill (editor, Spiked) and Chris Mounsey (Libertarian party). Standing, chairman Mark Littlewood (IEA)