I have returned from the Freedom Forum in Birmingham.
This is a new initiative for students and young undergraduates. There were around 100 delegates at the conference which took place in the bowels of the Birmingham & Midland Institute in a quiet street very close to the city centre. (Delegates were staying in a hostel around the corner.)
In terms of speakers all the usual suspects were there – many took part in our Voices of Freedom series of debates last year – but in my session, alongside Simon Richards, director of The Freedom Association, and Mark Wallace, former campaign director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, we also had Graham Aitken representing Students for Sensible Drug Policy UK which wants to legalise all drugs.
Afterwards we had a chat. Graham was wearing a casual but smart jacket and he told me he wears it so people don't leap to the conclusion that he's a junkie himself.
Personally, I've always struggled with the issue of hard drugs. Well, when I say struggled, I would never condemn anyone who consumes any substance, whatever it is (it's their body, after all) but would I support the legalisation of all drugs? I'm not sure. For me, the arguments for and against balance themselves out and I find it hard to decide. Most of the time I just don't think about it.
Dinner took place at Bank Restaurant in Brindley Place and the guest speaker was Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs. Dressed in a leather jacket and this season's Southampton football shirt (think Peru rather than Sheffield United or Stoke City), Mark gave a polished yet witty speech, well suited to the occasion.
I particularly liked the story about US humourist and journalist PJ O'Rourke who was asked by Clive Anderson, in a television interview some years ago, to explain his conversion from socialist-leaning student to Republican-leaning commentator.
Bemused by the question, the answer to which seemed blindingly obvious to O'Rourke, he replied: "I got a job."
I have noticed that a similar change often befalls students who profess to be libertarians. One minute they want to legalise all drugs and deregulate everything that moves. Then they get a job (or enter politics) and all those fine liberal sentiments are quietly ditched. (I won't speculate why but I think we can guess.)
Anyhow, I declined an invitation to stay the night and my decision was vindicated when I read the following message from Simon Richards, director of The Freedom Association, on Facebook this morning: "You know you're in a student hostel when ... you're woken up at 6.30am - by people going to bed."
Btw, when it was announced during the 'Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs' session that The Free Society would be paying for the drinks at last night's dinner there was a cheer and I got what I think was the biggest round of applause of the afternoon.
So the lesson from the Freedom Forum? Give a libertarian a drink and you've got a friend, if not for life then at least until they get a job.