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« ASH Scotland: the bully state in action | Main | Review of the week »

Voices of Freedom 2011

Following the success of The Free Society's Voices of Freedom series of debates in London last year, I am pleased to announce that we are returning with a second series next month.

Programme as follows:

Wednesday June 1: Civil liberties up in smoke
Wednesday June 8: Nudge and the nanny state
Wednesday June 15: Risk and the pursuit of happiness
Tuesday June 21: Freedom, education and the state
Tuesday June 28: Definition of a free society

Venue: IEA, 2 Lord North Street, Westminster.
Time: 7.00-8.00pm with drinks from 6.15.

As before, each debate will be co-hosted by The Free Society and various partners. This year they are Privacy International, Manifesto Club, Democracy Institute, Adam Smith Institute and Liberty League.

Guest speakers, I can reveal, include Peter Hitchens, the Mail on Sunday's famously acerbic columnist; Toby Young, associate editor of The Spectator; author of How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, and founder of the West London Free School; and Sir Ronald Harwood, Oscar-winning screenwriter and a member of Forest's Supporters Council.

Also taking part: Mark Littlewood (Institute of Economic Affairs), Simon Davies (Privacy International), Alex Deane (formerly Big Brother Watch), Dolan Cumming and Josie Appleton (Manifesto Club), Dr Alena Buyx (Nuffield Council on Bioethics), Patrick Basham (Democracy Institute), Claire Fox (Institute of Ideas), Tom Clougherty (Adam Smith Institute), Tom Miers (The Free Society), Simon Richards (Freedom Association), Dennis Hayes (Academics for Academic Freedom), economist Paul Ormerod who is currently writing a new book, Beyond Nudge: Networks and Public Policy in the 21st Century and many more.

I will update you as more speakers are confirmed. In the meantime, put these dates in your diary ... June 1, 8, 15, 21, 28.

RSVP via email to or telephone Nicky on 01223 370156.

See also: IEA Forthcoming Events

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Reader Comments (19)

This Simon looking decidedly A list, a must for me to attend them all.

Monday, May 9, 2011 at 12:37 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

I couldn't bear to hear Hitchens who has now decided being anti-smoking is the way forward and we smokers are worth nothing. Sadly too many are now subscribing to that view.

An amendment to the ban? We'll be lucky to keep our homes and children in future. This has gone way beyond too far and I'm not sure inviting the enemy like Hitchens will do us much good.

It's a bit like last year when illiberal Mark Pack was invited to talk about "freedom" when his idea of it was anything but a person's right to choose. Another rabid anti-smoker I could do without hearing.

I wish you luck but I think I'll pass. I'm depressed enough about this issue but then I would be as Tobacco Control is now pushing the idea that smoking is a disorder and people who choose to smoke are mentally ill.

Monday, May 9, 2011 at 13:13 | Unregistered CommenterPat Nurse

Does anyone of these actually smoke - and will any of them be prepared to mention the smoking ban?

It's just too broad a brush. I want Forest to maintain its own focus.

Monday, May 9, 2011 at 19:57 | Unregistered CommenterJJ


I take your point, however banging on specifically about smoking week in week out in the 'Westminster Bubble' sounds like a stuck record and even boring. Smoking has become important to many disparate people from a freedom and state intrusion point of view. The use of terrorism acts by councils to spy on dustbins, people fibbing about where they live to get their children into particular schools, 28 day detention with out trial, a state DNA database etc. I believe these are equally important rights that the state has trampled all over and deserve a wider hearing.

If you really want to hear about something which I find even more offensive than the smoking ban, John Hemming a Lib Dem MP has constituents who have had their children removed or th threat by the local council and threatened with worse sanctions if they write to their MP. It is quite rightly a 'contempt of Parliament.'

Freedom, so I have learned is not an A la Carte menu which you pick and choose who has rights and which ones, but a smorgasbord where everyone has rights.

Monday, May 9, 2011 at 20:28 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

@JJ part 2

Many of the people involved share our dislike of the smoking ban and have highlighted our plight. The Manifesto Club and Josie Appleton has written on Spiked, Simon Richards of the Freedom Association has done the same and some of my work, and some of it has gone further. Alex Deane of Big Brother Watch, now run by the excellent Dan Hamilton have published at least 5 of my stories, mostly smoking oriented. Claire Fox and the Institute of Ideas have done sterling work on the radio and in print. Tom Clougherty of the Adam Smith Institute has also written many articles that are smoking related and Dr. Patrick Basham and Mark Littlewood have been an intellectual tour de force.

I am introduced as the the "smoking chap" when up in London.

Monday, May 9, 2011 at 20:52 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

Why the part 1 and part 2 attacking me. If your so upset about my comment then I suggest you lie down in a cold dark room.

You don't seem to find the smoking ban boring when you constantly refer to studies that you come accross on almost a weekly basis. I don't need to attend these meetings to undstand what freedoms or not have been interfered with.

I'm intitled to my comment, and if you don't like it then - tough! I also assume your remarks were aimed at Pat Nurse too - eh?

Monday, May 9, 2011 at 21:06 | Unregistered CommenterJJ


I think you are being a little thin skinned. I was just explaining why sticking to one topic dilute a message. The reason i did it in 2 parts was that I was trying not to be too long.

Where is the criticism?

Monday, May 9, 2011 at 22:29 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

@JJ – You sound like one of those rabid smokers that think the world revolves around the smoking ban. There are less people affected by this ban than you would think. The vast majority have got used to the ban. Why not be more relaxed about it.

Dave was right to criticize you – why not try being less selfish.

Monday, May 9, 2011 at 23:43 | Unregistered CommenterAnon


The smoking ban inside I may have adjusted too. Never will I get used to it or will ever have any agreement with.

Smoking does have a considerable impact on my life. Where shall I go for a drink, where shall I go on holiday etc. I all manner of ways it does affect me.

What I am saying we have to have sympathy and agreement from a wider audience.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 8:27 | Unregistered CommenterDave Atherton

I haven't been on these boards for a few weeks, primarily because of the fact of so much infighting going on here. It usually involves politics, and if only I hadn't voted for the Tories everything would be sweet etc., etc.

If I want to debate politics I go onto Conservativehome, or even facebook, but here, even though this isn't supposed to be a pro-smoking site, I do expect there to be some healthy debate on smoking issues.

This however, is where I came in, the whole debate here has wandered way off course. Yes, I know, some will probably say that I too am way off course in what I am saying - but I am only trying to address the posts that have already been published on here.

When people on a 'pro-smoking site' resort to arguing against each other, and petty put-downs, then I see that as us starting to lose the battle. Of course we need to debate with each other, regarding which path we should be taking etc., But there is a difference between debate and outright vehemence against each other, which brings me round to the Voices of Freedom series of debates, which this article was originally about. For once I find myself totally agreeing with Pat Nurse regarding the inclusion of Peter Hitchens in these debates.

Peter Hitchens isn't interested in debating; he is a self publicising, anti-everything, would-be politician, whose sole purpose in life seems to be throwing spanners in the works of everything that moves.

Giving Hitchens a platform from which to hit not just smokers, but all believers in freedom over the head, is akin to inviting Joseph Goebbels to your son's Bar Mitzvah. Don't believe me? Wait until after the debate, and then read Hitchens' column in the Mail.

p.s. Everyone I have ever spoke to regarding Peter Hitchens, absolutely hate him. Has anyone ever heard of anyone who actually like this odious little man?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 10:52 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Thurgood

I like Peter Hitchens. I like anyone who is genuine and sincere in their views.

Three things I hate are preaching only to the converted, intolerance of other people's opinions, and listening to a one-sided, one-eyed 'debate' where all the speakers agree with one another. How boring is that?!

The Voices of Freedom series is designed to educate and entertain at the same time. We want it to be thoughtful yet provocative. If people don't want to be challenged they should steer well clear.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 11:54 | Unregistered CommenterSimon

Peter -

As it happens, I used to be something of a Peter Hitchens fan. I found his willingness to challenge all and every cherished pre-conception refreshing, and his intellectual acuity impressive.

Nonetheless, his apparent endorsement of the Smoke-Hater Society is a three-league step-too-far for yours truly. As, indeed, is his resistance to any liberalisation of the 'drug' laws - laws which have demonstrably caused many, many times the harm to Society that their well-intentioned (but, aren't they always ?) advocates sought to prevent.

I find it odd that someone who describes himself as 'socially conservative' should choose to endorse the radical destruction of a liberty hitherto enjoyed by millions of his fellow-countrymen, rather than 'conserve' our English tradition of liberal tolerance.

In addition, his perverse refusal to countenence even the possibilty of (shall we say ?) an alternative explanation to the palpably fraudulent Official Story behind the Kennedy assassination and '9/11' - no doubt to distance himself from all those wacko 'conspiracy theorists' - indicates something very close to blockheadedness. And I've little time for blockheads - even if they do contain a well-crafted intellect at their core.

As I've said before, part of the reason may also be a refusal to associate himself with brother Christopher -an avowed Atheist, and a staunch defender of tobacco-use (albeit one with a wretchedly small-minded antipathy to constitutional monarchy).

This is often the problem with 'clever' people: their cleverness is more vital to the preservation of their self-esteem than intelligence, truthfulness, and humanity.

Give me a Fool who loves Freedom over a Genius who loves Control any day.

Should be a good debate, though - and credit to all involved for staging it !

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 12:23 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

I too like anyone who is genuine and sincere in their views, which is one reason I do not like Peter Hitchens.

I haven't got three things that I hate with regard to debate, but I do have one, and that is trying to debate with someone who wants argument for argument's sake. I think most of us know someone like that, they don't seem to have particular viewpoints on anything, their sole purpose seems to be finding out what you like or dislike and arguing against it. I find that totally boring!

I agree with Martin, where he say: "Give me a Fool who loves Freedom over a Genius who loves Control any day" Although I do not see Peter Hitchens as any kind of genius.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 12:54 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Thurgood

Is this the right room for an argument?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 14:40 | Unregistered CommenterMichael Palin

This is the worst country to live in almost, we have so many rules and we are sick of being watched by people. I feel for these village pubs and town pubs. Many people still smoke. Whats wrong with good ventilation?Resteraunts get fed up with us smokers rushing out to have a ciggie inbetween courses. But i just wish this stupid government would listen instead of one rule for them and another for the public. Its a national disgrace. We are all under STRESS . Live & let live.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 18:31 | Unregistered Commenteramandah

Amandah -

I agree with you entirely, of course.

Leaving aside the (albeit vitally important) Freedom issue for a moment, I think that the source of the problem is an overly narrow view of the meaning of 'Health'.

Since it is no longer possible - as it was in the 16th Century - to associate the enjoyment of tobacco with Devil-worship as a result of all that ungodly smoke (the smoke from the burning flesh of heretics being a cleansing agent for the Soul, of course, and thus quite another matter), it has become necessary for the Antis to re-direct their religious fervour to the purely physical aspect of man's existence. And Cancer, of course, now stands in (conveniently) for the Devil.

And thus it follows that any measure which helps ward off the latter must be to the Good, whilst any behaviour which may be seen as (in some sense) encouraging it pure Evil. Health is God, and the priestly caste of labcoats now stands between Him and us as the sole interpreters of His will.

With the occasional assistance of 'Daily Mail' writers.

The Body-as-Temple argument still stands, in other words - but re-fashioned to accomodate the narrower ideals of the Secular Age.

Perhaps we would be better placed to undermine their fanatacism by pointing out the one obvious flaw in their argument. Namely, that 'Health' - something which we all seek to enjoy - is a concept which embraces rather more than the high-level maintenance of an electro-chemical machine.

Car mechanics are not, after all, paid to tell us how to drive.

Laughter, enjoyment, relaxation, the company of friends, the commensality of pub and bar, self-assurance and self-confidence - all are things which, in various ways, Tobacco has helped provide and support over the centuries, and all are vital constituents of the wider conception of Health without which no Society can be truly said to be 'happy'.

It stands to reason (surely ?) that the Psychological, the Social, and the Spiritual aspects of Health are every bit as important as the Bodily. Arguably, even more so. But the Scientific Dictatorship - which seems to assume that all wellbeing can be reduced to a simple statistical formulation - will have none of this. From their point of view, it is unquestionably better to be (say) a permanently Depressed Athlete than a permanently Contented Invalid.

Ultimately, that is what this debate is all about: a Clash of Values - those of the Priest versus those of the Congregation. And woe to any politician rash enough to speak out on behalf of the latter !

Thus the World turns.

As, one observes, do the various fanatacisms that plague it from time to time.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 10:22 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

Peter -

Beyond considerations of pure entertainment (and mental muscle-flexing), the only sensible justification for debate/constructive argument is the quest for some sort of truth. Which is why, of course, Tibetan monks are trained in the art of argumentation.

Hitchen's combative style is one of the things that first attracted me to him as a writer. His manifest contempt for the dull conformity of his fellow-panellists on 'Any Questions', for example - comparable to that of David Starkey for the audience - was one of the few reasons for my tuning in to a programme that has become as insufferable as the vapourings of a Nick Clegg enthusiast.

Or the music (?) of Lady Gaga.

Yet isn't the current tendency of politicians and opinion-formers of all hues to 'agree' with each other one of the more irksome aspects of life in modern Britain ?

And he still manages to get it right on so many things, especially on the question of grammar schools and Political Correctness - which he rightly identifies as a well-crafted tool of political control (Frankfurt School, and all that) rather than a brief and transient fashion.

One must also always expect some measure of disagreement even with one's closest friends. But there are, of course, limits.

By supporting the destruction of a freedom dear to my heart he has, I fear, stepped over the mark. In consequence, whilst I still applaud his views on many subjects of concern, I can no longer (sad to say) consider him in any sense a 'friend' - any more than I could the more fervent advocates of the clod-hopping intrusiveness of the State into our private lives. No matter how eloquently they may state their case.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 11:14 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V


You say Hitchens still manages to get it right on so many things, especially on the question of grammar schools and Political Correctness.

I cannot say that I have ever seen or heard any comment made by Hitchens on either of these subjects, unless it had a barbed comment attached. Maybe I have just missed them, which could well be, as I do my best to ignore his rants now.

The last rant I read of his, was when he said that he used to support smokers, but now he doesn't any longer. I cannot remember the exact reason he gave for this statement, but I remember thinking, what is it with this man - as we are seeing a gradual increase in smoker-friendly journalists and panellists, he has to change tack and go in the opposite direction?

Discussion and argument are healthy forms of engagement. But how the hell can one argue with someone who argues against your right to argue?

I used to have a 'friend' who acted like this. Every time my wife and I went out to dinner with him and his wife, he would start an argument about nothing. If I said the food was good, he would say it was bad. If I said I fancied another drink, he would say only alcoholics had to have that other drink. When his brother, who had never smoked in his life, died of cancer, he blamed all smokers, including me, for causing his death through second-hand smoke. He became a hand waver, a fanatic, who said he had to change his clothes and wash his bald head every time he went anywhere near a smoker. Yet only a year prior to this, he used to frequent a pub (before the ban) where almost everybody smoked and he never said a word about it.

Needless to say I ended this so-called friendship; I just couldn't take any more. The man wasn't true to me or himself, and that is exactly what I think of Peter Hitchens. He gets paid for being controversial, but most of the time his pseudo-controversialism just does not work!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 13:29 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Thurgood

Peter -

Yes, I can assure you that he did adopt that posture on both subjects. And that would have been about a year ago. This apparent volte face of his on smoking - if such it is - however, is as mysterious to me as to you.

The oddly irritating behaviour of your friend, on the other hand, is nothing new. Since the Ban, I've encountered quite a few smokers (mostly female) who celebrate the fact that they 'no longer have to wash their hair' etc. This demonstrates as much as anything else I can think of the way in which a single idea - no matter how fatuous or phony - can seep into public (and then private) consciousness. And all it takes to get past the sentinel of critical thought, apparently, is simple repetition.

In an age in which adults (and children) may be expected to spend literally years of their time sitting passively in front of a flickering box which induces (unlike reading, debating, or radio-listening) an Alpha wave brain condition (receptive but uncritical), this is probably to be expected.

And in an era in which political manipulation is more about psychology than it is about ideology, this is one of the reasons governments are so keen on the 'activity' (and rather less than keen on the free Internet) !

Think I'm joking ?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 17:26 | Unregistered CommenterMartin V

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