"What a night!"
Wednesday, June 27, 2012 at 16:15
Simon Clark

Just got home from last night's Freedom Dinner at Boisdale of Canary Wharf.

I am sitting in the garden with a mug of strong coffee, typing on my iPad while nursing a slightly sore head and hoping that a further dose of Nurofen has the desired effect.

Ranald Macdonald (above), proprietor of Boisdale and host of last night's event, rang a few minutes ago. He too is feeling a little delicate and I imagine that others will be much the same, especially the small band of hardcore libertarians who kept the party going past midnight thereby missing the last train into central London. (You know who you are.)

Personally I blame the whisky cocktails that were served on the smoking terrace before dinner. They were delicious and I don't even like whisky! I asked Ranald what the ingredients were and he mumbled something about squeezed lemon and sugar and Chivas Regal 12 which he says has a citrus flavour.

The canapés were wonderful too: Boisdale mini hamburger, prawn cocktail, Grissini with air-dried ham, Hebridean crab cakes (my favourite) a char-grilled artichokes on toast.

Guests mingled on the awning-covered terrace overlooking Cabot Square. Lots of familiar faces, some new ones too.

After an hour guests were invited to make their way to the restaurant on the second floor. When everyone was seated I counted 152 guests on 14 tables. The room was full. At £80 per ticket (£700 for a table of ten) The Freedom Dinner wasn't the easiest event to sell but we got there in the end.

As for the meal, I lost count of the number of people who wanted to congratulate the chef. That is very unusual. I've experienced enough corporate hospitality to know that the food is generally the last thing you remember.

After dinner came the speeches. One by one I introduced James Delingpole, Claire Fox and General Sir Mike Jackson.

All three were well received by an audience that wanted to be challenged yet entertained. None of us was quite sure what Sir Mike would say. In the event he suggested that the world would be a better place if people were allowed to take responsibility for their own actions. Civil servants (a pet hate) and senior politicians are guilty of micro-managing our lives and we are the poorer for it.

(Dick Puddlecote has written a good summary of the speeches here.)

After the speeches - and a few words from Ranald himself - it was time for live music from Reuben Richards and Soul Train. Sadly for them most guests chose to continue the party on the smoking terrace on the floor below. It was reported however by those who stayed to listen that Reuben and the band gave a cracking performance. Warmly recommended (by several guests).

Back on the crowded smoking terrace it was eleven o'clock and guests were starting to look at their watches. Some had to get the Underground back to central London in order to catch another train home.

By 11.30 only the most dedicated libertarians remained. You can probably guess some of their names.

My thanks to everyone who supported The Freedom Dinner - from Boisdale to Chivas Regal and all our guests.

There are some who dismiss events like this as nothing more than a "jolly" and question their worth. All I can say is, you should have seen the guest list.

It would be bad practise to publish the names but I can tell you that they included MPs, parliamentary researchers, journalists and the Chief of Staff to a very senior Cabinet member.

Networking and 'selling the message' is an important part of what Forest does and you can't recreate the sociable nature of smoking (and smokers) in an office or conference environment.

The challenge we continually set ourselves is to organise a memorable social event that conveys a serious political message so that guests associate one with the other.

It's a difficult trick to pull off. The Savoy 2007 and Bournemouth 2006 are still the gold standard for Forest events and we have been trying to recreate those models ever since.

The Freedom Dinner fell just short of those two benchmarks. I am pleased that we did it, though, and with one or two tweaks it could become an annual event.

Update: Further to his phone call, Ranald has just sent me an email. It reads, 'WHAT A NIGHT!'.

See Dick Puddlecote's account of the dinner: "I rebel: therefore we exist"

Photos courtesy of Dan Donovan

Article originally appeared on Simon Clark (http://taking-liberties.squarespace.com/).
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