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« Voices of Freedom 2017 | Main | Devastating impact of the smoking ban on pubs laid bare »

The Freedom Dinner 2017

Is this the defining image of the Forest Freedom Dinner at Boisdale of Canary Wharf on Tuesday?

Quite possibly, but there are so many to choose from. (See Dan Donovan's full set of pictures here.)

I'm not sure how to describe Rod Liddle's speech. Let's just say it went in a direction I hadn't anticipated (and, no, I'm not referring to the unexpected appearance of Sooty).

I enjoyed the evening, and I think most of the guests did too, but for me it didn't quite live up to last year. Then again, that set a very high bar.

ConservativeHome's Harry Phibbs probably put his finger on it when he said that last year's event took place shortly after the EU referendum and there was a palpable sense of euphoria in the air given that many of the guests voted for Brexit.

Reflecting the current mood the atmosphere on Tuesday inevitably fell short of those giddy heights. Rod's speech certainly had fewer laughs. It was more a howl of anger (that had nothing to do with smoking).

Talking of which, this year's dinner marked the tenth anniversary of the smoking ban, which is hardly cause for celebration.

Copies of the new Forest report (Road To Ruin? The impact of the smoking ban on pubs and personal choice) were on display and I referred to it in my opening comments, pointing out the number of pubs that have closed since the introduction of the ban in 2007.

If I can find my notes I'll post them here but I think I chucked them away.

There were 160 guests in total including a fair number of MPs and peers. We also had journalists, parliamentary researchers, political commentators plus an eclectic mix of industry lobbyists and think tank wonks.

Smokers, I'm pleased to say, were very much in evidence, as Dan's images will confirm. Vapers too.

After Rod's speech we presented the 2017 Voices of Freedom Awards but I'll cover that in a separate post.

The last guests standing – an eclectic group that included Harry Cole (The Sun), Katy Balls (The Spectator) and Judy Gibson (INNCO) – were ushered towards the exit at 12.30am where we stood, in the rain, waiting for taxis to take us home.

If I remember, Harry Cole was quietly singing ...

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