A feature of this year's Freedom Dinner was the inaugural Voices of Freedom Awards.
Credit to Ranald Macdonald, MD of Boisdale Restaurants. Earlier this year we were throwing around ideas, wondering how we could breathe new life into the dinner, when Ranald suggested we present some awards. But what to call them?
In 2010 and 2011 Forest organised a series of panel discussions called the Voices of Freedom Debates. We've considered bringing them back because they were pretty successful. In the meantime it seemed appropriate to co-opt the name for the awards.
We then needed a logo.
In 2008 Forest launched The Freedom Zone with The Freedom Association. Dan Donovan designed the logo and we commissioned this website to promote the event.
I've always liked the original Freedom Zone logo and as Forest still owns it, and the website, and it's not been used for eight years, I asked Dan to adapt it for the Voices of Freedom Awards. How's that for recycling?!
And so to the actual awards.
Naturally our guest speaker Rod Liddle was presented with the very first Voices of Freedom award. Further awards were presented to the following with these citations:
This award is for someone who has taken up the fight against one of the nastiest of nanny state policies. For most consumers the smoking ban is illiberal and pointless but in practice it's an inconvenience, robbing us of the joy of chatting away in a cosy pub over a pint and a fag, forcing us to stand outside in all weathers like lepers when we want a smoke and breaking up conversations with non-smoking friends.
For patients at psychiatric units, however, ever tighter bans have become a real threat to their well-being. Many units are now banning smoking even outdoors. For those unable to leave the building freely, that means no smoking full stop. For many mental health patients smoking is a considerable source of relief from their symptoms. Such bans deny them that relief and a small but important degree of autonomy when almost all other freedoms have been taken away. On top of that, by forcing staff to act as police to prevent smoking, the vital trust between medics and patients is undermined.
Our award winner, a former patient himself, has stood up for the rights of patients, launching a campaign to try to draw society's attention to this terrible loss of liberty. It gives us great pleasure to present this award to ... Barry Curtis.
Our next award winner first came to our attention in 2003, before the introduction of the smoking ban in Ireland. After the ban was introduced in 2004 we noticed he continued to write letters to the newspapers, pointing out the negative impact of the ban, and for several years he appeared to be the sole voice of reason in Ireland on this thorny subject.
In 2010, when we launched Forest Ireland, he was the obvious choice to represent smokers in Ireland. He has done that job now for six years, impressing everyone he meets with his charm and common sense. In an extremely hostile climate – the media in Ireland are far more hostile to smoking and the concept of smokers’ rights than their counterparts in the UK – he appears regularly on radio and, occasionally, TV.
At times it’s been a lonely and thankless task but I’m delighted to say he’s here tonight, still smiling, still drinking, still smoking. Ladies and gentleman, in recognition of grace under fire, we present our international award to ... John Mallon.
Our next award winner is a writer and researcher. He first came to our attention eight years ago as the author of Velvet Glove Iron Fist: A History of Smoking. In fact we were so impressed that Forest hosted a party at Boisdale of Belgravia to mark the book’s publication.
As Head of Lifestyle Economics at the Institute of Economic Affairs he appears regularly on TV and radio. His work focuses on pleasure, prohibition and dodgy statistic and he has authored a number of publications including Sock Puppets, Euro Puppets, The Proof of the Pudding, The Crack Cocaine of Gambling and Free Market Solutions in Health.
His crimes and misdemeanors include calling Deborah Arnott, CEO of ASH a "chronically deluded neo-prohibitionist”. Anti-smokers accuse him of publically critcising leading tobacco control scientists by referring to them as “zealots” and “extremists”. He is of course 100 per cent correct.
He is now regular contributor to Spectator Health where his incisive, pithy articles have acquired a cult following, partly due to his transparent loathing for Jamie Oliver, a feeling many of us share. Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of our next Voices of Freedom Award is … Chris Snowdon.
Our next award winner is regularly invited to comment on developments in culture, education and the media on TV and radio programmes such as Question Time and Any Questions?. She is also a regular panellist on The Moral Maze on Radio 4.
She’s a former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party who has been widely criticised and praised for her libertarian belief in the need for minimal governmental control and her outspoken support of free speech in all contexts.
After the closure of Living Marxism, which she published for three years from 1997, she founded the Institute of Ideas with a view to creating a public space where ideas can be contested without constraint. On the back of that she organises the annual Battle of Ideas festival that currently takes place at the Barbican in London every October.
The winner of this award believes that fear of giving offence is killing democracy and stifling truth and her new book I Find That Offensive!’, published in May, has deservedly won many plaudits and is a must read. She’s an inspiration to many people. Ladies and gentleman, our final Voices of Freedom award goes to … Claire Fox.
Update: Rod's speech, which I posted here yesterday, has also been published on The Spectator website together with a short video clip. Click here – Rod Liddle’s Freedom Dinner speech: Labour’s Jew-bashing, the anti-Brexit mob and Tim Farron.
The Times' Diary and the Daily Mail also featured comments from Rod's speech.