Simon Richards is Chief Executive of The Freedom Association and Chairman of the Freedom Festival Advisory Board.
Ten months ago, on the day of Lady Thatcher’s funeral, thousands of people descended on the Pavilion End, a pub in the shadow of St. Paul’s Cathedral. So packed was it,that many had to be turned away. Far from being a depressing occasion, it became a joyous reaffirmation of the values that Margaret Thatcher stood for and fought for. Starting with Conor Burns, leading Thatcherites queued up to proclaim their determination that Lady Thatcher’s values would not die with her.
The inaugural Freedom Festival is all about maintaining and strengthening those values: belief in a small state and respect for the freedom and independence of its citizens. Running from Friday 14 to Sunday 16 March, it’ll be a weekend to remember. It was the sainted Tim Montgomerie, late of this parish, who first persuaded me of the need for an event which would bring people from all parts of the centre-right together. Tim and I both felt that the party conferences no longer provided a suitable place for like-minded people to meet, debate and network. He has moved on to great things at The Times, but I decided to go ahead with The Freedom Festival.
The Festival will be held in Bournemouth – most people’s favourite venue, in the days when the Conservative Party Conference still went to the seaside. It’ll be held in a reasonably priced three-star hotel, with sea views, where you can get change from £3 for a pint at the bar. There’ll be a seaside theme, with Punch & Judy, candyfloss, fish & chips and lots more. Smokers will be welcome to enjoy the view from the Better Off Out terrace. There’ll be lots of time for tea and coffee breaks, drinking and networking in the bar.
It’ll be like the party conference of your dreams, but without a party label attached: as long as you value freedom, you’ll be welcome. After a personal welcome, join the incomparable Ruth Lea for afternoon tea. Then a drinks reception will be followed by a seaside-themed party, with a North v. South debate, led by Conservative Home’s own Mark Wallace and Mark Littlewood, Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs.
The bar will be open till 5.00 am! After a full English breakfast on Saturday morning, Matthew Elliott will give a State of the Movement address. Dan Hannan will give a keynote address shortly afterwards and there’ll be political celebrity interviews, sessions on how to get your message across and debates on Scotland, immigration and other key issues of the day. There’ll be lots of opportunities for you to have your say, together with break-out sessions, fringe meetings, book launches and lots more. Forget party conference politburo-style sessions – this is your conference and your views will get a hearing, and, with ample tea, coffee and meal breaks, there’ll be plenty of time for you to let off steam.
Run by The Freedom Association (which organises The Freedom Zone), The Freedom Festival is backed by the Adam Smith Institute, Big Brother Watch, The Centre for Policy Studies, Conservative Way Forward, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the TaxPayers’ Alliance and the Young Britons’ Foundation.
Speakers? Where to start?! Donal Blaney (Conservative Way Forward), Philip Blond (Res Publica), Ted Bromund (Heritage Foundation), Martin Durkin (WAG TV), Alex Deane (Weber Shandwick), Robin Harris (biographer of Margaret Thatcher), Roger Helmer MEP, Adrian Hilton etc, etc, etc. There’s no space here to go right through the alphabet, but I can tell you that there are dozens more big names, right through to Toby Young.
We want to make this the best political event of the year, and we want it to become an annual event, but for that to happen, we do need you to book your place at the Festival. Last year, we organised a Margaret Thatcher Birthday Weekend. Those who attended enjoyed it so much that, almost to a man, they have already booked places at The Freedom Festival. See you in Bournemouth!