It’s a free country. Or not.
There’s some irony in the decision for “voice and friend of the smoker” Forest to hold The Freedom Dinner it organises in Canary Wharf.
The largest publicly accessible private estate in Europe, carefully managed and manicured, is well stocked with rules and regulations.
It even dictates to the lobby group’s beloved puffers where they may or may not light up in the open air – a notion occasionally enforced by its regiment of security guards.
Hardly the copse of choice.
Maybe choosing to host it at the only venue on the estate with the glint of anarchy in its eye is Forest’s way of exhaling a lungful of smoking ban frustration in the face of the beast.
An irresistible temptation for the dwindling numbers of those relegated to shed-ghettos in the rain.
The restaurant, bar and cigar shop’s managing director Ranald Macdonald is often heard to enthusiastically exclaim: “We at Boisdale are libertarian.”
That’s a proclamation that would have certainly delighted those drawn there for the presentation of Forest’s Voices Of Freedom awards on Tuesday, June 27.
Right-wing, left-wing, fond of tobacco, strong of word and opinion, they came.
Many acquired tastes; cigarettes and cigars burning bright as the fires of their convictions.
Not least among these was guest speaker and Spectator associate editor Rod Liddle who crackled with exasperation at being “forced to wade through this sea of diverse and vibrant humanity” he finds London to be.
He used his time to slice into those who’d seek to constrain commentators’ freedom of speech, especially those linking recent terrorist attacks with Islam.
He brought glove puppet Sooty to satirise those espousing politically correct views he supposed would delight of the likes of Jon Snow and the Channel Four news team.
Tiptoeing indelicately through the daisies of press censorship, the cant and hypocrisy he finds in the left and the inherent doublethink of liberals, he reached the eventual conclusion his little yellow bear must be decapitated for the good of serious debate.
With the majority of his cranial veins unpopped, Rod left the stage to cheers and the awards were presented.
The winners were Forest EU director Guillaume Perigois, in celebration of the launch of the group’s Brussels branch, Martin Cullip, a lifestyle blogger who vapes and smokes and once organised a protest in Stony Stratford to successfully battle a town centre smoking ban and Elise Rasmussen, global events director of the Global Tobacco And Nicotine Forum.
Spiked assistant editor and tireless advocate for freedom of speech and the liberation of women Ella Whelan was also recognised.
She said: “It’s very nice, I wasn’t expecting it and I’m very grateful. I’d say to people they need to get serious in today’s political climate about defending freedom.
“I think Rod Liddle can be a welcome breath of fresh air because he challenges the current climate of censorship – his views on freedom of speech and the ability to speak out and say what you think are very welcome and a needed intervention into the ‘you can’t say that’ climate in politics at the moment.
“I disagree with some things he stands for but on the whole I think he makes a very good point about Islam that we need to challenge the prevailing very, very strong level of censorship around religion – the inability to criticise and openly talk about what’s going on at the moment.
“My position as someone on the left of the left is that the left is all consumed with identity politics at the moment and has been for decades
“So Spiked and myself are trying to make an argument for a genuine radical change in politics
that shakes the status quo for social change.”
“I’m an absolutist when it comes to free speech. It’s a principle and you don’t waver from a principle.
“People should be allowed to say and think whatever they like and the consequences of that should be free too.”
Nevertheless I didn’t quite dare to say how much I enjoy being constrained in my meagre tobacco consumption for fear of getting Sooty's fate.
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