You can’t be too careful. Yesterday (Friday March 25th) I fell for a scam. A deception. I was invited to attend a Freedom Association (TFA) fund-raising event at Champagne Charlie’s in Villiers Street. It was to be a sort of Patron’s-Club-type event to be attended by members and wives, and rather to my surprise my wife Sara (who goes rarely to London — though she had been down the previous week for the PM’s Downing Street reception) had agreed to go. I decided that this was because TFA Director Simon Richards had thoughtfully phoned her with a personal invitation.
But at Champagne Charlie’s there was some confusion. We met Simon outside and he told us that the event had been moved at the last minute to a new venue a few minutes walk away. So we set off and soon arrived at Rules Restaurant, which is not at all the same thing as Champagne Charlie’s. I hadn’t been before, but Rules is well-known as a rather fine and long-established restaurant with an intensely English ambience, all wood and leather and hunting prints. The menu includes steak and oyster pie, roast beef, sponge pudding and rhubarb crumble — absolutely wonderful English food (I had the salt-marsh lamb).
It turned out that this was not a routine TFA buffet at all, but a small lunch party organised by Simon to thank me for my work over the years as Honorary Chairman of the TFA. It was all a plot and a scam, and Sara had been one of the plotters! There were just Sara, Simon, myself, and two or three stalwarts of the Association with whom I have worked, and we had a very fine and convivial meal. I was presented with a couple of books, a tie featuring dogs and partridges, and a rather splendid pewter tankard (see photo), suitably inscribed. Under the “PRESENTED TO…” text there is a line in italic script: “Champion of Freedom”. I’m not sure that I deserve the accolade, but I certainly aspire to.
Simon said some very kind words about my time as Chairman. Certainly during that period there were huge changes at the TFA. As Simon said, at one time he would find himself (he’s in his fifties) the youngest person at TFA meetings, and most members would have been of pensionable age (and nothing wrong with that — so am I!). But today, we have very active TFA branches in a number of universities; we have a super group of young staffers, interns and activists; the TFA’s “Freedom Zone” has established a huge reputation at Party Conference; and there’s a real buzz about the enterprise. Now Simon can occasionally find himself the oldest person at TFA meetings.
It’s true that many of these things happened on my watch. But all I did was to advise and consent, and run up and down the country giving speeches and encouragement — and perhaps most important, I was able to give Simon the space to realise his vision for the Association. It was Simon, ably assisted by Jane Broadhurst, Christiana Hambro and other staff, who did the heavy lifting, and he should get the credit.
Recently I realised, much to my embarrassment, that although I had been Honorary Chairman of TFA, I hadn’t actually joined as a member. So I decided that the time had come to take out a life membership, which I did. The task of defending freedom is on-going, and TFA is at the forefront of it. If you’d like to be part of it, I urge you to join TFA. Find us at www.tfa.net.