It’s been just under two weeks since the launch of FREER, and we’ve been overwhelmed (in a good sense) by the response. So many people from all over the UK — and abroad — have been in touch; we’ve had great coverage in the press; and, as with the atmosphere at the event itself (see pictures here), the excitement is palpable. We felt certain there was an obvious gap for an initiative like this, and we’re delighted and relieved that we were right.
I say delighted and relieved because FREER is born of an urgent moment, in which the pursuit of freedom is clearly both greatly desired and greatly required. We are witnesses to the worrying rise of authoritarianism abroad, and state interventionism at home. We are living in a time when yet more government control is all too often touted as the easy and right answer to any problem — ignoring the fact that such an approach is not only often counter-productive, but can also cause much deeper harm by eroding our personal responsibility and the true bonds of chosen community.
As well as responding to the moment, however, FREER is also grounded in a classic strain of liberal thought. It’s the kind of thought that sees the embrace of freedom as something with boundless inherent value, and also incomparable instrumental benefits for our society. It’s common-sense, decent, coherent thought, which is needed more than ever today. It’s time to recognise our shared interest in freedom, and its shared benefits — and to recognise our shared intellectual history of this pursuit. The UK is the land of John Locke, Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill, and we’d do well to remember that more often, as we take hold of the opportunity that Brexit offers us to determine our nation’s future afresh.
We’ve launched FREER to make the argument that that future should be — well, as it says on the tin — a ‘freer’ one. We believe that freedom is the best starting point for a good society, a better society, a more just society. So, through events across the whole of the UK, and a packed line-up of diverse and well-argued publications, we will forward the case of economic and social liberalism.
There’s a long tradition of that kind of thinking within the British centre-right — and, indeed, to varying degrees, across the board. That tradition persists, but, as I was reminded last week while talking to some Americans about FREER, you’d forgive someone newish to our politics for not having quite realised that. It’s all been a bit quiet lately; as Lee and Luke emphasise in the inaugural FREER paper, we freedom-lovers haven’t always made our arguments strongly enough.
FREER aims to rectify that. We will debate and deliberate and love to disagree, and make the old arguments updated for today. We will remind people of the need both for free speech and free enterprise, that the true meaning of liberalism is based on the pursuit of real freedom, and that our future depends upon people like us — who are already convinced — making this case, and making it well.
So far, we’ve got off to a strong start. One thing that has particularly pleased us is that we’ve had such a great response from younger people. Of course, voters are individuals, and, while they make up various and multiple social groupings — related to their age, gender, family situation, location, and so on — there are always many differences within as well as between these groups, and it’s unhelpful and often divisive to see individuals as members of a single one of them.
We’re particularly keen to dispel the myth that all millennials are Corbynites. It’d be surprising if they were: surely, they’re the most freedom-loving, innovative generation yet. Indeed, at our launch, Liz Truss called them ‘Uber-riding, Airbnb-ing, Deliveroo-eating freedom fighters’ — a phrase that made it into the legendary Popbitch Thursday newsletter.
We’ll soon be announcing many different ways people will be able to get involved with FREER. But a central focus will be on our nationwide events, the first of which will be in Northern England, at a university (details available soon). This will tie in both with the great response we’ve had from students, and also with the publication of our next paper, which is being written by Kemi Badenoch on freedom of expression.
We’ve also just recorded our first FREER podcast, which we’ll be releasing next week (tune in to hear Luke, Lee, and me discuss the launch, the response, and our varied thoughts on the relevance of terms like ‘classical liberal’). Plus, you’re currently reading the first of the many articles we intend to publish on freeruk.com: if you’re interested in writing for us, do get in touch.