On 30th June, my dear friend, Simon Richards, retired from his role as Chief Executive of The Freedom Association. Described by many as “the nicest man in politics”, Simon will be greatly missed; not least by me.
Simon has been a doughty defender of freedom all his life. In a recent podcast I recorded with him, he told me that whilst at school in 1976 he decided to become a member of The Freedom Association which had been formed by Norris and Ross McWhirter, Viscount De L’Isle, and Major John Gouriet in December 1975. That started a relationship which lasts to this day.
When I announced his retirement on Twitter, there was an outpouring of love. You start to realise just how many people he has mentored over the years. He has been a constant source of support and wise counsel to so many.
After helping launch the Better Off Out campaign in 2006 alongside Christopher Gill, Philip Davies MP, and Mark Wallace, Simon spent much of his time making sure that Brexiteers in the Conservative Party remained on speaking terms with those former Conservatives who had left the party and had joined UKIP.
During our Freedom Festivals in Bournemouth, which were conferences where hundreds of freedom loving people met over a weekend to engage in lively debates with well-known speakers, you would find members of UKIP and the Conservative Party eating together and whiling away the hours in the bar – sometimes until 4.00 am. This was Simon’s brainchild. It was all part of his mission to make sure that the freedom movement didn’t fracture.
Those who attended Conservative Party Conferences from 2008 to 2014 will remember the Freedom Zone. It was outside the secure zone (hence one of the reasons for its name) and free for all to attend. Many people who were not conference passholders still made the trip to either Birmingham or Manchester. It was the one place where you could always find free, lively debate on topics never touched upon at the main conference. This was another successful brainchild of Simon’s, and The Freedom Association worked alongside the Institute of Economic Affairs, the TaxPayers’ Alliance, Big Brother Watch, and others.
During the EU referendum campaign, Simon argued for Brexit at dozens of public meetings. He helped raise tens of thousands of pounds for Better Off Out. He realised, as did I, that we would not win the referendum unless traditional Labour voters were persuaded to vote for Leave. Towards the end of the campaign, he called me one day and told me that he had decided to spend some of the money raised to help Labour Leave. This paid for adverts in local and regional newspapers in places like Hull which voted heavily in favour of leaving the EU. We also made sure that as many homes as possible in Hull received Labour Leave leaflets.
Simon is a classical liberal; a Thatcherite, but that didn’t stop him working closely with those he wouldn’t normally work with to ensure that we left the EU. That is the measure of the man – principled, generous, always willing to work in a collegiate way.
As we at TFA look to the future, we will build on the legacy Simon Richards has left us. He is at his happiest when he is talking to students. He always enjoys their infectious enthusiasm, and it was always his intention to work with me to create more student Freedom Societies. What derailed us more than somewhat was the whole Brexit experience and its interminable aftermath. Neither of us anticipated it going on for so long. But now that we have left the EU and will leave the transition period at the end of the year, The Freedom Association will focus on creating more of these Freedom Societies. We are also planning student webinars and generally increasing the amount we do online.
We have always been defenders of free speech, and we should have held a conference last month in London highlighting the no-platforming of speakers in some universities. Alas, Covid-19 got in the way, but we still fully intend to hold that conference once circumstances permit, and are planning other events along similar lines.
The country owes Simon Richards a debt of gratitude for everything he has done to keep the flame of freedom alive, to keep The Freedom Association alive, and the essential role he played to ensure we left the European Union. All of us who know him and call him a friend, wish him well as he embarks on the next chapter of his life.
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