The Freedom Association

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The Freedom Association
Logo of The Freedom Association
Founded 1975
Type Pressure group
Key people
Slogan "For Freedom"

The Freedom Association (TFA) is a pressure group in the United Kingdom that describes itself as non-partisan, centre-right and libertarian, which has links to the Conservative Party and UK Independence Party (UKIP). TFA was founded in 1975 as the National Association for Freedom (NAFF) and gained public prominence through its anti-trade union campaigns. Its popularity grew after campaigning against perceived abuses to individual freedom including big business, big government, organised labour and terrorist activities. By the end of the 1970s the organisation had around 20,000 members including the wife of the deputy Labour leader Herbert Morrison.[1] In the 1980s, TFA campaigned against sporting sanctions imposed on apartheid-era South Africa – earning a judicial rebuke after taking unsuccessful legal action to overturn the International Cricket Council ban on touring teams, which it saw as an imposition on cricketers' freedom. TFA has also campaigned against the UK's membership of the European Union and for greater impartiality at the BBC, having in the past exerted pressure to secure an impartiality clause in the Broadcasting Act 1990.[1] The Association's honorary President is Christopher Gill. The current Chief Executive of The Freedom Association is Simon Richards.


The Freedom Association was founded in 1975 as the National Association for Freedom (NAFF) by the Viscount De L'Isle, Norris McWhirter, Ross McWhirter and John Gouriet. Ross McWhirter had drawn up a fifteen-point Charter of Rights and Liberties before being assassinated by the Provisional IRA in November 1975. NAFF was renamed The Freedom Association in the winter of 1978.[2] Andrew Gamble reported shortly after that the renaming was undertaken in order to avoid confusion with the National Front.[3]

Political stance

The Freedom Association describes itself as "a non-partisan, centre-right, libertarian, pressure group".[4] In their study of the use of litigation by pressure groups, Carol Harlow and Richard Rawlings call TFA "an avowedly conservative group".[5] Marina Hyde, writing in The Guardian, has called the organisation a "charmless libertarian pressure group".[6]


The organisation describes itself as having seven core principles, namely individual freedom, personal and family responsibility, the rule of law, limited government, free market economy, national parliamentary democracy and strong national defences.[4] Writing in 1989, Michael White differentiated between TFA's brand of libertarianism and that of civil liberties campaigners, arguing that: "The unavoidable fact is that TFA represents that ancient tradition of English concepts of freedom, easily traceable to Magna Carta, which see liberty in terms of freedoms from restraints and obligations, not civil rights and duties enunciated by Jefferson in the rebellious American colonies, by Tom Paine and the revolutionaries of 1789".[7]

Party links

The group has no formal party political affiliations but historically many members of TFA have also been associated with the Conservative Party.[8] In May 1978, this led to former Conservative minister William van Straubenzee accusing TFA of "extremist infiltration" of his party.[9] TFA has been described as the "conservative wing of the Conservative Party".[10] Since 2007, TFA has been running fringe events at the Conservative Party conference with speakers such as Daniel Hannan and John Redwood and groups including the Taxpayers' Alliance.[11]


The Freedom Association's council includes Sir Mark Worthington OBE (Honorary Chairman), and Christopher Gill RD (Honorary President). Other council members include Conservative MPs Christopher Chope, Philip Davies, Philip Hollobone, Gerald Howarth, and Andrew Rosindell, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, UKIP MEP Roger Helmer, former Conservative MSP Brian Monteith, Lord David Stoddart, House of Lords cross-bencher Baroness Cox and former leader of UKIP Lord Pearson. The Chief Executive is Simon Richards, assisted by Rory Broomfield, Director, and Andrew Allison, Head of Campaigns.[12]


Trade unions

In the 1970s, the founders regarded the power of the UK trade union movement as excessive and out of control. Soon after its formation the National Association for Freedom as TFA was then known became involved in a number of industrial disputes providing support to both employers and non-unionised workers to counter to the power of the Trades Unions. The best known of these actions was "Operation Pony Express" during the Grunwick dispute.[2] Harold Walker, the Labour Secretary of State for Employment between 1976 and 1979, was strongly critical of NAFF's activities, claiming the group was an "ultra right-wing political organisation" which "sought to interfere in industrial disputes, with harmful consequences".[13] Following the election of the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher, the Association "suffered a slow decline in membership".[14] In January 1989, The Guardian's Michael White reported that TFA "no longer has the power or glory it enjoyed when it was Thatcherism's extra-parliamentary advance guard against a fading Labour government and its union allies."[7]

Apartheid-era South Africa

In the 1980s, TFA campaigned in support of the right of England cricketers to tour in apartheid-era South Africa.[6] In 1989, when the International Cricket Conference (ICC) passed a resolution formalising sanctions against players, coaches and administrators who worked in South Africa, Norris McWhirter described the decision as "a crushing blow against cricketers' freedom to trade".[15] TFA had obtained a criminal summons against the ICC, alleging blackmail but this was subsequently quashed in the High Court, where the judge Lord Taylor ruled that TFA's application was "an abuse of the process of the court" and was "launched solely as a device to disrupt or embarrass the International Cricket Conference".[16] The organisation later received funding from the South African government.[17] In 1988, the association threatened to seek a legal injunction against the BBC to prevent the broadcaster from broadcasting the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute from Wembley Stadium. A group of Conservative MPs and TFA objected to the possibility that the broadcast would include a message from Mandela or "other anti-apartheid propaganda." The threat was eventually dropped, "in the hope that the BBC [would] not broadcast any attempt to use the concert for promoting the African National Congress or similar anti-apartheid bodies."[18] The day after Mandela's death, TFA featured him on their website as their "Freedom Hero of The Week".[19]

National identity cards

In 2010 the group campaigned against the proposed introduction of national identity cards, which they deemed to be a threat to civil liberties.[20][21] Previously, in the 1980s, some prominent supporters of TFA, such as Sir Rhodes Boyson had supported the introduction of ID cards.[7]

Better Off Out

In April 2006 TFA launched Better Off Out - a campaign for the UK to leave the EU. This has attracted the support of one Labour, one UKIP and twelve Tory MPs, plus a number of MEPs and Peers.[22][23] It was officially launched in Parliament by Philip Davies,[24] despite criticism from Conservative party leader David Cameron. Signatories to the campaign include Dan Hannan, Douglas Carswell, Philip Hollobone, Jeffrey Donaldson, David Nuttall, Austin Mitchell, David Campbell-Bannerman, Nigel Farage, Gerard Batten, Roger Helmer, and Patrick Minford.[25]

The BBC and the licence fee

The Freedom Association also has a campaign to abolish the BBC licence fee.[26] It opposes the BBC on what it perceives as bias, the restriction on the free market and claims that it no longer represents a public service broadcaster. In September 2011, the Association released a report Free the Airwaves which sought to prove that the BBC had gone beyond its legitimate remit as a public service broadcaster, offering programmes which should more appropriately be left in the domain of commercial channels.[27] In February 2014 the Association published a follow-up report which it claimed highlighted how technology was rendering the licence fee redundant.[28]

Libel Reform

As part of their commitment to freedom of speech, the Freedom Association wants to see reform of libel law in the UK.[29] They believe that the use of superinjunctions and defamation law effectively acts as a limit on free speech.

Magna Carta in the 21st Century

The Freedom Association considers the Magna Carta to be one of the most fundamental documents in English Law.[30] The Association produced a book, Magna Carta in the 21st Century: Modern Britain and The Erosion of Freedom[31] which highlighted how the traditions of Magna Carta were being usurped by legal traditions from elsewhere in the world. The book is designed for school children, to educate them about the core concepts of English legal traditions. In doing so, the Association hoped it could enhance the understanding of both Magna Carta and the conditions necessary for a legal system to be free from corruption.

Freedom Association Societies

Beginning in 2009, the Association initiated a programme to create localised "Freedom Association Societies" at universities throughout the United Kingdom. The first such group was established at the University of York followed by another founded at the University of Exeter by John Gill, the grandson of Christopher Gill, the Association's President. Other Freedom Association Societies have since been established at Bath Spa University, the University of Birmingham, Brighton University, Cambridge University, Cardiff University, Portsmouth University and both the University of Southampton and Southampton Solent University.[32] In the 1980s, TFA ran a Campaign for Student Freedom, against the National Union of Students.[7]

Political events

The Freedom Zone

The Freedom Zone is a fringe event run by the Freedom Association, focusing on topical political issue through discussions with politicians and commentators, which has been run at party conferences since 2008.[33] Most recently, they attended the 2013 Conservative Party Conference, where they held discussions on the City of London, Internet Regulation, UKIP and the EU.[34] Speakers at the Freedom Zone have included Eric Pickles, Daniel Hannan, Hugh Orde, Dominic Raab, Fraser Nelson, Paul Staines, Peter Lilley, John Whittingdale, Ruth Lea and Nigel Farage.[34] The Freedom Zone is always held outside the "secure zone" of the main Conservative party conference, because the Freedom Association has been banned from the main venue since 2006. It therefore promote debates of more controversial issues, which normally do not feature in the main debate such as during the 2013 Freedom Zone, when they held a debate on the problem of Tory defection to UKIP - "Why I left v Why I'm staying",[35] having already invited Nigel Farage to speak the day before.

Pub quizzes

The Freedom Association also hold pub quizzes in Westminster that have, according to Iain Dale, gained a "cult status".[36]

Freedom in the City

Held regularly in the City of London, Freedom in the City events provide an opportunity for those working in the City to hear from political speakers.[37]

Magna Carta Day Pimm's & Politics Boat Trip

Restarted in 2013 after a 19-year hiatus, the Magna Carta Day Pimm's & Politics Boat Trip is a day-long river cruise down the Thames from Windsor to Runnymede. Guests are welcomed on board the cruise with a glass of Pimms and a buffet lunch.The cruise always includes an line-up of speakers who in the past have included Daniel Hannan MEP, Robert Halfon MP and Christopher Gill.[38]

Margaret Thatcher Birthday Weekend

Established following the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, annually the TFA organises a weekend in Grantham, the birthplace of Margaret Thatcher, to celebrate her legacy on the date of her birth. Taking place at the Best Western Angel & Royal Hotel, attendees have the opportunity to hear from speakers who worked with Margaret Thatcher and those who now promote the values which Margaret Thatcher held dear.[39]

Freedom Festival

Beginning in 2014, the Freedom Festival is a weekend conference dedicated to freedom and liberty. Held each March, delegates are able to play an active part in discussions and debates about the big political, economic and moral issues.[40]


The Freedom Association produces many publications on a range of issues through the charity, The Hampden Trust. Recent publications include In Defence of the City,[41] a collection of essays by financial commentators and professionals about the role of financial services in the UK and their contribution to the UK economy with an introduction by Mark Littlewood, and Commonwealth, Common-trade, Common-growth,[42] a book advocating a move towards increased trade with Commonwealth countries amidst high growth in developing countries. During 2015, The Freedom Association has produced a number of publications celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and has published, with the help of the Hampden Trust, a new "Magna Carta for the 21st Century".[43] As well as this, The Freedom Association publish a number of reports on the EU through their Better Off Out campaign, such as "",[44] written by Patrick Minford and submitted to the government for their balance of competences review. The Freedom Association also publishes a quarterly newsletter entitled "Freedom Today",[45] which features a number of articles from TFA supporters.

British Tea Party movement

The Freedom Association has expressed an interest in establishing a British equivalent of the American Tea Party movement, though its director, Simon Richards, stated in October 2010 that he was worried that such a project could be hijacked by extremist groups such as the English Defence League.[46]


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  6. 6.0 6.1 Hyde, Marina (14 June 2010). "North Korea set their World Cup target: happiness for the Dear Leader". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 June 2015. the Freedom Association, the charmless libertarian pressure group whose policies included mounting legal challenges against peace campaigners and allowing 1980s cricketers "freedom to trade" in apartheid South Africa.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  24. Philip Davies launches 'Better Off Out' of EU campaign
  25. Better Off Out supporters
  26. Free The Airwaves
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  29. Libel Reform. Retrieved 22 October 2013
  30. Magna Carta in the 21st Century. Retrieved 22 May 2014
  31. Magna Carta in the 21st Century: Modern Britain and The Erosion of Freedom. Retrieved 22 May 2014
  32. Exeposé, Monday October 11th 2010, Issue #569
  33. The Freedom Zone
  34. 34.0 34.1 Conservative Party Conference Fringe guide
  35. Freedom Zone 2013 Review. Retrieved 22 October 2013
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  37. Freedom in the City
  38. Magna Carta Day Pimm's & Politics Boat Trip
  39. Margaret Thatcher Birthday Weekend
  40. Freedom Festival
  41. In Defence of The City
  42. Commonwealth, Common-trade, Common-growth
  43. [1]
  44. The EU's Effect on the UK's Place in the World
  45. Freedom Today
  46. Townsend, Mark (10 October 2010). "English Defence League forges links with America's Tea Party". The Observer. London. Retrieved 3 November 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links