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The Freedom Association has a long history of fighting for individual liberty and freedom of expression. It all began by pure chance in 1975 on a British Airways flight from London to New York.
Lord De L’Isle found himself sitting directly next to Norris McWhirter who was traveling to the USA in order to promote the latest edition of the Guinness Book of Records.
The two of them found themselves deeply engaged in a conversation about the seriousness of the United Kingdom’s decline since the death of Sir Winston Churchill. Lord De L’Isle had only very recently received a letter from a champion of the libertarian right and business freedom, Michael Ivens, asking him to consider leading a new group which would pledge to support individual freedom and resist ever bigger government.
At the culmination of the long flight, and following their discussions, Lord De L’Isle invited both Norris McWhirter and his brother Ross to his home at Penshurst Place in Kent.
Seated at a table which Lord De L’Isle had purchased from an auction at Chartwell, the home of Sir Winston Churchill, on Thursday 12th June 1975, a plan was hatched to convene a meeting of fifty prominent people from politics, business, the church and the armed forces, at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London on Thursday 31st July.
These individuals were to become the original council members of what would be known as the National Association for Freedom. They included a varied array of well known and respected figures such as Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer, the constitutional expert Lord Blake, and the professional cricketer Alec Bedser.
On Thursday 27th November 1975, Ross McWhirter was murdered by the IRA at his home in North London. His murder followed an offer he made of a £50,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of several high-profile terrorists after various terrorist attacks in the UK. The launch of the National Association for Freedom had been planned for the following Tuesday at a hotel close to the Tower of London. It was decided to proceed with the launch regardless, and Norris McWhirter took the decision to attend, alongside a non-uniformed police escort.
Within days of its launch, more than 10,000 people had joined the Association. However, The Sunday Times predicted the organisation would soon “run into the sands” and never be heard of again.
In March 1976, on a small budget, the journal The Free Nation (now called Freedom Today) was launched, with Robert Moss as the editor.
Later that year, the Association became heavily involved in the Grunwick Dispute. A small photographic firm in Willesden, North-West London, was being besieged by Arthur Scargill and 18,000 picketers – many of whom were being paid from union funds. The dispute led to the Battle of Grunwick – in which 242 policemen were injured – which had flared up because of the false allegation that the factory’s boss had refused to allow his employees to be trade union members.
At the height of the dispute, 12 members of the Association gained access to the Grunwick’s factory and removed 80,000 packages that members of the postal workers’ union had unlawfully agreed to not process. They were removed in two large lorries to a barn in Gloucestershire where more members, armed with £7,000 worth of stamps, ensured the parcels were posted throughout the UK.
The actions taken by members of the Association were privately described by Margaret Thatcher as the “best thing since Entebbe”. They directly helped to save the now nearly bankrupted firm and cause the retreat of Arthur Scargill’s campaign against the company.
In 1978, the Association took the decision to rename itself, The Freedom Association.
Following the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, UK citizens began to feel their freedom was less threatened and The Freedom Association suffered a slow decline in membership. However, following her ousting from power in 1990, The Freedom Association begun to re-grow its membership base and influence.
Today, The Freedom Association is going from strength to strength, with both a Cheltenham and London offices which continue the fight for individual freedom and against the growing incursion of the state into people’s everyday lives.