Back into Battle

By Mike Swadling

For the second year I attended the Battle of Ideas Festival from the Academy of Ideas.  Held in Church House near Westminster Abbey the event hosts almost 100 panels, interviews, and discussions on a range of topics on Free Speech, The Economy, Technology and Science, Education, Housing, Arts, and other political and moral issues.  Up to 10 panels are held at any one time and you often need to arrive early to get into the one you want.  With so much going on there is always a discussion with free space, that you will be happy to see.

The director of the Academy of Ideas is Baroness Claire Fox, the commentator and former Brexit Party MEP.  Other key figures in the Academy include former podcast guest Alastair Donald, and Spiked columnist Ella Whelan.  The great guests on the panels are too numerous to mention but some personal highlights included seeing local man and GB News regular James Woudhuysen, former Podcast guests Harry Wilkinson and Dominic Frisby, commentator Helen Dale in the audience and former Croydon teacher and resident Francis Foster of Triggernometry.

The event isn’t just the panels, around the events were stalls from the SDP, Reform UK, the Free Speech Union, Don’t Divide Us, #Together, and especially pleasing to see our new associates Politics in Pubs who received a well-deserved shout out from the main stage by Claire Fox when encouraging people to create their own forums for free speech.

Pro-noun elite and California values

The panels were at times light on opposing views as so many commentators from what was once the liberal left refused to engage.  But this did lead to lots of sound comments like references to the Pro-noun elite and those having California values.  That didn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of disagreement, as I saw in a fascinating debate on housing.  How and where do we get housing built, and some of the practical problems of the Town and Country Planning act were heatedly discussed. 

Some highlights for me were a panel of comedians reminding us to laugh at the things we think are a threat, and attending the live recording of Spiked’s Last Orders anti nanny state podcast with Christopher Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Perhaps my favorite sessions were on ‘Understanding Modi’s India’ and ‘Schools: The Great Expulsion Debate’.  Modi’s India was an interesting and useful session on the world’s largest democracy and most populous country.  The panel included Dr Alka Sehgal Cuthbert of Don’t Divide Us, and spoke about among other things, India’s 1937 elections and ‘Toilets before Temples’.  The Expulsion Debate included Lord Tony Sewell of Sanderstead on the panel.  The debate covered the high rates of Special Needs (SEN) pupil expulsions and how we combat this, and Dr Sewell spoke about varying expulsion rates across the country and how schools can set up to reduce the need to expel pupils.

An overall fascinating event I would encourage anyone to sign up for information on future Academy of Ideas events, and if they can, to attend next year’s Battle. 

You can read Mike’s write up from the 2022 Battle of Ideas at

Into Battle

By Mike Swadling

One of the many things that surprised me during the Brexit campaign was the extent to which old political divisions were rearranged and formed into new constitutional and cultural groupings.  I had always enjoyed listening to Claire, now Baroness Fox on the Moral Maze, and in various TV appearances, but I had never expected to find myself agreeing with her as much as I have over the last 6 years.

Aside from being sound on Brexit, Claire Fox is the director of the Academy of Ideas.  Alastair Donald, the Associate Director of the Academy spoke at our first My Tuppenceworth event about the risks to freedom from identity politics, and also appeared on our Podcast. The Academy “has been committed to organising free and open public debates for over 20 years”, and one of these debates is the Battle of Ideas.

The Battle of Ideas or #BattleFest as it’s known on social media holds events around Europe and the UK with major events in Buxton and London.  I attended the Sunday of the London event in mid-October, and frankly can’t wait to go back.

The format of the day was set around panels of 4-6 people discussing topics such as ‘Age of ‘ISMS’: What happened to ideology?’, ‘Climate Emergency: Catastrophe or Catastrophising?’ and ‘How do we solve the housing crisis?’, with a scattering of lectures thrown in.  Up to 10 panels are run concurrently and for the most popular sessions you need to arrive early.  In addition around the main conference hall were a series of stalls from among others, the Free Speech Union, and the Reform Party.

“I picked my choices for sessions to attend based on a mixture of the topic and those on the panels, taking advantage of the opportunity to see Rod Liddle, Shaun Bailey, and Christopher Snowdon”

I picked my choices for sessions to attend based on a mixture of the topic and those on the panels, taking advantage of the opportunity to see Rod Liddle, Shaun Bailey, and Christopher Snowdon.  The day also afforded the opportunity to catch-up with a few people I know.  The panel discussions felt fairly informal, with a mix of views across the panellists.  Even where they differed the conversations were polite and mostly very friendly.  Audience participation was a major part of the day with plenty of time for people to ask questions.  As someone who has run Q&As from a large crowd it was a fascination for me to see the mastery with which the panel chair’s managed to generally keep questions as questions, rather than speeches, and move the discussion along.

The crowds were largely what regular readers of this website might call sound, and of a cultural libertarian bent, although a range of views were present.  Given the views of most attendees a special congratulations need to go to the panellists who, so rarely for today, came willing to speak to a crowd who weren’t on side. 

“Hearing from an architect on the panel how building well designed attractive houses generally overcomes local planning objections was especially interesting and rang true in my local area.”

My personal favourite session was on housing, where frankly I haven’t made up my mind on how we meet the desires of local communities to keep their character, verses how we build the new houses we need.  Hearing from an architect on the panel how building well designed attractive houses generally overcomes local planning objections was especially interesting and rang true in my local area.  In the suburban area I live, the objections to new houses are far lower than the objections to yet more flats.

An all-round great event with lots you can agree with, some things to challenge you, and lots to make you think. Checkout their website for upcoming events.  I look forward to attending both days in London next year. 

Video’s from the day can be found at

Podcast Episode 33 – Alastair Donald: COVID Lockdown Easing, Australia Trade Deal & “Rhodes Must Fall”

We are joined by Alastair Donald, the Associate Director of the Academy of Ideas, as we discuss the latest on the COVID crisis, a potential new trade deal with Australia and the news that Oriel College Oxford have decided that Rhodes Must Fall. We then chat with Alastair about his role with the Academy of Ideas, the Cancellation Culture and the future for free speech and thought in the UK.

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Some quotes from Alastair.

“There’s a kind of order to the whole situation of getting a drink, which is in some ways inimical to whole experience of actually going out and enjoying a beer”

“it’s the officious society where the busybody rules with a set of regulations and a set of licensing rules that dictate what’s permissible which I think is a real problem”

“It does seem indicative of a way that there’s more decisive leadership within society at large, from normal people and businesses who are suffering from this and have some commitment to getting us out, than there is from central government”

“You have to look at the amount of environmental regulation that swamps quite a lot of what companies do, and the constraints that puts on new innovative processes coming to the fore”

“There seems almost like a cultural war against our history, and I’m not so much protective of the statues as I am resistant to the forces of reaction that I think are driving this movement to tear them down”

From the interview

“quite often the people that are most concerned about reigning in free speech, are actually people who are concerned that they are not up to handling ideas that they disagree with”

“we’re still hoping that society will open enough that we can gather people, physically within the same space, and we’d love to have the battle of ideas festival in November”

You can follow Alastair on Twitter and follow the @instofideas and @theboi_uk.  A list of the Academy of Ideas, events are available at

My tuppenceworth – A Free Speech event – photos and speakers.

On Tuesday 19th November we held our latest free speech event –My Tuppenceworth in South Croydon.

A great night with speakers covering a wide variety of subjects.  Thanks to all who spoke and all who came along on the night.

Speakers with links to the speeches where are able to reproduce: