Only standing room was available in St Peter’s Crypt on a balmy evening in May, to hear three ideas proposed with wit and eloquence.
Claire Fox of the Institute of Ideas argued for the importance of truly free speech, which she claimed was meaningless without the right to offend. Claire explained why that meant including some unsavoury co-balloonists: Katie Hopkins, Pam Geller, and others. She faced robust challenges from the floor, on everything from gay cakes and Christian bakers, to when free speech becomes bullying.
Up next was Ed Maggs, antiquarian bookseller, who rallied the crowd around the idea that printed texts are more powerful, meaningful and enduring than any electronic words. Ed faced good-natured accusations of Luddism and elitism, but won support for his proposal with charming comparisons between the ghoulish glow of an e-reader and the velvety touch of vellum.
After a short break to refill glasses, Robert Phillips of Jericho Chambers concluded the motions with a scathing description of corporate PR at its worst, and what boards and CEOs must to do to restore public trust in business. Questions from the floor covered Thomas Cook, Occupy, and political spin. Robert graciously admitted he would vote for Claire – he only really needed a short time in the balloon, to change the way PR is done forever.
The (not very scientific) vote showed 24 hands in favour of Claire’s free speech, 15 for Ed’s books, and 25 for Robert’s trust.
As a result we are pleased to report that the inaugural De Beauvoir Balloon lifted off to brighter skies with the idea that PR is dead.