A good one it was too, with jovial bonhomie and King Rat-esque cynicism equally represented at last night's IEA curtain-raiser.
The topic was "What are smokers' rights in a free society?", and most of the panel were of the opinion that there should at least be some. However, slouching with a pursed grin - not unlike Randall Boggs - was the panellist most attendees were there to see, and who some chose to avoid, Peter Hitchens. As expected, his opinion was quite the opposite but even so I think he surprised many with the depth of his tobacco dislike and the policies (and justification) he believed in.
Smoking, he asserted, is not a personal choice for the simple reason that you aren't in charge of your bodies at all. Those around you are. Got that? Oh come now, how hard is it to get your head around? You don't own you, other people do, and it's your duty to live life without tobacco.
He - a 'conservative' remember - wasn't thrown off course when other panel members asked if he believed smoking should be banned, either. He was of the opinion that yes, indeed, complete prohibition is a worthy goal to aim for. Because, you see, prohibition has had a bad press, and only the stupid believe that it hasn't worked before. Drug laws have been a failure because possession hasn't been an imprisonable offence since the sixties, according to Hitchens, and what we all term 'prohibition' in 1920s America wasn't that at all, it was merely a ban on manufacture and transport of alcohol, not possession. In fact, Hitchens put forward the view that it had actually been a roaring success as the US public became marginally healthier. The thousands who died of poisoning, and the murder and mayhem that came with an increase in organised crime were just collateral damage in a worthy, and successful, experiment.
He also spoke of the myth of persecution towards smokers, describing such a perception as "a failure of proportion", and tied it all up by rebutting the idea of car pollution being far worse an irritant by suggesting (hopefully in jest) curbs on driving to force people into cycling instead.
It was a real tour de force, on a par with our Phil's defence of CCTV, and Michael White's machine gun delivery of clichéd anti-libertarian fallacies last year.
But he still got a round of applause as he finished speaking, and checked that his tin helmet was securely fitted, because we're nice like that.
And the questions did, indeed, all end up being aimed at Hitchens. Amongst them your host who - having an idea that Hitchens may deny the fact that smokers are being bullied - came prepared with a few choice quotes from our Psychosis Catalogue. His slippery reply - which dodged the point of my raising the matter - was that government should have nothing to do with stopping those who attack smokers, just as there shouldn't be particular hate crimes against gays and muslims. That a crime is a crime and when an offence is committed it should be punished no matter the target. Of course, my point was that government shouldn't be encouraging such behaviour in the first place, which I pointed out to him later only to be fobbed off with another sleight of hand response.
But hey, that's what debate is meant to be all about, and the presence of Hitchens made for a lively and crackling evening. I shook his hand and, as far as I know, no-one actually called him a wanker that I know of. Quite a success.
Outside, I was rather honoured to be able to have a brief chat with another panellist, the delightfully genial Sir Ronald Harwood. I don't know how the conversation got round to Twitter, but he was baffled as to why so many people used it. I tried to explain that, for many, it's a great way of following and hearing from famous people ... though for someone who has won an Oscar for writing screenplays for mega stars and being knighted which - by definition - means he has met the Queen, perhaps he wouldn't have found that aspect overly appealing.
Still, he left with one of my cards so hopefully may pop in and browse here someday. And if he ever comments, you just watch how quickly "by appointment to the beknighted gentry" turns up as a sidebar alongside Philip's beaming mugshot.
The rest of the evening was spent outside a nearby pub chewing over what we had seen and heard, all of us clutching a copy of the Privacy International publication that was launched on the night (you can read it here, and good it is too).
I'm already looking forward to next week's debate, though I've promised myself to leave by ten at the latest to avoid the pleasant weather and company again seducing me into a situation where I am seeing two tube station entrances and hoping I guess the right one to walk through!