Here you will find news in brief about significant developments in SCT’s work and events organised by local Speakers’ Corner Committees.
Here you will find news in brief about significant developments in SCT’s work and events organised by local Speakers’ Corner Committees.
At a time when calls to censor expression considered offensive have become almost a daily occurence, the IoI gathered a panel for one of its Battle of Ideas events and asked: are there some words or ideas that are so abhorrent they must be eliminated from public life regardless of the context; or does such a subjective measure as offence inevitably result in the stifling of free expression and the ability to speak frankly on controversial subjects?
You can listen to the debate on Free Word’s website.
SCT and the British Library are jointly organising two Speakers’ Corner events as part of the Being Human Festival of the Humanities which takes place in museums, galleries and cultural and community centres from Truro to Orkney, Swansea to Belfast, Norwich to Liverpool between 15 and 23 November. Led by the School of Advanced Study at the University of London in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy and involving over 35 research institutions, the festival will highlight the ways in which humanities research can enrich our everyday lives and help us to understand ourselves, our relationships with others and the challenges we face in a changing world.
As part of the Too Much Information – Being human in a digital age event at the Senate House (Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU) on Saturday 15 November, SCT and the British Library are mounting two Speakers’ Corner debates designed to engage the public in lively discussion about our shared future as ‘digital humans’.
The 20th century has been described as the “age of propaganda”. Was the use of propaganda ever justified and does its history provide important lessons for contemporary society? In a hi-tech culture of multiple and manipulated messages, what does ‘the truth’ actually look like and how useful is it when we find it? Is ‘spin’ a legitimate and necessary feature of contemporary discourse?
With the rise of the selfie culture and given the well-publicised controversies about trolling, hacking, extremist propaganda and surveillance, are we in danger of losing our grip on what is ‘news’, ‘truth’ or important? If we are to maximise its value and minimise the pitfalls, do individuals who use the internet to broadcast their own ‘truths’ need to learn new skills in self-editing? If not, how do we regulate social media? Or should we put it all out there and learn to sift?
Follow the emerging programme on Twitter #BeingHuman14.
Just twelve days ahead of the historic vote on Scottish independence on 18 September, Nottingham Speakers’ Corner is providing campaigners, academics and local residents, including Scots emigres who won’t be able to vote in the referendum, with the opportunity to debate issues which will have huge consequences for the whole of the UK.
Speakers’ Corner committee member Louise Third says that “it is clear that several major issues remain unresolved, not least the matter of currency and whether North Sea oil and gas reserves will be sufficient to cover an independent nation’s expenditure. Will we need border controls, and what might independence mean for Trident and membership of the European Union? I’m keen to hear what people in Nottingham think, especially our Scottish residents.”
Former deputy leader of Labour for Independence Steven Syme, who will be speaking at the debate, asks “in the event of a YES vote, might we see the concept of regional assemblies brought back to England and Wales? And with the possibility of the rest of the UK leaving the EU in the next Parliament, might Scotland become the ‘safe haven’ for business and investment, with a tide of talent moving north of the border in order to remain in the EU? I’m looking forward to exploring these and other possibilities with fellow-debaters”.
The hour-long debate, which will be chaired by BBC East Midlands politics editor John Hess, will take at 11.00 on Saturday 6 September at the Speakers’ Corner in King Street. If you’d like to speak, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow current discussion @nottssc.
To read the debate on Scotland and the United Kingdom – Partnership or Partition? in SCT’s Forum for Debate series, please click here.
The Campaign Company, which is based in central Croydon and represented on the local Speakers’ Corner Committee, has donated £300 to the project to support an initiative which will help a local young person or group of young people develop confident communication and speaking skills. The generous donation was raised by staff through a sponsored ’exercise challenge’.
The Speakers’ Corner Committee is already developing ideas about how to make best use of the fund and hopes to agree a project in September.
Visitors to Croydon town centre got two launches for the price of one on Saturday 28 June. Though torrential rain was falling just a few miles away, the sun shone on the launch of the Croydon Speakers’ Corner project at the spot outside the old Allders department store on North End where it’s hoped a permanent Speakers’ Corner can eventually be established.
Among the speeches, including a number of spontaneous contributions from passers by, there was music featuring the band White Heath which played acoustic versions of two tracks from the Out Of Angles EP it released that day on its facebook page on a ‘pay what you want’ basis. Lead singer Sean Watson described the band’s style: “we’ve spent the best part of a decade trying to come up with a snappy genre for what we sound like, and failing. So I like to revert to the height of pretension: we represent the realisation of John Cage’s ideas and writings in that we play ‘the all-sound music of the future’”.
Three local projects – in Reading, Croydon and Medway – are planning launch events in June and July. All three, which are supported by the Co-operative, have identified spaces for permanent Speakers’ Corners and are now drawing up proposals for events both there and elsewhere in their communities. Reading has already developed a logo and website and students from Croydon and MidKent Colleges are working on designs for their respective projects.
Speakers’ Corner Trust Nigeria has taken a major step forward by moving into its first dedicated office premises in the Gwarinpa district of the Nigerian capital Abuja. For its first two years ActionAid had generously provided SCTN with office space but now a second two-year package of support from the Ford Foundation has allowed the Trust to take on new staff and offices.
In the midst of its move, SCTN has been supporting a group of young people in setting up their own independent Speakers’ Corner in Jos, the capital of the central Plateau state and the scene of often violent conflict between Christian and Muslim communities, this month organising a debate on Youth Unemployment and Job Insecurity. Earlier in March, SCTN oganised an Inspiring Change event in Lokoja to mark International Women’s Day and is currently planning events over the next few weeks in Kaduna, Lagos, Abuja and Kano.
Both Croydon and Medway Speakers’ Corner Committees have identified locations for permanent Speakers’ Corners and, subject to consultation with the local authority and police, hope to be holding launch events there in the coming weeks. Croydon’s is in the heart of the town centre while in Medway three sites, in Chatham, Rochester and Gillingham, have been chosen and it is also hoped that over time events can also be held in Strood, Rainham and elsewhere in the borough.
Following hard on the heels of Reading, stakeholders in both Croydon and Medway have established Speakers’ Corner Committees to take ownership of the projects there. Reading’s Committee plans to ‘roadtest’ potential Speakers’ Corner sites in early March while Croydon’s and Medway’s will be meeting again in February to draw up shortlists.
SCT has published a new Guidance Note providing simple advice on how Speakers’ Corner Committees – or anyone else for that matter – can promote successful events with the minimum of effort.
The ‘pop-up’ Speakers’ Corner, for example, can have significant impact with relatively little organisation. Typically hosted by a much bigger event, it can add a new dimension and additional value to proceedings to everyone’s advantage. The note explains where and how to hold a pop-up Speakers’ Corner event.
Reading’s Speakers’ Corner Committee, which was only constituted at the end of October, has already drawn up a shortlist of three town centre locations as potential sites for its Speakers’ Corner and is planning to ‘roadtest’ them in March 2014.
But it’s also looking forward to a series of launch events in April/May and will be meeting again in the new year to draw up detailed plans.
SCT is making excellent progress on the development of three new Speakers’ Corner projects in the south east, all supported by the Co-operative.
In Reading, a Speakers’ Corner Committee is due to be establishd at the end of October while consultation with potential stakeholders from across the public, voluntary and private sectors is under way in Croydon and in the Meday towns in Kent.
The Isle of Man could be about to create its own Speakers’ Corner after SCT was invited to make presentations to Douglas Borough Council’s Regeneration & Community Committee and the Douglas Development Partnership. Both resolved to consider the proposal in greater detail and, if the project goes ahead, a new Speakers’ Corner could feature as a key element of the remodelling of Douglas town centre which is already well advanced.
A Speakers’ Corner would be a particularly fitting addition to a self-governing island which boasts the 1,000 year-old Tynwald, reputedly the oldest parliament in the world with an unbroken existence.
SCT and the British Library are promoting a series of mini debates which will take place during the Library’s ground-breaking Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition which runs to 17 September 2013.
Four lunchtime debates (1.00 – 2.00 pm) will take place between 2 and 5 September in the Poet’s Circle in the Library’s piazza (or in the Foyer in case of bad weather). Following brief introductions to the theme by distinguished experts in their fields, the debates will be open to all-comers.
Dr Evan Harris, Associate Director of the Hacked Off Campaign, will ask Is the News Propaganda? Ruth Fox, Director of the Hansard Society, will propose Thank Goodness for Propaganda! Anthony Barnett, Founder of openDemocracy, will introduce the debate on New Media – New Propaganda? Agnès Callamard, Executive Director of Article 19 will explore Your Propaganda – My Free Speech.
In his lecture on Free Speech, Idiocy and the Challenge of Citizenship delivered at the Museum of London on 24 June as part of Gresham College’s Monday at One series, SCT Director Peter Bradley asks ‘what use are rights we do not exercise?’ and goes on to call for a reinvigoration of our commitment to free expression. He argues that association between citizens and the free, face-to-face exchange of ideas, information and opinions is a key not just to rebuilding trust and participation in our democracy but also to creating a more successful, a more robust and indeed a happier society.
SCT has formed a new partnership with the Co-operative in the south east and will work with local members on three new Speakers’ Corner projects in Reading, Croydon and Chatham. SCT director Peter Bradley says “there’s a natural sympathy between our values and those of the Co-op so this collaboration makes sense for both of us. It gives SCT the very welcome opportunity to develop new projects while providing local Co-op members and businesses with new ways of expressing their commitment to their communities.”
Work on the three projects will be under way in June.
SCT is collaborating with the British Library in a series of mini debates to take place during the Library’s ground-breaking Propaganda: Power and Persuasion exhibition which opens on 17 May and runs until 17 September.
Four open-air lunchtime debates will take place over 45 minutes between 2 and 5 September in the Poet’s Circle in the Library’s piazza. Following brief introductions to the theme, the debates will be open to all-comers and will address such questions as whether propaganda can serve a public interest, how it interacts with new media, its influence on the news and its relationship with free speech.
Speakers’ Corner will be coming to the Brighton Festival in a programme of mini debates to be held in the Foyer Bar at the Dome on 11 May under the theme of A Good Society – Not Just Big But Better. In a series of 20 minute sessions, the public will be invited to discuss a range of topics from the merits of co-operation and sharing as the bases for both economic success and personal fulfilment and the business case for a living wage to the needs of both older and younger people in the city.
The local groups and organisations which will be introducing the topics include the Co-operative, The People Who Share, Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce, Democratic Society, the Royal Society of Arts, the Older People’s Council and Pensioners’ Association and Brighton University.
Bradford and Sheffield have taken a step closer to establishing Speakers’ Corners in their city centres later this year. Both have had informal spaces which provided platforms for campaigning and debate in the past but the new ones are intended to be permanent.
The Bradford Speakers’ Corner Committee has identified a space close to a historic meeting place and will announce its plans following further consultation. The Sheffield Committee has identified a shortlist of three potential sites and is developing a programme of public events to test their suitability in the spring.
A wide ranging group of community leaders came together at Brighton & Hove Chamber of Commerce in early December to form a Speakers’ Corner Committee and plan a programme of events for 2013.
Links have already been formed with the Brighton Festival which takes place in May and an innovative project is being developed with the Workers’ Educational Association and the local Trust for Developing Communities to create a model for consultation and engagement in a particular neighbourhood. If successful it’s hoped that the model can be adopted elsewhere.
Leading campaigners argue the case for legalising assisted dying in Speakers’ Corner Trust’s latest online debate, The Right to Die – Personal Choice or Public Safety?
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, calls for legislation to allow “assisted dying for terminally ill, mentally competent adults – who, after meeting upfront safeguards, can be prescribed life ending medication which they take themselves”.
She argues that “there is undeniably a problem with the current law, which forces dying adults to take desperate decisions and to ask their loved ones and medical professionals to be complicit in these often unlawful decisions”. She says, “I am horrified that this year alone 35 seriously ill Britons have been forced to travel to Switzerland in order to reduce their suffering, perhaps alone and almost certainly before they would have wanted to die” and suggests that some 10% of suicides are by seriously ill people and that an estimated 1,000 unregulated cases of voluntary euthanasia are assisted by doctors each year.
She concludes: “I find it abhorrent that our decision makers can turn a blind eye to this level of suffering, as well as the untold mental anguish the lack of choice at the end of life forces upon both those who assist loved ones to die illegally and those who are worried about the kind of death they might have in the absence of reform.”
But Dr Peter Saunders, Campaign Director of the Care Not Killing Alliance, counters that “the vast majority of UK doctors remain opposed to legalisation…Similarly all major disability rights groups in Britain have resisted any change in the law believing it will lead to increased prejudice towards them and increased pressure ‘to seek help to die’”.
He contends that “any change in the law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia would place subtle pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives, not so much overt coercion but rather an internally felt sense of not wanting to be a financial, emotional or care burden upon others. Those who are disabled, elderly, sick or depressed would be particularly at risk. The right to die, in other words, could so easily become the duty to die.”
He concludes: “The reality is that once a ‘right’ to assisted suicide or euthanasia is legalised for restricted groups there will be inevitable incremental extension to others through the application of case law in ‘hard cases’. Our current law is fit for purpose, combining strong deterrents to abuse whilst allowing judicial and prosecutorial discretion in hard cases. It doesn’t need changing.”
October has seen the public launches of three new Speakers’ Corner projects in Sheffield, Bradford and Ipswich. All three featured temporary Speakers’ Corners in prominent spaces in the city centre from which members of the public – and in Ipswich’s case school children – spoke about a vast range of the issues which matter to them, from housing conditions in Sheffield to unemployment in Bradford to the cost of cinema tickets for young people in Ipswich.
The launches and the programmes of events which accompanied them in Sheffield and Bradford, are just the first steps in initiatives which it’s hoped will lead to the creation of permanent Speakers’ Corners in all three cities.
The launches of Sheffield Speaks on 15 October and Bradford Speaks on the following day will both provide the platform for people to speak for sixty seconds on any subject under the sun. Temporary Speakers’ Corner – which it is hoped will become permanent features of both city centres next year - form the centre piece of wide-ranging programmes of events during and beyond Local Democracy Week which runs from 15 to 21 October.
Events in Sheffield include a debate on Sheffield Past, Present and Future organised by Sheffield 50+ and Sheffield Futures to explore how young and older people can make their voices heard, a discussion organised by the Workers’ Educational Association about why people do or don’t participate in the democratic process, a meeting organised by Sheffield for Democracy to explore how community assemblies might develop and a discussion led by John Steel, lecturer in Journalism Studies at Sheffield University, on the roles of free speech and a free press in our democracy.
Bradford events feature a workshop led by the Workers’ Educational Association to explore the strength of democracy in the UK today and a discussion in which John Wilson of Wilsons Solicitors challenge the legal status quo and invites members of the public to join him.
Both programmes also include hustings for the candidates in the elections for Police and Crime Commissioner which take place in November.
Speakers’ Corner projects in Sheffield and Bradford are to be launched with programmes of events in both cities during Local Democracy Week next month (15-21 October). The Sheffield Speaks and Bradford Speaks initiatives are modelled on the pioneering and hugely successful original which took place in Leicester in 2010 and has become a fixture in the city’s calendar.
Each initiative brings together a range of local organisations to organise events providing platforms for their local communities to debate the issues which matter to them. Programmes are taking shape in both cities and details will be available on the Sheffield and Bradford pages of this site in due course.
See SCT’s new newsletter.
Following last year’s successful event at the Brandenburg Gate which commemorated the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November, Speakers’ Corner is returning to the German capital on 31 August. This time the event will take place in the famous Alexanderplatz, scene of the great demonstration in 1989 which led to the storming of the Wall a week later. This year the Centre for Political Beauty has led the organisation, with SCT and the British Council in support, ith the aim of providing a platform for ordinary Berliners.
Google is again backing the event and also sponsoring SCT in organising similar initiatives in Prague and Warsaw.
Leading campaigners for and against animal testing for scientific research dispute both its efficacy and ethics in Speakers’ Corner Trust’s latest online debate, Animal Experimentation – Indispensable or Indefensible?
Tom Holder, founder of Speaking of Research which promotes the importance of animal testing in medical and veterinary science, argues that “the history of scientific discoveries made possible by animal research is exemplary: insulin (dogs and rabbits), polio vaccine (monkeys), anaesthetics (rabbits), blood transfusion (monkeys, dogs), antibiotics to cure tuberculosis (guinea pigs), asthma treatment (frogs and guinea pigs), meningitis vaccine (mice), deep brain stimulation (monkeys), penicillin (mice) the list goes on…It is compassion for our fellow human being that necessitates a continuation of animal research.”
But Michelle Thew, chief executive of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, counters that while strongly in favour of humane, evidence-based science, she does not accept that the rights of humans trump those of animals when it comes to the infliction of suffering. She also disputes that experiments on animals have led to the medical breakthroughs claimed for them and criticises the secrecy surrounding animal experiments, the poor regulation and take-up of alternatives and concludes that “we experiment on animals not because it is ethically justifiable but because we have the power to subjugate them. Humankind really should have moved on from ‘might is right’ as a guide to behaviour.”
SCTN’s first public event took place on 23 June 2012 in Abuja’s Utako district. Despite widerspread concerns over security following a bomb blast just a few hours earlier, some fifty people came together to listen to the journalist, blogger and inspirational speaker Prince Charles Dickson’s thought-provoking analysis of the current state of Nigeria’s democracy, the need for genuine dialogue between Nigerians and the case for active citizenship as a means of shaping the country’s future.
In the course of the afternoon, almost everyone had the opportunity to speak in a debate which focused on what it means to be an active citizen in Nigeria. Their contributions were heartfelt, sometimes passionate, sometimes funny but always thoughtful and constructive and many of those who took part volunteered to become active supporters of the Speakers’ Corner initiative.
In SCT’s latest online debate, A Regulated Free Press – Compromise or Contradiction? the Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission and a leading member of the Coordinating Committee for Media Reform dispute the means of enforcing press standards.
Angela Phillips, chair of the Ethics Committee of the Coordinating Committee for Media Reform, argues that “news journalism that is driven entirely by commercial interests leads to cut-throat competition and ethical corner-cutting…drives out smaller organisations and destroys diversity”. She calls for the establishment of a News Publishing Commission, run by representatives of civil society organisations and journalists, which “embraces the internet, protects real journalism from the pressures exerted by power and recognises that freedom of speech belongs not just to proprietors and editors but to everyone.”
But while Lord Hunt, Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, agrees that “doing nothing is not an option”, he counters that “I am against further political or legal incursions into the realm of free expression, given that existing laws on corruption, bribery, defamation, contempt of court and privacy are more than adequate, if enforced. Surely we do not want politicians controlling the media?”
He argues that the PCC has been unfairly criticised “for not exercising powers which it never had” and that the reforms he proposes will preserve the principle of self-regulation while providing the regulator with the teeth it requires to protect the public in the form of fines for “serious or systemic standards breaches”.
A nine month project has come to fruition with the launch of Youth Amplified, an innovative new website designed to help 11-18 year-olds improve their speaking skills and overcome the lack of experience and confidence which prevents so many from engaging fully in their communities, schools and workplaces.
Youth Amplified, which is free to access, has been developed against a background of growing evidence of young people’s detachment from civic and community life and mounting concern among employers and others about their ability to communicate effectively in the workplace.
Developed by Speakers’ Corner Trust and the University of Leeds working with schools and youth groups in West Yorkshire, the website features animations, videos, self evaluation exercises and a teacher guide designed to help young people improve their ability to negotiate, persuade, project, argue, listen and above all speak effectively. It was created by the BAFTA-winning digital design agency Bold Creative and the project was funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.
Peter Bradley, SCT director, said:
“An inability to communicate is a recipe for failure on every level. But by the same token, people who are able to express themselves effectively are more likely to be successful and fulfilled both as individuals and in their relationships with others whether as citizens, in their community or at work. We need to focus more attention on helping young people to develop the practical skills they need – and we need them to have – to become self-confident, fully functioning members of society.”
Stephen Coleman, Professor of Political Communication at the University of Leeds, who led the research programme, said:
“Schools are getting much better at explaining how the political system works and what young people can do to make themselves heard but almost no guidance is provided on how to speak in public in ways that will gain attention and respect. Youth Amplified is designed to meet an increasingly important need among both young people and the teachers who are seeking to equip them with essential skills for life.”
Katie Peate, the project coordinator, added:
“By working with young people in the course of this project, we learned a lot about what they wanted to say and why they felt unable to speak up in public. At the beginning of the project, some of them were barely capable of simple small talk, let alone constructing a persuasive argument. Their progress has been incredible and the lessons they and we learned have contributed a great deal to the resources we’ve developed.”
Youth Amplified has already been welcomed by leading educationalists. Stephen Fairbrass, Senior Lecturer in Citizenship Teaching at Bradford College, commented:
“There has never been anything quite like this. This is a really innovative and important educational resource which will help educators support young people in the development of the skills they need to engage in their communities, schools and even workplaces.”
At the end of March, SCTN was able to appoint its first Director, Ramatu Umar-Bako, from a very strong field of candidates.
A lawyer, human rights advocate and development specialist, Ramatu has over 11 years experience working in both local and international organisations including the British Council where she was Governance Manager. In recognition of her work for women, she was appointed to the advisory board of Women in the New Nigeria for Empowerment & Positive Change. Ramatu has also contributed to a number of publications and has herself been the face of Tozali magazine.
Ramatu took up her post in April and will be based at ActionAid’s office in Abuja. Her appointment means that SCTN can now plan its own national launch as wellas the first of its local projects, starting in Abuja but, over time, rolling out across Nigeria.
In the latest in SCT’s Forum for Debate series, Max Lawson of Oxfam and Dr Stephen Davies of the Institute of Economic Affairs argue the merits of government development aid programmes.
Are they really effective in relieving poverty and helping developing countries to secure their own futures or do they simply sustain dependency and feed corruption, waste and the interests of donor nations and big business? Are there succesful aid models and to what extent are they shaped by governments, the third sector or enterprise?
You can read the debate here.
SCT has secured funding both for its work in the UK and for the project it has been developing in Nigeria since 2009.
The Esmée Fairbairn Foundation has awarded SCT a grant which will make a significant contribution to its core costs over the next three years, allowing it to pursue a new round of local Speakers’ Corner projects as well as develop new programmes in the UK.
Meanwhile the Ford Foundation is to provide funding for the new Speakers’ Corner Trust Nigeria which SCT is establishing to take the national project forward in Nigeria. SCTN is registered as an Incorporated Trust in Nigeria, has its own constitution, Advisory Council and Boards of Trustees and Directors and, with the benefit of Ford’s two-year grant, will now be able to recruit its own director.
SCT is extremely grateful to both Foundations for their generous support.
SCT and the Workers’ Educational Association, the UK’s largest voluntary-sector provider of adult education, are developing a joint initiative which will provide, through the WEA, a range of learning opportunities to enable people to develop confident and knowledgeable speaking and listening skills, and with SCT’s support, create their own forums for debate and platforms for expression. The scheme complements the Expressing Citizenship project through which SCT and the University of Leeds are designing speaking and listening resources for young people.
The collaboration will not only allow the partners to create a valuable new educational resource but also enable SCT to work with the WEA’s national, regional and branch networks in developing local Speakers’ Corner projects.
The programme is to be piloted in a series of projects in southern England and West Yorkshire.
In the latest in our Forum for Debate series, Professor Jonathan Jones of The Sainsbury Laboratory and Emma Hockridge of the Soil Association argue the case for and against genetically modified food production.
With the world’s population growing and with it the number of people at risk from starvation or malnutrition, the case for GM seems ever stronger. But is its promise false and even dangerous?
Does GM provide for more efficient and environmentally friendly food production which benefits the developed and developing worlds alike? Or is it a contaminating threat to conventional crops which allows global businesses to exploit subsistence farmers?
What are the relative roles of GM and organic farming in meeting the world’s needs? Can a balance be found – or do we have to choose between them?
You can read the debate at http://www.speakerscornertrust.org/forum/forum-for-debate/.
SCT in partnership with the Zentrum für Politische Schönheit and supported by Google is bringing Speakers’ Corner to Berlin.
A specially designed temporary Speakers’ Corner will be set up at the Brandenburg Gate on 9 November to commemmorate the 22nd anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and to celebrate the right to free expression which the events of 1989 helped secure for all German citizens.
Speakers’ will include distinguished individuals including Professor Gesine Schwan, President of the Humboldt-Viadrina School of Governance and a former candidate for Federal President, Dr Uwe Lehmann-Brauns, Father of the Berlin Parliament and British academic and journalist Timothy Garton Ash as well as SCT’s Director Peter Bradley. A number of leading activists in a number of fields will also be stimulating public debate on a wide range of issues throughout the day.
But most importantly, the Speakers’ Corner will provide a platform for members of the public of all ages and backgrounds to express their own ideas and opinions and debate with their fellow citizens the issues which matter most to them. Google will then upload their contributions to YouTube to gain an even wider audience.
Further information is on the Berlin page.
The Hansard Society’s keenly anticipated report on the future of the Westminster World Heritage Site A Place for People has endorsed SCT’s call for the transformation of Parliament Square into a space for citizenship.
SCT proposed the creation of a pedstrianised and “genuinely public space providing a proper focus for and counterpoint to the great Parliamentary, religious and legal institutions which surround it” and “an opportunity for the public to stake their claim as citizens in rather than visitors to Westminster”. It argued that “the redesign of the Square to create that genuinely public space would have potent symbolic value. But it would also provide a forum for ideas and debate, both spontaneous and organised. It could, for example, provide a platform for outstanding contemporary thinkers and speakers to set out their ideas and opinions and debate them with live audiences in the open air”. SCT also suggested that the space could be used for educational and cultural activities and that, for example, ”a dramatisation of the key moments in the development of British democracy could be staged, including extracts from great speeches and writings and, indeed, Parliamentary debates”.
SCT is delighted that the Hansard Society’s report recommends that “the Square should be a forum for spontaneous and organised citizenship similar in style to a Speakers’ Corner. It should be a place where the great thinkers, writers, and artists of the day can give talks and lectures and engage in discussion with the public about their ideas. The Square could also on occasion be a theatre for bringing alive our democratic history: a place where key moments in the development of British democracy are dramatised.”
It even proposes the establishment of a body similar to a Speakers’ Corner Committee to oversee activities in the Square: “a rich and diverse programme of events could be developed through collaborative partnerships to celebrate national days and anniversaries with resonance in our democratic history, or to mark commemorative days such as the International Day of Democracy, World Heritage Day, or the Magna Carta anniversary. In order to manage participation in the Square a Steering Group should be formed involving neighbouring institutions, the local authorities and user representatives. This Group should develop a protocol for light touch management of activities in the Square incorporating concerns around noise and access as well as a code of conduct.”
The body of the report itself echoes SCT’s conclusion that ”the creation of a highly symbolic but also vibrant public ‘space for citizenship’ at the heart of Westminster provides both a challenge and an opportunity to politicians and public alike. But seizing it would express a confident, optimistic commitment to a democracy which is not only historic but also living and, indeed, still striving for improvement”.
On the report’s publication, Dr Ruth Fox, its joint author and Director of the Hansard Society’s Parliament and Government programme, said that “the current state of the area does not say much for our sense of national pride and civic values. Those tasked with responsibility for the area have been negligent in their stewardship. Our proposals offer a new vision which puts the citizen and visitor at the heart of the area…The worst outcome of all would be for the stakeholders, as in the past, to adopt an all or nothing approach. Implementation of any of the proposals set out in this report would be an improvement on the status quo”.
SCT’s Director Peter Bradley welcomed the report. “This is a well considered, powerfully argued and forthright report. It not only recognises the potential of Parliament Square as an inspirational public space but also rightly brands its current state a national disgrace – and equally rightly condemns those in places of power who have presided over that scandal. This is by no means the first study to call for improvements and to outline how they can be achieved. We have to hope that it fires the imagination of enough people to prevent those who have punted previous reports into the long grass from doing the same with this one”.
Following last year’s outstanding success, Leicester Speaks again in Local Democracy Week 2011. In a partnership coordinated by the City Council, more than 20 local organisations are holding a wide range of events in venues across the city designed to bring people together to discuss the issues that matter to them. The initiative, which will run between 12 and 19 October, kicks off at a major launch event at Humberstone Gate in the city centre between 10.00 am and 4.00 pm on Wednesday 12 October during which Leicester’s newly elected mayor, Sir Peter Soulsby, will be holding a public Q&A session.
SCT was proud to have helped originate Leicester Speaks last year – and delighted that it has already become so much part of the life of the city that this year the partners are organising the initiative under their own steam!
For more information visit the Leicester Speaks website.
In the latest in SCT’s online Forum for Debate series, Professor Malcolm Chalmers and Dr Jean-Baptiste Jeangene Vilmer, distinguished academic experts on defence strategy and human rights law respectively, debate the hotly contested case for and against humanitarian intervention in failed or failing states.
Approaching complex and controversial issues from contrasting departure points, they set out the conditions in which the UK’s involvement in humanitarian intervention can be ethically and pragmatically justified. They also call for preventative action when there is a real prospect of significant loss of life among civilians and argue that while the authorisation of the UN Security Council is desirable, it ought not to exercise a power of veto over intervention. But they also agree that no country has an obligation to intervene.
The full debate can be accessed here.
As forthcoming events in Bristol and Lincoln illustrate, Speakers’ Corner debates range from the practical to the principled and back again.
Bristol Speakers’ Corner’s eighth event of the summer – this time on the city’s transport problems – takes place at 1:00 pm at College Green on Fiday 12 August.
Local people will get the chance to speak their minds about plans to spend £50 million on a rapid bus system and a host of other issues including residents parking schemes, cycle lanes and local rail links. Transport Alliance and South West Transport Network will also be there to have their say.
You can keep up to date with activities in Bristol here.
Meanwhile Lincoln Speakers’ Corner is planning a major debate on one of the hottest topics of the day Freedom of Speech and the Press starting at 11.00 am on Saturday 3 September.
SCT has submitted evidence to the Hansard Society’s consultation on the Future of the Palace of Westminster & Parliament Square calling for the creation of a pedstrianised and ”genuinely public space providing a proper focus for and counterpoint to the great Parliamentary, religious and legal institutions which surround it” and “ an opportunity for the public to stake their claim as citizens in rather than visitors to Westminster”.
SCT argues that “the potential exists to create a public realm in the public space by making the Square at least in part a platform for the expression of citizenship such as existed in the Athenian Agora and the Forum of the Roman Republic. The redesign of the Square to create that genuinely public space would have potent symbolic value. But it would also provide a forum for ideas and debate, both spontaneous and organised. It could, for example, provide a platform for outstanding contemporary thinkers and speakers to set out their ideas and opinions and debate them with live audiences in the open air. These events may encompass but would not be limited to political issues. Clearly, however, the opportunity also exists for direct engagement between politicians and public. Parliamentarians, including Ministers, could on a regular basis expose their ideas or policies to public scrutiny as well as responding to the thinking of others in a genuine and open exchange.”
The submission concludes that “the creation of a highly symbolic but also vibrant public ‘space for citizenship’ at the heart of Westminster provides both a challenge and an opportunity to politicians and public alike. But seizing it would express a confident, optimistic commitment to a democracy which is not only historic but also living and, indeed, still striving for improvement”.
Please click on the link to read the Hansard Society Submission.
SCT and the University of Leeds has been awarded a grant by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation for a Expressing Citizenship, a joint project designed to develop innovative web-based resources to support citizenship learning and teaching.
The project, on which SCT/UoL will be supported by the BAFTA-winning creative agency Bold Creative, will be undertaken over nine months, probably starting in September 2011, and based on work with four groups of young people in West Yorkshire. It will create two sets of resources – a web-based animation aimed principally at young people and a related series of written guides for teachers and youth leaders – designed to help young people improve their speaking and listening skills and overcome the lack of experience and confidence which prevents so many from expressing their ideas and opinions and engaging with community and civic life.
More detailed information on he project can be found here.
Dave Simcox and Chris Newcombe are, by popular demand, reprising their highly successful 2010 Buskathon by organising two ten hour sponsored “relays” of non-stop busking to take place at Lichfield’s Speakers’ Corner from 9.00 am to 7.00 pm on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 May.
Son of Buskathon aims to raise £3,000 in support of Lichfield’s Fuse arts festival which takes place in July, topping the £2,000 raised through sponsorship last year.
On the Saturday, buskers from all genres will be scheduled to play 10-30 minute slots throughout the day while on Sunday Dave Simcox (aka Bruford Low) and Chris Newcombe (aka George from The Born Again Beatles) will busk for 10 hours in relay.
SCT has published a fascinating essay which recounts the struggle for and eventual triumph of freedom of speech in this country. Written by Dr John Roberts, lecturer in sociology and commnications at Brunel University and an acknowledged expert on the subject, The Developement of Free Speech in Modern Britain is the second in SCT’s Occasional Essays series.
Dr Roberts traces the origins of modern citizens’ rights to the inspiration of ancient Athens and, in England fifteen hundred years later, to the Magna Carta which brought about the first significant transfer of power from the monarch to a wider ruling group and began a process which would take another seven hundred years before all men and women had the right, through the vote, to have their say in the governance of this country.
Dr Roberts shows that it was not until groups like the Levellers developed broad and progressive agendas during the English civil war that freedom of expression became a focus of popular campaigns. But it was only in the nineteenth century when the radical new thinking of the Enlightenment combined with the dramatic impact of the industrial revolution on the conditions of working people that new mass movements for reform were able to overcome that the determined resistance of the governments of the day was eventually and prise from them the concessions which established the rights British citizens enjoy today.
But as he observes, many of those rights, including freedom of speech, were only enshrined in British law as recently as 1998 when Parliament passed the Human Rights Act and he also points out that even since that time, legislation – most notably the Terrorism Act of 2000 – has empowered the authorities to curtail a number of those civil liberties in the cause of national security.
As Roberts concludes, free speech along with other democratic entitlements have been hard won in Britain as elsewhere: “free speech, then, is not merely a gift bestowed on us by judges and government ministers. Free speech and what it means and entails depends on people coming together in order to test its limits. A healthy democracy demands this.”
Click here for a link to the essay.
Arguably the most inspirational speech of the twentieth century is to be re-enacted at Bristol’s new Speakers’ Corner to mark the visit to the city of its co-author Clarence B Jones, the civil rights lawyer who, with his friend and fellow campaigner Martin Luther King, wrote the immortal words ”I have a dream”.
Actor Leo Wringer will perform the speech, first delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on 28 August 1963, at the Speakers’ Corner at 12.45 pm on Tuesday 8 March. He will be joined by Kirsty Cox who, on the global centenary of International Women’s Day, will perform Emmeline Pankhurst’s great “Freedom or Death” speech, first delivered in Hartford Connecticut on 13 November 1913. Kirsty will be reprising her much admired performance at the first event at Bristol Speakers’ Corner last May.
Later in the evening Clarence B Jones will be discussing his relationship with Martin Luther King and the background to the speech they co-wrote at a Festival of Ideas event at the Arnolfini at 6.30 pm.
And just a few days earlier, on Saturday 5 March, campaigners will follow a sponsored sleep-out by speaking up against homelessness in the first of what is intended to become a regular series of events at Bristol’s Speakers’ Corner at 11.00 am on the first Saturday of each month.
Football has come a long way since the £20 a week ceiling on players’ wages was lifted in January 1961. Exactly fifty years on, the game is big business; clubs are global brands and players are international icons and multi-millionaires. But has commercialisation been a force for good or ill in English football? Has it brought us better players and higher quality football with more glamour and excitement, better conditions for fans in bigger and better arenas and greater investment in grass roots football? Or has it undermined the ethos of the game, severed the link between fans and players and club and community, weakened the national team and fostered a culture of arrogance and greed? If it’s good for the game, what’s football’s future; if not, what can be done to reverse the trend?
In the latest in SCT’s Forum for Debate series, Dave Boyle, chief executive of Supporters Direct, and Stefan Szymanski, Professor of Economics at Cass Business School and an expert on the business of sport, argue whether commercialisation been a force for good or ill in English football. Click here for a link to the debate.
touchRainbow, an innovative media company based in Leicester, has premiered a five minute film which wonderfully captures the spirit of the Leicester Speaks initiative. Based on the work of a team of volunteers who made 50 videos and took 200 photographs of the 31 events organised by a partnership of 26 local organisations during Democracy Week in October, it provides the perfect record of seven days of inspirational discussion and debate.
Work to improve Lichfield’s Speakers’ Corner on Dam Street is set to get under way on 29 November 2010.
The transformation will see a new Speakers’ Corner stone set into the ground to serve as a podium so that anyone wishing to have their say will have somewhere prominent to stand to address the crowds. It will inscribed with the words of Samuel Johnson, one of Lichfield’s most celebrated sons, who wrote in 1751 that “in order that all men may be taught to speak the truth, it is necessary that all likewise should learn to hear it.”
Other elements of the scheme include removing the steps down to Minster Pool and raising the ground level, so the area around Speakers’ Corner will also act as a viewing platform across the pool. A low curved wall, which people can sit on, will also mark out the viewing area and Speakers’ Corner zone.
The works have been funded by Lichfield District Council, Lichfield City Councils and contributions through section 106 agreements.They are a feature of the redevelopment of Minster Pool and Walk funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund’s as part of their ‘Parks for People’ programme.
Councillor Neil Roberts, Lichfield District Council’s Cabinet Member for Development Services, said: “This part of the redevelopment of Minster Pool and Walk was not in the original plans for the historic parks makeover, as Speakers’ Corner was established after we drew up the plans. However, since then we have been working with Speakers’ Corner, Lichfield to come up with a design that will give public speakers a clearly defined space to have their say.
“We are pleased the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Big Lottery Fund have allowed this extra work to be included in our historic parks programme, as it is important to make a feature out of this special place.”
Canon Pete Wilcox, Chair of Lichfield’s Speakers’ Corner Founding Committee, added: “Speakers’ Corner, Lichfield has worked closely with Lichfield District Council on the plans, and we’re all delighted that building work to clearly define Speakers’ Corner is about to start. We’re confident the improved area will attract even more speakers to engage the people of Lichfield on a range of thought-provoking issues.”
The Leader of the House Commons Sir George Young has used a Speakers’ Corner platform to underline the Coalition Government’s commitment to “deal with the democratic defecit”.
Speaking at a reception for SCT hosted by Clifford Chance, he told guests that “in many ways, there is real parity between the Speakers’ Corner Trust and what the Coalition is trying to achieve through its programme of political and constitutional reform. The ideals that have driven your organisation – freedom of expression; active public debate; and a more energised citizenry – are all objectives that underpin the Coalition Agreement that we published in May, and are at the heart of the Prime Minister’s vision for a bigger and stronger society.”
Setting out the Government’s plans, he said that “too many voters in this country have felt increasingly dissatisfied with politicians; disengaged from politics; and disaffected with the practices of Westminster. This trend must be reversed…The terms of trade between Government and Parliament have shifted too far in the executive’s favour. Over recent decades, it became too easy for the Government to ignore the Commons; to push through authoritarian or incompetent laws without adequate scrutiny; and to see the House more as a bureaucratic rubber-stamp than a proper check on executive authority…Cutting the costs of politics will start to restore trust in Westminster, by showing people that politicians are leading by example. But in the long term, the only sustainable way to restore voters’ faith in the institution of Parliament is by demonstrating to the public that their MP is doing the job he or she is meant to be doing: fighting for their constituents; holding the Government to account; and debating issues that really matter to people’s lives. In practice, this means that the Government has to respect Parliament more; interfere less; engage with MPs collaboratively; and avoid pointless confrontation. Parliament should be less poodle and more bulldog.”
Sir George set out the measures the Government has already taken to strengthen Parliament’s independence of and power of scrutiny over the executive, including providing new rights to backbenchers to choose Select Committee chairs and secure debates on the floor of the House, as well as cutting Ministerial pay and reducing the length of the summer recess.
Outlining plans for Parliament to debate public petitions and for the public itself to comment on draft legislation, he added that “strengthening Parliament’s ability to hold the government to account; increasing transparency; making the Commons more relevant – these are all vital parts of the process of building a Parliament that better represents the interests of the people. I believe the final piece in the jigsaw is for Parliament actively to engage the public in the work that it does.”
Click here for the full text of Sir George’s speech on New Politics – Towards a People’s Parliament.
Members of the public are to be invited to join the Lord Mayor and representatives of some of the 30 local organisations and community groups behind the Leicester Speaks initiative when it is launched at an open air event in the city centre on 11 October.
They will have the opportunity to address their fellow citizens on subjects close to their hearts from a platform at Humberstone Gate as a central feature of the launch of seven days of debate and discussion to mark Local Democracy Week. More than 30 events will be taking place in different venues throughout the city with topics ranging from What Women Want to Should Leicester Have an Elected Mayor? and from Can We Change Destiny? to The War on Terror – Nine Years On.
And SCT’s new mobile Speakers’ Corner will be touring residential neighbourhoods during the week to give local people the chance to speak their minds.
Leicester Speaks Joint Chair George Ballentyne said: “Local democracy is about local people and we want to give them the opportunity to express their ideas and opinions right from the start of our programme and to celebrate all the wisdom, energy and goodwill the Leicester community has to offer. But this initiative is also about listening and we plan to organise another event in a few weeks time so that people can see how the decision-makers have responded to the issues they’ve raised.”
Joint Chair John Coster added: “We want to create a platform for all of Leicester’s communities, right in the heart of our city centre as well as in the places where people live. It’s difficult to know what to expect but I’m sure there’ll be humour as well serious contributions but what’s important is that people have the opportunity to speak their minds.”
In the latest in SCT’s online Forum for Debate series, and on the eve of the Conservative Party conference, Ben Lucas, Director of the 2020 Public Services Trust, and Dr Phil Parvin, lecturer in politics at Loughborough University, debate the case for localism, one of the Government’s key priorities and cornerstone of its vision for the Big Society.
With all the main parties now embracing localism in one form or another, can communities realistically be involved in shaping their services in a way which is both inclusive and affordable? Does localism lead to better informed decision-making or simply create greater anomalies in which services are available and how they are provided from community to community? Does it help reinvigorate the democratic process or simply benefit the well-organised at the expense of those in greatest need? Who should arbitrate when different sets of locals’ compete for the same limited resources?
Two Speakers’ Corner projects are to be launched on consecutive days in mid-September. First, at 4.00 pm on 16 September, Tony Benn will be the special guest when the Speakers’ Corner is inaugurated at Cornhill in Lincoln and then in a community event starting at 1.00 pm on the following day, the Mayor of Waltham Forest will unveil the stunning new Speakers’ Corner designed by students of Central St Martins School of Art & Design and installed by the Council in Stoneydown Park over the summer.
Two of SCT’s projects have received significant boosts with grants from Bristol City Council and the Nigeria-based civil society organisation Coalitions for Change enabling the appointment of part-time coordinators in Bristol and Nigeria.
Ina Hume, who grew up in Bristol, has a wealth of experience in community development and participatory media projects both in the UK and internationally and is also involved in campaigning on indigenous issues. Ojobo Atuluku is a former deputy director of ActionAid Nigeria and research assistant at the Ash Institute for Democracy at Harvard University.
Both will have a key role to play in consolidating and further developing these two flagship projects over the coming months.
In the latest in SCT’s online Forum for Debate series published on 30 July, two of the UK’s leading experts on the misuse of drugs debate the implications of the legalisation of the drugs trade.
In Legalising the Drugs Trade: Reducing Crime or Increasing Addiction? Danny Kushlik, Head of Policy and Communications at Transform Drug Policy Foundation argues that far from reducing drug misuse, prohibition “has created, at $320 billion a year, the second largest criminal market, displaced health policy with enforcement, caused the ‘balloon effect’ which moves the trade in drugs around the world but never eliminates it and created an environment where drug users are discriminated against and stigmatised”. He calls instead for “a system of strict control and regulation for the most toxic and dependence inducing drugs and a lighter tough regulation for the less powerful drugs”. Quoting evidence that a third of the UK population favours a shift from prohibition to strict control and regulation of heroin, he concludes that “bringing illegal drugs into regulatory regimes will definitely reduce overall harm, and could in fact, reduce the availability of drugs. Pharmacists are vastly better controlled than the user/dealer with the reinforced door, pit bull and hand gun.”
But Professor Neil McKeganey, Director of the Centre for Drug Misuse Research at Glasgow University, argues that “drugs don’t become harmful because they are illegal; they are illegal because they are harmful”. While he acknowledges that current drugs laws inevitably contribute to a lucrative criminal trade, he warns that “legalisation is no more the answer to that problem than removing household locks is the answer to domestic burglary”. He warns that legalising drugs could lead to a tenfold increase in the level of heroin addiction without reducing the acute problems associated with it: “in the UK some 400,000 children are being brought up in homes with addict parents. Legalisation of illegal drugs would not help those children; it would simply mean that their addicted parents now had a legal supplier to turn to.”
The full debate can be accessed here.
SCT is working with Leicester City Council and other local partners, including public services, the education sector, voluntary organisations, community groups and the business community, to organise a range of events during the course of Local Democracy Week in October. The aim of the programme will be to involve as wide as possible a cross section of Leicester’s communities in debating a range of issues of importance to them, provide platforms for sectors of Leicester’s community which are seldom heard and create opportunities for constructive engagement between the public and local decision takers.
Consultation with key stakeholders is under way and a programme of events will be developed over the coming weeks.
SCT has published the latest edition of its bulletin News from Speakers’ Corner Trust which reports progress over the last six months on a range of SCT’s projects – including those in Bristol, Herefordshire, Lichfield, Lincoln, Nottingham, Walthamstow and Nigeria – and on programmes such as our new online Forum for Debate which has already featured debates about NHS charging, the size of the state and electoral reform and will shortly explore the arguments for and against the legalisation of the drugs trade.
To see the newsletter, click here.
The Stoneydown Speakers’ Corner Committee has chosen a design to be installed in Stoneydown Park by Waltham Forest Council later this summer as the first permanent Speakers’ Corner in London since the original in Hyde Park almost 150 years ago.
The winning design is one of four submitted by teams of students from the prestigious Central St Martins College of Art & Design, part of the University of the Arts London, in a competition which began with an open day in the park in March and a consultation which took in pupils at two local primary schools as well as local residents and park users.
The competition culminated in a public viewing at Stoneydown Primary School on Tuesday (25 May) at which visitors were invited to express their preferences. Their views were taken into account when the Committee made its choice on Thursday (27 May).
The winning design, entitled Stepping Stones and designed by Hayley Clack, Stephanie Romig and Yoo Kyeong, is multifunctional, creating not only a Speakers’ Corner but also seating and tables, some of which feature board games such as chess. The design acknowledges the work of William Morris who lived much of his life nearby on Forest Road.
Speaking after the meeting, Claire Tansley of the Friends of Stoneydown Park who is also a member of the Speakers’ Corner Committee, said:
“We’re delighted with our choice but it was really difficult to make. All the designs were of such high standard and they all had so much to offer both the park and the community. In the end we decided on one which can be used as seating and even a picnic and games area when it’s not a Speakers’ Corner. So it really does have something for everyone.”
“We’re really looking forward to launching our Speakers’ Corner when it’s installed later this year. It’ll be a new focal point for the park but it will also provide an important platform for our community and I hope it’s going to be in regular use.”
Jayne Cominetti, headteacher of Stoneydown Primary School and another Committee member, added:
“The design competition has been a great experience for the children. They not only had their say when the students started work but also about the finished products. Now we’re looking forward not just to seeing it in the park but using it as well. In fact we’ve just had training in public speaking from the English Speaking Union so we’re hopeful that the next generation of great orators will be Walthamstow children!”
Hayley Clack, a member of the winning design team said:
“This has been a challenging project but it’s also been very rewarding and it’s so exciting to think that our design is going to become a permanent feature of the park”
The design is to be installed as part of a package of enhancements which the Council will be undertaking in the park during the summer.
Cllr Chris Robbins, Waltham Forest Council Leader, said:
“This is a real community initiative and I’m so glad that the Council has been able to play its part in it. We need to hear the voices of local people and I’m very excited about the platform we’re helping to provide in Stoneydown Park.”
A team of urban and spatial designers and academics at Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design has called for the reclaiming of city centre sites as spaces for “citizenship, debate and discussion” and asks whether there is a need for a new duty on local authorities to create spaces which serve the public sphere.
In a discussion paper ‘Open to Debate: The Speakers’ Corner Experience – Public Space & Public Sphere in the 21st Century’ published today on Speakers’ Corner Trust’s website the designers argue for “a user-centred design approach whereby communities co-create their own version of Speakers’ Corner to suit their needs, interests and environment”.
The paper arises from a collaboration between CSM and SCT on the design of a series of prototype Speakers’ Corners which have been trialled in Oslo and Lichfield and has now led to the commission of a permanent Speakers’ Corner in Walthamstow.
Speaking about the paper, Tricia Austin, Director of the Creative Practice for Narrative Environments MA Course at CSM, said:
“It’s actually quite startling to realise how rarely in history the public realm has coincided with public space. The great experiments in democracy in the Athenian Agora were only open to free men and in more recent times first suburbanisation and now the privatisation of public space coupled with the social impact of consumerism and new media have further reduced opportunities for engagement
between citizens in our city centres.
“City centres are now almost exclusively commercial zones. We wander around them bombarded by adverts in a daze of received messages about which products will make us happy and have little opportunity to express or communicate our own ideas or opinions or to engage with those of our fellow citizens.
“We need to rethink and reclaim our city centres for the people who live in and around them. It’s time to challenge politicians, planners and landowners to come up with a blueprint for the city centre which celebrates citizenship as well as commerce.”
The essay is on the Forum page.
After a programme of research and consultation and two months creative work, four teams of students from Central St Martins College of Art & Design are putting their designs for a permanent Speakers’ Corner in Stoneydown Park in Walthamstow on display. The public viewing takes place at Stoneydown Primary School from 3.30 -7.30 pm on Tuesday 25 May. Visitors will be asked to register their views and the Stoneydown Speakers’ Corner Committee will meet two days later to make its choice. The winning design should be installed in the park by the Council later in the summer.
To see the designs, please visit the Walthamstow page.
SCT is promoting a series of open air hustings in cities around the country in an attempt to breathe new life into the almost extinct tradition of face-to-face engagement between politicians and public at election time.
People’s Hustings are being organised in Nottingham and Lichfield where Speakers’ Corner projects have already been launched and Bristol and Lincoln where they are being developed. In each case Parliamentary candidates will have the opportunity to revive the traditional hustings by addressing local people from a platform in the city centre.
But this proposal goes an important step further by enabling the public rather than the politicians to set the agenda. At each event, a range of voluntary groups will be offered the opportunity to set out their priorities for the next government and members of the public will be given a chance to voice their opinions before the candidates are asked to respond to what they have heard.
In the latest in SCT’s Forum for Debate series Fair Votes or Firm Government: Do We Have to Choose? Electoral Reform Society chief executive Ken Ritchie calls for a referendum to “let the electorate decide whether it wants our present, broken system or one that offers both fair votes and a firm government with a proper democratic mandate” and argues that “parties working together for the common good is surely not a bad thing and it is what polls suggest people would like to see. A coalition can give most people most of what they want – better than our present situation in which the majority has to put up with the policies of a minority”.
But Lord (Philip) Norton, Professor of Government at the University of Hull, counters that “changing the electoral system will not address the public’s disaffection with politicians… A new electoral system is not so much a solution as a dangerous distraction… A coalition produced by post-election bargaining enjoys no electoral legitimacy, because no one has voted for it”. He adds that “coalitions or pacts are produced by crude horse-trading, not some considered reflection of the common good” and that whatever its flaws, “our first-past-the-post system is well worth fighting for”.
The debate in full is on the Forum for Debate page.
SCT has three new Trustees whose contrasting backgrounds, experience and interests considerably broaden and strengthen the Board’s resources at a time when SCT’s range of activities is also growing.
The three new Board members are Louise Third, director of Integra Communications and a founding member of Nottingham Speakers’ Corner Committee, Francis Ingham, director general of the Public Relations Consultants Association and a former adviser to the Conservative Party, and David Irwin, partner in economic development consultants Irwin Grayson Associates and the former chief executive of the Small Business Service.
More details about all SCT’s Trustees can be found on the About Us page.
SCT has planned from the outset to create a mobile Speakers’ Corner which can be taken out into the community, urban or rural, to provide people with a platform in their own neighbourhood.
Now a unique partnership has made this ambition possible. SCT has developed a brief and, with the help of the Bristol Old Vic theatre, launched a competition to design a mobile Speakers’ Corner which the Old Vic will then construct. The competition is being advertised on the Theatre Bristol website as well as the Royal Society of Arts’ Arts & Ecology site and it is hoped that the prototype will be available in late April.
SCT has launched its new online Forum for Debate with a debate on The NHS and Finite Public Funds: the Case for Charging. David Furness of the Social Market Foundation proposes the introduction of charges to reduce unnecessary demand for GP services as a means of narrowing the shortfall in NHS funding; Joe Farrington-Douglas of the NHS Confederation opposes the idea on both ethical and economic grounds.
The debate is the first in a series which will provide protagonists on either side of an issue with an opportunity to set out well-considered, rational arguments as a means of stimulating a broader public debate. SCT’s partner in the initiative, the British Library will provide an accessible bibliography of further sources of information on the topic.
SCT’s Director Peter Bradley says of the new forum: “We often talk about the need for informed public debates about policy priorities but never seem to have them. This is our attempt to make a modest contribution by providing a platform on which people can discuss important ideas rationally and reasonably. This initiative is not about winning or losing arguments but about exploring ideas and informing opinion.”
You’ll see at the top right hand corner of every page on SCT’s website a well known – or perhaps not so well known – quotation on the subject of freedom of expression drawn from the Speaking of Free Speech page in our Library. Each time you visit a new page, the quotation changes.
We’re now able to provide this resource to your website. If you would like to import Speaking of Free Speech quotations so that they appear in random order on your blog or website, just go to our Quotes for Your Website page to find out how.
A new film commissioned jointly by Speakers’ Corner Trust and the Southbank Centre was launched on 4 December. The fifteen minute download made by Sam Lawlor seeks to encourage people with ideas and opinions to take every opportunity to express them in public. It features advice from a range of performers, campaigners and politicians including poet Lemn Sissay and Justice Secretary Jack Straw who speak of their own experiences and pass on some of the tips they have learned in the course of their careers. Above all they emphasise the right of every individual to speak out in a democracy and the importance of their finding the confidence to do so.
SCT’s website has been relaunched with a fresh design, improved navigation and new features including a Forum for Debate page which will showcase ideas, opinions and debates on a range of topics. The site which went live on 6 November has been designed by Clear Design. If you would like to let us know what you think of it – or have any ideas for further improvements, please let us know.
Agreements with leading organisations in Nigeria have brought SCT ‘s ambitious plans for its first national Speakers’ Corner initiative several steps closer to realisation.
ActionAid, the Nigerian Bar Assocation and the Nigerian Labour Congress have all pledged practical support in establishing a vehicle for the project in Abuja and they have joined a range of civil society organisations in setting up a working group to develop plans for the project and for its launch and subseqent roll-out. It is now hoped that a Trust can be establised in Nigeria and a national Speakers’ Corner Committee recruited by Spring 2010 with a project launch taking place in the second half of the year.
SCT has been commissioned by Regional Action West Midlands to undertake a pioneering project in rural north Herefordshire. SCT will be promoting the project over the next six months in collaboration with new economics foundation and aiming to help the local community increase its influence on local decision making and service delivery. The project will initially be focused on the six parishes which make up the Border Group but, as it develops, it is hoped to extend it to cover more of Mortimer Ward with a population of 2,500 spread over a wide, deeply rural area.
At a meeting at the historic Old Council House on 23 September, some 25 of the local stakeholders whom SCT had consulted over the summer have agreed to establish a Bristol Speakers’ Corner Committee. The Founding Committee will be formally constituted in the coming weeks and begin work on the detailed design of the project prior to its launch. Meanwhile Bristol City Council has offered to provide administrative support to the project over its first 12 months.
SCT has launched a consultation with stakeholders in Lincoln as it plans its next major project. SCT will be undertaking the Lincoln project in partnership with the local Take Part Pathfinder and with the support of Lincoln City Council.
SCT’s consultation with potential stakeholders in Bristol is under way and after some twenty meetings with a representatives of a broad cross section of local organisations, a strong consensus has emerged in favour of the project. It is now planned to establish a Speakers’ Corner Committee after the holiday season, probably in September.
Lichfield’s Speakers’ Corner was only launched in May but the local Committee has already held one event – the screening of the Age of Stupid followed by a debate on climate change – and is now planning four more. On Saturday 11 July, the Lichfield Festival, in association with Speakers’ Corner, is hosting a debate led by Countdown‘s Susie Dent who asks Has the Golden Age of English passed? while on the following day. as part of its Fuse Festival, Lichfield Arts is organising Sound Off, a Speakers’ Corner panel discussion on Arts & Community.
Two more events follow after the holiday season. On 19 September Speakers’ Corner joins in the celebration of Samuel Johnson’s tercentenary with events at the Speakers’ Corner and on 26 September the North Lichfield Initiative is organising Drumming Up Fairtrade, a series of events promoting fair trade and social justice and involving young people, some of which will take place at the Speakers’ Corner.
The De La Warr Pavilion, the contemporary arts gallery in Bexhill on Sea, East Sussex, is organising a special event at which Martin Goldsmith will lead a discussion on the nature and essence of the original Speakers’ Corner in London’s Hyde Park, with photographic documentation spanning the last 20 years. The event takes place at 3.30 pm on Saturday 4 July on the opening day of the gallery’s major Beuys Is Here exhibition of work by the influential German artist Joseph Beuys (1921 – 86) who was a founder member of the German Green Party. The exhibition will explore Beuys’s ideas on economics, politics, the environment, society, teaching, learning and philosophy and raise questions as to how these ideas continue to inform new thinking today.
At the same time each Saturday throughout July, the exhibition will provide a platform for a practitioner from the arts, education, politics and the environment who will speak for 15 minutes about their subject and then invite discussion from the floor. This event is free, open to everyone and will be held at different locations throughout the iconic modernist Grade 1 listed building on Bexhill’s seafront.
For further information about the gallery and the Beuys Is Here exhibition and programme, please click here.
SCT provided a temporary Speakers’ Corner, created by Central St Martins College and sponsored by the British Council, as the centrepiece of the Marketplace of Ideas which concluded the week long Global Forum for Freedom of Expression which took place in the Norwegian capital Oslo from 2 to 6 June.
The initiative was a great success with speakers from around the world taking to the platform to argue for civil liberties and human rights and campaign for freedom in their own countries. Click here for an illustrated report of the day.
Nottingham Speakers’ Corner is to host a debate to mark Refugee Week. The event will take place at the Speakers’ Corner at 10.30 am on Saturday 13th June.
A panel of speakers representing refugees and organisations campaigning on their behalf will talk about their experiences and the importance of upholding the right of refuge which has enshrined in international law for the past 50 years.
SCT has just issued its latest e-newsletter which you can read or print off from here.
The prototype Speakers’ Corner designed by Central St Martins College of Art & Design, is to be trialled at the Global Forum on Freedom of Expression in Oslo in June. The Speakers’ Corner, sponsored by the British Council in Norway, is to take centre stage in the Marketplace of Ideas which is being created in University Square to mark the end of the week-long international conference.
With the backing of the City Council, SCT is about to launch a major consultation on the prospects for a Speakers’ Corner project in Bristol. The early indications are that there is enthusiastic support for the initiative and it is hoped that a local Speakers’ Corner Committee will take shape over the summer months.
Meanwhile, SCT is working with schools, local amenity groups and residents to develop a neighbourhood Speakers’ Corner in Stoneydown Park in the London Borugh of Waltham Forest. Consultation is under way and Central St Martins College is also drawing up a programme of collaboration with local people to prepare designs for a Speakers’ Corner for the park.
The launch of Lichfield’s Speakers’ Corner on 2 May exceeded all expectations. As the sun shone down, a day of celebration, described by one enthusiastic participant as “the most fabulous, fantastic, inspiring, wonderful, life-affirming stuff”, took place at the site. By late afternoon, almost fifty people, many of them young, had spoken or performed in front of hundreds of local people who had come to be part of the event. And one of the day’s unexpected highlights saw the launch of a local campaign at what a special guest hailed as “a new platform for the common man and woman”. For a fuller report of the day, please click here.
The launch of Lichfield’s Speakers’ Corner takes place at the chosen site on Dam Street on Saturday 2 May. Activities get under way at 10.30 am with a debate on climate change followed by five hours of events, including speeches by local people who have undergone the Garrick Theatre’s public speaking course, presentations by the Youth Forum and students from three of the city’s secondary schools and performances by local circus skills group Fusezirque! The opening itself takes place at 12.30pm.
As Lichfield prepares for the launch of its Speakers’ Corner on 2 May, the Garrick Theatre is organising a series of workshops designed to coach members of the public in the techniques of speaking in public. The Garrick’s initiative builds on the success of an initiative in September 2008 which brought together students from the Friary School, members of the University of the Third Age and members of the public who responded to an invitation in the local press. The Garrick’s new programme will be free of charge but participants will be asked in return for their training to be among the very first to speak on a subject of their choice from the city’s new Speakers’ Corner on launch day. Places on the course of three workshops, which will take place on the afternoons of 5, 19 and 26 April, are limited so anyone in the Lichfield area who would like to take part should contact the Garrick Box Office on 01543 412121 as soon as possible.
Jack Straw met students from Fairham School as he inaugurated Nottingham’s new Speakers’ Corner, the first offical Speakers’ Corner to be established in the UK since the original in Hyde Park almost 150 years ago. Visiting Nottingham on 26 February, just three weeks after heavy snow led to the abandonment of the original ceremony, Mr Straw unveiled a special paving stone inscribed with a quote from the great Nottinghamshire writer DH Lawrence: “Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot”. A film of Jack Straw’s speech and pictures of the event are on the Nottingham page.
The Human Rights Law Centre at Nottingham University organisied a celebration of the right to Freedom of Expression at the site of Nottingham’s new Speakers’ Corner on Saturday 31 January. The well-attended event featured a range of guest speakers including Nottingham South MP Alan Simpson, editor of Ceasefire magazine Hicham Yezza, Richard Hawthorne, secretary of the Nottingham Interfaith Council, and Nottingham Speakers’ Corner Committee member, Louise Third.
The debate was organised by Jamie Turner as part of the build-up to a major conference on Freedom of Expression and its Contemporary Challenges which the Law Centre is holding on 14 March. Photographs and a short film of the event are featured on our Nottingham page.
Based on the premis that everyone has opinions – often strong ones – and everyone has ideas – often good ones – but few have the confidence, skill or experience to express them as effectively as they’d like, SCT is to work with the Southbank Centre and film maker Sam Lawlor to produce short film designed to introduce the basic techniques required for speaking in public. Under the working title Speaking Out, the ‘masterclass’ will focus on ordering ideas and finding a voice, building confidence and physical presence, speaking effectively with vocal flexibility, listening and questioning and engaging and interacting with an audience. It’s hoped that work will be completed in the first half of 2009 for download from both organisations’ websites.
Following the success of its pilot in a major industrial city, SCT has been keen to test its model in a smaller town with a rural hinterland. In July, on the advice of the National Association of Local Councils and with the support of Lichfield City Council, SCT launched a major consultation in the historic cathedral city of Lichfield – home of, among many other notables, Samuel Johnson, Erasmus Darwin and David Garrick. The response to SCT’s consultation with civic and community leaders has been universally positive and a Lichfield Speakers’ Corner Committee is to be set up later this month to plan the project’s development.
A short film shot at the launch of Nottingham’s Speakers’ Corner is now available on the Audio Visual page of this website.
Nottingham Speakers’ Corner Committee has brought together an impressive range of experts, including a Home Office Minister, the Deputy Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire, a judge and young people from around the city, to lead a high profile public debate on crime. The event, How is Nottingham Tackling its Crime Problem?, took place on 29 September at a packed Galleries of Justice in the city centre. For further details of a highly constructive two-hour debate and a link to the BBC’s recording of proceedings, please visit our Nottingham page.
SCT is now preparing for what could become the first project in its international programme. Following discussions with the Nigerian High Commissioner in London and the British High Commission in Abuja, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office has agreed to fund a scoping exercise which will feature consultation both in the UK and with potential partners and supporters in Nigeria. If all goes well, FCO funding will be sought to enable SCT to undertake the substantive project next year.
SCT has formed a new partnership with Central St Martins College of Art & Design, part of the University of the Arts in London. Post graduate students will, over a ten week period starting in October, research and write papers, including a guidance note, on issues to be considered in designing successful public spaces and, in particular, Speakers’ Corners. The material will be available to SCT for use on its website and through other media.
Between January and April/May, post graduate students will work on designs, first on a series of ‘generic’ Speakers’ Corners and then on location-specific designs (which will focus on neighbourhoods in which SCT is promoting projects) and designs for a mobile Speakers’ Corner which can be taken out to, for example, housing estates or places of work.
The project, which will involve work with school students, is being funded from the University of the Arts’ Widening Participation programme which aims to increase the proportion of young people from low income backgrounds entering arts higher education and the creative and cultural industries.
Following the successful launch of Speakers’ Corner Trust’s pilot project in Nottingham in February, SCT was itself launched as a national charity on 22 April at a reception generously hosted by Clifford Chance at its headquarters offices in Canary Wharf.
sct-launch-22-april-2008-006.jpgGuest of honour Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice and chair of SCT’s Advisory Council, told 100 guests from the public, private and voluntary sectors:
“A hundred and fifty years ago, open air sct-launch-22-april-2008-001.jpgmeetings in towns and cities were at the heart of the hurly-burly of political life on everything from corn prices to electoral reform. At a time when politicians and institutions are seen as remote and out of touch, the Speakers’ Corner initiative is an important attempt to revitalise this tradition and encourage local communities to take part in political debate and have their say.
“In the UK we sometimes forget how lucky we are to have free speech and what an important part it plays in our modern day life. The Speakers’ Corner project is a celebration of that freedom and a vital tool in the drive to combat political disengagement at home and abroad.”
For news of SCT’s Nottingham pilot project, please click here.
And to see Eddie Izzard’s message to Nottingham or his interview with Jon Sopel on BBC1′s Politics Show (Sunday 17 February) in which he speaks of his support for the Speakers’ Corner initiative, please click here.