Lincolnshire Echo – 17 September 2010

City visit by former MP Tony Benn sparks range of topics at Speakers’ Corner

Tony Benn was guest speaker at the official opening of Speakers’ Corner. Passionate speakers have gathered to welcome a new era of free speech in the streets of Lincoln.

Nuclear war, progress throughout history, public perception and walking on the left were topics up for discussion on the first official day of Speakers’ Corner in High Street.

Former Labour MP Tony Benn led the speeches with an impassioned plea on why freedom of speech needs protecting.

A sizeable crowd braved the rain yesterday afternoon to watch as the 85-year-old spoke of how progress was made when people voiced their thoughts in public.

Mr Benn, standing on a spot said to have previously been occupied by the Suffragettes, referenced slavery and the right to vote, but warned this tradition needed to continue.

He said: “How have changes come about? They have come about because people thought what was going on was wrong. They organised and complained to get them put right and that’s how progress is always made.

“Never believe those who say it cannot be done. If you believe them, none of these changes I’ve mentioned would have taken place. We now live in a very dangerous world.

“It’s always been wrong to kill people, but this generation has a quite extraordinary power with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons to extinguish the human race. We must not let that happen.”

University Of Lincoln journalism student Dom McAndrew, 23, followed Mr Benn before Joseph Hayat, 17, spoke of his role as a Lincolnshire member of the UK Youth Parliament.

The first member of the crowd to come forward and take the microphone was Jackie Raistrick, of Lincoln.

The University Of Lincoln graduate said she cared for her mum full-time but felt under appreciated and taken for granted in many ways.

She said: “Every two weeks I get income support as my carers’ allowance doesn’t match jobseekers’ allowance. I stand in the queue waiting to cash my giro with people looking at me with a wry smile thinking: ‘What’s wrong with her? Why is she not working?’.

“I feel I am working and saving the country quite a lot of money and I am sure I am not the only one that thinks that.

“Please, next time, if you are standing in the Post Office and someone is waiting to cash cheques, don’t think we do nothing.”

Before Mr Benn and members of the public were given a chance to air their views, members of the Speakers’ Corner Trust gave their thanks to those who had helped realise the dream.

Solicitor and trust member Richard Dale said he thought of his grandparents when asked to find the right site for free speech in Lincoln.

Mr Dale said: “They arrived in this country 100 years ago. Fortunately for me they chose this country as they thought it symbolised freedom, which it still does today.”

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