Nottingham Evening Post – 26 February 2009
Nottingham Speakers’ Corner is Officially Opened
The first permanent Speakers’ Corner outside of London has been officially opened in Nottingham’s Old Market Square by Justice Secretary Jack Straw.
Mr Straw said its spot next to the statue of Brian Clough was particularly appropriate given the former Forest manager’s reputation for being outspoken.
Known for standing on a soap box in his constituency of Blackburn, the MP even invited hecklers towards the end of his speech.
“No-one has heckled me, which is unusual,” Mr Straw said.
A member of the crowd instantly responded: “There are too many coppers here, that’s why.”
Another shouted: “Just read out the cabinet minutes!” in reference to his recent unprecedented step of vetoing the release of cabinet minutes relating to the invasion of Iraq.
Mr Straw declined to read out the cabinet minutes at yesterday’s launch, but did acknowledge Nottingham artist and satirist Lord Biro, who is also known as Dave Bishop.
After getting Mr Straw’s attention, Lord Biro, of the Church of the Militant Elvis Party, offered to sell him a caricature portrait of himself with the heading “How I Sold The War.”
Despite the internet being a popular tool for mass communication, Mr Straw insisted direct contact is “vital” in the modern age. He used the analogy of music downloads, explaining how new technology has led to a “thirst” for live music once again.
“I’ve always said there is no point trying to make pretences to people, you’ve got to tell them straight,” he said. “If you are talking to your own people in the middle of Blackburn you can’t spin to people, they are just going to go away.”
He talked about his regular soap box sessions which started in 1983, and were regarded as “barmy” to begin.
“When I became under police protection 12 years ago there was discussion about whether I should carry on,” he said. “I might get shouted at, I might get cross, people might get cross at me, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s really important.”
Mr Straw unveiled a stone to mark the spot and said he hoped Nottingham Speakers’ Corner will be the beginning of vigorous and vibrant debate in the city.
The launch follows a pilot which was sponsored by the Ministry of Justice’s Innovation Fund. A temporary Speaker’s Corner was set up on the north side of Old Market Square in February 2008, and has already been used to highlight issues including the Zimbabwean elections.
The Speakers’ Corner Trust, a charity trying to develop platforms around the country, is behind the project, and a local steering committee was set up in Nottingham.
Jackie Morris, from the Nottingham Speakers’ Corner Committee, said: “This is our own Speakers’ Corner. It’s ours – the ordinary people of Nottingham. You don’t have to be intelligent or important. This is your platform to express your opinions, obviously with respect for others”.