Leading article: Speaking nonsense

OYEZ! OYEZ! While everyone else is plunging headlong down the information superhighway, our Home Secretary is travelling a more traditional road. Jack Straw, a seasoned street orator who can often be found haranguing the residents of Blackburn from a bench in front of Marks & Spencer, wants to see 300 Speakers' Corners across the land.

The aim of taking democracy back to the people is laudable. It conjures up warm images of a fearless politician on the stump, be he Sir Robert Peel speaking to the masses in Tamworth or John Major on his faintly absurd soapbox. But the gap between desire and reality is rather large.

If in doubt, visit Hyde Park Corner. You will be quickly disabused of the notion that soapbox oratory adds much to the sum of human discourse. Even the heckling is worse than may be found in most comedy clubs after pub closing-time. Instead, there is just the ranting and raving of obsessives of every hue, be they unpleasant racists, religious evangelists or political Utopians.

We all recognise that our political life needs improvement. But if Mr Straw really wants to further the connection between government and citizen, he should concentrate on ensuring his Freedom of Information Bill does not break the Trade Descriptions Act.