The Reunion (Radio 4)

Sue MacGregor knows how to get the best out of her guests.

The first in a new series of Radio 4's star programme The Reunion (7 August, 11.15am) was wasted, broadcast as it was on the warm Sunday in early August when the country started living the J G Ballard novel Kingdom Come.

On this long-running show, which brings together a group of people who have been invol­ved in a significant movement, task or trauma, the guests have ranged from humanitarian aid workers in Bosnia to Britain's first rock'n'rollers. It always varies in tone - sometimes a cascade of bad vibes, sometimes so much of a love-in that it's like being buried under an avalanche of lamb fat. When the guests talk about sadnesses, or how they came to blow their success, the audience clucks knowingly.

Occasionally it can feel as if the speakers need protection - from the truth, from time - and then the presenter-referee, Sue MacGregor, moves in warmly, plaudits for her tact and intelligence piling up discreetly in the background. The show is a love match: it could not be more perfect.

Even by the programme's usual standards, Sunday's episode (the 78th since the strand was launched in 2003) was exceptional, as it suggested, from one person at least, bottomless wells of psychic disturbance. It reunited Nick Leeson ("the star derivatives trader from Watford") with his former bosses at Barings Bank. One could just picture the punching of the air at the BBC when the line-up was confirmed.

Had Barings been considered a solid sort of firm, Sue asked. "It was very much pukka indeed," said the administrator Alan Bloom, defensively. "We were a collection of entrepreneurial individuals at the top of our game." And on it went, tensely, with several full-on confrontations ("You must have known!").

After a while, one stopped listening out for Leeson. He was repellently anti-charismatic and scarcely apologetic. The star was Barings's former director of operations Peter Norris, who had stood by Leeson until it became impossible to ignore the scale of his losses - £827m; bank kaput. The sadness coming off Norris felt as inescapable as carbon dioxide. In his voice, regret came over as regret should: a truly borderless country.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 15 August 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The coming anarchy

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.