Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. TV & Radio
8 July 2020updated 03 Aug 2021 12:43pm

Radio 4’s “Rethink” season began with an inauspicious start

The festival of “essays, programmes and provocations” on the world post-Covid-19 launched two weeks ago with a Zoom discussion featuring George Osborne.

By Antonia Quirke

It was an inauspicious start. Radio 4’s “Rethink” season – a festival of “essays, programmes and provocations” on the world post-Covid-19 – launched two weeks ago with a Zoom discussion (“The Edge of Change”, 22 June, 9pm) between, among others, Tony Blair and Kevin Rudd, whose dog also put in an appearance, giving a lone and portentous woof. Everybody agreed that historically we were at a “hinge moment”, but conversation congealed when George Osborne insisted on being goadingly optimistic, in that quintessentially Boris-ish, yes-beats-no-at-the-polls way, reminding us that we could always, if it came to it, flog our personal data: “This is your asset and it is valuable!”

Since then, the ongoing Rethink podcast has been filling up with some 55+ short essays (most five to eight minutes long) self-recorded and sent in by academics, philosophers, national security advisers, poets – all sorts. The South Korean foreign minister. Andy Murray. The Pope! Lord Sumption. The Dalai Lama. Most of the “essays” are really more rallying cries than developed thoughts.

For every Dr Xine Yao being informative about the first wearing of medical masks in civilian life (during a plague in Manchuria in 1910), there’s Anand Giridharadas describing “synced crises” that “have freed us from the illusion that we may have been living right” – yes, sure, makes sense. But that sort of language has a “San Fran Ideas Retreat” vanity, an underlying and off-putting TED-talky catchphrasiness. Besides – legitimacy crisis, population crisis, identity crisis, whatever, they pale before the one real crisis: climate. All else is a distraction.

I liked writer Mohammed Hanif on intimacy (“Civilisation was forced with double handshakes with our enemies and embraces with our potential killers”). And Pascal Soriot, CEO of pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, marvelling how economics can “in no time” be disrupted by ecological trauma. That’s the thing that perhaps comes through the most in the podcast so far, thrumming quietly and in a ghastly way: how quickly things collapse. It happens – always – far faster than we think. 

BBC Radio 4

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
The shrinking road to net zero
The tree-planting misconception
Is your business ready for corporate climate reporting?

This article appears in the 08 Jul 2020 issue of the New Statesman, State of the nation