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

Select and enter your email address 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. Your new guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture each weekend - from the New Statesman. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Content from our partners
Musidora Jorgensen: Sustainability is good for business
How to navigate the modern cyber-threat landscape
Supporting customers through the cost of living crisis

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