The corruption of political language

February 16, 2018

Recording of a debate at the Battle of Ideas festival at The Barbican on Sunday 29 October 2017.

George Orwell claimed that ‘political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable’. Today, many claim that the increasing corruption of language has become detrimental to our democracy. Political labels, such as fascism and populism, right-wing and left-wing, are used promiscuously, often as insults against opponents. The rise of identity politics has given us new words, such as ‘ze’ and ‘cis’. Do such novel terms encourage discussion or help to shut it down? Should we go back to basics, and pin down what we mean by such contested terms as liberalism and nationalism, even democracy?


editor, spiked

journalist and novelist

broadcast editor, Spectator

senior lecturer in communications and
cultural theory, University of Leeds


Diversity: does it matter?

February 9, 2018

Diversity is widely celebrated in contemporary society. Big employers have adopted elaborate strategies to recruit more diverse workforces. On the world stage, diversity is posited as a progressive antidote to ‘backward forces’ clinging to outdated national cultures. But has diversity become an illiberal orthodoxy? When Google engineer James Damore notoriously inquired whether diversity was an incontestable virtue, he lost his job. Do diversity policies invite a permanent war of cultures, resulting in a society increasingly segmented along the lines of identity? Can we achieve fair treatment and equal access to jobs without creating discriminatory and divisive hiring practices?


director, civil liberties group, Manifesto Club; author, Officious: rise of the busybody state; blogs at

CEO, Code First: Girls; chair, BIMA Diversity panel; fellow, RSA

author, journalist, broadcaster and campaigner; winner, CWA’s John Creasey Dagger for debut novel, Running Hot; latest
novel, Blood Daughter

US journalist and commentator; weekly columnist, Newsday; author, Ceasefire!


Podcast of Ideas, 26 January 2018

January 26, 2018

Alastair Donald, Claire Fox and Rob Lyons discuss the fallout from the Presidents' Club dinner, the stasis within the Conservative government and the prospects for Brexit, and the misguided 'war on plastic'.

(Apologies for some noise in parts of this recording.)


Do you trust the media?

December 21, 2017

Who can journalists trust out of the overwhelming selection of competing interests to act as reliable sources? Can anyone play the role of the ‘honest broker’? How can the public untangle dubious, pseudo-scientific advice and dodgy stats from facts and truth? How can we know whether journalism, particularly reporting on complex issues or assessing notoriously difficult ideas such as risk, is accurate? Should we accept that it is our responsibility as citizens to check the facts for ourselves or should we demand that the media improve its handling of statistics and data?


Dr Graeme Archer
writer & professional statistician; winner, 2011 Orwell Prize for blogging

Vance Crowe
director of Millennial Engagement, Monsanto Company

Alan Miller
chairman, Night Time Industries Association (NTIA); leading campaigner, #SaveNightlife

Fay Schlesinger
head of News, The Times

Ceri Thomas
ex-editor, BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme & BBC’s Panorama; director, public affairs, Oxford University


Millennials: youthquake or snowflakes?

December 15, 2017

Listen to the debate at the Battle of Ideas 2017 at the Barbican in London.

Whereas earlier generations of young people provoked outrage among their elders, millennials – those born in the late 1990s and early 2000s – seem to attract merely condescension and concern. Today’s youth have been labelled ‘Generation Snowflake’ for their declarations of emotional vulnerability and demands for protection and support.

Instead of revolting, today’s students seem to be preoccupied with difficulties in negotiating personal relationships, demanding formal instruction and regulation of issues of consent and protection of apparently fragile identities against hostile criticism. Yet, for those coming of age in an era of austerity and debt, Brexit and Trump, anxiety and apprehension may be appropriate responses. And, in their embrace of issues of social justice, and support for the kinder, gentler form of politics espoused by Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, perhaps the millennials are pointing the way towards real change in society.

Are the adults of tomorrow over-anxious snowflakes masquerading as a youthquake? Or is their pursuit of a different sort of politics – putting emotion and morality before ideology and policy – exactly the kind of shake up Western politics has been waiting for?


Bradley Allsop
postgraduate officer, University of Lincoln Students' Union; co-editor, Bright Green

Jennie Bristow
senior lecturer in sociology, Canterbury Christ Church University; author, The Sociology of Generations: New directions and challenges and Baby Boomers and Generational Conflict

Dr Eliza Filby
historian, King's College London; founder, GradTrain


Can biotech lead an economic revolution?

December 7, 2017

Recording of the debate at the Battle of Ideas 2017 at The Barbican in London, in partnership with Immunocore.

The new Life Sciences Industrial Strategy claims that ‘in a country where productivity is a major challenge, public sector life sciences discovery activity… is dramatically more productive compared to other countries such as the USA or Germany’. What role will biotechnology play in the industries of tomorrow? Will it predominate as a durable, sizeable and job-creating sector, helping to turn around the UK’s flagging productivity, or does its value rest more in its place at the vanguard?


Dr Eliot Forster
CEO, Immunocore; chairman, MedCity

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge
group leader in stem cell biology and developmental genetics, Francis Crick Institute

Bethan Wolfenden
co-founder, Bento Bio


Is globalisation over? The future of world trade

December 2, 2017

Recording of the debate at the Battle of Ideas 2017.

Globalisation is the process by which national and regional economies, societies and cultures have become more integrated through global networks of trade, foreign direct investment, transport, telecommunications and immigration. Many argue that globalisation has been an enormous boon to worldwide living standards. However, serious debate has now broken out about whether globalisation is finally grinding to a halt. 

What is globalisation, and is it really coming to an end? If its advocates are right to say that it has brought prosperity worldwide, why are so many people against it? Is it possible to have a ‘progressive’ globalisation, shorn of its free-market excesses?


Dr Gerard Lyons
economist; co-author, Clean Brexit

Professor Michael Mainelli
executive chairman, Z/Yen Group; alderman, City of London; author, The Price of Fish: a new approach to wicked economics and better decisions

Vicky Pryce
board member, Centre for Economics and Business Research; economic advisor, British Chamber of Commerce

Allen Simpson
chief operating officer, Labour in the City; economic and financial policy specialist

James Woudhuysen
visiting professor, London South Bank University; co-author, Energise! A future for energy innovation; author, Why is construction so backward?



In the wake of Weinstein: #MeToo, calling out and sexual harassment

November 24, 2017

Recording of the Battle of Ideas Stockholm 2017 debate at Kulturhuset Stadsteatern.

(Please note, there is a very short introduction to the recording in Swedish, but the debate is in English.)

Is #MeToo a valuable way for the everywoman to show solidarity with victims and raise awareness of the broader problems of sexual harassment everywhere? Or does it stir up the gender wars, exaggerating the idea that most men are sexual predators and most women their victims? What does #MeToo reveal about deeper cultural trends?


Dr Jan Macvarish
visiting research fellow, Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, University of Kent

Marte Michelet
journalist and author

Jonathan Rollins
stand-up comedian

Cissi Wallin
television and radio personality


From AI to Big Data: can technology save the NHS?

November 21, 2017

Recording of the debate at the Battle of Ideas 2017 in partnership with the Royal Academy of Engineering. See full details here:

At a time of ever-increasing healthcare costs, waiting times and ever-increasing strains on GPs and A&E departments, there is increased urgency in trying to find new approaches to treatment. Against this backdrop of cost-driven strains in patient care, can engineering innovations save the day, perhaps giving patients more independence to accurately self-diagnose and more broadly revolutionise healthcare in the coming decades?


Terry Barnes
principal, Cormorant Policy Advice; fellow, Institute of Economic Affairs; former special adviser to two Australian health ministers

Trisha Greenhalgh
professor of primary care health sciences and fellow, Green Templeton College, University of Oxford

Timandra Harkness
journalist, writer & broadcaster; presenter, FutureProofing; author, Big Data: does size matter?

Professor Mark Tooley
medical technology consultant; president, Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine

Dr ir Isabel Van De Keere
CEO & founder, Immersive Rehab


Censorship and identity: free speech for me, but not for you

November 13, 2017

How should free speech activists respond to the challenge of identity politics? It no longer seems sufficient to cite the First Amendment, quote JS Mill, or cry academic freedom in trying to thwart assaults on free expression. There was a powerful illustration of this problem recently when protesters affiliated with Black Lives Matter gatecrashed an event at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia and prevented the invited guest from the American Civil Liberties Union from speaking, chanting ‘the revolution will not uphold the Constitution’ and ‘liberalism is white supremacy’.

Is it time for civil libertarians to adjust their priorities, to ensure that people with ‘protected characteristics’ are given ‘particular respect’, and their views given a veto on what they deem as hate speech? Are those who argue for free speech – no ifs, no buts – too often providing the privileged with a licence to talk over the marginalised, even to incite bigotry? Or is identity politics the new tool of censorship and, if so, how should we respond?


Professor Frank Furedi
sociologist and social commentator; author, Populism and the European Culture Wars; previous books include: What’s Happened to the University? and Invitation To Terror and On Tolerance

Nick Gillespie
US journalist and commentator; editor in chief, and Reason TV, the online and video platforms of Reason magazine

Jodie Ginsberg
chief executive, Index on Censorship

Trevor Phillips
writer and television producer; founding chair, Equality and Human Rights Commission

Toby Young
director, New Schools Network; associate editor, The Spectator; editor, Spectator Life