Podcast of Ideas: 20 January 2017

January 20, 2017

Rob Lyons is joined by Claire Fox and Geoff Kidder to discuss Donald Trump's inauguration, the attitude of liberals and the media to Trump's supporters and offer their thoughts on Theresa May's Brexit speech.


Is utopian thinking dead?

January 6, 2017

As a new year begins, thoughts turn to the future. But how do we see the year - or the decade - ahead? Do we think that things will get better, that our lives will improve, or will we be stuck in a gloomy mind-set that suggests that the world is going to hell in a handcart? Can we imagine a truly prosperous world where everyone lives in peace - a true utopia?

Does the concept of utopia represent an unattainable ideal – or the kind of idealistic ambition that can promote change in the real world? Debates about technological progress seem to vacillate wildly between utopianism and dystopianism. At a time when innovation is universally celebrated and culturally validated, it also appears to be in a constant state of crisis. Utopian optimism seems destined to remain divorced from practical applications, useful only in terms of blue-sky thinking. But are the constraints on innovation a matter largely of investment and official focus, or are there cultural and intellectual issues too?

This Battle of Ideas debate offered a chance to explore our attitudes to the future.


Dr Yaron Brook
executive director, Ayn Rand Institute; co-author, Equal is Unfair: America’s misguided fight against income inequality

Dr Eliane Glaser
writer, lecturer and radio producer

Dr Norman Lewis
director (innovation), PwC; co-author, Big Potatoes: the London manifesto for innovation

Karl Sharro
architect; writer; Middle East commentator; co-author, Manifesto: Towards a New Humanism in Architecture

Kirsty Styles
talent and skills programme lead, Tech North


The new populism

January 6, 2017

Britain’s vote to leave the EU, the election of Donald Trump and the high opinion poll ratings of Marine Le Pen’s Front National have led to anxious debate about the rise of populism, inspired by what many regard as a rogues’ gallery of demagogic leaders of rising anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic movements throughout Europe and the US. The declining appeal of traditional parties of both left and right has been apparent for a generation, and now seems to have reached a head, to the consternation of those who see the new populism as a rejection of common sense. At the height of the referendum campaign, the Guardian’s Martin Kettle articulated the exasperation of the political establishment at the evident disaffection of the masses when he described support for Brexit as ‘part bloody-mindedness, part frivolity, part panic, part bad temper, part prejudice’.

Almost invariably, the concept of populism is used in a pejorative way. It is often preceded by the implicitly disparaging adjective ‘right-wing’ and directly linked to notions such as racism, ‘xenophobia’ or ‘Islamophobia’. Yet in the past, populist movements have as commonly had a left-wing as a right-wing character. They have often expressed an inchoate animosity towards a corrupt elite. Such movements are inherently unstable and tend to evolve, according to circumstances, in either a radical or reactionary direction. Recent political phenomena such as Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, the Five Star Movement in Italy, and the successes of Bernie Sanders in the USA and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, show the complexity of the popular movements that have emerged to fill the vacuum left by the decay of the old politics.

Mainstream politicians and commentators fear the polarisation resulting from the rise of populist movements, but seem unable to engage the public through open debate. Others argue that the upsurge of popular discontent with the stagnant political order points the way towards the revival of democratic politics, and is worth celebrating even if it unleashes uncomfortable sentiments. Are populist movements merely ‘morbid symptoms’ of a decadent political order, or harbingers of a democratic renewal?


Nick Cater
executive director, Menzies Research Centre, Australia; columnist, The Australian

Ian Dunt
editor, Politics.co.uk; political editor, Erotic Review

Ivan Krastev
chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia; permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna

Jill Rutter
programme director, Institute for Government

Bruno Waterfield
Brussels correspondent, The Times; co-author, No Means No


What’s the truth about ‘post-truth’ politics?

December 16, 2016

Listen to the debate from the Battle of Ideas 2016.

In November, Oxford Dictionaries declared ‘post-truth’ its Word of the Year. For some commentators, both the US presidential campaign and the EU referendum in the UK have revealed the emergence of ‘post-truth’ politics. Donald Trump has dismissed fact-checking as an ‘out-of-touch, elitist media-type thing’. Former Tory minister and Brexit leader Michael Gove notoriously claimed that ‘people in this country have had enough of experts’.

Have experts been over-reaching themselves and intruding into matters that require political judgement rather than statistics? On the other hand, if people scorn evidence, will society sink into the mire of prejudice and superstition? Have the majority of voters really given up on assessing the evidence?


Professor Frank Furedi
sociologist and social commentator; author, What’s Happened to the University?, Power of Reading: from Socrates to Twitter, and Authority: a sociological history

Josh Lowe
European politics reporter, Newsweek

Neena Modi
professor of neonatal medicine, Imperial College London; consultant in neonatal medicine, Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust; president, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health

Dr Adam Rutherford
geneticist, science writer and broadcaster, BBC; author, Creation and A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived.


The rise of the Busybody State

December 9, 2016

From parking wardens generating record profits for councils through to bans on smoking and busking, the authorities are making more and more previously normal activities illegal or subject to onerous regulation. Yet it is not clear who benefits from this micromanagement of our lives.

Here, Josie Appleton talks about her new book, 'Officious: The rise of the Busybody State', which examines the causes and consequences of this trend.


Zaha Hadid: her life and legacy

December 8, 2016

A recording of the discussion at the Battle of Ideas 2016.

The architect Zaha Hadid, who died in March, was described in a CNN interview in 2013 as ‘one of the most celebrated – and divisive – designers on the planet’. In life, she was respected or reviled, but seldom ignored. She was a powerful woman in a man’s world, and an Arab at the top of the Western design industry. She was a designer of curves in a world of boxes and a leader in an age of consensus. What will be Zaha Hadid’s legacy? Is there still a place for risk-taking and experimentation? Is there anyone out there who can fill her shoes?

associate professor in architecture, XJTLU University, Suzhou, China; director, Future Cities Project; convenor, Bookshop Barnies; founding member of New Narratives


principal, Zaha Hadid Architects; author, The Autopoiesis of Architecture


Are political parties over?

December 2, 2016

In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, it seemed that all four of Britain’s major political parties were falling apart. Similar tendencies towards crisis and disintegration are evident in the old parties in the USA and in Europe. Are we seeing a refreshing departure from the old-style politics of left and right, or simply a process of fragmentation? Are we exaggerating the scale of the crisis facing mainstream parties, and forgetting the often deep and bitter conflicts of the past? Are we really moving towards a new sort of politics? What sort of divisions and alignments are likely to emerge and will we need parties to represent them?


Emily Barley
chairman, Conservatives for Liberty

James Delingpole
journalist; columnist, Breitbart UK

Dr Michael Fitzpatrick
writer on medicine and politics; author, The Tyranny of Health

Miranda Green
journalist and former Liberal Democrat advisor, specialising in politics and education

Jhanelle White
student & political activist; former member of Dudley Youth Council; founder and chair of Political Sweep


Podcast of Ideas: public health, the view from Australia

November 18, 2016

Rob Lyons speaks to Australian policy consultant Terry Barnes

In this edition of the Podcast of Ideas Rob Lyons speaks to policy consultant and former senior advisor to the Australian Government, Terry Barnes about alternatives to the NHS and the public health lobby’s war on people’s lifestyle choices from sugar taxes to vaping.


Podcast of Ideas: Trump’s victory

November 11, 2016

Claire fox, Geoff Kidder and Rob Lyons discuss the fallout from the US election

After a hiatus the Podcast of Ideas is back with the Institute of Ideas team discussing Donald Trump’s shock victory in the US Presidential race. What explains Trump’s appeal?  Why did Clinton have such an inability to inspire the voters? Are his supporters really just “a basket of deplorables”?  And is the explosion of fear outrage over Trump’s ascendancy to the White House just hysteria or is there genuine cause for concern? 


Can America be great again?

November 4, 2016

Recorded at the Battle of Ideas 2016

In 2013, historian Perry Anderson observed that it is axiomatic for US foreign policy advisors that, ‘the hegemony of the United States continues to serve both the particular interests of the nation and the universal interests of humanity’. But troubled is the head that wears the crown of world domination. The US establishment is worried by the threat of domestic disorder, terrorist outrages and the rising powers in the East, notably China. It is also concerned by a range of social and economic problems: rising inequality, a failing school system, the burden of health care and obsolete infrastructure. Furthermore, ‘energy is wasted, R&D is insufficient, labour is under-skilled, finance is under-regulated, entitlements are out of control, the budget is in the red, the political system is overly polarised’. The current presidential election campaign confirms that elite confidence in US hegemony is not shared by substantial sections of the electorate. The rise of Donald Trump symbolises the scale of popular disaffection. According to Colombia historian Mark Mazower, his success – in parallel with populist politicians in Europe – confirms that ‘nationalism is back like it never went away’. Trump is riding ‘a populist insurgency’ seeking to restore the USA to its ‘rightful place in the world’. Trump appeals to widespread discontent over the impact of global economic forces, causing increasing inequality and insecurity, particularly in blue-collar communities.

Trump’s nationalist revival has an angry and defensive tone. It stands in stark contrast to the vision of John Winthrop’s Puritan evangelicals who, sought to build in Massachusetts Bay a ‘city on a hill’, an ideal society in the New World as an example to the Old. As the late Benedict Anderson observed, the spirit of nationalism forged in the American Revolution, based on ‘an imagined political community’ of creole pioneers, provided a model for nationalist movements – first in Europe, and subsequently throughout the colonial world. But, whereas the nationalist spirit of the founding fathers had a unifying and democratic character, that of Trump, with its anti-immigrant, anti-Hispanic and anti-Muslim tropes, seems divisive and reactionary.

Can America’s overwhelming military might continue to compensate for its chronic economic stagnation? Can the USA’s global cultural influence help it to hold off the competition of the rising powers of East Asia? Can any political alternative overcome the exhaustion and paralysis that appears to have overtaken the American system under the presidency of Barack Obama?


Professor Sarah Churchwell

chair of Public Understanding of the Humanities; Professor of American literature, School of Advanced study, University of London


Dolan Cummings

associate fellow, Institute of Ideas; author, That Existential Leap: a crime story (forthcoming from Zero Books)


Alex Deane

managing director, FTI Consulting; Sky News regular; BBC Dateline London panellist; author Big Brother Watch: The state of civil liberties in modern Britain


Michael Goldfarb

journalist and historian, FRDH Podcast


Dr Kwasi Kwarteng

Conservative member of parliament for Spelthorne; historian; author, Ghosts of Empire and War & Gold


Dr Cheryl Hudson

lecturer in American history, University of Liverpool