Silicon Valley: from heroes to zeroes?

March 26, 2018

Silicon Valley used to be regarded as the global hub of entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation. It was the home of the world’s best technologies, new products and services. Yet today, Silicon Valley’s tech companies seem to have become the twenty-first-century equivalent of mediaeval robber barons. They are condemned for fleecing customers, evading taxes, and pocketing monopoly profits. Once associated with freedom, Silicon Valley is now condemned as the agency of global surveillance. Has it gone from overhype to over-reach? Or given emerging new technologies – such as express transit systems, autonomous vehicles and biotech – is the criticism mostly unfair?


director, Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, Demos; author, Radicals; presenter, BBC’s The Secrets of Silicon Valley

journalist; author, Ferraris for All: in defence of economic progress

author, The Capitalist Manifesto: the historic, economic, and philosophic case for laissez-faire; affiliate, Ayn Rand Institute

managing director, Flibl; award-winning writer and consultant


Was it Big Data wot won it? Political campaigning today

March 18, 2018

How could so many people be convinced to vote for Donald Trump? Why did so many Brits vote to leave the EU, despite almost unanimous advice from experts, political leaders and celebrities that we should remain? Some attribute these results to the power of Big Data, specifically to the high-tech psychological marketing techniques of a company called Cambridge Analytica. Can the manipulation of data really swing important votes? What are the implications of this approach for privacy and democracy? What does the assumption that a few targeted messages can influence voters’ decisions tell us about elite attitudes towards the electorate?


director, Centre for the Analysis of Social Media, Demos; author, The Dark Net and Radicals; presenter, BBC’s The Secrets of Silicon Valley

feature writer, Observer

member, Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing; leader of the Conservative group, Bradford City Council

TIMANDRA HARKNESS journalist, writer and broadcaster; presenter, FutureProofing; author, Big Data: does size matter?


Safety first: do we live in a ‘cotton-wool society’?

March 9, 2018

Recording of the debate at Battle of Ideas 2017 (

The ‘safety first’ outlook, intending to keep us safe by imagining the worst, risks increasing our sense of existential insecurity. Always anticipating catastrophe may mean over-reacting, especially in the fields of science, health and technology. We have become the victims of scaremongering over theoretical risks – from mobile phone radiation or the latest strain of flu, even from familiar foods such as sugar and salt.

Has safety become an aim in itself, divorced from a common-sense assessment of risk? Does the desire to eliminate all danger undermine individual freedom? Is it time to confront the dangers of our ‘safety first’ society?


Richard Angell
director, Progress

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

Professor Bill Durodié
chair of international relations, former head of department, University of Bath

Dr Clare Gerada
medical director, NHS Practitioner Health Programme; former chair, Royal College of General Practitioners

Lenore Skenazy
'America’s Worst Mom'; president, Let Grow; founder, Free-Range Kids book, blog and movement


Putin’s Russia: a new Cold War?

March 2, 2018

The Russian government is now routinely portrayed as a threat to the West, both on the international stage, in Ukraine and Syria, and in domestic politics, accused of interfering in elections.

Russia is certainly back on the world stage and no longer prepared to accept Western-backed regime change, but to what extent does Russia represent a threat? Does Russia have legitimate interests that it is entitled to defend as much as Britain is? Is Putin simply playing a weak hand well? Does Russia loom large, not because it is relatively strong, but because Western governments themselves lack direction?


Mary Dejevsky
former foreign correspondent in Moscow, Paris and Washington; special correspondent in China; writer and broadcaster

Dr Tara McCormack
lecturer, international politics, University of Leicester

Dr Lukasz Pawlowski
managing editor & columnist, Kultura Liberalna

Sir Adam Thomson KCMG
director, European Leadership Network


From Sandy Hook to Boston: guns, bombs and a changing America

February 23, 2018

After the school shooting in Parkland, Florida on 14 February 2018, the issue of gun control and the meaning of mass shootings in America has come to the fore once more. This session from Battle of Ideas 2013, in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting and Boston Marathon bombing, took a step back to examine these issues in a wider context.


Nancy McDermott
writer; advisor to Park Slope Parents, NYC's most notorious parents' organization

Christine Rosen
fellow, New America Foundation; senior editor, New Atlantis

Dr Tim Stanley
leader writer and columnist, Daily Telegraph

Dr Kevin Yuill
senior lecturer, history, University of Sunderland; author, Assisted Suicide: the liberal, humanist case against legalization

Jean Smith
specialist development consultant; co-founder and director, NY Salon


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