“You’re joking – not another one!” That was Brenda from Bristol, back in 2017 when Theresa May surprised the country with a snap poll. A penny for Brenda’s thoughts as we climb aboard the roller-coaster for our third general election in four years. The pundits are predicting only its unpredictability. The parties are fractured and fraught, the voters are frustrated and fatigued, and Brexit prances through the pantomime. The old safe-seat certainties are crumbling. Campaigners on all sides have been encouraging tactical voting to stop the opposition at all costs. Is that morally acceptable, or should we vote for the candidate we most closely support, even if they have no chance of winning? If our long-held tribal loyalties seem less certain, is that good or bad? Does it shake up candidate complacency or threaten community interests? Is it OK to stand in the voting booth and ask ‘What’s in it for me?’ or are we there on behalf of all humanity? Perhaps the question is not ‘How should I vote?’, but ‘Why should I bother?’ People fought and died for our right to vote, so is it a moral duty to go to the polling station, even if we spoil our ballot? Or is it wrong to criticise those who stay at home on election day, nursing their anger or their apathy? Featuring Dr Lisa McKenzie, Alan Hamlin, Richard Harries and Professor Lea Yp.
Producer: Dan Tierney.
The Fall of the Berlin Wall
It’s exactly 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The dramatic demolition on that chilly November night in 1989 symbolised liberal aspirations for a world soon to be remade in the image of America and Western Europe. For the political theorist Francis Fukuyama it was ‘The End of History’ and a decisive victory for the global democratic project. But history didn’t end in 1989 and understanding the reasons for that is perhaps the moral imperative of our age. Democracies are shaking, America is polarised, Russia is meddling with Western elections, China is crushing democratic protests in Hong Kong; then there’s 9/11 and its aftermath of Islamist terror. Where has it all gone wrong? Some see it as a moral failing on the part of the West that it did not seize its moment of triumph. Others believe the West was arrogant in expecting the nations of Eastern Europe and the Middle East to adopt its version of capitalist democracy. What are the lessons? The capitalist and communist ideologies may not be as entrenched as they were during the height of the Cold War but neither have they gone away. Today it’s fashionable to argue that only a resurgence of international socialism will keep the ‘evils’ of global capitalism in check. Others think that totalitarianism never died – it merely morphed into a new kind of political and moral orthodoxy that now dominates our institutions. Where do we go from here? Should each nation be left to work out its own destiny, or do we need a new global project? Featuring Anne Applebaum, Chris Bambery, Paul Mason, Dr. Alan Mendoza.
Producer: Dan Tierney.
The Morality of Risk
Fireworks are fun; they’re also dangerous. Hundreds of people are injured every November 5th and pets are frightened by the noise. What’s to be done? Sainsbury’s has become the first UK supermarket to stop selling fireworks and some MPs have called for an outright ban. They are heroes to some; to others, they are spoilsports, determined to see every jot of joy fizzle out like a damp roman candle. We take risks all the time, for better or worse, but is the long march of health and safety – from the Factory Act of 1833 to the smoking ban and beyond – taking us to a better place, or are we becoming an over-anxious, risk-averse nation? Risk assessments are vital – they can prevent lots of people from dying – but, despite the fact that ‘health and safety culture’ has extended its reach into almost every aspect of our lives, it failed to prevent the Grenfell Tower disaster. Risk aversion starts early. Children are nowadays less likely to walk to school on their own. Scotland is likely to become the first country in Europe to ban young footballers from heading the ball after research suggested they could be heading for dementia. When should statistical evidence of risk prompt a change of behaviour, either voluntary or state-enforced? Is it moral to accept a tiny level of personal risk for ourselves and our children, when the same statistics show that, across the population as a whole, that percentage risk adds up to hundreds or thousands of lost or ruined lives? Is risk-taking itself sometimes a good thing? In the world of economics it might cause a recession but it can also generate prosperity. In medicine a risky operation might kill the patient or it might be the way to save a life. Is it worth the risk of getting rid of risk? Featuring Kate Blincoe, Prof. Nick Chater, David Halpern and Dr Jamie Whyte
Producer: Dan Tierney.
The ‘Tolerance of Intolerance’
The row in Birmingham over primary school lessons that teach an accepting attitude to homosexual relationships has been making headlines for most of this year, and now the courts are involved: the City Council has applied for a permanent ban on protests at the school gates. So far this escalating dispute about 'tolerance' has not displayed much of it – on either side. Muslim parents have been portrayed as backward and bigoted, while the local authority has been labelled Islamophobic.
Behind this head-on clash is a moral problem that stretches far beyond Birmingham and far into the past and the future of this country. It's about negotiating a settlement between a liberal democratic state and those religious groups who reject its principles. How far can the state afford to accommodate beliefs, teachings and practices that 'enlightened' opinion abhors? Some would draw the line at the point where religion refuses vaccination or blood transfusions to children. Others are worried about the wider social consequences of being too 'tolerant of intolerance'. How much should non-religious citizens reasonably expect to be free from religion?
Religion is central to our cultural heritage; it created our great institutions, held communities together and fed the roots of the values we profess. But the European Enlightenment set out to establish a social order based not on religious superstition but on reason, equality and human rights. If that's not quite how it's turned out, what's the solution? Is it to strive more fiercely still for a secular consensus, or to make new space for dogma some of us had thought was dying if not dead? How much does co-operative living ultimately require the stretching of our moral imagination?
Featuring Anna Carlile, Assad Zaman, Dr David Landrum & Dr Stephen De Wijze.
Producer: Dan Tierney
Punishment and Justice
The Sentencing Bill – one of seven criminal justice bills trailed in this week’s Queen’s Speech – will aim to keep serious or violent criminals behind bars for longer than at present. It’s part of the government’s ‘tougher’ approach to law and order, along with an increase in the number of police officers and an avowed intention to give victims a louder voice in the criminal justice system. The Home Secretary Priti Patel says she wants to make criminals ‘feel terror’ on the streets. Polling suggests that nearly three quarters of British adults agree with her. These changes in policy prompt a number of ethical questions: Is fear an effective motivator for preventing crime? Are longer prison sentences a just and effective form of punishment? How grim should life in prison be, when the deprivation of liberty alone might be thought punishment enough? Once we’ve decided what we mean by ‘punishment’, what should we demand of the enforcers – particularly the police, the prosecutors and the courts? A notion of justice that emphasises retribution over rehabilitation? One that tips the balance towards sympathy for victim and away from seeking to understand the criminal? Does the high rate of re-offending demonstrate that prison doesn’t work – or that redemption is rare? Should we try to be more understanding about why people commit crimes? The Gospel of Luke says that from those to whom much has been given, much will be required – so should the circumstances into which someone has been born be weighed and acknowledged in the punishment they receive? Or should justice be blind, swayed by the hard-luck stories of neither the offender nor the victim?
Producer: Dan Tierney.