if i were to edit the today programme for a day

The Independent newspaper asked me what I would include if I were able to edit the Today Programme for a day. Here is what I chose…


The historian Jonathan Spence would describe how a seventeenth century Jesuit, built a ‘memory palace’ in his mind, which allowed him to learn thousand Chinese characters in a few weeks. We’d interview performers, neuroscientists, and philosophers on the art of memory. Officials, inspectors, journalists and lawyers have made Britain one of the world’s most risk-averse societies. What are the downsides? Evolutionary biologists would describe how early human risk-takers flourished; General Lamb would discuss risk in warfare; entrepreneurs would describe the risks they took. How can we embrace risk again?

We’d look at the Scottish border, the history of border raiding and customs and discuss modern life on a cultural frontier. Scottish nationalists want independence, few English argue against. We would interview citizens and Gordon Brown and ask ‘Why are so few fighting for the Union?’

The new Localism bill gives unprecedented power to local communities. We’d profile community organizers such as Libby Bateman who are changing service-delivery and planning policy. Communities are now building superfast broadband networks, which transform access to health and education, help businesses and allow rural villages to thrive. Miles Mandelson would describe building his own village network. How far can local activists go? Across rural Britain, passionate, well-informed groups fight wind turbines, arguing that the technology is inadequate, the subsidies excessive and the turbines are damaging to both landscape and residents. We’d interview activists such as Duncan Griggs and explore the history. What do environmentalists make of it? How is government responding? Do these campaigns herald a localist revolution?

Finally, Paddy Ashdown and others would reflect on the life of American diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, who served in all the major interventions since Vietnam and ask what we can learn from these adventures and whether the West will ever intervene again.

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