Moral Maze

Moral Maze

By BBC Radio 4

Combative, provocative and engaging live debate examining the moral issues behind one of the week's news stories. #moralmaze


How can we reduce the temperature of politics?

The attempted assassination of former US president Donald Trump was a dark day for American politics. We don’t know whether the gunman was induced to kill - as some commentators have suggested - by the current political climate. Nevertheless, it appears that the line between passionate criticism and incitement to violence is becoming increasingly blurred. Words matter, but calls to curb speech beyond current laws are immediately met with opposition by those who see freedom of speech as essential to democracy. And yet, the abuse and intimidation of politicians also threatens democracy. In the UK the government’s adviser on political violence, Lord Walney, has written to the Home Secretary saying there has been a "concerted campaign by extremists to create a hostile atmosphere for MPs within their constituencies to compel them to cave into political demands". All parties seek to control the narrative through forceful language, hyperbolic rhetoric, and attacks on opponents, but when do words become dangerous? Politics is tribal, but when does tribalism become toxic? If democracy is a system in which citizens – and tribes – can disagree without resorting to violence, what can be done to strengthen democracy? Is it possible to turn down the political heat without losing the passion? PANEL: Mona Siddiqui Matthew Taylor Sonia Sodha Inaya Folarin Iman.WITNESSES: Hannah Phillips - from the Jo Cox Foundation John McTernan - Political Secretary to UK PM Tony Blair, and Director of Communications for Australian PM Julia Gillard Brian Klass - Associate Professor in Global Politics at University College London Nicholas Gruen - policy economist and visiting professor at King's College London's Policy InstituteProducer: Dan Tierney Assistant Producer: Ruth Purser
18/07/2456m 37s

The Morality of Stepping Down

The idea of when to step down is front and centre in American politics as 81 year old Joe Biden continues in the Presidential race despite concerns about his mental agility. His performance in a recent TV debate has sown doubt among supporters with polls suggesting some are losing faith in his abilities. ‘Pass the torch Joe’ said one placard as he declared his intention to keep going. Are the elderly blcoking the young if they cling on to powerful and influence ? Does it skew society even more in favour of older people who seem to have had it better when it comes to pensions, homeownership and the opportunity to save money? Gerontologists say that society is ageist, that most people are not like Biden and will hit barriers to staying in work once they get older. That these barriers have to be cleared because as the population gets older we all need to stay in the workforce for longer.Wisdom is said to come with age but if you have a fulfilling job, how do you check that you are still capable of continuing? Will those around you tell you the truth ? Is it pride that keeps elderly people in powerful positions, a sense that they are irreplacable, an unwillingness to give up something that defines them and take on another role. What's the morality of stepping down?Witnesses: Dorothy Byrne, President of Murray Edwards College Mary-Kate Cary, Professor of Politics at the Univeristy of Virginia David Sinclair, Chief Executive of the International Longevity Centre Dr Erica Benner, Political Philosopher and HistorianPanel: Inaya Folarin-Iman, Mona Siddiqui, Matthew Taylor,Ella WhelanPresenter: Michael Buerk Producer: Catherine Murray Assistant Producer: Ruth Purser Production Co-ordinator: Nancy Bennie Editor: Tim Pemberton
11/07/2456m 43s

What is history for?

Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? Well, Camden Council for a start, who’ve put a QR code on her statue in Bloomsbury explaining that some of views and actions of the prototype feminist, widely regarded as one of the leading modernist writers of the 20th century, are now considered “offensive” and “unacceptable”. Funny how we look back for drama and moral clarity, not just judging the past by the prejudices of the present, but affecting to see in its messiness either inevitable progress, or relentless decline. More and more, it seems, history is a weapon with which to fight today’s battles. What should history teach us? Witnesses: Professor Ada Palmer Professor Kehinde Andrews Dr Amanda Foreman Professor Robert TombsPanellists: Anne McElvoy Ash Sarkar Tim Stanley Matthew TaylorPresenter: Michael BuerkProducers: Catherine Murray & Peter Everett Assistant Producer: Ruth Purser Editor: Tim Pemberton
04/07/2456m 30s

Price vs Value of Arts and Culture

Taylor Swift fever has swept the UK week. She’s back in August and fans have been paying hundreds sometimes thousands to get their hands on seats through resale sites. It’s led us to think about the price and value of art and culture. St Thomas Aquinas came up with the ‘just price’ theory, that it is wrong to sell something for more than it is worth and charging more based on the need of the buyer is exploitative and sinful. Is that what is going on when punters are asked to stump up for a once in a lifetime experience? In Latin the word pretium means both value and price, but the two are not interchangeable when it comes to the arts. How can you put a price on a potentially transcendent experience, or the life changing power of art? Is that what makes good art and is that what is worth paying for? Do live events culture have a value in itself aside from the economic impact? What does it mean for society when people are priced out? Should governments pick up the bill to make sure everyone has access to the arts. Or are they just an indulgence, a nice way to spend your leisure time but not something deserving of funds in comparison to global problems like poverty or malaria.Presenter: Michael Buerk Panel: Inaya Folarin-Iman James Orr Professor Mona Siddiqui Matthew TaylorWitnesses: Christopher Snowdon, Head of Lifestyle Economics at the IEA Professor Mel Jordan, Professor of Art and the Public Sphere, Coventry University Matt Reardon, Advisor at 80,000 Hours Professor Paul Gough, Vice Chancellor of the Arts University BournemouthPresenter: Michael Buerk Producer: Catherine Murray Assistant Producer: Ruth Purser Programme Co-ordinator Nancy Bennie & Pete Liggins Editor: Tim Pemberton
27/06/2456m 35s

Do we need a final farewell?

The way we grieve is changing and that is seen most starkly by the rise of the direct cremation and the no fuss funeral. I in 5 people of people opted for a direct cremation last year, a startling figure that’s risen 3 fold in 5 years. At it’s most basic the direct cremation means the final journey is purely functional. Body taken unaccompanied to an unknown crematorium. You can even get the ashes posted back through the letterbox. It's cheaper and you can mark the last hurrah with a party or memorial service or perhaps even nothing at all. What does this changing trend say about our respect for human dignity as a society or is this just another step in the removal of religion from the lives of a significant part of the population. Only a quarter of people in the UK now want a religious funeral. The rise of direct cremation could also be a sign that mourners are throwing off the shackles of inherited tradition and religious belief to decide how they want to grieve. Direct cremations and DIY celebrations cut out the reality of death and if there’s no grieving at the graveside or standing in a crematorium what do we lose? There's another aspect to consider. The digital afterlife is one where someone never leaves. Grieftech can keep us in touch with AI loved ones . Instead of the finality of a funeral we could be conversing forever with the deceased. Do we need a final farewell?Presenter: William Crawley Panellists: Anne McElvoy, James Orr, Matthew Taylor, Ella Whelan Witnesses: Rosie Millard, Dr Madeleine Pennington, Justin Harrison, Prof Linda Wheeler. Producer: Catherine Murray & Peter Everett Assistant Producer: Ruth Purser Editor: Rajeev Gupta
20/06/2456m 56s

Democracy - is our system morally superior?

It will soon be time to vote in the General Election. A moment for us all to play our part in democracy. The theory is that politicians do their best to get elected, and then do all the right things so they are re-elected next time round. But in practice it can be difficult for governments to do what really needs to be done and still stay in power. A good example is climate change: There is a broad consensus that very urgent action is needed, and yet as the election nears, there's little from the major parties promising radical, decisive action, because they fear that voters don't really want it.If liberal democracy can’t solve our problems, can it at least unite us around the principle that everyone’s point of view is worth hearing?  Well no, not any more.  For every listener to good old Radio 4 there are many more who get their news from social media and their opinions from their silo of friends.  Is it too cynical to suggest that voters are short-sighted, selfish and stubbornly wrong-headed?  And what about the quality of our leaders? Does anyone think our political system is serving up the nation's finest?Some say our democracy isn’t democratic enough.  They fear excessive influence by lawyers, quangos, peers, and press barons.  Others applaud activists for challenging the worst excesses of a corrupt Commons. Three cheers, they say, for the unelected European Court of Human Rights and the judges who go easy on civil disobedience while thwarting the Home Office over asylum policy.Do we still believe that our democracy is morally the least-worst system, when it seems incapable of producing long-term solutions to the most urgent problems?  Can we learn anything at all from authoritarian states that seem better at simply getting things done? In this special edition of the Moral Maze, recorded at the Hay Festival, we ask - what is the moral basis for claiming that our version of democracy is superior?  Presenter: Michael Buerk Producers: Jonathan Hallewell, Peter Everett and Ruth Purser Editor: Tim Pemberton
17/06/2457m 4s

The morality of forgiveness

The Legacy Act in Northern Ireland provides a conditional amnesty for people who committed crimes during the Troubles, as part of a broader process of reconciliation. It’s an attempt to draw a line under events of the past, but it’s generated anger among the families of some victims, who feel they’ll be denied justice. When things go wrong, we need to find people to blame. Who’s responsible? Who should be punished? But might we do better if we were prepared to blame less – prioritising the truth, and forgive more? It's been proposed that the NHS adopts a no-blame system where staff don’t lose their jobs if they admit a failure, so the NHS learns quickly from its mistakes. The “no-blame culture” idea already exists in parts of the US aviation industry where people are encouraged, even praised, for owning up to mistakes that could cost lives. If blame means disgrace and the end of a career, it’s hardly surprising that people hide the truth about their own failure. How many of us would admit it quickly, if we discovered that a mistake at work had led to terrible consequences? More forgiveness might lead to greater openness and honesty. It could make it easier to avoid mistakes being repeated. But is it moral to forgive serious wrongdoing? Where is the justice in that? Surely the fear of blame is a powerful incentive for us all to do our jobs properly and avoid mistakes. Do we need more forgiveness – or less? Presenter: Michael Buerk Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Assistant Producer: Ruth Purser Editor: Tim Pemberton
07/03/2456m 19s

The morality of work

Many people seem to be going off the idea of work. In the UK there are more than nine million people who are "economically inactive". Some are unemployed, some are students, others are not actively looking for a job or available to start work. There’s no shortage of jobs, but people are choosing not to take them. Many people decided not to return to work after the Covid lockdowns. They reduced their working hours or took early retirement, choosing the golf course over the office. For some, it’s a moral failure that so many are economically inactive. But why do we ascribe such virtue to the idea of work? Politicians endlessly refer to "hard working families", perhaps inducing a sense of entitlement among workers, but in the process stoking resentment against those who don't work. Of course the economy relies on work - the wheels only turn when enough people are employed and paying tax. Some believe the benefits system is to blame - if it's too comfortable not to work - then why bother? But there’s also the broader societal shift where people choose to work less, or not at all and live a more modest but perhaps less stressful life. Is this a laudable position, where people prioritise wellbeing over wealth and status, or a selfish one that denies the collective responsibility we all bear to contribute to society, through labour and taxes? The personal value of work might feel clearer if your job is rewarding and well paid, but less so if you’re on a low income. What is the moral value of work? Presenter: Michael Buerk Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Assistant Producer: Ruth Purser Editor: Tim Pemberton
28/02/2456m 40s

The morality of immigration

This week it emerged that Abdul Ezedi, hunted by police after an attack on a woman and her daughters with a corrosive liquid, was granted asylum after being convicted of sexual assault. He'd converted to Christianity, which could have put him at risk in his native Afghanistan. It’s just the latest story stirring debate about one of the most divisive issues of our times - immigration. In 2022 net migration hit a record 745,000. That’s more people than live in many of Britain’s biggest cities. Last week the Office for National Statistics predicted that the population could rise by nearly 10% between 2021 and 2036. The overwhelming majority of immigrants are legal. Economists are split on the costs and benefits of immigration. Some suggest that it could help tackle a demographic timebomb as our population ages. Britain also attracts some of the world’s most capable and highly qualified people, driving up our wealth-creating potential. National life is enriched culturally and socially. Isn’t there also a moral imperative to open our doors to people from countries troubled by war, oppression and climate change? But immigration has been high for decades without a clear electoral mandate. Some neighbourhoods have been transformed, raising concerns over social cohesion. It’s added to the pressure on housing and on creaking public services. Is it right that whole industries rely on immigrants willing to work for low pay – social care, health and hospitality? What is a desirable level of immigration? How should the balance be struck between the demands of our economy and social cohesion? What’s the moral case for immigration?Presenter: Michael Buerk Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Assistant Producer: Linda Walker Editor: Tim Pemberton
26/02/2456m 25s

The morality of marriage

It’s Valentine’s Day, when we celebrate romantic love, and is there anything more romantic than getting married? It’s the way all those old films end, after all the “will they, won’t they”, the couple finally tie the knot, the titles roll and we all enjoy the warm certainty that they’re sorted for life. What’s not to love about marriage? A lifelong commitment to care for each other... a solemn promise rooted in love… perhaps the foundation for starting a family. But for many, marriage is losing its gloss. The latest government figures suggest that the proportion of adults in England and Wales who are married has, for the first time, fallen below 50%. The rise of pre-nuptial agreements signals a change in levels of confidence about marriage. Is forever still forever? If it probably isn’t – then let’s just plan ahead for when it all goes wrong. We live much longer than in the past, so “til death us do part” is likely to be a very long time indeed. Perhaps it’s now unreasonable to expect a lifelong commitment. Short of that, are human beings even built for monogamy? If love dies in a marriage, should that be the end, or is marital commitment broader than that? There is some evidence that outcomes for children are better if parents are married, and some people see it as a fundamental building block of society. But is there a moral value to marriage? Is it a striving for what is finest about being human, the highest realisation of not just romantic love, but of that important social unit – the couple? Or just an old fashioned idea, rooted in outdated traditions, all wrapped up in a sentimental rose tinted fantasy?Presenter: Michael Buerk Producers: Jonathan Hallewell and Peter Everett Assistant Producer: Ruth Purser Editor: Tim Pemberton
26/02/2455m 44s

The moral case for veganism

It emerged this week that scientists in South Korea have created a new kind of “meaty” rice, with high levels of protein.  The grains are packed with beef muscle and fat cells – all grown in a lab.  It’s just the latest of many meat-alternatives that are helping people to eat less meat.  Supermarkets are responding to public demand by offering an ever wider choice of plant-based foods.  But while we might not need to eat meat, most of us really enjoy it.The goal posts are shifting in the age old debate about the morality of meat.  Whatever you think about the industrial breeding of animals, to be slaughtered and served up for our pleasure, there’s now another compelling argument for us to stop, or at least cut back – meat production significantly contributes to climate change.  In the last decade, the number of vegans in the UK has increased steeply, but it’s still small. Estimates vary between about 2% and 3% of the population.  Many more are vegetarian, who avoid meat and fish, but eat dairy.  There are also flexitarians, who mainly choose a plant-based diet, but do occasionally eat meat.   A moral argument that was once focused on whether humans have the right to exploit animals has become a broader debate that includes protecting the planet for future generations.  Some say it’s natural for humans to eat meat, indeed we have evolved to do so.  Others think it’s barbaric and the effects of the meat and dairy industry on the climate have made the argument for veganism overwhelming.   What’s the moral case for veganism?Presenter: Michael Buerk Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Assistant Producer: Ruth Purser Editor: Tim Pemberton
26/02/2456m 53s

The Purpose of Punishment

The last week saw two contrasting examples of how societies treat killers. Valdo Calocane, who killed three people in Nottingham and tried to kill three more, avoided jail and was instead sent to a secure hospital for life because of his mental illness. One of the victim’s relatives protested that he “got away with murder”. Meanwhile in America, convicted murderer Kenneth Smith became the first person in the US to be executed using nitrogen gas.Calocane’s charge was reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility because of his paranoid schizophrenia. The mother of one of his victims objected and complained that the families were not consulted. The Attorney General will be reviewing the sentence. It’s raised questions about what punishment is for: Is it for criminals – to provide the suffering they deserve, or reform them or deter future offenders? Or is it for victims – providing retribution and a sense of fairness to them? Victims are uniquely placed to appreciate the true impact of crime, so shouldn't their perspective have a greater weight in the judicial process? Would a bigger role for victims improve or hinder justice? What’s the purpose of punishment and can it ever provide justice for the most serious offenders, and their victims?Presenter: Michael Buerk Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Assistant Producer: Linda Walker Editor: Tim Pemberton
01/02/2456m 53s

Ukraine - the moral case for ceding land for peace

It’s now nearly two years since Russia began its full scale invasion of Ukraine. Hopes that Ukraine might seize back its territory have been dashed, in a conflict that’s become deadlocked. At first it felt clear – the invasion is wrong, Putin must fail and be seen to fail, Ukraine’s defiance and bravery must be supported with everything its allies can provide. But as the death, destruction and bloodshed continues, with little sign of progress on either side, questions have been raised about how the war might ever be brought to an end. How realistic is it for Ukraine to aspire to recapture all of its land, even Crimea? This year’s US presidential election has sharpened the focus: A Trump victory could threaten Ukraine’s future supply of arms. Some believe Russia would settle for the land it has already captured. If so, for Ukraine the bitter pill of ceding some 20% of its territory would at least bring the war to an end. But what’s the moral case for this? What’s the real value of peace – bought at the cost of justice? If western powers are seen to allow aggression to win the day in Ukraine, what message would that send to Vladimir Putin and other tyrants around the world? In Ukraine, what’s the moral case for ceding land for peace?Presenter: Michael Buerk Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Assistant Producer: Linda Walker Editor: Tim Pemberton
26/01/2456m 47s

Is it time to allow assisted dying?

Nearly a decade since MPs in Westminster voted against allowing terminally ill people to end their own life, assisted dying is climbing back up the political agenda. The Health and Social Care Committee is due to publish the first report of its kind on the subject after a year-long inquiry. Meanwhile, the Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer has said there are "grounds for changing the law”, UK medical bodies continue to drop their opposition to the idea, and polls suggest around two-thirds of the public are in favour. Assisted dying raises profound moral questions which shake the core of our humanity. What does it mean to live – and to die – well? Is it more dignified to live with suffering or to die without it? If life is a sacred gift, and a marker of our equal dignity, should we, or anyone else, be able to control when it ends? If death is the most dignified response to suffering, how much suffering is too much, and who should decide?Those who describe constant physical pain and a loss of bodily autonomy say that isn’t living at all. Should we be guided principally by compassion in these situations? Or does the good intention of irradicating suffering risk a chilling effect in which people are pressured into re-appraising whether their lives are worth living?Is it time to allow assisted dying? Panel: Mona Siddiqui, Inaya Folarin Iman, Matthew Taylor, Giles Fraser Witnesses: Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain, Professor Kevin Yuill, Zoe Hyatt Marley, Dr Miro Griffiths Producer: Dan Tierney.
18/01/2456m 16s

Identity Labels

Is it moral to attach identity labels to ourselves and others? We often label people by nationality, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, disability and many more categories. Is this a good and helpful or something that should be avoided?The King has said that he wants the UK to be ‘a community of communities’, whereas some commentators have said that this is a call for permanent racial division in our society. Have the use of labels increased or diminished racism and other forms of prejudice society? Labels can identify an individual as a member of a collective. Others want the unique identity of each of us to be respected for its differences from everyone else. If our loyalty should be to a group, should that group be defined by the colour of its skin, its politics or its passports?Panellists: Giles Fraser, Sonia Sodha, Tim Stanley & Ash Sarkar Producer: Peter Everett
22/11/2356m 48s

Should politics be guided by public opinion?

Should politicians respect, despise, accommodate or ignore public opinion? Rishi Sunak is looking for a policy he can pop into place between now and the general election that will avoid a Labour landslide. He is being advised that abolishing inheritance tax will tickle the tummies of the Tory not-so-faithful. Meanwhile, Sir Keir Starmer wants government planners to “bulldoze” local objections when deciding where to put new housing developments. Can a government get away with ignoring public opinion? Well, it can in constituencies it’s never going to win. Politics nowadays is not merely ‘guided’ by polls, surveys, databases and focus groups… it is controlled by them. But is that good for the country? Is the advice they generate either wise or moral? Are the public obsessed with issues that don’t matter, while they ignore the ones that do? There is a case to be made against taking any notice of what the public thinks about anything. We know that the public thinks short-term, and that its opinions on political issues are ill-informed. Public opinion is inconsistent, incoherent and volatile. And yet democracy is built on the principle that the majority must get its way. And it’s not just politicians (and Simon Cowell) who flatter the electorate with talk of the ‘wisdom’ of the Great British Public. Lots of people seem to think that majority opinion will usually be wise, kind and helpful. But then, many also believe the moon landing was staged. Panellists: Anne McElvoy, Melanie Philips, Mona Siddiqui & Matthew TaylorPresenter: Michael Buerk Producers: Peter Everett & Jonathan Hallewell Editor: Tim Pemberton
22/11/2356m 22s

How should we remember the dead and the living?

The Met police has warned of a "growing" risk of violence and disorder this Remembrance weekend. The Prime Minister has described a planned pro-Palestinian protest in London on Armistice Day as “provocative and disrespectful” to those who wish to remember the war dead “in peace and dignity”. The Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said it was "a stain on our common humanity" that so many seem to have "lost sight of the moral distance between Hamas and Israel". Others, however, strongly refute the description of the demonstrations as “hate marches”, believing that the protesters should be allowed to campaign for a ceasefire and an end to the killing; and to show solidarity with Palestinians without undermining either the remembrance events or the humanity of Israelis. The polarising nature of the Israel-Hamas war and its repercussions in the UK has resulted in both sides accusing the other of ‘weaponising’ remembrance. Public attitudes to commemoration have changed over the last century and notions of a country honouring the ultimate sacrifice of its soldiers can be hard to disentangle politically from conflicts of the day. What are we really doing on Remembrance Day? While for some it is a deep expression of sorrow for the dead and a formal commitment to peace, others believe it risks celebrating past acts of killing, which translates into justifying present militarism and violence. If rising conflicts around the world suggest humanity has not learned from the mistakes of the past – what is the moral purpose of remembrance? How should we remember the dead as well as those who are living through conflict today?Producer: Dan Tierney.
10/11/2356m 57s

Are prisons doing more harm than good?

The UK’s prisons are full, their corridors are understaffed and their Victorian buildings are crumbling. The answer, at least at the moment, is to lock up fewer criminals. The justice secretary has announced plans this week to phase out short sentences – anything less than 12 months - because they produce “hardened criminals rather than rehabilitated offenders.” Prison reformers have long argued that short sentences don’t work anyway, citing a reoffending rate of over 50%. Others believe that the justice system is already too soft. Community sentences, they insist, send out the wrong message to criminals and open the door to further lawbreaking. Who should and who shouldn’t go to prison? There’s a wider question; are prisons upholding or undermining justice? Reform campaigners say that prisons are failing both society and the prisoners themselves. The best outcome for everyone is the rehabilitation of criminals, and if that isn’t possible inside prison, it should be explored outside. Others see the redemption of criminals as secondary to justice for their victims and protection for their communities. Depending on how people see it, prisons are either too harsh or too lax. How should the justice system decide whether to wield the carrot or the stick? Can punishment itself be a necessary step towards rehabilitation? Or is prison too often a futile expression of collective vengeance? Are prisons doing more harm than good? Producer: Dan Tierney.
19/10/2356m 38s

How should we think about our enemies?

The surprise attack by Hamas was devastating, leaving hundreds of Israeli civilians dead, injured or taken hostage. Israel’s response was swift, with airstrikes on Gaza killing hundreds of Palestinians, including children. The scale of the attack was unprecedented, but the cycle of violence and escalation is all too familiar in this land that has been contested for more than a century. Now another generation sees the bloodshed at first hand. Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, so for many Jews this is about survival. At the same time, many Palestinians have come to see Israel as a brutal oppressor. Each side sees the other as an existential threat. Even those who refuse to define their neighbours across the Gaza border as ‘the enemy’ may find themselves defined in those terms against their will – and threatened with death. How should we understand conventional rules of morality in such intractable circumstances? What is a proportionate response to an act of aggression? And what conditions are necessary for a realistic peace process to take hold? Perhaps the most radical statement in all of human history is “love your enemies”. Those who are pessimistic about peace in the Middle East might dismiss that as naïve. But there are some who can give us real-life examples of the human capacity to rise above anger and grief for a greater good. How should we think about our enemies?With Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer, Atef Alshaer, Gabrielle Rifkind, Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin.Producer: Dan Tierney.
12/10/2356m 33s

Is impartiality a myth?

The BBC has published new guidance on how its big name presenters can use social media. Those working in news and current affairs are still bound by strict rules on impartiality, which the BBC sees as being fundamental to its reputation, values and the trust of its audiences. But the presenters of other programmes are free to express their political views, as long as they don’t “endorse or attack a political party."While impartiality means not favouring one side over another, news broadcasters are subject to a subtler version of it: “due impartiality”. That means different perspectives don’t necessarily have to be given equal weight. But which perspectives and how much weight? That’s a matter of judgment.The changing media landscape has brought new challenges to the principle of impartiality. The media regulator Ofcom has recently investigated GB News. Among their alleged breaches of impartiality was an item in which the Conservative Chancellor was interviewed by two other Conservative MPs. The spiritual heirs of Lord Reith believe that media impartiality is a moral good and a central pillar of democracy in an age of populism and polarisation. Sceptics suggest that the pursuit of impartiality can create problems of its own, putting ignorance and expertise on an equal footing. Beyond broadcasting, how much should we as individuals strive for impartiality? Is it possible to look at historical events through an objective lens? While psychology tells us we all have cognitive biases, psychologists disagree about how much they can be corrected. Is it possible to be truly impartial about ourselves and others? Producer: Dan Tierney
06/10/2356m 41s

The Language of Freedom

Michael Buerk chairs a special Moral Maze debate recorded at 'HowTheLightGetsIn' festival of philosophy and music.The language of freedom permeates our political debate. In the US, it may be a decisive battleground in the 2024 presidential election. The problem is that people mean very different things by it. Is it freedom from government regulation or freedom to have an abortion? Freedom of speech or freedom from discrimination? Freedom to own a gun or freedom for communities to ban them?A distinction is often made between positive and negative freedom. Negative freedom is the absence of constraints (‘freedom from’) – while positive freedom is the possibility of acting in such a way as to take control of one’s life (‘freedom to’). Libertarians often see individual freedom - the private enjoyment of one’s life and goods, free from interference – as the most fundamental value that any society should pursue and protect. This view is challenged by those who believe wealth, health and educational inequalities inevitably mean some people are more free than others, and seek instead to promote the collective freedom of society as a whole.If a society in which there is a complete absence of restraint is as dystopian as one in which our every action is controlled, how should we navigate the trade-offs between individual freedom and other goods, like security and collective wellbeing? Is the language of freedom helpful or harmful in negotiating our political differences? Deeper question: what does it mean for a human being to be free?With guests: Konstantin Kisin, Sophie Howe and James Orr.Producer: Dan Tierney.
04/10/2356m 36s

Adults, Children and Power

Labour has confirmed that it plans to allow 16 and 17 year-olds to vote in elections, in line with Scotland and Wales. The idea, they say, is to empower younger people by engaging them in the democratic process. Some older members of the electorate might raise the question of whether people under 18 have the maturity to vote. It would be no surprise to hear that argument, we were all children once and we know that adults think they’re superior. It’s nearly fifty years since the concept of “childism” was first coined by psychiatrists, to describe the automatic assumption of superiority of any adult over any child. Now, perhaps, childism is the last permissible prejudice. Discrimination that would seem shocking if applied to any other group is exercised against children and regarded as quite appropriate. Children’s freedom is constantly restricted and their views are generally dismissed. They’re told what to do, what to eat, what to wear, even what to say. Is this just responsible parenting or does it verge on oppression? Children’s minds aren’t fully developed, and they’re less well equipped to make smart decisions. They also need limits and it’s surely the job of adults to impose them, but where should the line be drawn? We should keep children safe, of course, but after that… is it better to be strict or to allow them maximum autonomy? What’s the moral basis on which we make that judgement? Attitudes have changed over the decades. We’ve moved on from the axiom that “children should be seen and not heard.” A survey out last week suggested that parents in Britain place less importance on instilling obedience in children than parents in most other countries. But maybe a little obedience would be no bad thing? What’s the moral case for exercising power over children and young people? Presenter: Michael Buerk Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Editor: Tim Pemberton
21/09/2356m 59s

Is idleness good for us?

School’s out for summer. For many, holidays are a chance to rest, unwind and empty the mind of work. For others, the long break brings additional pressures and stresses, such as childcare. It’s a period when inaction and inactivity are to be celebrated and envied. What does that reveal about our priorities? During the pandemic, many people got a glimpse of what it was like to live more simply. Aristotle writes that the greatest possible human good is contemplation, a life lived remote from endless activity. Economics has taught us that our time is money, which is a necessity. But for some it has turned human beings into ‘human doings’ – units of productivity. The philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote “In Praise of Idleness” in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, in which he called for nothing less than a total re-evaluation of work – and of leisure.Throughout history, however, idleness has, more often than not, had a bad press. St Benedict described it as “the enemy of the soul”. Sloth is one of the seven deadly sins – a failure to do what should be done. The greatest danger of idleness, some believe, is that it can slide from a state of inaction to a state of purposelessness. That’s why Christianity has long seen the positive moral value, the character-building nature, of hard work. Is idleness good for us?Producer: Dan Tierney.
27/07/2356m 33s

The Morality of Climate Activism

Wimbledon, the Ashes, the Proms and George Osborne’s wedding have all been interrupted by ‘Just Stop Oil’ protesters in recent days. Several areas of London have been brought to a standstill, provoking the ire of motorists and leading to multiple arrests. ‘Just Stop Oil’ describes itself as a “nonviolent civil resistance group demanding the UK Government stop licensing all new oil, gas and coal projects”. The Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he wouldn't be “giving in to eco-zealots” disrupting the British summer.The group’s supporters believe that blocking traffic, interrupting sporting events and vandalising artwork, are entirely proportionate in the face of an existential crisis bequeathed to our children and grandchildren. Right now, they argue, parts of Europe are literally on fire, and there is no more time left to wait for those in power to do the right thing. Their critics object to the fact that the targets of the protests are often ordinary people, who have more immediate concerns like the rising cost of living. Moreover, some believe the use of apocalyptic language is less likely to elicit a change in behaviour, since despair, like indifference, is not a good motivator. How might our descendants judge today’s climate activists? Successful movements for social change, like the Suffragettes, have historically been disrupters who, in the face of inaction, adopt increasingly radical tactics. For some, the spirit they embody is irrepressible and necessary, which means that their methods cannot always be peaceful. For others, social progress can only be fully achieved through conventional democratic means.Are acts of civil disobedience and sabotage by climate activists morally justifiable? Producer: Dan Tierney.
21/07/2356m 34s

Cluster bombs and the ethics of warfare

As NATO meets this week, the US is seeking to calm its critics over sending cluster bombs to Ukraine. Cluster munitions are banned by many countries – including the UK and most EU members. They are more indiscriminate and can leave unexploded bomblets scattered over a wide area, posing a lethal threat to civilians years after a conflict has ended. The US, which is not a signatory to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, argues that supplying these weapons is justified in the defence of Ukraine, that civilian areas would be avoided and that records would be kept to facilitate a clean-up operation after the war. While some see this as a clear concession of the moral high ground, others disagree. As one US congressman put it, “the only way it erodes the moral high ground is if either you're an idiot, or you're rooting for Russia in this conflict." What should be the ethical rules of conduct in warfare, when the goal of opposing armies is to perpetrate, and sometimes maximise, death and destruction? For some, the tragedy of war is the suspension of ethical norms. And yet, certain fundamental principles, such as proportionality of violence and discrimination between enemy combatants and non-combatants, have existed for centuries to prevent the ends being justified by any means necessary in battle. But what if the enemy has no regard for these rules? How should they be interpreted outside a philosophy seminar and in the chaos of war? While the character of war is changing, the fundamental moral issues have not. When, in warfare, is it acceptable to violate ethical principles in the hope of achieving a greater good?Producer: Dan Tierney.
13/07/2356m 53s

The Morality of Privatisation

Thames Water, which serves a quarter of the UK population, is billions of pounds in debt and on the brink of insolvency. The company has received heavy criticism, and calls for it to be nationalised, following a series of sewage discharges and leaks. The energy sector, railway companies, and the Royal Mail have faced a similar outcry in recent months. When it comes to the provision of services which are essential for our national life, the calculation is often utilitarian: which form of ownership, public or private, leads to the greater social good? Many believe that the private water, rail and energy companies are simply failing to serve the public. Meanwhile, although polling suggests most people want to keep the NHS under public ownership, many of the health outcomes of patients compare less favourably to other European countries. The privatisation versus nationalisation debate is about more than outcomes: it highlights competing visions of the good society. For some, the private sector gives us more freedom of choice as moral agents. For others, a ‘market mentality’ has crept into more and more aspects of our social and communal life, including education, and the result has been the erosion of our own moral obligations towards each other. Can the motivation for profit co-exist alongside a vision of the common good? What moral responsibilities should private companies have to society? And what are the moral limits of markets?Producer: Dan Tierney.
06/07/2356m 46s

The morality of news coverage

Comparisons have been made between the news coverage of two tragedies at sea. The first was the capsizing of a boat off the coast of Greece, in which more than 500 migrants from the Middle East and Africa are thought to have drowned. The second is the catastrophic implosion of the Titan submersible carrying five people, including a billionaire explorer, who paid a huge amount of money to see the wreck of the Titanic. While the first story made the news, the second story was rolling news. Moral Maze panellist Ash Sarkar faced a backlash when she tweeted about what she saw as the “grotesque inequality of sympathy, attention and aid... Migrants are “meant” to die at sea; billionaires aren’t.”This raises the question of the moral purpose of the news – particularly when it comes to public service broadcasting – and the difference between reporting what people want to know and what they need to know. For some, the ‘ticking clock’ coverage of the Titan tragedy was ghoulish and sensationalist. For others it was merely a reflection of the trajectory of the story: the hope, the endeavour and the jeopardy. Then there is a question of scale – does a larger body count have a greater moral claim to be covered by the news? Or is it natural for British media to reflect a greater sense of empathy for British citizens? What makes the news, what is left out, and how it is covered, is a decision made by editorial teams and individuals with their own view of what is 'newsworthy'. But what about our responsibilities as consumers of news? Does the demand for immediate clickbait sensationalism over thoughtful analysis from the other side of the world create a news environment which is out of kilter with what matters? Is this simply human nature or something we should seek to redress?What news stories should make a moral claim on our attention?Producer: Dan Tierney.
05/07/2356m 44s

Should science ever be stopped?

Scientists have created the first synthetic human embryos using stem cells. The breakthrough could help research into genetic disorders, but it raises ethical questions about the creation of life without the need for eggs or sperm. While nobody is currently suggesting growing these embryos into a baby, the rapid progress has outpaced the law. This prompts a wider question: instead of society having to play catch up with science, should we be having a more frank conversation about the moral responsibilities of science itself? Some believe that scientists need their own version of the Hippocratic Oath, a regulatory system of ethical standards, similar to doctors. Others think that will stifle creativity, enthusiasm and academic freedom. The human drive for discovery is the engine of progress – and we have demonstrably never had it so good. But are there things we should not want to discover? Are we capable of making a conscious decision to say “no further” if the potential consequences of pursuing knowledge are both good and bad? For some, science is morally-neutral, its advancement is inevitable, and it’s down to society to set the rules about what to do with the findings of scientific research. For others, simply relying on the moral-neutrality of science could be humanity’s fatal flaw, and there should be more democratically-accountable oversight of the research. If that’s the case, where should the ethical lines be drawn? As well as the consequentialist arguments, some make the distinction between science as a means of discovering the natural world and ruling it; in religious terms, between seeking to understand God and ‘playing God’. When, if ever, should we apply the brakes on science? Producer: Dan Tierney.
23/06/2356m 44s

The Morality of Borders

It’s almost impossible to imagine why anyone would risk a perilous crossing over cold, dark waters in an inflatable dinghy. This is a story of humankind: the despair – or ambition – that drove them, the wickedness of the traffickers who exploited them, and the moral dilemma of those of us already living where they want to go. History is all about borders. Two cross-party reports out this week have sought to inform the political and moral response to the ‘Illegal Migration Bill’, currently making its way through Parliament, which proposes that people who come to the UK “illegally” will be detained and permanently removed. The Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights concludes that the bill, “breaches a number of the UK’s international human rights obligations”. Meanwhile, a Home Affairs select committee report states there is "little evidence" Albanians are at risk in their country and need asylum in the UK.Migration brings into focus the competing worldviews of universalism and localism. Universalists argue that the world is shrinking, and that pandemics and climate change reveal our interdependence as one global community. It is neither moral nor in the national interest, they argue, to erect bigger borders out of a sense of protectionism. Their opponents see borders as not just territorial or political, but intrinsically moral. Borders, in their view, create moral communities in which people feel rooted and valued.How much should a country be willing to compromise the integrity of its boundaries out of compassion for non-citizens? Is it unjust to see people differently, based on where lines are drawn on a map? Would a world without borders be a better place?Producer: Dan Tierney.
15/06/2356m 27s

Football: a moral force for good?

Try telling the hordes of Manchester City fans heading to the Champions League final this weekend that the beautiful game has an ugly side. The team is on the verge of sealing an historic first Treble and glory awaits. Rival fans, however, claim they’ve bought success, with the wealth of their Abu Dhabi owners. The eye-watering sums of money invested in top-flight football raises moral questions for all fans, some of whom may feel they are entering into a Faustian pact. Newcastle United’s recent takeover by an investment fund with strong links to the Saudi state, has prompted concerns about ‘sportswashing’ – a means by which ethically dubious regimes direct attention away from their poor human rights records. Some worry that the commercialisation and uneven distribution of wealth in the game has priced hardworking fans out of watching their team, while leaving some community clubs on the brink of insolvency. There is unease not just about the institution of football but about its culture. Across Europe, high-profile black players are targets of racist abuse, there are hardly any openly gay footballers and female officials are subjected to misogyny. Others see football, on balance, as a moral force for good. Our society, they say, would be worse off without it. Far from encouraging a toxic tribalism, enthusiasts believe football brings communities together. They cite grassroots projects, funded by footballing authorities, clubs and individual players, which often go under the radar and transform people’s lives. For many fans, football is a language that knows no borders, and their home ground is a cathedral of collective transcendence. Football could be seen as a microcosm of life – the agony, the extasy, the drama, the messiness, the humanity – just ask the people of Wrexham, whose Hollywood owners, they believe, have not just injected money into their club, but meaning into their town.Producer: Dan Tierney.
08/06/2356m 39s

How should we understand ‘cancel culture’?

The gender-critical philosopher Kathleen Stock’s address to the Oxford Union this week has divided academics at the university. One group has signed a letter expressing concern that student opposition to her invite goes against free speech. A second group has written an open letter supporting the students and stating that revoking an invite is not the same as preventing someone from speaking.This case is seen by many as an example of so-called ‘cancel culture’. ‘Cancel culture’ has become such a common term that it is not always easy to understand what precisely it means and what its implications are for society. Media organisations have always made judgements about who should and should not receive a platform. What some view as censorship, others see as curating their own experience of who and what they interact with. Cancel culture on the left is often characterised as a form of secular puritanism denouncing the ‘sins’ of the age, while, as perceived on the right, it can have an overtly religious justification in the defence of so-called traditional liberal values. Those who view cancel culture as a threat to Western liberal democracy point to dramatic historic parallels: witch hunts, inquisitions, book banning. Others reflect that ostracization and social shunning have always existed as a form of accountability for an individual’s actions. Is there a difference between a person being accountable for their behaviour and being accountable for their ideas? If not, who decides what are ‘unacceptable’ ideas? Should we understand cancel culture as a deterioration of the public sphere, symptomatic of a growing illiberalism, or does it reflect the convulsions of a free society which is morally evolving into something better?
01/06/2356m 42s

How should we talk about suicide?

The tragic death of primary headteacher Ruth Perry, who took her own life when her school was set to be downgraded to “inadequate”, has prompted widespread anger from teachers and calls to reform or abolish Ofsted. Ruth Perry’s family believes that the stress of the inspection led to her suicide, and this week an article in the British Medical Journal argued that “every work-related suicide” should be investigated by the Health and Safety Executive.While some see this as an important intervention in seeking to understand and prevent further suicides, others are concerned that speculation about direct causal 'triggers' can oversimplify a complex issue. The Samaritans’ media guidelines state: “vulnerable people experiencing similar issues are more likely to over-identify with the deceased when a single reason is given”. Moreover, others are worried about the ‘weaponisation’ of individual cases of suicide by campaign groups seeking to advance wider political aims.Suicide is a highly sensitive issue and the way we talk about it matters. Across different times and cultures it has been seen as both honourable and sinful. Today, most responses start from a place of compassion, based on a better understanding of mental health. While it is vital to understand, prevent and treat suicidal thoughts, should we ever seek to rationalise or explain suicide? That question is also pertinent in the debate around assisted dying. For some, choosing to end one’s life in this way is a rational decision we should be allowed to make in certain circumstances, for others, that social acceptance would have a far-reaching impact on people's perception of the worthwhileness of their life.How should we talk about suicide? Producer: Dan Tierney.If you are suffering distress or despair and need support, including urgent support, a list of organisations that can help is available at
25/05/2356m 23s

AI - the end of humanity or the next evolutionary step?

AI – the end of humanity or the next evolutionary step?Computers are becoming more powerful. Much more powerful. Last week, Gordon Moore, the co-founder of Intel Corporation died. A computer industry billionaire, he came up with ‘Moore’s Law’ which observed that the power of computers doubles every couple of years. Today a microchip can contain 50 billion transistors, each narrower than a strand of human DNA. The war of the robots has begun. Microsoft’s ‘ChatGPT’ and its rival, Google’s ‘Bard’ allow you to have a conversation with a computer, much as you would with another person. But it’s not just talk. As well as writing essays, presentations, legal documents and sermons, artificial intelligence can also produce art. We’ve accepted that machines can beat us at chess, but might they soon also beat us at poetry, painting and music? Could they make Shakespeare look second rate? Or will art without human input always be worthless? Some people are impressed by the quality of what AI can create, but others are scared. It’s one thing for computers to process our knowledge, but quite another when a machine starts to teach itself. If it behaves just like a real person, will we trust it more than we should? Can machines display morality and if not, is it safe to allow them to make decisions for us? We worry that AI might take over our jobs, but should we really be worrying that it might replace humanity altogether? Some see AI as the next evolutionary step, the latest development by mankind, with potential to transform lives for the better. But what are the risks in asking technology, however impressive, to solve human problems? Should we be excited by AI, or could artificial intelligence mark the start of the end of humanity?Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Presenter: Michael Buerk Editor: Tim Pemberton
31/03/2342m 54s

Is Growth a False God?

Is Growth a False God?Last week’s budget was, according to the Chancellor, about growth. Whenever politicians talk about their plans these days, it’s always about growth. The arguments are clear: Until we generate more growth, we can’t get any richer and wages can’t increase either. It’s urgent too: The UK will be the only major economy apart from Russia to shrink this year, according to forecasts from the OECD. But not everyone is convinced that increasing growth makes us happier, or even that it’s sustainable.Some believe the pursuit of growth attaches too little value to wellbeing, that it neglects what should be the real priority, people’s contentment and happiness. Government policies lead us, they claim, to work harder and for longer than we want to. They suggest it creates a culture that values our economic activity, earning money and spending it, over other important roles such as caring for children and elderly relatives, maintaining our community, or charitable work. Some ecological economists believe that endless growth is unachievable without climate breakdown, that it simply can’t be sustained without irreversible damage to the planet.What is the moral case for the pursuit of growth? The political orthodoxy is that a growing economy is good for everyone. Growth drives up pay; welfare payments depend on tax revenues; pension providers rely on stock market growth for their returns. So don’t we all have an interest in continuous growth? Or have we created a world where our leaders care more about GDP than our happiness? Has growth become a false God?Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Presenter: Michael Buerk Editor: Tim Pemberton
23/03/2342m 48s

Is pacifism admirable, immoral, or just impractical?

Is pacifism virtuous, admirable, impractical, immoral or stupid?War and militarism are in the news every day. In the Budget, the Chancellor announced an extra £11bn in defence spending over the next five years, to counter threats from hostile states. It comes alongside news of a new defence pact with the US and Australia in response to Chinese military power. The war in Ukraine has seen advanced weapons rushed in by Western countries to support the fight against Russia. But alongside the talk of battles and territory won and lost, there is also talk of the horrors of war. There are renewed demands for peace, and some say it should be peace at any price. In Germany, protest marchers assert that sending more weapons to Ukraine pours fuel on the fire, causing more death, misery and destruction. They claim to detect a change of mood and point out that the latest film adaptation of “All Quiet on the Western Front”, a 1929 novel by the German pacifist, Erich Maria Remarque, has just picked up four Oscars to add to its 14 Baftas. Western leaders insist that Russia most lose the war, and be seen to lose, but is it really better to create more bloodshed, sacrifice more lives, in order to achieve something closer to justice? Forcing Ukraine to negotiate now and inevitably cede territory could bring the violence to an end and start the process of rebuilding. Or is that “giving in” and encouraging further aggression by Russia and others? Is pacifism virtuous and admirable? Immoral and stupid? Or is it, perhaps just impractical? What is the moral case for choosing peace over justice?Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Presenter: William Crawley Editor: Gill Farrington
16/03/2342m 49s

Breach of Trust

Breach of TrustWhen the journalist Isabel Oakeshott broke her promise and passed Matt Hancock's personal WhatsApp messages to the Daily Telegraph, was she morally justified in doing so? She didn't just go back on her word to the former health secretary, but broke a legally-binding Non Disclosure Agreement. She claims that "no journalist worth their salt" would have acted otherwise and insists her obligations to Mr Hancock were outweighed by the public interest served by releasing the messages. But others see it differently. It was, they claim, a decision aimed at promoting her own view that government lockdown measures during the pandemic were excessive. Journalists often cite the "public interest" when it can seem that their actions are more about advancing a particular cause, or about selling their story because the "public are interested". Aside from journalism, when is a breach of trust justified in any human relationship? For many professionals, there's an understanding that confidentiality does sometimes have to be broken. The police, social workers, doctors, teachers and even the clergy grapple with often difficult judgements about the morality of betraying trust. At times, promises are broken with the justification that it's for "the greater good". But is there really no such a thing as a truly solemn "never to be broken" promise? Or are all our confidences, our shared stories and discreet conversations rather loose arrangements, conditional on other loyalties and pressures? In our personal relationships, should we be less ready to make promises we can't keep, and also avoid asking others to do the same? What are the moral limits to our obligation to keep a secret, and how can we know when it's right to breach someone's trust?Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Presenter: William Crawley Editor: Helen Grady
09/03/2342m 23s

Leaders with faith

Leaders with FaithThe first hustings in the election of the new leader of the Scottish National Party were held this week. The winner will become Scotland’s first minister. But so far the coverage of the campaign has been more about religion than policy. One of the three candidates, Kate Forbes is a member of the Free Church of Scotland and has faced criticism from within her party for saying that she would have voted against gay marriage, had she been an MSP in 2014. She also said that according to her religious beliefs, having a child outside of marriage was wrong. Several of her backers have withdrawn their support and others have questioned whether such views make her an appropriate choice to lead the country. But why should traditional religious beliefs like this be a barrier to achieving high office? Forbes insists that it’s possible to be a person of faith, while still supporting the rights of others. Although she would have opposed the legalisation of same sex marriage, she says that as a “servant of democracy” she would now defend the legal right to gay marriage “to the hilt”. Religious belief used to be seen by most people as a private matter. It was also generally regarded as a positive attribute in a senior politician, evidence perhaps of a strong moral compass. So what has changed in our attitudes to faith and should it affect how we choose our leaders? Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Presenter: Michael Buerk
03/03/2342m 24s

How should Britain make amends for its colonial past?

How should Britain make amends for its colonial past? Should museums in the UK return historic artefacts to their countries of origin? Many items displayed in museums were looted in colonial times and now there are campaigns for them to be returned. There's a related question of whether Britain should pay reparations for its role in the slave trade. Attitudes to both of these questions have shifted in recent years. Some of the Benin Bronzes, looted by the British Army in 1897 have been returned to Nigeria. The British Museum is now in talks over how the Elgin Marbles, removed from the Parthenon Temple in Greece in the 19th century, might be displayed in Athens. Recently the Church of England set up a fund, worth £100m, to address the past wrongs of its involvement with slavery. The church has expressed shame that it invested in, and made money from the slave trade. The fund will be used to benefit communities affected by historic slavery. Several universities have taken similar steps. But is this an appropriate way to acknowledge the suffering caused during Britain's colonial past? Some believe that while it's appropriate to openly admit Britain's role in slavery, it’s impossible to repair the damage done and it's wrong to expect British people today to pay reparation to the descendants of enslaved people. Others say that the economic cost of slavery is still being felt by those descendants. It's a debt that needs to be paid. It’s also suggested that paying reparation is a valuable step in tackling the racism that still exists today. What moral obligations of restitution and reparation do we inherit from our ancestors? What rights of redress can we claim for what was done to our forebears? How should Britain make amends for its colonial past?Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Presenter: Michael Buerk
23/02/2342m 9s

Why does God allow natural disasters to happen?

Why does God allow natural disasters to happen? The devastation following the recent earthquakes in Turkey and Syria has been appalling. Already more than 41,000 people have died. Extraordinary stories have emerged as people have been rescued after spending days trapped under rubble. Those small moments of respite have been greeted with heartfelt prayers of thanks for each life saved. The blame for the earthquake and the shocking loss of life has been placed not on God’s shoulders, but on the planning officials and builders who allowed fragile homes to be built. But if God really is almighty and good, why does he allow natural disasters like this to happen? It’s a recurring moral conundrum, but if God is given credit for the splendour and beauty of nature, why then isn’t he also held responsible for the destruction and suffering caused by forces completely beyond the control of people? Some see this as a compelling argument against the existence of a good and almighty God. Others suggest that we can never fully understand divinity and it makes no sense to apply such crude moral questions to God. What is certain is that religion provides many believers with great consolation in times like this, when sorrow and suffering are all around. Also, many of those providing support in the rescue effort do so inspired by their faith. Producer: Jonathan Hallewell Presenter: Michael Buerk
16/02/2342m 38s

Morality and Money

In her first public comments since leaving office, the Ex-PM Liz Truss has argued that her plans to boost economic growth were brought down by "the left-wing economic establishment". Losing the confidence of the financial markets at a time of global uncertainty has made us all more aware of our income and expenditure. If the news accurately reflected our lives, it would be hard to escape the conclusion that life is all about money - inflation, interest rates, pay demands and profits. The overriding objective of measuring economic growth is to help as many people as possible to have more money. But how have we become so pre-occupied with what is, after all, an artificial construct that is intrinsically valueless – paper and numbers in themselves morally neutral? The love of money may be the root of all evil, but its use demands trust and co-operation, its possession brings freedom and agency. Money may have given much of humanity richer lives, in every way, but it’s made us into transactional, rather than relational beings, and it corrupts as much as it enables; a tool that so often seems our master. It’s impossible for us to judge when we have enough of it.If the best things in life are free, can we imagine a world without money – and would it be better?With Charlie Mullins, Darren McGarvey, Tomáš Sedláček and Anitra NelsonProducer: Dan Tierney.
09/02/2342m 40s

What is Evil?

Boris Johnson has described a chilling phone call in which Vladimir Putin threatened him with a missile strike in the run-up to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Almost a year on from the start of the war, it’s tempting to see it as a clear-cut conflict between good and evil; Putin the malign aggressor bent on destruction and conquest, Zelensky the courageous defender of liberty and his country. It may be true, or at least substantially so, but is it helpful? Seeing events through the prism of good and evil enables us to make moral judgements and define what we value. But it can also brush aside the ambiguities of complex situations and de-humanise both those we deem evil, and those we regard as good. Plato and St Augustine thought they were not opposites; that evil was the absence of good, a lack of moral imagination. Psychologists might prefer to dispense with the term ‘evil’ altogether, seeing it as human behaviour to be explained and understood.Does evil exist? If so, what is it? And how should we deal with it? With Ed Condon, Professor Scott Atran, Professor Lars Svendsen and Professor Tony MadenProducer Dan Tierney
02/02/2342m 43s

Human Maturity

Nicola Sturgeon has argued for a wider debate on teenagers' rights, as she defended plans to allow 16-year-olds to change their legal gender in Scotland. Each society settles on its own thresholds to determine when a person is old enough to make informed decisions about matters including voting, having sex or drinking alcohol. This is a collective agreement about the legal point at which human beings reach maturity. But what is human maturity in moral terms?Aristotle warned against trusting the judgments of the young, saying, “they have exalted notions, because they have not been humbled by life or learned its necessary limitations”. Meanwhile, psychological studies suggest that the period of adolescence among Gen Z has extended – ‘25 is the new 18’ – which means that ‘adult’ roles and responsibilities now occur later than in they once did. All this is evidence, according to some, that teenagers’ judgments are less likely to be sound than their elders, and rather than expecting them to be political beings, we should allow them to be kids. Conversely, there are those who argue that younger generations have been failed by a system that is rigged to favour the interests of older people; that they should play more of an active role in our democracy because their concerns are the concerns of the future; and that they are more likely to make better judgements about society because they are far more connected to the world and aware of their own values than previous generations.Should we trust children and teenagers to make good judgments about the future? Or, if active citizenship is the preserve of adulthood, what is an adult?Producer: Dan Tierney.
26/01/2342m 32s

Personal Debt

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be,” advised Shakespeare’s Polonius. These words seem hopelessly out of touch in cost of living crisis with soaring inflation and astronomical levels of personal debt. The charity StepChange has warned that money borrowed by UK households to pay for Christmas could take years to repay. Meanwhile, a study by the Resolution Foundation suggests the British public are the worst in the developed world at saving. How did we get here? For some, our eye-popping indebtedness begins with a failure of personal responsibility, an absence of prudence, and an inability to discern between our ‘wants’ and needs’. For others, the real problem is systemic, where borrowers are victims of a consumerist society that both pressurises and stigmatises the poorest. Pragmatists argue that debt itself is morally neutral and merely part of the furniture of modern life. Free market libertarians see debt as a democratising force, giving people greater personal agency. Whereas many religious and philosophical traditions have long believed that there is something intrinsically immoral about charging interest on lending.Is debt inevitable? Or a moral failing? If so, whose?Producer: Dan Tierney.
19/01/2342m 51s

The Ethics of the Family

While no family is likely to have such a public falling out, anyone can surely relate the royal rift to tensions within their own family – the grudges, rivalries and feelings of betrayal. Prince Harry’s words, “I would like to get my father back, I would like to have my brother back”, reveal the depth of hurt experienced by all involved. Families are places of nurturing and wounding; moral networks where expectations of love and loyalty are tested. When the often inevitable strife ensues, are our moral obligations to our family conditional or unconditional?It’s often argued that there is something uniquely special about family bonds; that blood is thicker than water. Family members are the only people in our lives that are permanent and unchosen, they have known us since the beginning, and that connection can be grounding and valuable in helping us understand ourselves. We might feel instinctively that adult children have obligations to their aging parents, simply by virtue of them being a parent. Alternatively, we might see the relationship as contractual, where obligations are based on the love received – or the damage done – growing up. Or, we might believe we don’t owe our families anything, regardless of how much we have benefitted from the relationships, and that our ties with family are no different to any other friendship. Moreover, many philosophers challenge the idea that we have special duties to someone just because we share their genetic material – by that logic, adopted children would have obligations to their biological parents who they’ve never met.As the 21st century definition of ‘family’ widens, what are our ethical commitments to our family?Producer: Dan Tierney.
12/01/2342m 48s


Thousands of complaints have been made to the press regulator about Jeremy Clarkson’s column in the Sun newspaper, in which he expressed his hatred of Meghan Markle. His critics say he crossed a line in portraying her as someone who should be treated as less than human. He says he was making a clumsy TV reference and he’s “horrified to have caused so much hurt”. For some, this is symptomatic of a wider culture which rewards extreme and unkind opinions, and that a right to free speech in a newspaper includes an obligation to uphold certain moral standards. Others say mainstream media commentators (and their editors) have no duty to be kind, only to tell the truth or present an honestly-held opinion.Kindness, courtesy and respect are notable by their absence in our so-called ‘culture wars’. Kindness can be seen as twee, while rudeness can be applauded. We might appeal superficially to kindness, but it can often be secondary to values of honesty, justice and responsibility. For some, the unkindness in our culture is a systemic problem, demanding a radical change in our technological, social and political structures. For others, it is fundamentally a human problem, requiring us to draw deeply from the well of ancient wisdom. The Christmas season approaches, when the ideal of goodwill is tested by the messy reality of human relationships. Is kindness the greatest virtue? What will it take for us all to be a little bit kinder? With Nana Akua, Alice Watkins, Edith Hall and Emily Kasriel.Producer: Dan Tierney.
22/12/2242m 19s

What do we work for?

Forget the advent calendar, it’s a ‘strike calendar’ we need to prepare for Christmas this year. Behind today’s window lurks not a festive chocolate but a list of public service stoppages; not a robin on picket fence, but a postie on a picket line. Seasonal jokes aside, perhaps the heavy flurry of industrial action is a symptom of a deeper unease about the value we place on work.Critics of the strikes believe we have lost a sense of duty in our public services, that the public service ethos no longer means very much, and that work today is largely contractual rather than covenantal. Supporters of the strikes say there is nothing self-interested about wanting to earn a fair wage and that it’s about recognising the value of public servants, over and above symbolic gestures like doorstep clapping. Some think we’ve placed too much emphasis on wealth as a measure of worth and that work should be about seeking to do something well, regardless of the monetary reward. Others believe that argument is laden with class-based assumptions and point to the disproportionately high salaries of bosses compared to their low-wage employees who don’t have the choice to be romantic about the idea of a vocation.What do we work for?Producer: Dan Tierney.
15/12/2242m 41s

Can ethics survive the death of religion?

For the first time, fewer than half of people in England and Wales describe themselves as Christian. For centuries in the West, Judeo-Christian values have underpinned moral reasoning and grounded our ethics. While ticking “no religion” on the census doesn’t necessarily mean having no religious belief, should it concern us that this central story of our culture is fragmenting?Implicit in utilitarianism is the idea that we can do ethics without metaphysics. The Enlightenment hailed the triumph of scientific rationality over sacred revelation. Whereas, the French sociologist Emile Durkheim argued that in any society in a state of ‘anomie’ – that is, lacking a shared moral code – there would be a rise in suicide. Secularists argue that the greatest examples of social progress of the last century have come about as a result of a loss of deference to religious moral authority. Religious leaders believe that it is precisely this moral authority that makes a society cohesive. Others think it doesn’t matter where you get your moral guide from as long as you’re looking for it. We live in an era of rapid social change, facing a new technological revolution, and all the ethical questions it poses. Does a religious-based ethics have the answers? Can ethics survive the death of religion?Producer: Dan Tierney.
08/12/2242m 19s

Human Rights

The largescale protests in China are not just a response to Covid restrictions but about fundamental human rights, including freedom of speech. They follow weeks of demonstrations in support of women’s rights in Iran, and LGBTQ+ rights in Qatar.We often speak about human rights as a self-evident truth – the right to life, the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of conscience. Drafted after the Second World War, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a milestone document seeking to protect the dignity of all human beings.Advocates argue that human rights are universal because the struggle for freedom can be found in every culture, despite being rooted in different philosophies and assumptions. They see a human rights-based approach to the world as the best way of identifying a shared humanity and improving human wellbeing. Sceptics, however, believe the global human rights movement can itself be a form of Western moral imperialism, or cite examples of atrocities justified with the language of human rights. Some believe that in order to hold powerful corporations and regimes to account, there needs to be a more expansive view of human rights. Others are concerned about what they see as the ‘mission creep’ in extending the legal framework of rights to encompass areas of moral life that shouldn’t be a matter for the law courts. What are human rights? Are they universal? Who should arbitrate when they are in competition?Producer: Dan Tierney.
01/12/2242m 51s

The Morality of Snobbery

People like us... you know what I mean. Snobbery? It's everywhere, and most of us would admit to it, at least occasionally. But beyond the caricatures of snooty and disdainful types who enjoy looking down on the tastes, habits and backgrounds of others, there's the serious matter of how it affects people's life chances. The British Psychological Society has launched a campaign to make social class a legally protected characteristic, like sex, race and disability. It would force employers and others to tackle discrimination on the basis of class. The idea is to reduce the damaging effects of class-based prejudice across education, work and health, and create a fairer society. People from working class backgrounds are less likely to get into a top university or land a highly paid job, but how much of that is down to the snobbery of others? Is a change in the law really going to shift prejudices that have been embedded over generations? Is it right to use the law in this way? More broadly, what’s wrong with expressing a preference about how other people present themselves? Isn't some behaviour that gets labelled as snobbery just an attempt to defend high standards, whether in speech, writing, taste or manners? Is there a moral case for snobbery? With Bridgette Rickett, D.J. Taylor, David Skelton and Alex Bilmes.Producers: Jonathan Hallewell and Peter Everett Presenter: Michael Buerk
29/07/2242m 56s

The Future of the NHS

The Future of the NHSCan the UK keep its promise of free healthcare for everyone? NHS spending is higher than ever, yet waiting lists are getting longer and patient satisfaction is falling. The worst of the pandemic may have passed, but weekly Covid admissions remain high and many services are still struggling. While many patients feel delighted with the treatment and care they receive, stories of missed targets, staff shortages and crumbling buildings are common. Whether its waiting for an operation, mental health support, getting a GP appointment or just hoping an ambulance arrives in time, our cherished and beloved NHS is letting many people down, in spite of the heroic efforts of its staff. The people vying to be our next Prime Minister have acknowledged the problems, but are not promising big improvements. Is it time for a new model? Some believe it’s about funding, and we need to accept that the NHS we want and need will cost us much more. But in a cost of living crisis, are people really prepared to pay higher taxes to improve the NHS, and if not, why do we still expect a Rolls Royce health system? Others think it’s a bottomless pit of demand and it’s time to reduce our expectations. Can we afford the NHS to be anything more than a safety net for the sickest and poorest? Is it right to promise care to everyone, even those who can afford to go private? Or, might the public’s willingness to pay for the NHS evaporate, if it's no longer there for all of us? We may love our NHS, but how much should we expect of it, and how much are we willing to pay? With Tim Knox, Dr Jennifer Dixon, Matthew Lesh and Prof Allyson Pollock.Producers: Jonathan Hallewell and Peter Everett Presenter: Michael Buerk
21/07/2242m 38s

The Right to Abortion

The Right to AbortionThis weekend thousands of people marched on the White House in support of a woman’s right to choose an abortion. That constitutional principle, established nearly 50 years ago in the case of “Roe v Wade” has just been overturned by the US Supreme Court and already many Republican states have banned abortions. As President Biden moves to try to protect abortion rights, campaigners in the UK have been stirred to action. There have been ‘Pro Life’ demonstrations outside clinics in Northern Ireland and ‘Pro Choice’ protests outside the US Embassy in London. The number of abortions in England and Wales last year, more than 214,000, was the highest recorded since 1967, when a new law allowed, in most cases, terminations up to the 24th week of pregnancy. This also applied to Scotland but was only extended to Northern Ireland two years ago. Public opinion is clear: 85% of people in Britain think women should have the right to abortion. But should rights also be afforded to the unborn, and if so, at what stage of pregnancy? Has anyone the moral right to dictate whether a woman can have an abortion? For many women, “my body – my choice” is a fundamental principle. With Madeline Page, Professor Ellie Lee, Professor John Milbank and Kerry Abel. Producers: Jonathan Hallewell and Peter Everett Presenter: Michael Buerk
14/07/2242m 46s

'Unacceptable' Opinions

“Unacceptable” OpinionsHave you ever felt that you can’t say what you really think, that your honest opinions have become somehow unacceptable? It’s a common complaint that freedom of speech is being restricted, that more and more views have become inadmissible or rejected as intolerable. On social media, people expressing thoughts that would have hardly raised an eyebrow a generation ago, are viciously attacked and branded as bigots. If that is a problem - and opinions differ - the government may be about to make it worse. Its Online Safety Bill, going through Parliament just now, is aimed at making the UK the safest place in the world to go online, but there are concerns that it could involve more censorship and less freedom. It is surely good to have a diverse range of views openly and freely expressed in public, important for democracy for honest discourse and a sure sign of true freedom of speech. But others feel that cleaning up the public space of unsavoury, prejudiced and hateful views makes for a more civilised society. It creates safer, more respectful places for everyone. Offensive comments that were shamelessly expressed in the past about, for example black, gay or trans people are rarer now. Is this evidence that modern values like equality are being widely embraced, or a sign that people feel muzzled and their views, far from going away, are festering into conspiracy theories, extremism and even the threat of violence? Does it matter if the range of views we can express becomes narrower? With Eric Heinze, James Bloodworth, Joe Mulhall and Jeevun Sandher.Producers: Jonathan Hallewell and Peter Everett Presenter: Michael Buerk
07/07/2242m 53s

Ukraine - what should western countries do next?

Ukraine - what should the west do next?It's 125 days since Russia's tanks rolled into Ukraine in a full scale invasion of the country. Since then the world has watched, appalled by the bloodshed, the destruction of towns and cities, the 12 million refugees. At first there was relief that the Ukrainians had beaten back the attack on the capital Kyiv. Now there is less optimism as Russia takes more territory in the east. From the start Britain and its allies have been clear: Russia must be stopped. Billions of pounds worth of weapons have been sent to help Ukraine fight back. With a unity that surprised many, western countries have imposed tough economic sanctions on Russia. But Ukraine says it needs more weapons, and more powerful ones, if it is to drive the Russians back across the border. Some observers do not think that’s a realistic aim in any case. The conflict has become bogged down and our own Prime Minister says 'we need to steel ourselves for a long war.' Global prices of food and energy have risen steeply, causing hardship in the west and the prospect of famine in Africa.What should the west do now? Is it time to supply Ukraine with NATO's most powerful weapons, short of nuclear missiles? Must Russia fail and be seen to fail? Or should we, as the French President has argued, be offering Putin an ‘off-ramp’? In any case, is it practical - or moral - to behave as though the choice between war and peace can be our decision? With Paul Ingram, Orysia Lutsevych, Richard Sakwa and Edward Lucas.Producers: Jonathan Hallewell and Peter Everett Presenter: Michael Buerk
30/06/2242m 55s

The morality of striking

Is it morally acceptable to go on strike, disrupting the lives and livelihoods of millions of people who are uninvolved in a dispute? This week’s rail strike is expected to be the biggest in 30 years with only a fraction of services running and widespread disruption. But whatever the arguments behind the dispute, what’s the moral case for a strike? The right to withdraw labour is seen by many as fundamental, an essential last resort in a battle with employers where workers are trying to secure reasonable pay and conditions. Improved pay deals resulting from strikes are seen as clear evidence that striking itself is legitimate. But where should the limits be? The police and armed forces can’t go on strike but doctors and nurses can, as well as other essential workers. Is a strike still morally acceptable if it causes widespread misery or severely damages the economy, or if lives are lost as a result? Some feel that strikes are always unfair. The main victims are usually not employers but people uninvolved in the dispute. Also strikes by some groups of workers are far more disruptive than strikes by others. Has that unfairly driven up pay in some sectors? It is decades since widespread strikes were a common feature of life in the UK, but this year some are predicting a “summer of discontent”, a wave of disputes that could involve teachers, NHS staff, and others. Should tougher laws be introduced, to protect us all from the worst effects of strikes? Or is it essential that the basic rights of workers are upheld by the law? What’s the moral case for striking? With Paul Nowak, Caroline Farrow, Dr Sam Fowles and Benjamin Loughnane.Presenter: Edward Stourton Producers: Jonathan Hallewell and Peter Everett
23/06/2243m 0s

Inequality: Is the gap between rich and poor in the UK fair?

Is the gap between rich and poor in the UK fair? The soaring cost of living is raising questions about the gap between rich and poor. As prices have been forced up by global events, including the war in Ukraine, families on low incomes, who spend most of their money on basics, have been hit hard. In the last year, more than two million people in the UK turned to food banks. Stories of parents forced to choose between food and warmth, or skipping meals so their children can eat, have become common. Can the UK, one of the richest countries in the world, morally justify millions of its people relying on charity just to keep their children warm and fed? The wealthiest ten per cent of households own 43% of the country’s wealth, so is it naïve to suggest that the poorest should get more help and the richest should pay for it? The recently announced windfall tax on energy companies was an extraordinary moment: cash taken from big companies and handed to their customers. Is it time for more of this? Or are Robin Hood taxes, taking money from people who have earned it and handing it to people who haven’t, essentially unfair? Isn't wealth inequality the very driver of human effort? We work, so we can become better off. Remove that incentive, and what happens to economic growth, on which we all rely? What is the case for redistributing the nation’s wealth? Is it immoral to accumulate enormous personal wealth? Or is it acceptable for some people to become fantastically rich, provided that nobody is truly poor? Producers: Jonathan Hallewell and Peter Everett Presenter: Michael Buerk
16/06/2242m 47s

What is the future of the monarchy?

What is the future of the Monarchy? A pageant, a star-studded concert, street fairs and picnics; it was a joyful four-day tribute to the Queen and millions revelled in her Platinum Jubilee. Seventy years of service, celebrated in true British style. But now the bunting is down and the carnival is over, how committed are we, as a nation, to the monarchy? A recent poll suggests that about 62% are in favour of retaining it, down from three quarters a decade ago. About 22% would prefer an elected head of state. It's all much closer among young people, with only a tiny majority of 18-24 year olds saying they want to stick with the monarchy. Many people love the Royal family and how the Queen has helped the UK to stand out in the world, providing long term stability, untainted by politics. Others despair at the behaviour of younger Royals, whose lives can more resemble a soap opera than the bedrock of the nation's sovereignty. But what is the moral case for the monarchy? For some, the very idea of an unelected figure with huge inherited wealth, enjoying the top position in the land, is simply intolerable. It legitimises, they say, the worst aspects of our age-old class system and should be abolished. As the tributes from around the world attest, there is deep and wide respect for Queen Elizabeth. But how might public opinion on the monarchy change in the future? Might a new system, with a democratically elected head of state be more morally defensible and serve the country better? With Tracy Borman, Martha Gill, Sean O'Grady and Richard Murphy.Producers: Jonathan Hallewell and Peter Everett Presenter: Michael Buerk
09/06/2242m 37s

What's the point of university?

Eight universities are under investigation for providing poor quality degrees. The Office for Students has sent inspectors in to investigate whether undergraduates are getting decent value in return for the huge debts they rack up to get their degrees. For years, there’s been concern about so-called “Mickey Mouse” degrees that do nothing to boost job prospects. But the expansion of universities was rooted in a grand ambition to create a better-educated workforce and to turbo-charge social mobility; a wider variety of degree courses, it was thought, would offer something for everyone. Surely it's positive that more young people now get an opportunity that years ago was offered only to a privileged few? University is about more than boosting the student’s future earnings; it’s about learning to think critically, gaining independence and broadening horizons. Some, though, believe we have too many universities competing for customers by offering firsts to failures. Standards have fallen, and so many people now have degrees that they don’t count for much any more. Young people, it's claimed, are being misled into taking on huge personal debts, in return for three wasted years that will do little to improve their employability. Have we reached peak-university? Is it time to go into reverse? Are we reducing the value of higher education, or is the university experience valuable for its own sake? What's the point of university? With Rachel Hewitt, Harry Lambert, Professor Dennis Hayes and Professor Edith Hall. Producers: Jonathan Hallewell and Peter Everett Presenter: Michael Buerk
02/06/2242m 1s

The Priorities of the Police

Dame Cressida Dick, the newly-departed Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, says policing has become ‘too politicised’. When her force has been criticised on the right for investigating ‘Partygate’ and on the left for letting the Prime Minister off too lightly, and when the Durham Police must now decide whether to end the career of the leader of the Labour Party, it’s hard to argue with her. The Public Order Bill, which had its second reading this week, will create new legal powers to prevent or punish disruptive demonstrations. That too, critics say, is putting politics into policing. Meanwhile, the newly-arrived Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Andy Cooke, has been talking about priorities. He predicted that the cost of living crisis will trigger an increase in crime and advised officers to ‘use their discretion’ when people are caught shop-lifting. One columnist wanted to know exactly how much he could nick without getting banged up. Police officers in Scotland have asked for guidance on how to enforce new hate crime legislation after being ‘inundated’ with complaints about posts on social media. At its conference last week, the Police Federation of England and Wales was given a list of horror stories about misogyny in ‘every single force’. This week the National Police Chiefs Council declared itself ‘ashamed’ about racism in law enforcement. Only six per cent of all crimes resulted in a charge last year. For reported rapes, the charge rate was 1.3 per cent. Some reformers want police priorities and targets set locally by the communities that are being policed. Others say it is precisely the new requirement that the police should be sensitive to everybody’s feelings that’s stopping them from locking up law-breakers. Where should the police's priorities lie?With Morag Livingstone, Dr Victor Olisa, Zoe Strimpel and Dr Roy BaileyProducer: Peter Everett.
26/05/2242m 59s

Cleaning the Internet

For a brief moment this month Ukrainians were allowed to call for the death of Vladimir Putin on Instagram and Facebook. That freedom was subsequently withdrawn – “hate speech” isn’t tolerated on those platforms after all. But can Ukrainians really be expected to hold back on how they feel about the Russian military? And maybe we, as bystanders, could do with seeing that anger expressed without the filter of online ‘etiquette’ policies devised by a Silicon Valley CEO. Maybe our rage about Mariupol is all we’ve got, so is it wrong to share it. How should we strike the right balance between reason and raw emotion, without on the one hand caring too little, or on the other hand losing perspective. The trouble is, if we allow ‘hate speech’ about the Russian President, where do we then draw the line? And what about propaganda, misinformation and conspiracy theories. The social media platforms spend millions on trying to sort truth from lies, but why should it be an internet company that gets to decide? The just-published Online Safety Bill sets out plans to punish internet companies for failing to censor material that is ‘legal but harmful’. The aim is to protect us from the effects of dark images and suggestions. But is it foolish to imply that we can make the internet ‘safe’. And if we agree that the internet will always be dangerous, shouldn’t we cultivate a healthy suspicion of it, rather than a misplaced trust in its moderators. Might it not it be better, and more moral, to teach our children – and trust our fellow-citizens – to think for themselves? With digital researcher Ellen Judson; CEO of Index on Censorship Ruth Smeeth; internet safety expert Will Gardner and former teacher and author Joanna Williams.Produced by Olive Clancy
24/03/2242m 47s

Refugees and borders

Nearly three million people have fled Ukraine since the Russian tanks crossed the border at the end of February. Some say the UK was slow to respond but many thousands of people are now signed up to a government scheme to turn their houses into homes for Ukrainian refugees - the first should arrive soon. There has been an outpouring of generosity and goodwill toward those suffering in this conflict, but uncomfortable questions remain. Are we really doing enough? Why such generosity now, when we have spent years discussing how to keep migrants out? Is it morally acceptable to feel more comfortable welcoming large numbers of Ukrainian - rather than Syrian or Afghan - refugees? Is racism a factor, or is it simply that these people are fleeing an enemy who threatens us too? Shortly the Nationality and Borders Bill will return to be voted on in Parliament. Campaigners say the bill is at odds with rhetoric about welcoming refugees as it could criminalise those who arrive to seek asylum in the UK without first filling in the correct forms. Is it right to put up yet more barriers? Perhaps it is a failure of moral imagination to turn away any individual who wants to make a better life? Some economists argue that the free movement of workers makes nations prosperous, but there’s more to Britain than its economy, and not everyone wants to do away with borders. How, without fierce gate-keepers, can we protect the places where we feel at home? With the human rights campaigner Bella Sankey; David Goodhart, who researches integration at the centre right think-tank Policy Exchange; the Chair of Britain’s oldest Immigration Museum, Susie Symes; and the former MEP and journalist Patrick O'Flynn.Produced by Olive Clancy
17/03/2242m 49s

Sanctions, enablers and collective punishment

We can’t help Ukraine with troops and planes, most politicians insist, but we can hit back at Putin by punishing his friends and choking the Russian economy. This week the long-promised Economic Crime Bill zipped through the Commons and could be law within a month. The Home Secretary said the legislation proves she’s determined to “hobble Putin and his cronies”. But it will do nothing to hurt their ‘enablers’ – the London-based accountants, lawyers and fixers who’ve helped the oligarchs to hide their money and muzzle their critics. Should we try to punish those people too, or does that cross a moral red line? We don’t need to wait for a new law before we start hurting ordinary Russians with economic sanctions. We’re already punishing extraordinary Russians, from Paralympians to opera singers, with bans and boycotts. Have they all deserved this for the crime of being Russian? Soon visa restrictions will start to trap Russian dissenters in a country that isn't safe for them. Is such "collective punishment" morally justified? What about our own economy, our businesses and their workers? Are we sure we will tolerate squeezing Russia when we have massive rises in the costs of energy and food? Some global companies are shutting down their Russian operations - at least temporarily. Others have not, though the pressure on them is growing. But is that a commercial decision or a moral one? Do we even want businesses to advertise their virtue, if (as the Nobel-winning economist Milton Friedman put it) the social responsibility of business is solely to increase profits? With broadcaster Isabel Hilton; journalist Niko Vorobyov; City University Professor of Finance and Accounting Atul K Shah and Economist Julian Jessop. Produced by Olive Clancy
10/03/2242m 42s

Putin - did we help create a war criminal?

We don't know how the Ukrainian conflict will end. But how did it begin? The responsibility for the Ukraine conflict lies squarely with Vladimir Putin - described by some as cunning and crazy by others - this is his war. But was there a chance to prevent it? Would he have done this if the West behaved differently after the collapse of the Soviet Union when the new Ukraine was born? In these last decades, Russia built up its military strength while the European democracies made every effort to disarm. NATO might have trained Ukrainian troops and sent supplies right up to the invasion, but it repeatedly said it wouldn’t get directly involved. And now we have sanctions that could take years to act. Are the democracies weak? Or is despotism always doomed to fail in the end? What happens if, as seems likely, Putin takes Kyiv and installs a puppet regime. There will be a Resistance and our own Prime Minister is committed to helping it. How far should we go with that – food and medicine, of course, but will we potentially fund fighters who, to us, will be patriots but to the Kremlin will be terrorists? Russia is already waging “hybrid war” against the democratic nations. Should we try to beat Putin at his own game of cyber-attacks and deniable operations? To defeat a monster, must we become monstrous ourselves? With Alan Mendoza, Director of the right leaning think tank, The Henry Jackson Society; Political Scientist Yascha Mounk; Former MI6 officer Christopher Steele and Professor Janina Dill who researches the role of law and morality in International Relations.Produced by Olive Clancy
03/03/2242m 47s

What is the countryside for?

We should all have a legal right to nature, according to a group of more than 60 campaigning charities who say we need better access to the countryside. They have written to the government, complaining that one in three of us lives more than 15 minutes’ walk from the nearest green space. But is nature there for our enjoyment? Is the countryside just a recreational resource, to be exploited by anyone in possession of a pair of wellies? If we are entitled to delight in the landscape, don’t we also share the moral responsibility for looking after it? Maybe that means leaving it alone. Or should we be doing more to encourage our city-dwellers and minority ethnic communities to feel included there?The UK’s countryside is about to live through enormous change, with farmers to be given taxpayer cash to ‘rewild’ some of their land. But what should rewilding mean to them and to the rest of us? Bees and butterflies are lovely, but is it worth the loss of a few lambs to see eagles back in our skies? How about a few hundred lambs? Maybe the countryside really belongs to those who for generations have worked it for a hard-earned living; and maybe they have a perfect right to sell some of it to developers who want to build much-needed housing estates. We want the countryside to be richly stocked with exciting animals and beautiful woodlands. We want badgers and beavers and some of us (not the shepherds) want wolves and wildcats. We can't have everything, so what should we do? With Dr Sue Young of The Willdlife Trusts; Farmer Gareth Wyn Jones; Director of Rewilding Britain Alistair Driver and Property Analyst Kate Faulkner. Produced by Olive Clancy
24/02/2242m 45s

How do we make a longer life a moral one?

We can add ten years to our lives if we chose, we’re told this week by scientists who have measured the effects of tweaking our lifestyles. The downside is we’ll need to give up meat and eat a lot of lentils to do it. Oh, and start very young. It won’t be easy – but is there a moral imperative to do it? Elsewhere, science is forging ahead with new, possibly less onerous ways to help us live longer. Researchers in Japan this week unveiled a serum that can halt aging, though so far only in mice. And Silicon Valley is reported to be full of start-ups working on rejuvenation techniques. But is a longer life a more moral life? If we get those extra years will they be worth the effort? Was Kingsley Amis right when he wrote: "No pleasure is worth giving up for the sake of two more years in a geriatric home" ? Or is it irresponsible to indulge in life-shortening activities that you happen to enjoy, if they increase the reliance you may (sooner than you hope) be placing on the state? As a society we’re living longer than our parents, and much longer than our grandparents. But there are wide disparities. On average the rich make older bones than the poor, and a BMJ article this week deplored the fact that life expectancy is actually in decline in many deprived communities in the UK. Perhaps we have a collective moral duty to even that out, but it will be expensive. Who’s going to pay for the pensions and the care homes? Is the individual ambition to live to 100 intrinsically selfish and immoral when it imposes such burdens on others? With Repotting Your Life author Frances Edmonds; Longevity expert and London Business School Professor Andrew Scott; Director of the Free Market think tank IEA - Mark Littlewood and Political Economist Jeevan Sandher.Produced by Olive Clancy
18/02/2242m 54s

What's our moral responsibility to the future?

Levelling up - a brighter and fairer future is on the way according to the Government. But what is our moral responsibility to the future and how does it weigh against the needs of the present? Maybe the stars of technology, economics and politics really are now aligned to bring an end to post-code inequalities. Or is this another hotch-potch of plans that can’t be judged until a time so distant we’ll have forgotten why we dreamed them up in the first place. Are plans for the future destined to fail because we over-reach? Or do they fail because we don’t reach far enough, so preoccupied are we with the selfish here and now?Meanwhile the UK is committed to the ambition of going carbon neutral by 2050, something that requires the sacrifice of higher energy bills today. Should we be prepared to be individually worse off, to put up with inconvenience and sacrifice our comfort for the benefit of our grandchildren? Does that remain true as gas prices rocket and new price rises are inevitable? And isn’t it true that if our forebears had made the sacrifices and adopted a forward looking energy plan 30 years ago, we wouldn’t be in this mess at all. What is our moral responsibility towards the future? And does it outweigh our responsibilities to the present and the inheritance we have from the past? With author of End State, James Plunkett; Politics Professor Rosie Campbell; Journalist Ross Clark and Politics lecturer Dr Gareth Dale.
10/02/2244m 39s

How Free Should Speech Be?

Yielding to the big star pressure of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, this week Spotify agreed to put a content advisory label on any podcast that includes material about Covid. Mitchell and Young removed their music in protest at Joe Rogan’s podcasts. These shows are extremely popular globally but they aired views sceptical of Covid vaccines. In an Instagram post Rogan himself said he'd aim for more impartiality in future, but Spotify’s shares are down and more artists are joining the boycott. Who is responsible for the content of Spotify or any other digital platform? Is Covid a special case or must they remove or add a warning about anything any listeners might object to? Is it enough to say sorry or offer to slap on a "contentious material" label? At what point do such safeguards become censorship?And what about other, more traditional, intermediaries? This week the poet and teacher Kate Clanchy said she considered suicide after parting company with her publisher. She’d been accused of racism in the words she used about pupils in her memoir Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me. The students have defended her in print and Clanchy has apologised. And yet the debate goes on. Are publishers morally responsible for their authors ideas and beliefs? If the publisher or internet platform truly disagrees with the material, is it enough to issue an apology or label the offending material as contentious? And does intent count at all? With Journalist Brendan O'Neill, Academic Julie Posetti, Broadcaster Inaya Folarin Iman and Poet Anthony Anaxagorou.
03/02/2242m 25s

Ukraine - to intervene or not to intervene.

President Putin insists that he has no intention of invading Ukraine. In amassing troops and weapons along the border, the Russians are merely ‘protecting their national interests’. Meanwhile NATO, the US-European military alliance, is busy reinforcing its eastern member states with ships and planes. Our own Prime Minister has issued dire warnings that Russia will not be allowed to harass a smaller neighbour in this way. So, who is right? Is there a moral imperative for us to protect a fledgling democracy that seems to be under threat? What, if anything, can we – or should we – do to support Ukraine? And what moral arguments do we have, to help us decide?Perhaps this is just aggressive posing by both sides that will drift on and die down. But what if it becomes something more? What if it embroils us in a European war? And if that happens, who will be to blame? Given the record of the UK and the West in Afghanistan and Iraq, do we even have the appetite for another foreign intervention? Is the very idea morally dubious? And, in any case, doesn’t the size of Russia’s nuclear arsenal make it impossible for us to call Putin’s bluff? With Global Governance Professor Mary Kaldor; Russia Expert Keir Giles; Newspaper Columnist Simon Jenkins and Kyiv University Political Scientist Taras Kuzio.Produced by Olive Clancy
28/01/2243m 7s

The Rules - Expectations and Apologies

In spite of his apology the calls continue for the Prime Minister to resign. He did not follow his own rules so he must go, says a sizeable majority in the polls. But why must he go? Sympathy, understanding and forgiveness are all virtues to celebrate - unless we happen to be talking about people we don’t like. Most of those who broke the lockdown rules (maybe you, maybe me) got away with it. Some got a caution or a fine; very few lost their jobs. The charge against Boris Johnson is not so much that he broke the law as that he crossed a moral boundary. So, what are the moral rules he is accused of breaking? And why isn’t his very public apology deemed by some to be not good enough? Anthropology tells us that the basic rules of morality are universal. But sociologists say that cultural norms dictate how we’re expected to behave, and Britain is culturally diverse. Given that politics is almost by definition an interplay of pragmatism and integrity, perhaps we should learn to live with our politicians’ clay feet and look elsewhere for paragons of moral virtue? With former Conservative MP Edwina Currie, Anthropologist Dr Oliver Scott Curry, Political theorist Dr Stephen de Vijze and Philosophy professor Quassim Cassam.Produced by Olive Clancy
20/01/2242m 55s

Direct Action

The so-called Colston Four did not deny pulling down a statue of the slave trader Edward Colston, but last week in Bristol they were cleared of causing criminal damage. They argued that they were protesting for racial equality, “on the right side of history”, and a jury found in their favour. The four were celebrated by crowds outside the courthouse, part of a tradition, it seemed, of activists bringing social change by whatever means necessary. Their critics, on the other hand, say this is an invitation to vandalism since it sends a message that it is OK to take whatever action you choose to promote your cause. If your right to protest allows you to march against injustice should it also extend to the right to glue yourself to a road or topple a statue? This is the latest in a series of cases where juries have cleared protestors, despite there being no dispute about the facts. When the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion was acquitted in case with many parallels, he said it showed that “ordinary people, unlike the judiciary, are able to see the broader picture.” While a jury decision cannot legally set a precedent or influence another case, several MPs have expressed anger and concern about the implications of this verdict. They argue that the case should have been tried somewhere neutral and that the ‘expert witness’ should not have been an historian but a specialist in property rights. Who is right? Is history a legitimate defence after protestors smash up something that offends them? Are the rules being bent? And if so, is that what juries are for? With Jeremy Black, Jen Reid, Steven Barrett and Kirsty Brimelow.Produced by Olive Clancy
12/01/2242m 54s


The end of one year and the beginning of another can be an obvious moment for people to set goals and reset priorities. The pandemic, from which we are yet to emerge, has put much into perspective and has doubtless prompted many to ask the question: where am I going with my life? What’s it all about? While none of us can truly know the meaning of life, most of us are meaning-seeking creatures who have our own ideas about what gives life meaning – God, nature, the arts, human relationships, good food, scientific progress. Is meaning essential to a life well lived or do we put too much pressure on ourselves in trying to create it? For some, the stories we tell about ourselves are the most powerful way of addressing existential questions like the climate crisis. Yet meaning is subjective, and is often separated by national, cultural, religious and ideological borders. Can our disparate human stories be harnessed as a motivator for collective action on the climate? Or is it hubris to suggest human beings can find a solution, and the story we should be telling instead is one in which the cavalry isn’t coming?Michael Buerk chairs this special end-of-year debate with guest panellists: Rowan Williams, Alice Roberts, Will Self and Bonnie Greer. With witnesses: Emily Esfahani-Smith, James Tartaglia, Martin Palmer and Charlotte Du Cann.Producer: Dan Tierney.#moralmaze
29/12/2142m 50s

Peace and Goodwill

Christmas is the season of peace on earth and good will to all people. While we naturally want to endorse this sentiment, it is also a yearly reminder of how conflict and bad faith exist in our homes and in wider society. While some families will celebrate a long-anticipated and joyful reunion, others will be trying to hold their tongue about divisive issues like Brexit or Covid until the same time next year. Surely, we could all benefit from a bit more listening, understanding and compromising? But what if deeply-held principles, make compromise impossible without sacrificing one’s own integrity? Is it better to say nothing at all for short-term peace or speak forthrightly not knowing if the long-term outcome for the relationship will be one of rupture or repair? Beyond the domestic setting is the question of how we address the cultural warfare we see in the public discourse around us. What will it take for us to come out of our ideological trenches and stop our sniping? Perhaps it starts by recognising that we all have egos that are difficult to tame, and admitting we’re wrong doesn’t make us weak. We hear the calls to ‘disagree respectfully’, but how? For some, the very idea solves or advances very little, particularly for the most marginalised in society. For others, the point isn’t to solve anything but to live together in difference while upholding each other’s humanity. With Gabrielle Rifkind, Dr Becca Bland, Rev Steve Chalke and Sarah Stein Lubrano.Producer: Dan Tierney
23/12/2142m 51s

Do we get the politicians we deserve?

The Number 10 ‘party’ scandal has prompted questions not only about whether the Prime Minister is still an electoral asset but whether he and his government have the moral authority to lead us through the lingering pandemic. According to a recent YouGov poll, the level of trust in UK politicians has fallen to an historic low. Despite the scathing attacks from across the political spectrum, are today’s political leaders any morally worse than in previous generations? Some see morality as having been vacuumed out of politics over recent decades; where once politicians had principles, character and a sense of public service, there are now too many who are primarily seeking to boost their own status. Others point out, however, that we’ve always felt this way about our leaders, from whom we demand the impossible, failing to remember that they are imperfect human beings like the rest of us. Morality in politics is about more than parliamentary standards and the ethical conduct of individuals. Some blame the antics of politicians on the political and democratic system that underpins them; an electoral cycle which does not suit long-term visions for society and a disempowering voting system. Others argue that it’s not the system which is broken, but a polarised political culture which focuses too much on image-crafting, cult of personality and superficial soundbites, encouraged by both traditional and social media. Do we get the politicians we deserve? Producer: Dan Tierney
15/12/2142m 46s

60 Years of the Contraceptive Pill

It’s 60 years since the contraceptive pill was made available on the NHS. It has had a revolutionary impact on women’s lives and on society. In 1961 women often married at an early age and many were expected to stay at home and raise a family while men went out to work. The ability for women to have control of their own fertility meant they could choose to have children and a career on their own terms. The availability of the pill undoubtedly changed the nature of sexual relationships, even if it was not the single cause of the sexual revolution. While many view sex without the possibility of pregnancy as integral to a woman’s moral agency, social conservatives argue that separating sex from reproduction threatens the traditional family unit, which they see as the foundation of a stable society. More recently, there has been a backlash by some women against hormonal contraceptives to try to reclaim autonomy over their bodies. 60 years on, we live in a very different society but can we say we have made progress when it comes to attitudes towards women and sex? Teenage girls report sexual abuse in schools and on social media, while concern is growing among experts about the impact on children of readily-available pornographic images. If this isn’t where we hoped we might be, where do we go from here? Where now for women’s liberation? Is it time for another sexual revolution? With Dr. Sarah Jarvis, Caroline Farrow, Emma Chan and Louise Perry.Producer: Dan Tierney.
10/12/2142m 52s

The Morality of Partying

It’s easy to see how lots of people singing, shouting and smooching in a stuffy space would keep a virologist up at night. Within hours of nightclubs reopening the Prime Minister announced that full vaccination will be the condition of entry from September. The Netherlands recently tried reopening its clubs and quickly decided to close them again amid rising infection rates. We may be free to party, but we’re not free of the virus. Just because we can, does it mean we should? For some, there is a clear moral case for delaying our gratification that little bit longer. Another view is that we have to start living again; young people in particular deserve an escape after the months of sacrifice, and the fact that every adult in the UK has now been offered at least one jab should be an important part of the moral calculation. Others have gone even further than the Beastie Boys in suggesting we have not just a right, but a duty, to party. Is there an intrinsic moral value in revelry? Those partial to a bit of table-top dancing might argue that these are spontaneous and transcendent experiences of human connection; in theological terms, a celebration of the gift of life itself. Yet, many philosophical and religious traditions have been highly suspicious of hedonistic pleasures. Modern-day stoics and puritans might associate a “living for the weekend” clubbing culture with chaos, over-indulgence and a loss of self-control. Does the truest form of joy lie in self-restraint? Or should we follow Oscar Wilde’s advice: “everything in moderation, including moderation”? With Jeremy Gilbert, Prof Christopher Gill, Olivia Petter and Julian Tang.Producer: Dan Tierney.
29/07/2142m 58s

Animal Sentience

The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, currently working its way through Parliament, would for the first time formally recognise that animals have the ability to experience feelings, including pain, joy and fear. If the law is passed, the government will establish an Animal Sentience Committee to scrutinise policy. Many hope it would offer animals greater protection - only this week, the BBC’s Panorama programme revealed that rules designed to protect horses from a cruel death appear to be regularly ignored at one of the UK's biggest abattoirs. Some want the bill to go even further by including invertebrates, which, for example, could ban the practice of boiling crustaceans alive. Critics of the proposals believe current animal welfare legislation is sufficient and worry about the unintended consequences for farming, fishing and countryside sports. They argue there should be no contradiction in the idea that a nation of ‘animal lovers’ could eat billions of them every year. The way we treat (and whether we eat) animals has important implications, not just for the status of animals, but for the status of human beings. A rights-based approach has argued that since the moral status of humans overlaps with some animals, we should consider those animals equally deserving of rights. Others believe that elevating the status of animals diminishes the uniqueness of human beings. Is it time to think of some animals not just as having rights, but as occupying the same moral universe as humans, worthy of our trust and capable of being betrayed? Or should the relationship between man and beast always be seen as one of human dominion? With Jim Barrington, Claire Bass, Dr Steve Cooke and Nick Zangwill.Producers: Dan Tierney and Phil Pegum.
22/07/2142m 40s

The Future of Work

Is it time to rethink our attitude to work? Nearly half of employees care less about their careers since Covid, according to a survey this week of 2000 staff of large companies. Four in ten said they are concerned about work-related burnout and a quarter of women said the pandemic has had a negative impact on their work-life balance. The lockdown has disrupted long-existing patterns of work for some and exposed the work-based inequalities of others. As we’re about to unlock, many believe this is the moment to re-negotiate the role of work in our lives. Some believe that employers should be more adaptable to the individual circumstances of their employees, seeking as far as possible to eradicate work-related stress for the sake of their mental health. Others think greater flexibility based on people’s lifestyles could foster a culture of entitlement and we should accept that a certain amount of stress is inseparable from productivity and creativity. What about the value of work itself? For some, the goal should be to do less and less of it. Trials of a four-day week in Iceland were described as an "overwhelming success" and led to many workers moving to shorter hours. Radical advocates of leisure time defend the ‘right to be lazy’ and view idleness as central to creativity. While others believe that work is intrinsic to a person’s sense of purpose and dignity. Is there a distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ work in an economy that has seen billionaires get richer while some families have struggled to put food on the table during the pandemic? Should we work to live or live to work? With Philip Booth, Matthew Garrahan, Will Stronge and Otegha Uwagba.Producer: Dan Tierney.
15/07/2142m 46s

Justice and Peace

Northern Ireland's largest cross-community victims' group, Wave Trauma Centre, has written to Boris Johnson opposing the idea of a “de-facto amnesty” for Troubles-related prosecutions, after the cases of two Army veterans facing murder charges were dropped. It follows reports that the government has been considering a ban on all prosecutions prior to the 1998 Good Friday Agreement under a statute of limitations, focusing instead on information retrieval for the families of those killed. Most people will never be in a position to understand the pain of losing a loved one unlawfully. How do we weigh their need for justice, against the need to build a lasting peace in the community? Many families regard immunity from prosecution as an insult to victims on all sides, and a betrayal of those who are committed to justice. While others believe it is time to put future peace ahead of past injustice, with an 'amnesty' that centres on 'truth recovery'. Are prosecutions always central to any notion of justice? Does the pursuit of justice or peace always require trade-offs or is it impossible to achieve one without the other, as the anti-racist slogan “No Justice, No Peace” suggests? What role, if any, does forgiveness play? What lessons can be learned from post-conflict societies around the world? With Brian Rowan, Sandra Peake, Bonny Ibhawoh and Selina Stone.Producer: Dan Tierney.
08/07/2143m 0s

Patriot Games

It’s that time every two (or three) years when St George’s flags flap out of car windows and red cross bunting festoons the front of the houses of England football fans. At any other time, such behaviour might be greeted with suspicion, even concern, such is the pejorative perception of patriotism expressed by the English. Why does English patriotism have such bad PR? Patriots see their cause as unifying; a positive sense of the nation as something which holds us all together in our different tribes. Others reject being coerced to love their country, whether they like it or not, just because that’s where they happened to be born. Patriotism can’t escape the past. For those on the right of politics it’s often about celebrating one’s national story; for those on the left it’s about reckoning with it. Patriotism has always been inescapably political, but there is a sense on both sides that it has now been co-opted into the ‘culture wars’. Calls for schoolchildren to sing a ‘One Britain, One Nation’ song is seen as a disingenuous dog whistle for right-wing nationalists and racists, while criticism of the inclusion of ‘Rule Britannia’ during the Last Night of the Proms is, for others, a sign of ‘wokery gone too far’. Is English patriotism now intrinsically divisive and threatening, incapable of disentangling itself from authoritarian nationalism? Or can it be reclaimed and redeemed from what it has become in many people’s eyes? With Dia Chakravarty, Robert Beckford, Billy Bragg and Gavin Esler.Producer: Dan Tierney.
01/07/2142m 55s

Rights and Rules

The New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard looks set to make history after being confirmed as the first transgender athlete to compete at an Olympic Games. Hubbard previously competed in men’s events before transitioning in 2013. She is eligible due to a change in International Olympic Committee guidelines on testosterone levels in 2015, and after qualifying requirements were modified by the International Weightlifting Federation. For many campaigners this is a landmark moment for trans people, whose participation at grassroots level sport is shamefully low. Moreover, while there are many different male and female body types, they see elite sport as reflecting society’s obsession with gender stereotypes and worry about the implications for anyone who does not meet ‘conventional standards’ of femininity. Opponents think that allowing transgirls, who were assigned male at birth, to compete with cis girls is unfair. They argue that, in the vast majority of cases, males are stronger, faster and more powerful than females – if that were not the case we would not have had to segregate sport in the first place. The New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive, Kereyn Smith, said this complex issue required, “a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play”. This raises a deeper philosophical question: what is the relationship between rights and rules? And which of these is best placed to achieve fairness – not just in sporting competition but between competing demands? When should rules and laws be challenged and when does a person’s sense of their natural rights go too far? With Dr Dafydd Mills Daniel, Joanna Harper, Debbie Hayton and Adam Wagner.Producer: Dan Tierney.
24/06/2142m 47s

The Morality of Swearing

Strong swear words are becoming an increasing part of everyday life, according to research from the British Board of Film Classification. Six in ten of us are now comfortable cursing. A third of us have a greater propensity for profanity than five years ago. What has not changed is the desire to censor swearing in age-restricted cinema and DVD releases. This seems almost quaint in an internet age where almost no content has a gatekeeper. It does, however, point to contradictory attitudes to bad language. Those who dislike swearing think it is vulgar, morally corrupting and intellectually base; the words themselves can be seen an aggressive act, unacceptable in any context. Some see swear words as morally neutral, where any real or perceived harm is entirely dependent upon the intent of the speaker. Others think they can even have a moral power as an expression of strong sentiment and solidarity. Others still, see the creative influence of swear words as linguistically and culturally enriching. Have we become too complacent about bad language? What do generational attitudes to swearing reveal about wider social change? Why have some strong obscenities become more acceptable, while slurs have become less acceptable? How do we negotiate a public discourse in which everyone draws their own lines about the acceptability of swearing? Frankly, should we give a damn? With Peter Hitchens, Dr Rebecca Roache, Esther Rantzen and Simon Donald.Producer: Dan Tierney.
17/06/2142m 49s

The Morality of Taxation

The G7 group of advanced economies has reached a deal to make multinational companies pay more tax. It is a cause which has focussed minds in the wake of a costly global pandemic. For centuries, taxation has been seen as a moral, as well as an economic, principle. At a national level, some see this as a moment for the government to be bold in recouping wealth from those who have become richer during the Covid-19 crisis, and redistributing it to redress the social and economic inequalities the virus has exposed. Those who argue for high taxes on the rich believe that no one achieves their wealth on their own; rather, their wealth is a product of the society they live in, and taxation is a moral mechanism to recognise the people and infrastructures that enabled that wealth creation in the first place. While some see taxation as raising revenue for public goods, others see it as plunder and theft. Low tax enthusiasts don’t view taxation as a moral obligation at all, since there is no choice involved, and they often object to the way in which their money is spent. Moreover, they don’t believe that higher taxes are intrinsically more moral since public spending can relieve people of personal responsibility and limit their ability to spend their own money on the charitable causes that matter to them. Would a truly fair and equal society need to tax its citizens? What constitutes a fair tax system? To what extent is the contents of our pay packet ‘ours’? With Dr Eamonn Butler, Dr Philip Goff, James Quarmby and Carys Roberts. Producer: Dan Tierney.
10/06/2142m 55s


Philosophers and artists, from Epicurus to Ken Dodd, have grappled with the secret to happiness. Now, neuroscientists at University College London suggest the answer could lie in the equation: (t)=w0 +w1∑j=1tγt −jCRj +w2∑j=1tγt −jEVj +w3∑j=1tγt −jRPEj. While hardly rolling off the tongue, the formula roughly translates to mean that we should lower our expectations to be happy – but not so low, and for so long, that it makes us unhappy. This appears to fly in the face of a celebrity culture that chases fame, status and success as ends in themselves. Self-help books and "positive psychology" promise to train us into a happy mood. While the wellness industry is booming, so is the prescription of antidepressants, increasingly for teenagers – according to The National Institute for Health Research. What does this reveal about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? What is wrong with personal happiness as a life goal? Some think that there is too much stuffiness about happiness, that there is nothing selfish about self-care, and that people should be free to set the bar as high as they wish and explore personal fulfilment however they chose. Others believe that life should be about more than seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, that the conscious pursuit of happiness can make us more miserable, and that happiness – rather than being an expectation – should be a by-product of a life well-lived. How useful or desirable is it to measure happiness, particularly when it comes to the wellbeing of a nation? As some economists have observed, beyond a certain point, GDP no longer captures the nuances of citizens’ happiness. Is it time to consider Gross Domestic Happiness? Or is there something dystopian about a government defining what happiness means, since our moods are fleeting and we all have own definition of a happy life? With Dr Andy Cope, Dr William Davies, Dr Ashley Frawley and Sir Anthony Seldon.Producer: Dan Tierney.
03/06/2142m 38s

Is it immoral to refuse the vaccine?

According the Health Secretary Matt Hancock, the “vast majority” of people in Bolton who have been admitted to hospital after contracting the fast-spreading Indian variant of Covid-19 had been offered a vaccine but hadn’t taken it. Attempts to persuade vaccine uptake have focussed on public health, social freedom and economic recovery. What about the language of morality? Is it immoral to refuse the vaccine? We are social beings, and the definition of morality is behaving in a way that is good for others, not just ourselves. How are we to make moral judgments when there are many reasons for vaccine refusal and hesitancy: conspiracy theories, false information, health concerns, religious objections as well as cultural and language barriers. Some people justify their refusal precisely because they believe it to be moral. It could be argued that to be moral isn’t always about doing the right thing, it’s about seeking to do the right thing, and even if you have reached the wrong conclusions, this doesn’t make you bad person. Vaccine refusal often involves a group dimension above and beyond individual choice. A potential consequence of moral condemnation is the scapegoating of entire groups. While it is true that vaccine uptake is greater among white adults, it is also the case for the vast majority of adults across all social groups. Nevertheless, if there is a connection between vaccine hesitancy and certain religious or ethnic groups, how should we respond without risking further stigmatisation? To what extent does this issue raise wider questions about social integration and trust in British institutions? With Dr Rakib Ehsan, Dr Alberto Giubilini, David Halpern and Dr Travis Rieder.Producer: Dan Tierney.
27/05/2142m 36s

The Meaning of Easter

Easter 2021 comes at the end of an annus horribilis. We are meaning-seeking creatures, and the symbolism is everywhere if you want to find it. There’s the re-birth associated with the Spring equinox, the hope in the Christian account of the resurrection, the freedom marked by the Jewish Passover, and the reflection and restoration embodied in the Muslim observance of Ramadan. While many faith and spiritual groups instinctively see this is a powerful moment in the calendar, for many people, the Easter bank holiday weekend means very little other than gorging on chocolate eggs. What should Easter mean? In Christianity, it’s more important than Christmas, and no story has had a greater influence on Western civilisation. While we are no longer a ‘Christian’ society, should Easter be more of a moment of national unity, which transcends the cultural and faith traditions of Britain? We all instinctively know what is meant by the ‘Christmas spirit’, but should we be re-imagining an Easter equivalent, based on values like sacrifice and forgiveness? Or does the very fact of having designated time off work to spend how we chose provide meaning enough? Some people think we need to come together more than ever as a means of channelling our soul-searching following the existential insecurity of the last year. Others are more sceptical about the insistence that crises like pandemics naturally lead to deep moral or spiritual introspection, and question the value of collective gestures like clapping the NHS. As a nation and as a society should we invest more in the meaning of these moments as a basis for dialogue and togetherness? Or is any national endeavour of this kind bound to be seen as coercive and rendered meaningless? With Julian Baggini, Ronald Hutton, Rev Rachel Mann and David Mills.Producer: Dan Tierney.
01/04/2142m 49s

Moral certainty in a pandemic

The mathematician John Allen Paulos once said, “uncertainty is the only certainty there is”. One year on from the beginning of the first lockdown, never has this felt more true. In light of this, how certain should we be in our judgments about the decisions that were taken by those in power over the last twelve months? One strongly-held view is that had the government and its advisors been more decisive, acting with greater moral clarity in the early stages of the pandemic, more lives would have been saved. While for others, hindsight is 20:20 and context is everything, and any decisions taken in the midst of extreme uncertainty must be judged accordingly. In the last year we have witnessed anything but moral clarity in our passionate debates about the balance of harms and the clashes of good versus good. Public health has been pitted against livelihoods, family life, culture and the right to protest. What lessons should we take from the pandemic about the moral value of certainty? Uncertainty, particularly if it is prolonged, is psychologically bad for us and something we instinctively want to avoid for the sake of our mental health. In leadership, we admire those who have a clarity of vision, who are not paralysed by indecision and who keep their doubts to themselves. Others, however, believe that the reason society is so polarised is because too many people are certain they are right, and that moral certitude often has the effect of pandering to one group of people while alienating another. Is it a moment to embrace complexity, humility and self-reflection? Or has the last year provided a moral clarity about all sorts of things, notably injustices, that must now push back hard against any lingering doubt? With Raghib Ali, Lord David Blunkett, Jonathan Calvert and Quassim Cassam.Producer: Dan Tierney.
29/03/2142m 25s

The Morality of Masculinity

The abduction and murder of Sarah Everard has provoked widespread anger, fear, solidarity and soul-searching. While some may see elements of a moral panic, how are we to deal with the uncomfortable truth that, despite progress in so many areas of life, the overwhelming majority of domestic abuse, sexual assault and violent pornography is perpetrated by men against women? Is there something intrinsically wicked about men? That’s a very stark question, which invites deeper exploration. For some, the problem starts with the very idea of ‘masculinity’, which they regard as a social construct; a self-perpetuating myth; a set of harmful descriptors about how men should behave. Others believe that ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ are not arbitrary categories, that they usefully describe fundamental biological differences, and that to view the male propensity for violence solely as a ‘masculine’ problem wrongly demonises all men. Assuming there are ‘toxic’ aspects of masculinity, how should we deal with them? For some, it starts at birth with the compartmentalising of boys and girls into the clothes they should wear and the toys they should play with. The inherent misogyny behind this social-conditioning, they argue, pressurises many teenage boys into not displaying so-called ‘feminine’ traits. Is it time to re-define masculinity or scrap it altogether? Others warn against the dissolution of gender binaries and believe it is possible to celebrate male strength and competitiveness without encouraging pathological behaviour. While others argue that we need to address the relationship poverty that cuts through society: from the absence of paternal role models in the home to educating public school boys about consent. With Madeleine Kearns, Dr Lucy Nicholas, Tom Ross-Williams and Dr Andrew Smiler.Producer: Dan Tierney.
18/03/2142m 45s

Conditions on living in a post-vaccine world

The Covid vaccine has given us a ‘roadmap’ out of the lockdown but it also provides us with a whole new set of moral conundrums. The virus will likely be with us forever, so the question becomes: how will we live with it in the medium and long-term? We’ve all accepted conditions on our daily lives, with the view that they would be temporary, but should we have to get used to them? Downing Street says the idea of a "Covid passport" app is still under review. Should we make the ability to travel, socialise in public or even go to school and work conditional on having been vaccinated? Those in favour, say it’s a pragmatic route to normal life in a world of vaccine hesitancy. Others base their argument on the principles of safety and fairness: there is a good reason to treat people with immunity differently if they are not a risk to others. The 200,000+ people who signed a recent online petition urging the government not to introduce vaccine passports are worried about their impact on civil liberties and social cohesion. Sam Grant from the human rights organisation Liberty said they would, "create a two-tier society where some people can access support and freedoms, while others are shut out - with the most marginalised among us hardest hit." For many, conditionality is an issue of trust, fairness and proportionality; it is part of the give and take of the responsibilities and rights of citizens. In welfare, for example, they believe people should demonstrate their commitment to finding work in order to receive benefit payments. For others, conditionality undermines social cohesion, because it comes with an implicit sense of blaming victims. Rather than further stigmatising people by attaching conditions to their daily lives, they believe we need to understand better why they are not pursuing a particular course of action. What, if any, conditions should be applied to living in a post-vaccine world? With Silkie Carlo, Matthew Oakley, Prof Julian Savulescu and Dr Beth Watts.Producer: Dan Tierney.
04/03/2142m 48s

Free Speech at Universities

The government has announced a series of proposals to “strengthen free speech and academic freedom at universities in England”, with a “free speech champion” investigating potential infringements on campuses. The Education Secretary Gavin Williamson warned of a “chilling effect” where students and staff feel they cannot express themselves freely. Many believe these measures are a welcome legal intervention following claims of increasing numbers of individuals being silenced, no-platformed or sacked. Critics, however, say the threat to free speech on campuses is grossly exaggerated and the government is cynically stirring up a culture war to distract from its own failings in tackling Covid. Moreover, they claim these proposals actively undermine free speech because they are just another way of controlling what is 'acceptable' speech, the impact of which is to discipline those who are defending others from racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia. Students have a right to physical safety and to expect not to be subjected to hatred, but some worry about a ‘concept creep’ in which the definition of hate speech has widened to include any opinions that go against the prevailing orthodoxy. Academics’ own experiences are mixed: some say they feel no pressure of censorship, others believe their colleagues are in denial about the regression of academic freedom. Universities have long been seen as places of intellectual danger, where people go to be shocked and changed. Is this idea in retreat? Or are universities still the vibrant and stimulating places they always were, with a generation of students who are merely less tolerant of intolerance? With Jonathan Haidt, Zamzam Ibrahim, Prof Eric Kaufmanm and Prof Dr Alison Scott-Baumann.Producer: Dan Tierney
02/03/2142m 50s

Personal Responsibility

We’d probably all be able to give the government a score out of ten for its handling of the pandemic – but how many of us have even thought of subjecting ourselves to the same level of scrutiny? From illegal raves, house parties and large family weddings to the everyday decisions not to wear a mask or socially distance, how much should the public take a share of the responsibility for the spread of the virus? The author and commentator Matthew Syed claims that personal responsibility is “in retreat”. Citing a new drug to tackle obesity by hijacking the brain’s appetite-regulating system – while evidently good news – he cautions against the pernicious effects of easy fixes on human character and our sense of self. When a homeless person dies on the streets, many will view that tragedy as a “failure of the system”, and it would be unpopular to suggest the cause lies, even in small part, with the individual. Yet, individual autonomy is today’s sacred creed and it’s argued that with rights come responsibilities. Others believe there is a flaw in that logic because, as the pandemic has shown, we don’t all have the same resources or enjoy the freedom to pursue our lives as we would choose; that we are all products of our social background and no choice is made in a vacuum. What has our response to the pandemic revealed about the value we place in personal responsibility compared to other countries and cultures? Have we made too much or too little of the idea? And what does this tell us about how we should be tackling all kinds of social issues? Does an emphasis on free will, choice and responsibility help us to understand them better, or can it obscure what’s really going on? With Prof Sally Bloomfield, Dr Alexander Brown, Dr Deepti Gurdasani and Prof Sir Michael Marmot.Producer: Dan Tierney.
18/02/2142m 41s

The ‘Age of Impunity’

“America is back”, said President Joe Biden, ushering in a new era of US foreign policy. There is a lot in his in-tray. Having announced an end to US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, he faces a coup in Myanmar, Russia’s election meddling and the “very credible case” of genocide against the Uighurs in China. There has been a sense for some time that liberal democracy is in retreat, politically, morally and perhaps also militarily. The result, according to some, is that we have become toothless in holding aggressive actors and rogue regimes to account. David Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee, has described this as the ‘Age of Impunity’, where “war crimes go unpunished” and “militaries, militias, and mercenaries in conflicts around the world believe they can get away with anything”. Others might argue we have short memories, and the last century is full of tyrants we neglected to confront, atrocities we failed to prevent and conflicts we made worse through our morally-motivated interventions. If the US is resetting the global democratic order, recommitting to alliances and international agreements, what should be its guiding principles? Is there a place for morality in global affairs, or has it always been about realpolitik and enlightened self-interest? As a nation and as a group of nations, is it time to assert strong moral values on the global stage, whatever the consequences, or is it better to be pragmatic and honest about the problems we can and can’t solve? With David Miliband, Dr Joseph Nye, Prof Adrian Pabst and Prof Patrick Porter.Producer: Dan Tierney.
10/02/2142m 47s

Christmas 2020

The ethical calculation families across the UK have to make about seeing loved ones this Christmas could have far-reaching and potentially fatal consequences. The government has laid down the rules, but the moral choices lie between the gaps. Those who urge caution, even a postponement of Christmas, say it’s about taking personal responsibility to make everyone safe, and that it would be wrong to let our guard down now that the vaccine ‘cavalry’ is just over the other side of the hill. The other side of the argument is that, at the end of a terrible year, we deserve something to celebrate with family and friends, even if that means taking greater risks for a limited period of time. Do we have a right to Christmas? At what price? What is certain is that Christmas this year won’t be business as usual. So perhaps it is an opportunity to re-evaluate how and why we celebrate it? Some believe the pressure to conform to Christmas as we know it is psychologically bad for us. They are critical, sometimes for religious reasons, of what they see as months of build-up, driven by consumerism, all for a couple of days of rampant excess and dashed expectations, putting a strain on relationships. Is this a moment to reflect on the things that really matter; empathy for others over individualistic materialism? Others resist the call to simplify Christmas or to go back to its ‘original meaning’. Since time immemorial, Northern European cultures have celebrated a mid-winter festival, and before the Victorians re-invented Christmas, the season has always been somewhat raucous. Many think it should be a time of joyful celebration in the middle of dark nights and dark times; a gesture of companionship and welcome in modern, multi-cultural and multi-faith Britain. With Prof Linda Bauld, Ronald Hutton, Laura Perrins and Dr Steve Taylor.Producer: Dan Tierney.
02/12/2042m 26s

The Morality of Vaccination

It’s hard to remember what normal life feels like, but for the first time since the start of the pandemic, there are reasons to be optimistic about when we might return to it. It looks increasingly likely that by the New Year at least one highly-effective Covid vaccine will be available. Despite this promising news, any new vaccines will be rationed, cost money and carry some degree of risk. This prompts a number of ethical and moral considerations. For some, this as a matter of global justice; they believe it would be immoral and counterproductive to distribute a vaccine on the basis of whichever countries have the biggest pockets. Others think it’s perfectly reasonable for any state to prioritise the health of its own citizens, particularly the vulnerable. There are those who have concerns about the speed of the vaccine trials, and believe that if we’re going to inoculate billions of people, many of whom are asymptomatic or unaffected, we’ve got to make sure we’re not cutting corners and causing harm. While, for others, normal rules shouldn’t apply during a crisis, and the faster you can get the vaccines out, the better. And what about those who refuse a Covid jab? There have been calls for emergency laws to stamp out anti-vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories online. Last year, NHS chief Simon Stevens warned that large numbers of parents rejecting vaccines for their children was a "growing public health time bomb". Is there a moral case for compulsory vaccination? Or is it an unjustifiable infringement on civil liberties and parental rights? With Prof Helen Bedford, Matthew Lynn, Dr Julian Sheather and Prof Tom Solomon.Producer: Dan Tierney.
30/11/2042m 49s

Defence versus Foreign Aid

The Chancellor’s spending review this week has thrown up competing moral visions for Britain’s place in a post-Covid, post-Brexit world. On the one hand, there will be a boost in defence spending on drones and cyberwarfare; on the other, speculation about the UK’s foreign aid commitment has prompted ex-prime ministers, charities and religious leaders to speak out against any proposed cuts to the aid budget. Symbolically, if not practically, defence spending and overseas aid are seen to be in competition since they are both projections of global Britain. If so, how can we assess their competing moral worth? Is using taxpayers’ money for defence any morally better or worse than for foreign aid? One worldview contends that prioritising investment in defence is jingoistic and problematic, while funding international development is benign and benevolent. Others, meanwhile, consider there to be a greater moral obligation towards those closer to home in response to changing threats from malicious regimes, and question whether the distribution of public funds in the form of overseas aid is incorruptible. Or are the two sectors inextricably linked? Some see international development almost as a branch of national security, exercising soft power and helping to shore up unstable states, while others point out the role of the armed forces in peacekeeping, delivering humanitarian aid and combatting the drugs trade. Both military personnel and aid charities are guided by a moral code and, in both cases, include individuals who have fallen short of that code. When it comes to the daily motivations of human beings on the ground, is the ethos of the armed forces any different to the ethos of international aid workers? With Dr Sabina Alkire, Ian Birrell, Prof Michael Clarke and Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman.Producer: Dan Tierney.
26/11/2042m 45s

Democratic Legitimacy

Donald Trump is refusing to concede the US election, making unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud and planning rallies across the country to build support for the legal fights ahead. The ‘leader of the free world’ is having a wobble and it is a testing time for democracy. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to unify a country that has become so polarised that even the choice about whether or not to wear a mask during a pandemic is seen as political. What do the deep divisions, and even the denial of the outcome of the vote, mean for the democratic legitimacy of the office of the president? Many of Mr Biden’s followers believe there is now a moral imperative for all Americans, regardless of their politics, to support him in his attempt to unite the states of America. Many Trump voters, however, say they feel not just forgotten, but despised by the opposition, and see the appeal to unity as another way of telling large swathes of the electorate to ‘get with the programme’ or to ‘see the error of their ways’. Democratic legitimacy can be a slippery concept. Many have argued that there is no such thing as the ‘will of the people’, or even, depending on voter turnout, the will of most people. As Brexit trade talks resume this week, there are still those who refuse to accept the legitimacy of the referendum and believe the concerns voiced in the last four years about the social, political and economic impact of leaving the EU change the democratic, and moral, equation. Their opponents denounce them as democracy deniers. How long after a democratic decision is made are we compelled to be loyal to it? While we can all be pious about democratic legitimacy, can we also be guilty of playing fast and loose with it when it suits us? With Prof Matthew Goodwin, Dr Jan Halper-Hayes, Prof Allan Lichtman and Prof Bo Rothstein.Producer: Dan Tierney.
11/11/2042m 32s

The Morality of Mortality

The Prime Minister said the second lockdown in England was necessary to avoid the "medical and moral disaster" of the NHS being overwhelmed. In starker terms: many people will die if nothing is done, and not just of Covid-19. Depending on one’s perspective, the government’s strategy has either been too concerned, or not concerned enough, with the avoidance of death above all else. What has the crisis revealed about our attitude to our own mortality and how we value human life? Some are accused of being too blasé about the fact that many who died in the first wave of the pandemic either had ‘underlying conditions’ or, more bluntly, would have died soon anyway. Others, who believe the second lockdown should have been sooner and more severe, are accused of giving in to fear – as one lady quipped in a TV vox pop: “I’m 83 and I don’t give a sod”. Nevertheless, the coronavirus has made many people face death far earlier than they were expecting. People have died alone and their loved ones have grieved for them in isolation. For some, the pandemic has highlighted how inadequate we are at confronting death more generally. Medical progress has given us longer and healthier lives yet there are many who believe that we have focused too much on prolonging life rather than making the time we have left meaningful. We also live in an age when some think the prospect of ‘defeating death’ is in touching distance. Is death the ultimate taboo in our culture? If we can’t medicalise our way out of it, how can we live – and die – well? With Prof Michael Hauskeller, Kathryn Mannix, Revd Dr Brendan McCarthy and Prof Ellen Townsend.Producer: Dan Tierney.
04/11/2042m 41s

Celebrity Power

Marcus Rashford’s campaign for free meals for vulnerable children during school holidays has received widespread support from both the public and the media, with some describing Rashford as rising from sportsman to statesman, the noble quest of a celebrity footballer taking on the might of the Government. Whether he succeeds remains to be seen but it demonstrates the growing power of the celebrity. Advertisers and charities alike have long understood the power of associating celebrities with a product or a cause. They can guarantee visibility and familiarity and their likeability, attractiveness and success are known to influence the way many think and act regardless of whether the celebrities themselves know much about the cause they are championing. But when it comes to public policy should politicians be held to ransom by the power and influence of celebrities? Shouldn’t it be up to Government how it spends its money not the celebrities who are not accountable for their actions? Yet the relationship between politics and celebrities are becoming increasingly blurred. Celebrities are often asked to endorse political campaigns. In America, the history of politics is populated by celebrities themselves achieving political success from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Ronald Reagan and now Donald Trump to name but a few. Some would argue this has reduced political success to whether you like or dislike a politician not on well-rehearsed political arguments or ideologies. Others would argue that it degrades the moral status of government and is a danger to democracy. So who has the moral authority – the politician or the celebrity? With Paul Cullen, Dr Mark Harvey, Prof Natasha Lindstaedt and Brendan O’Neill.Producer: Amanda Hancox
28/10/2042m 30s

Global Capitalism and the ‘Lost Generation’

By November, 1 million young people in the UK will be unemployed, according to a report out this week from the newly-launched Alliance for Full Employment. It has the backing of the former Prime Minister and Chancellor Gordon Brown, who warned of a “lost Covid generation” of young people with no prospects and nothing to do. The cost, he says, is more than just a financial one: “It destroys self-worth; it hurts family life; it shatters communities”. So what should our moral obligation be to this generation? A parallel has been drawn with the post-war period which saw the birth of the Welfare State. While there is widespread support for short-term financial help, there are those who caution against what they see as writing off an entire generation as ‘lost’, or institutionalising state dependency; they believe that the pandemic has merely accelerated inevitable economic change from which a brighter future can emerge. There are many young people who don’t share that optimism, and point to how the Covid crisis has exposed pre-existing health and wealth inequalities, which, for them, raises bigger questions about the morality of global capitalism. This is the moment, they argue, to change capitalism so that it focuses on what humans really want and need, and to actively promote the things we value beyond financial success and economic usefulness. Capitalism’s supporters, however, see our quality of life as being intrinsically bound up with markets and economic growth. For them the moral response to Covid is to kick start the consumer boom and allow people the freedom to make money unconstrained. Is it time for a radical challenge to unbridled capitalism for sake of the young, or is the ‘invisible hand’ still the best way to get a leg up? With Grace Blakeley, Ian Goldin, Daniel Pryor and Jamie Whyte.Producer: Dan Tierney.
22/10/2042m 49s

The Moral Authority of Organised Religion

A damning report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse describes a culture of deference in the Church of England which meant that perpetrators were allowed to hide and, when exposed, were often given more support than their victims. This was a scandal in which the “moral authority of clergy was widely perceived as beyond reproach”. This pattern of behaviour and cover-up is shocking but depressingly familiar. Following decades of such revelations, there is a growing belief that Britain’s churches have lost all moral credibility as a result of their repeated inability to practice what they preach and get their house in order. Others point out that, while reparations are needed, all institutions – whether religious or secular – are made up of human beings who are capable of terrible crimes, and that the good done by organised religion in tackling poverty, comforting the bereaved and showing strong leadership on some of the key moral issues of the day, should not be overlooked. Whether or not such institutions still command moral authority, formal religious affiliation is nevertheless in decline. Is this to be welcomed or lamented? For many people, rules-based religion has had its day. They see the churches as being out of step on many progressive issues like gender equality and same-sex marriage; they look elsewhere for sources of morality, or they see morality, faith and spirituality as subjective and personal. Others, meanwhile, still see religious institutions as the bedrock of a cohesive society; an inherited, shared source or moral and spiritual guidance, spanning centuries. They caution against the jettisoning of absolute moral rules and view the belief that we all have our own ‘truths’ and ways of knowing as deeply unhealthy. With Dr Ed Condon, Rt Rev Philip North, Prof Francesca Stavrokopoulou and Rev Stephen Trott.Producer: Dan Tierney.
14/10/2042m 42s

Lived Experience

Donald Trump claims to have a better understanding of coronavirus following his own diagnosis and treatment. In a video message he said, "I learned it by really going to school. This is the real school. This isn't the let's read the books school. I get it and I understand it.” There are those who believe that directly experiencing a social issue makes for better, more empathic, political decision-making. Critics of the President’s handling of the crisis, however, would argue that it should not have taken a threat to his own health for him to “get it”, and that empathy is something you’ve either got or you haven’t. This has wider implications; “lived experience” is a central tenet of social justice. It has become an established part of the way we interact, debate and reason in the public square. Is there something irreplaceable about experiencing what others merely intellectualise about? Should lived experience play a greater role in policy-making? It is often argued that someone’s opinion lacks legitimacy if they have not been directly affected by the issue at hand – whether poverty, racism or disability – and that it is often through emotional human stories that these issues can be truly tackled. Others believe that while subjective experience can illuminate a problem, it can also cloud moral judgment and should not be presented at the expense of objective evidence. Moreover, the idea that only certain people are allowed to opine about particular subjects, some say, is potentially divisive and dangerous. To what extent should the lived experience of a person give them moral authority? With Alan Johnson, Prof. Jonathan Portes, Ash Sarkar and Prof. Sharon Wright.Producer: Dan Tierney.
08/10/2042m 52s

Moral Lessons for a Post-Covid World

The past five months have turned our lives upside down. In the early days of the lockdown, idealists saw the pandemic as an opportunity for moral improvement; they thought it would reinforce our shared values and confirm our common humanity. As it has turned out, Covid-19 has not been the great leveller they were hoping for. You could argue that, on the contrary, it has taken our social inequalities and made them worse, adding a greater danger of death to the burden already borne by the most disadvantaged. It has escalated the culture wars and eroded our collective trust in authority and in each other. Optimists still see opportunities for a better world, as long as we draw the right lessons from this unsettling experience. It may have things to teach us about the right balance between social responsibility and individual freedom, between amateurism and expertise, between community rootedness and global collaboration, or between the nation’s wellbeing and the health of its economy. In this 30th birthday edition of the Moral Maze, each of our four panellists will propose one moral principle, relevant to the crisis, that they believe would serve us well in a post-Covid world. With Lord Andrew Adonis, Professor Linda Bauld, Ross Clark and Geoff Norcott.Producer: Dan Tierney.
05/08/2043m 5s

The Death of the City?

Our normally bustling cities have been eerily quiet for months. It’s reminiscent of the post-apocalyptic horror film, ‘28 Days Later’. The lockdown is proving costly; Westminster Abbey has lost more than £12 million in revenue this year and is set to lay off one in five of its staff. Theatre bosses say they must reopen without social distancing in time for Christmas or face oblivion. Restrictions are beginning to ease but for many cafes, pubs, shops, clubs and restaurants, the pandemic could be terminal. Museums, galleries, churches and office developments will struggle to justify their continued existence; should they be bailed out by the taxpayer? Perhaps each of us has a moral duty to head uptown on a shopping spree, take in a show and dine out? Yet this is about more than jobs and tourism; it raises bigger questions about the value we put on cities. If a ghost town is sad, a dead city is surely a tragedy. Since ancient Athens, cities, for many, have been the cultural jewels in civilisation’s crown, creative cauldrons of multicultural mingling and springboards to success. Others cite London, for example, as a social, cultural and economic drain on the life of our country. They believe that declining big cities give us an opportunity to revive towns, to end the suburban commuter crawl, beef up provincial culture, restore lost industries, embrace home-working and cut carbon emissions. Are big cities an unquestionable moral good, worth preserving in their current state? Or, in the new post-Covid world, is there a better way of organising the way we live? With Richard Burge, Paul Chatterton, Tom Cheesewright and Dr Jonathan Rowson.Producer: Dan Tierney.
29/07/2043m 2s

The Morality of the British Empire

Campaigners are calling for an 'empire-neutral' public honour to reward front-line coronavirus workers in the Queen’s birthday honours list this autumn. It’s thought that some nominees will refuse to accept the traditional Order of the British Empire (OBE). The Black Lives Matter protests have sharpened the debate about our colonial past. Oxford professor Nigel Biggar has suggested that academics now put their careers at risk if they say anything positive about the British Empire. It’s an important moment for education, but the issue has become toxic. There’s general agreement that most British citizens have for too long been ignorant of the dark and shameful parts of their history. But was the Empire, as many passionately contest, predominantly a system of racism, slavery and exploitation? Other historians - while not disputing the violence and cruelty that disfigured the imperial project - point to the advances in health, education, the rule of law and economic prosperity that it brought to many parts of the world. How should we weigh up the transgressions and the triumphs of the past? Is it helpful to mark the Empire on a moral balance sheet with ‘shame’ and ‘pride’ columns? Does the obsession with viewing Britain’s history as either glorious or heinous stoke present-day hostility between identity groups? Or, since many British citizens are children of empire and their ancestry is woven into our collective tapestry, should we all focus instead on learning more about our shared past, warts and all? With Professor Nigel Biggar, Dr Nadine El-Enany, Janan Ganesh and Professor Alan Lester.Producer: Dan Tierney.
22/07/2043m 1s

How and why we educate

Universities are counting the cost of COVID-19. They’ve lost revenue from international students, they’re struggling for investment and some of them are finding it hard to meet their pension commitments. As many as 13 of them may no longer be financially viable, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The question of whether or not cash-strapped universities should be bailed out is moral as well as financial. It summons conflicting arguments about the social value of these institutions and the role they have in wider education. In the 1970s and 1980s between 8% and 19% of school-leavers went on to higher education; today it’s 50%. Should we be proud that at least half our young adults are engaged in self-directed learning? Some say yes, it’s a moral achievement and well worth holding on to. Others observe that whereas we may now have more graduates than ever, never before have their qualifications been worth so little. How we view universities has implications for schools, where hitting grade targets is the de facto measure of success. The pandemic has exposed the weakness of this approach, according to its critics, because it relies too heavily on testing as an end in itself. While some decry the lockdown as a disaster for a ‘lost generation’ of young people, others see it as a once-in-a generation opportunity to re-think not just how we’re educating our children but what education should be aiming to achieve. With Nick Hillman, Sir Anthony Seldon, Niamh Sweeney and Tim Worstall.Producer: Dan Tierney.
15/07/2042m 54s


Years of soft-touch regulation and the universal adoption of smartphones have created a “perfect storm of addictive 24/7 gambling”, making “the lives of two million people miserable” – according to a House of Lords Select Committee report looking into the betting industry. Its 66 recommendations include a ban on “loot boxes” in video games, which can often be bought for real money and offer a randomised reward; many see this as a dangerous gateway to gambling for children. It wants to ease the industry out of sports sponsorship; half the Premier League football clubs are currently supported by betting companies. It wants new taxes on gambling with the money used to fund addiction clinics. What, if any, is the moral equivalence between problem gambling and other forms of addiction to recreational activities like drinking and smoking? If it’s a public health issue rather than a matter of individual free choice, how heavily should gambling be restricted? Perhaps, because gambling addiction can often have a wider social impact, hurting families and friends as well as the addicts themselves, it should be compared to drug abuse. If that’s reasonable, why not just treat gambling like any class A drug and make it illegal? Gambling enthusiasts and libertarians see it as a leisure activity which offers harmless fun to the vast majority of punters. They believe there is nothing intrinsically immoral about the industry, although most admit that betting companies do have a duty of care to vulnerable clients. Are problem gamblers the hapless victims of a heartless racket or does that rob them of moral agency and free them of personal responsibility? Is problem gambling a disease, a moral failing or just the downside of freedom? With Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, Brigid Simmonds, Christopher Snowdon and Matt Zarb-Cousin.Producer: Dan Tierney.
08/07/2042m 26s


Major changes in the Civil Service are needed to tackle metropolitan ‘groupthink’ in government, according to Michael Gove. Sceptics are worried about the impact of all this on the political neutrality of our administrators. Beyond the walls of Whitehall, there are those in Britain who believe that ‘groupthink’ has become pestilential. The word was coined in the 1970s by social psychologist Irving Janis. It has come to refer to people who are passionate about a particular view of the world and who treat those who don’t share their values with contempt, or even hostility. Today, commentators talk also of ‘cancel culture’ – public denunciations of high-profile individuals whose beliefs are deemed to be incompatible with the prevailing moral orthodoxy. When ‘unacceptable’ private thoughts are made public, reputations can be trashed and jobs are sometimes lost. Those accused of this kind of ‘groupthink’ reject that criticism and believe that all public figures should be held accountable for their views. Once made public, they argue, those views can have a direct and adverse impact on people’s lives, so they become everybody’s business. Should a person’s legitimacy in public life be judged as much on what they think as how they behave? Is it possible to separate thoughts from deeds or are they intimately connected? Has social media robbed us of the ability to tolerate diversity of opinion, or is this talk of ‘the thought police’ hysterical? Is ‘groupthink’, as we have come to understand it, irrational, divisive and dangerous? Or does it merely describe an age-old phenomenon: a group of like-minded people uniting to campaign for a better world? With Dalia Gebrial, Paul Taylor, Rt Rev Dr David Walker and Toby Young.Producer: Dan Tierney.
02/07/2042m 40s


While the rest of the world is poleaxed by the pandemic, China is becoming increasingly assertive – if not downright aggressive. In the past few days it has annexed 60 square kilometres of the Himalayas, leaving 20 Indian soldiers dead. Meanwhile, Beijing is rushing through stringent security laws in Hong Kong, threatening Taiwan, sabre-rattling in the South China Sea and incarcerating 1.5 million Uyghur Muslims in concentration camps. China’s recent behaviour challenges the values that underpin liberal democracy, so what should the international community do about it? The problem is moral as well as geopolitical. Some say the UK has been sleepwalking into economic dependency on China, with talk of a “golden era” of UK-Chinese relations. The time has come, they suggest, to disengage and denounce. For others, the priority must be our economic self-interest. They believe that imposing tough sanctions on Beijing or spurning Chinese investment in the UK (including Huawei’s role in our 5G networks) would inevitably hurt Britain in a post-Corona, post-Brexit world. Despite different traditions of governance, is it possible for China and the West to co-exist without trying to damage one another? History tells us that when powerful states become more oppressive at home and more aggressive abroad, military confrontation is never far away; under what circumstances might such action be needed? Or should we be concentrating instead on winning hearts and minds, worrying first about how our own nation could set a better moral example in the world? Within the long history of the rise and fall of global superpowers, how are we to deal with 21st Century China? With Dr Philip Cunliffe, Tom Fowdy and Isabel Hilton.Producer: Dan Tierney.
25/06/2042m 44s

Racial Justice

The anti-racist protests of the last two weeks, and the far right backlash against them, have revealed something significant about British society. Over and above the rights and wrongs of toppling statues, scribbling out street signs and cancelling old comedies, is surely the deeper question of how we should understand what is happening? Racism exists and there is palpable anger at the injustices black and minority ethic people are experiencing. Yet, at the same time, there are concerns about how the serious fight for racial justice can become an over-simplified battle of competing and increasingly polarised identities, based solely on skin colour. How racist is modern Britain? How can we truly get to grips with the complexity of this question? Once we have a greater understanding of how we got here, what should we do to address the racial inequalities we see in health, education, housing, employment and the criminal justice system? Are some individuals and organisations more concerned with demonstrating their own virtue than doing the hard work required to bring about lasting change? What does the ‘hard work’ look like and who should be doing it? Does the cause of racial justice justify rage and a ‘zero sum’ approach? Or can meaningful social change be negotiated in a spirit of understanding and honesty on all sides? With Dr Dominic Abrams, Dr Jason Arday, Jude Blay Yawson and Inaya Folarin Iman.Producer: Dan Tierney.
18/06/2042m 56s


Some of the UK’s national parks saw visitor numbers soar to bank holiday levels over the weekend. The message about social distancing and self-isolation is taking time to sink in. "Life should not feel normal," said the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. If it does, she added, “You should ask if you are doing the right things." The public’s response to these unprecedented times has exemplified the best and the worst of humanity. What, then, does the coronavirus crisis tell us about the fundamental nature of our species? Your answer to that question will depend on whether you agree with the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes that people are naturally disposed to ‘rapine and revenge’; or with the 18th century thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau that humans are essentially good. The tussle between self-interest and altruism has been part of the human condition since we were decorating caves. Now an ever-tightening lockdown will make life-changing demands on all of us. We are social animals who evolved and adapted to survive in groups, so how well are we equipped to cope with extended periods of self-isolation? Some predict an epidemic of depression and suicides. Others argue that we are far more adept at developing our own inner life than were our ancestors in the ancient world, who saw exile as a fate worse than death. Are we right to be worried about the moral and psychological effects of a prolonged lack of human contact? Or are we more resilient than we think? With Hilda Burke, Andrew Colman, Julia Hartley-Brewer and Mark Vernon.Producer: Dan Tierney.
26/03/2043m 4s

Danger and Opportunity?

The coronavirus pandemic has given the world a smack in the face. Sporting events have been cancelled, national borders have closed, jobs and livelihoods hang in the balance, the over-seventies will soon be asked to self-isolate and families are having difficult conversations about whether grandparents can be allowed to see their grandchildren. It’s life, but not as we know it. A cynical politician once said that you should never let a serious crisis go to waste, and pundits are already suggesting that we now have an opportunity to re-think society. After all, in Chinese, the word for crisis is often interpreted as signifying both "danger" and "opportunity". Is it time to make changes that would not have been feasible without an existential threat hanging over us? Could we, for example, strengthen global partnerships, accelerate the shift to sustainable energy, think about a universal basic income or forge a new sense of community? Such ‘politicisation’ of the problem is appalling to those who just want to get through this ordeal and return to normal; they say it’s much too soon to conclude that free market liberal democracy has failed the stress-test. They are sure that, if we do the right things to protect the most vulnerable, it will soon be business as usual. Yet history shows that a major crisis can be a catalyst for crucial changes. Talk of re-purposing hotels as make-shift hospitals and manufacturing plants to make ventilators, invites comparisons with the Second World War, which gave us the welfare state as we know it today. We won’t get through the corona crisis without ceding a lot of our individual autonomy to the state, but is that an opportunity for greater collectivism in the future - or a danger to liberty? With Rachel Cunliffe, Laura Perrins, Rabbi Lord Sacks and Dr Jamie Whyte.Producer: Dan Tierney.
20/03/2042m 55s


The anti-racism campaigner Trevor Phillips has been suspended from the Labour Party over allegations of Islamophobia. Some have described the move as “Orwellian”; others believe he has a case to answer. The issue turns on what we mean by ‘Islamophobia’ – although even to pose that question is to invite denunciation in some quarters; why split hairs when it’s obvious that anti-Muslim bigotry is rife? The Conservative party has been under attack for the allegedly Islamophobic utterances of some within its ranks, but it is waiting to agree on a definition of ‘Islamophobia’ before committing to an inquiry. It is 20 years since the term entered the political lexicon and almost a decade since Baroness Warsi declared that Islamophobia had passed the ‘dinner table test’ and become acceptable in polite society; yet, we still haven’t quite decided what it is and what it isn’t. Some people – including many Muslims – have a problem with the word itself because they think it reinforces the idea that Islam is something to be afraid of. Islam is a religion, not a race, but the definition used by the Labour Party calls Islamophobia ‘a type of racism’, because of the comparable experiences described by Muslims at the sharp end of group discrimination. Meanwhile, free speech advocates are concerned that any formal definition risks blurring the line between the unacceptable hatred of people (Muslims) and the legitimate criticism of ideas (Islam). Once we have our definition, whom should we appoint to decide whether particular words or deeds are Islamophobic? And if there’s a spectrum that runs from insensitivity and disrespect at one end to the most hideous kinds of hate crime at the other, where along that line should the law intervene? With Mohammed Amin, Myriam Francois, Ibrahim Mogra & Fiyaz Mughal.Producer: Dan Tierney.
12/03/2042m 47s


Late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan, a tiny organism migrated from an animal to a human. Three months later, COVID-19 has gone global. So far, nearly 90,000 people are known to have caught coronavirus and more than 3,000 of them – mostly already ill or elderly – have died. Here in the UK, the government has acknowledged that its ‘containment’ strategy is likely to fail and is planning for delaying the spread of the virus and mitigating its effects. But nobody knows how the virus will behave in Britain, and planning for the unpredictable is far from straightforward. If we know we can’t win this fight, but we don’t want to lose it too badly, what are we prepared to sacrifice on the battlefield? How authoritarian do we want the government to be? Must we be ready to accept martial law, the isolation of towns and cities, closed schools, factories and offices, bans on public transport, concerts and sporting events? While some would see such measures as sensible, others warn against authorities who would stamp on our civil liberties out of a nervous need to be seen to be doing something. And what about those in the ‘gig’ economy who can’t afford not to work? The moral dimension goes beyond the arguments about precaution, panic, freedom and frailty. The coronavirus dilemma could be seen as a real-life example of that age-old ethical thought experiment, the ‘Trolley Problem’. Should we do everything we can to protect the most vulnerable in our society, even if the knock on effect to the global economy has the potential to cause suffering and death for many more people further down the line? With Dr. Tony Booth, Dr. Norman Lewis, Julian Sheather & Professor Dominic Wilkinson.Producer: Dan Tierney
05/03/2042m 39s

Profiling, Safety and Trust

The boss of Ryanair has been criticised for saying that airport security checks should focus on Muslim men who are travelling alone, because they pose the biggest terror threat. The Muslim Council of Britain said Michael O'Leary's comments were "racist and discriminatory". Profiling is the practice of categorising people and predicting their behaviour on the basis of particular characteristics. We're profiled all the time by businesses and insurance companies with the help of computer algorithms. That same technology has been piloted by police and will now be used to identify low-level offenders who are deemed likely to go on to commit "high-harm" crimes, perhaps involving knives and guns. Is it right to target specific groups on the theory that they are statistically more likely to commit certain crimes? Civil liberty watchdogs argue that such ‘pre-crime’ profiling not only violates everyone’s civil rights, but fosters alienation and hostility in marginalised communities. Supporters of ‘data analytics’ believe that, on the contrary, it can eliminate all bias and human error from these judgments. There’s a wider debate about the balance between public safety and trust. Should we worry that these preventative measures are eroding our goodwill towards authority and each other? There are proposals to introduce airport-style security checks in ever more areas of our lives, from concert halls to places of worship. Security campaigners say it’s a necessary step towards making us all that little bit safer. Libertarians call it an over-reaction to a statistically-negligible threat. It is, they say, allowing the criminals to dictate how we live our lives. With Nick Aldworth, Tom Chivers, Dr Adam Elliott-Cooper and Tom McNeil. Producer: Dan Tierney.
27/02/2042m 48s

Transgender Rights

Two of the final three Labour leadership candidates have signed pledges to defend trans rights, expel party members who express "transphobic" views and fight against Woman’s Place UK, LGB Alliance and “other trans-exclusionist hate groups”. Both those groups cited insist they are merely campaigning for the rights of women as they exist under UK Equality law, as well as those of gay, lesbian and bisexual people. This bitter quarrel could be seen as symptomatic of a wider culture war which calls into question the very notions of gender, sex, sexuality, social justice and inclusivity. For many trans activists, a failure to recognise trans women as women or trans men as men is itself hateful, because they believe it denies the most fundamental fact of their identity. Their critics, however, accuse them of denying a biological reality that sex is determined at birth. It is, they say, unreasonable to refuse even to discuss the subject. For those prepared to debate, there’s a lot to think about. What constitutes “transphobia”? What are the moral implications of gender self-identification? What rights and protections should be afforded to ‘biological’ females in women's changing rooms, refuges and prisons? What does gender self-identification mean for women’s sport? More fundamentally, where does ‘masculinity’ end and ‘femininity’ begin? How should we respond to the increasing numbers of children and teenagers, particularly girls, being diagnosed with gender dysphoria? And what ethical considerations should apply in deciding whether and how to treat them? With Jane Fae, Graham Linehan, Torr Robinson and Kiri Tunks. Producer: Dan Tierney.
20/02/2042m 55s

The Moral Purpose of the BBC

Her 98th year has not started well for Auntie BBC. The Government is consulting on decriminalising the licence fee; 450 jobs are being cut from BBC News to help meet a huge savings target; gender pay disputes are never far from the headlines; and audience figures reveal that the Corporation is struggling to connect with many British people – especially the under-35s and those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds. Meanwhile, the Director-General, Tony Hall, will step down in the summer after seven years in the job. If this is a crossroads, what should be the future direction of the BBC? There are loud voices calling for an end to the licence fee, calling it a poll tax, an outdated funding model overtaken by the streaming giants. Is it fair, they ask, to be forced to pay for a service you don’t want? Supporters point out that the BBC reaches 91% of adults every week and is the envy of the world; a unique and valuable service meant for everyone – that’s the point of it – which therefore must continue to be funded by everyone. They believe it is uniquely able to unite a fragmented nation and that the founding Reithian aspirations – to inform, educate and entertain – have never been more relevant in this era of fake news and social media echo chambers. The BBC’s severest critics, however, believe it no longer acts either as ‘cultural glue’ or as a touchstone of impartiality and truth. Instead, of leading us higher, they say, the BBC is sinking ever lower in pursuit of ratings. Bloated and greedy or lean and beleaguered? Perhaps we won’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone. What, now, is the moral purpose of the BBC? With Robin Aitken, Philip Booth, Claire Enders, Jonathan Freedland.Producer: Dan Tierney.
13/02/2042m 51s

Healing the Nation

In the last three and a half years, freedom has clashed with fraternity, families have fallen out and friends have become foes. What happens next is – the Prime Minister promises – “a moment of real national renewal”. Post-Brexit Britain is not yet a week old and there is much left to negotiate about its future relationship with the EU, but at last we have certainty on one thing: we’re out. Inevitably there are still die-hard remainers re-branding themselves as ‘rejoiners’ and continued shouts of “You lost, get over it!” from their victors, but the tired rhetoric of both sides is now being tempered by hopeful talk of “healing the nation.” What exactly does this mean? It must surely begin by identifying the sickness: poisonous politics, an inability to engage with opposing views, abuse directed towards MPs, women, minorities and religious groups? Then we should try to determine whether these symptoms are acute or chronic. Are we witnessing an hysterical spasm that will pass away in time or are we entering an historic period of irreconcilable cultural divisions? And what about the prescription? Is all the talk of ‘coming together’ and ‘common visions’ well-meaning waffle? Or is the language of healing crucial if we are to recover the art of compromise and civility? History tells us that it often takes a crisis to provoke a cure and that the deepest divisions can eventually be reconciled. But wounds can fester and usually leave scars. Can the past offer us hope for a more united future? Guests: David Goodhart, Diarmaid Maccullough, Jane Robins and Jennifer Nadel. Producer: Dan Tierney
06/02/2042m 49s

Radicalisation and De-radicalisation

The story of the latest terrorist attack in London is both tragic and extraordinary, starkly contrasting the evil of the assassin and the virtues of his young victims. The red-faced authorities are trying to work out how it came about that a convicted jihadist attending a prisoner rehabilitation conference stabbed to death two of the people who wanted to help him. Meanwhile, and predictably, the event has been politicised. It is being cited as evidence that Islamist terrorists cannot be de-radicalised, and that even if they could, we can never know whether a jihadist who claims to have been de-radicalised is telling the truth. The answer for some? ‘Lock them up and throw away the key.’ Those who believe in second chances, on the other hand, might mention that one of the heroes who confronted and helped to subdue the knife attacker on London Bridge was a convicted murderer on day release. But perhaps before we consider how to punish and rehabilitate Islamists we should think about how to stop young Muslims from being radicalised in the first place. ‘Prevention’ is a catch-all term; for some it is code for cack-handed state interference in the private affairs of religious minorities; for others it is about community-building and a sense of belonging. But is that wishful thinking when communities seem so polarised, even ghettoised? Is it unreasonable of our society to preach “British values” to young Muslims who feel both economically and politically alienated? Or does the blame lie with those on both sides who have fought against integration? Featuring Dr Rakib Ehsan, Dr Usama Hasan, Hadiya Masieh and Dr Rob Faure Walker.Producer: Dan Tierney
05/12/1942m 44s

The Morality of Genetics

Doctors of medicine swear the Hippocratic Oath, written some 2,500 years ago, declaring that they will protect the confidentiality of their patients. Sometimes they break that promise and are criticised; sometimes they keep it and are criticised. This week a woman is suing an NHS trust for not telling her about her father’s Huntington’s disease, which doctors had already diagnosed when she had her own child. Only after the child was born did she find out that she also carried the faulty gene for the degenerative, incurable brain disorder – with a 50% chance of passing it on. Her father had told doctors he didn’t want her to know because he feared she might kill herself or have an abortion. This tragic case is at the centre of a moral tussle between the duty of confidentiality and the duty of care. If our right to medical privacy is intrinsic to our freedom, security and sense of self, when – if ever – should it be overridden to prevent harm to others? That’s a problem doctors have faced for a long time, but now inherited conditions are setting us another moral conundrum: science is giving us the power to eradicate many of them entirely, through gene-manipulation. So, should we press on with stem cell therapy and selective IVF? Or should we slam on the brakes, conscious of the perils of playing God and of creating a world in which prospective parents can order the characteristics of their designer babies from a tick-box à la carte menu? Featuring Dr Michael Fay, Sir Jonathan Montgomery, Sandy Starr and Dr Helen Watt.Producer: Dan Tierney
21/11/1942m 40s

The Morality of Voting

“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.
14/11/1943m 20s

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.
07/11/1942m 38s

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 WhyteProducer: Dan Tierney.
31/10/1943m 7s

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
24/10/1942m 46s

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.
17/10/1942m 41s

Academic Freedom

It seems to some that universities, which used to boast that their courses would explore controversial ideas, are nowadays keener to reassure students that they will not be disturbed by anything too worrying. But safe spaces for students make dangerous spaces for dons. Doctors and professors have been subjected to harassment and no-platforming because of their unfashionable opinions on a range of topics including colonialism, transgender rights and abortion. Earlier this year Noah Carl lost his research fellowship at Cambridge (where he was looking into the links between genetics and intelligence) after hundreds of fellow academics signed an open letter accusing him of “racist pseudoscience”. Now a group of academics is ready to launch ‘The Journal of Controversial Ideas’: peer-reviewed research by authors who can choose to remain anonymous because they fear a backlash that could endanger their careers or even their lives. Opponents of the journal say it will provide a safe space for dangerous and offensive ideas published under the cloak of anonymity. Should there be any constraints on the freedom of academics to make discoveries and interpret them as they choose? How should academic research be treated if it is deemed to support theories that are viewed as unacceptable? Do universities have a moral duty to protect and platform views with which the majority disagrees? Or are universities morally entitled to censure or dismiss academics who flout the norms of decency and respect? Is academic freedom genuinely under threat? Featuring Dr Myriam François, Dr Francesca Minerva, Dr Arianne Shahvisi and Dr Joanna Williams. Producer Dan Tierney.
10/10/1943m 0s

The Morality of Anger

The political pressure cooker is rattling, steaming and whistling. MPs on all sides are venting outrage over the language used by their opponents. It’s like a real-life Twitter. The PM’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings has said the atmosphere in the country will get ever more toxic unless the result of the referendum is delivered. Meanwhile, opposition MPs blame the current fury on what they see as the government’s pig-headed refusal to compromise. Aristotle said: “Those who do not show anger at things that ought to arouse anger are regarded as fools.” Is fierce public rhetoric at a time of political crisis justified or counter-productive? When does the healthy expression of political anger become incitement to riot or murder? Anger is often described as ‘the moral emotion' – the one most likely to affect our behaviour for better or worse. It can be constructive if it’s harnessed to redress an injustice, but what if the fight against the ‘injustice’ is driven by the destructive desire for revenge? Is there a moral distinction between anger expressed in solidarity with the oppressed and anger directed to punishing our enemies? Is it always virtuous to control our anger? George Orwell defined the English character as one of extreme gentleness, “where the bus conductors are good tempered and the policemen carry no revolvers.” Is that national character now changing? Is it too late to recover it? And should we even try? Guests: Brendan O'Neill, Mark Vernon, Rosie Carter and Thomas Dixon. Producer: Dan Tierney
03/10/1942m 34s

Love and Relationships

Whether you watch it or not, it’s hard to ignore the TV reality show ‘Love Island’, which puts a bunch of semi-naked heterosexuals in a villa and tells them to ‘couple up’. It is firmly part of the zeitgeist and now set for two series a year. There’s a clear generational disagreement about the programme: 16-34 year olds are addicted to it; geriatrics can’t stand it. What does the success of ‘Love Island’ say about the state of television, and what does the state of television say about us, the viewers? Love Island’s detractors say it’s vacuous, vulgar and exploits its vulnerable young participants in a format designed to play with their emotions. They argue it’s also morally corrupting for those who watch it – many of them impressionable adolescents with unrealistic expectations of relationships. Those who stick up for the show, including many parents of teenagers, say it contains moral lessons about modern relationships: fidelity, consent and dating etiquette. It is, they believe, both the Jane Austen of the post-millennials and a sex education primer for the over-50s. We live in the era of Tinder and Grindr where partners are selected with the swipe of a phone screen. Some worry about the effect this is having on the emotional intelligence of young people, while others say nothing’s changed; young lovers were always awkward fumblers and there’s nothing new about our obsession with good looks. Social psychologists talk about passionate love – the kind that grips a couple in the first heady phase of their relationship; and companionate love – the calmer state that follows, based on friendship, intimacy and commitment. Have we got our priorities right when it comes to love and relationships? Producer: Dan Tierney
01/08/1942m 49s


The anti-Semitism crisis engulfing the Labour party has been described by leading Jewish figures as “a taint of national and historic shame”. Jeremy Corbyn has acknowledged failures in dealing with allegations and the party has now published new materials designed to educate members about anti-Semitic tropes. Nevertheless, Labour is being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for racism – an indignity that brackets them with the BNP. According to President Macron, anti-Semitism in Europe is at its highest level since 1945. Stereotypes and ignorance abound. A quarter of the 7,000 Europeans who took part in a recent CNN/ComRes poll believe Jews have too much influence in business and finance, while a third admitted that they knew little or nothing about the Holocaust. Less clear cut is the relationship between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. There is an argument about where the line is, and who has the right to draw it. Since Zionism has at its heart a belief in the Jewish right to self-determination, many Jews believe that those who oppose the state of Israel are anti-Semites. Others – many Jews included – don’t think that anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic, and argue that saying so is merely a way of ignoring Palestinian grievances. Anti-Semitism may be the oldest ethnic hatred, but is it just another form of racism? Or is it a distinct and uniquely pernicious prejudice which must be understood in the context of centuries of violent oppression, dehumanisation and genocide? Anti-Semitism: what is it? what isn’t it? and how can it be defeated?Producer: Dan Tierney
25/07/1942m 40s

Surveillance and Human Freedom

Big Brother is watching you. George Orwell’s chilling words are now a reality. In China’s Xinjiang province, Uyghur Muslims have been described by one official as laboratory mice in an experiment of “advanced, predictive, algorithmic surveillance”. The comments were made to an undercover film-maker, whose documentary, “Inside the Chinese Digital Gulag”, airs this week. The film depicts a society based on phone surveillance apps and a vast network of cameras tracking individuals and even reading their body language to determine their ‘threat level’. The Chinese authorities insist these are necessary security measures; human rights watchers say they are inhuman. Closer to home, civil liberties campaigners are unhappy that several UK police forces are trying out facial recognition cameras. What level of state surveillance is morally acceptable in a liberal democracy? While we’re busy pondering that question, let’s not ignore the fact that most of us accept being spied upon in our own homes by our smartphones and computers. Some of us believe it is a price worth paying for convenience and inter-connectedness. Others warn that information is power and power corrupts. The recent eruption of dystopian drama on our TV screens could point to a deeper unease about the current threats posed to human freedom. Are we giving away too much control to artificial intelligence? Are we sleep-walking into our own Orwellian nightmare? And do we care?Producer: Dan Tierney
18/07/1942m 47s

The Morality of Fashion

Some of the stars of this year’s Glastonbury festival have joined the chorus of campaigners denouncing ‘throwaway fashion’. They’ve given some of their own clothing to Oxfam and are encouraging their fans to buy their outfits second-hand (or ‘pre-cherished’). These days you can buy a dress for a fiver and wear it once before chucking it away. Is that proof that capitalism has gone too far? Critics of the industry cite the appalling conditions and rates of pay in the third-world factories churning out garments that will end up as non-biodegradable landfill quicker than you can say “sustainability”. There are those, on the other hand, who prefer not to be lectured by celebs famous for their multiple costume changes and who point out that the minimum wage doesn’t run to a wardrobe of high-quality clobber. Beyond the social and environmental implications of fast fashion, what about the moral value of clothes themselves? We humans have covered our nakedness ever since Adam and Eve embarrassed themselves in the Garden of Eden. Fashion lovers say that our clothes matter because they are expressions of an aesthetic sensibility, intrinsic to both self-esteem and dignity. Others believe the fuss about this season’s ‘look’ is a cynical manipulation of insecurity and a celebration of vanity and superficiality. The morality of fashion: fashionably moral.Producer: Dan Tierney
11/07/1942m 43s

Moral Character

Famously photographed stuck on a zipwire, Boris Johnson is now attempting the tightrope. Unless he falls off, the pollsters suggest, he will alight in four weeks’ time in Downing Street. Perhaps understandably, he is trying to limit the number of buffetings to which he subjects himself in the meantime. Buffetings, however, continue. While it may be fascinating to voyeurs that he apparently spilled wine on a sofa and had a crockery-smashing row with his partner, is that really important? The Boris backers said this was politically-motivated, Corbynista curtain-twitching. The neighbours defended their actions, saying they recorded the proceedings out of genuine concern and passed the audio to The Guardian in the public interest. But was it? How much, if anything, do we have a right to know about a domestic quarrel involving a potential PM? How, indeed, should we balance the competing rights of public figures to a private life and of citizens to know about those in power over them? What about the value we place in moral character itself? It could be argued that honesty in small things is no small thing – as Abraham Lincoln said: “I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true”. These days however, politicians should be judged, many insist, not on the content of their character, but on the merits of their manifestos. Yet, paradoxically, it has become a commonplace of Twitter that political foes are attacked not for having bad ideas but for being thoroughly bad people. So what is the relationship between virtue and effectiveness? Is the requirement for moral character in politicians overrated or overdue?Producer: Dan Tierney
27/06/1942m 38s

The Policing of Humour

Comedy is a serious business, as Jo Brand discovered when she made a joke about throwing battery acid at politicians. The police have now dropped their investigation into her and she has not been sacked by the BBC – unlike Danny Baker after his apparently ‘racist’ tweet last month. Guardians of free speech worry about the policing of humour and the erosion of the right to offend. Yet we live in politically-febrile times and a joke may provoke more than mere amusement or even offence. Jokes can be deemed to trivialise political violence, encourage hatred and excuse rape. With that in mind, do comedians have a social responsibility to rein themselves in, even if they believe they’re ‘punching up’, not ‘punching down’? Or should they follow their comedic instinct when it’s telling them to let rip? After all, humour is by nature subversive and, from Martin Luther to Mock The Week, it has always been an important part of political discourse. Beyond politics, where should we draw the line on funny lines? It could be argued that a joke becomes unacceptable when it dehumanises minorities or incites violence. Yet aren’t these criteria themselves subjective? Context and tone are everything in comedy but they’re fiendishly difficult to define. Does it matter that the intent behind a gag is benign if the consequences of telling it are harmful?Producer: Dan Tierney
20/06/1942m 51s

The Morality of Hypocrisy

Discussion of the Tory leadership race has shifted from questions of policy to issues of personal morality. Given that most of the candidates have admitted – to a greater or lesser extent – snorting, smoking or supping illegal substances at some point in the past, how thunderously should they be condemned? Shouldn’t people running for high office be blasted for their past ‘indiscretions’? Isn’t it right that any person in a position of privilege and authority who has shown a contempt for the law should suffer the consequences? Or should we worry that our 21st century witch-finders have developed an unhealthy obsession with ‘offence archaeology’ – the diligent digging-up of an historic misdemeanour and using it as a basis upon which to judge a person’s entire character? It’s been asserted that even worse than the crime itself is the sin of hypocrisy. An article from 1999 has been republished in which Michael Gove criticised "middle class professionals" who took drugs, at the same time that he himself was taking cocaine. He has defended himself against headlines calling him a hypocrite, saying: “If any of us lapse sometimes from standards that we uphold, that is human.” Hypocrisy is an easy accusation to hurl but a tricky sin to understand - La Rochefoucauld famously called it “a tribute vice pays to virtue". Our own moral boundaries are so often flexible, yet psychologists suggest we’re less inclined to give others the ethical wiggle room we might afford ourselves. So should we have more humility to look inward before judging others? Or is it a moral cop-out simply to say, “Let the person who is without sin cast the first stone”?Producer: Dan Tierney
13/06/1943m 1s

D-Day 75th Anniversary

The Allied invasion of Normandy, 75 years ago, was the biggest land, air and naval operation in history. It led to the liberation of Europe from Nazi control and was the galvanising moment of the age, but it came at a cost that is almost unimaginable: at least 2,700 British soldiers, sailors and airmen lost their lives in the first 24 hours. Their sacrifice ensured that later generations would enjoy a lifetime of peace in Europe. Very few people in Britain today, other than military professionals, have ever worried about having to fight a war. Does that collective comfort also mean that we would be incapable of answering the same call? It is instructive to consider how society has changed in 75 years of peacetime - in particular our loss of deference. Some say that’s a good thing; it empowers us to stand up to institutions on behalf of the marginalised and the oppressed. Others, however, lament the erosion of the national virtues – duty, self-sacrifice, respect for our leaders – that made D-Day possible. As the author David Brooks put it, we’ve moved as a society from “We’re all in this together” to “I’m free to be myself”. And what of the nature of warfare itself? In 1944, though the cost to human life was enormous, it was a straightforward fight with a uniformed enemy led by villains. Conversely, modern, surgical warfare kills fewer people but is more remote and, according to its critics, further blurs the distinction between soldiers and civilians. What does D-Day teach us about how we might judge ourselves morally against our forebears?Producer: Dan Tierney
06/06/1942m 51s

Moral Purity

The Sackler Trust has suspended new charitable donations in the UK, following claims that the Sackler family billions are linked to the opioid crisis in the US. The family denies the allegations, but both the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate group have refused its money. Whether that money is tainted or not (the question is hotly disputed) the controversy raises important questions about the ethics of funding for the arts, sport and philanthropic charities. Purists believe that good causes should always refuse money from bad sources, no matter how much potential benefit that money could bring. More grateful recipients hold their begging bowl with one hand and their nose with the other, insisting that there is no such thing as dirty money because a coin is morally neutral; whatever real, perceived or alleged crimes may have been committed to earn it should not rest on the conscience of the recipient. How should we view this quest for moral purity? It does appear that society is becoming increasingly intolerant of moral grey areas. It’s a short step from turning down dodgy donors to ‘no platforming’ those with unfashionable opinions. Perhaps that’s a good thing, an inspiring translation of principles into action predicated on equality and justice for all. Or perhaps such thinking is a new form of secular puritanism which is intolerant and dangerous. When does the enforcement of moral principles make us better? When does the attempt to resist moral pollution become its own form of rules-based bigotry?Producer: Dan Tierney
28/03/1942m 55s

The Morality of Leadership

Brexit is only days away and we still don’t have a plan. This is enraging for many, perplexing for most, and amusing for those who like their humour black. As one current slogan observes, “even Baldrick had a plan”. Some argue we are locked in a crisis of leadership. The major parties are fragmenting, collective cabinet responsibility has been trashed and the political atmosphere in parts of Britain is toxic. Have the two main party leaders ever been as weak? Many voters can’t understand how Parliament has so dismally failed to follow a simple instruction, and why the political class has flunked collective moral leadership. Kinder observers point out that the task facing MPs was anything but simple, and explain that while politics is working exactly as it should, the chaos in Parliament reflects an electorate with a split personality. So, with all this in mind, what sort of commanders-in-chief do we need now, in politics and beyond? Visionaries? Listeners? Pragmatists? Power-watchers have reported a sea change in recent years: many leaders now spend more time trying to please their rank and file, they say, and less time actually leading. There was a time when leaders were prepared to defy their supporters for “the greater good of all”. That sounds persuasive unless you think it was the top-down, managerial style of leadership that contributed to people’s sense of political alienation in the first place. Do leaders like Churchill, Thatcher, Blair and May define their eras or do the events of different eras determine the leaders? Do we always get the leaders we deserve?Producer: Dan Tierney
21/03/1942m 56s

Moral Panics

The rise in the number of fatal stabbings in recent months has generated big headlines and heated political debate. Teenage knife crime is high on the national agenda. There is broad agreement that something has to change but not as much agreement about what that is. Should there be more police officers on the streets? more surrender bins? more use of stop and search? more weapons sweeps? tougher sentences? Do we need a knife crime ‘tsar’ to co-ordinate it all? What about the role of schools and youth clubs? But before we start writing policy prescriptions, let’s ask a more basic question: are we seeing a long-overdue response to a desperate and tragic situation, or a nation in the grip of full-blown moral panic? The phrase ‘moral panic’ - which was popularised by sociologist Stanley Cohen in his 1972 book about mods and rockers - is nearly always used pejoratively to denote an over-the-top expression of public anxiety about the lowering of moral standards. Yet it could be argued that a moral panic is like a whistling kettle - it’s a warning that things have come to the boil. Perhaps we shouldn’t speak of moral panics but of moral calls to action – opportunities to get money spent and policies reformed on important issues that are usually below the national radar. Or perhaps such societal soul-searchings are just spasms of empathy, emotional outbursts that take no account of long-term trends, get in the way of clear-eyed policy-making and divert resources from duller but worthier causes. Are moral panics good for society?Producer: Dan Tierney
14/03/1942m 35s

The Morality of the Artist and the Art

“Leaving Neverland”, a two-part TV documentary broadcast this week, details child sex abuse claims against Michael Jackson. The renewed allegations have prompted a debate about whether we should stop listening to his music. Some believe a boycott takes an important moral stand against the late singer’s alleged crimes. To pay any such artist the compliment of our appreciation, they say, is to undermine the victims. Others think the moral character of the artist has no bearing on the worth of the art. In his essay ‘The Death of the Author’, the French literary critic Roland Barthes argues that a book and its creator are entirely unrelated. Is he right? Does a work of art have intrinsic moral value? Or should we reappraise certain works in light of the questionable behaviour and beliefs of the cultural figures that created them? Charles Dickens, who has a worldwide reputation as a compassionate moralist, was also (according to recently-unearthed letters) a ruthless husband who tried to have his wife locked up in a lunatic asylum because "she had outgrown his liking.” Should we judge any public figures (now or in the past) by their private lives and prejudices, or should we rate them instead on their competence and achievements?Producer: Dan Tierney
07/03/1942m 55s

The Morality of Disobedience

At the end of a landmark Vatican summit on paedophilia in the Catholic Church, Pope Francis had strong words for guilty clergy, describing them as "tools of Satan." Campaigners, though, are looking for the devil in the detail of the Pope’s proposals. Some of them are saying that the Church has now simply lost its claim to moral authority. Has it? Or, in our understandable revulsion to this scandal, do we risk overlooking what institutional religion might still have to offer? The loss of trust in institutions is also part of a wider cultural story that’s been playing out in the West for nearly a century, and that’s the story of the decline of obedience. For many, this is something to be celebrated, a recognition of the dignity of the individual, the primacy of personal sovereignty. For others, it has created a moral relativism that is making people more self-absorbed and selfish, and that will tear society apart. Cardinal John Henry Newman (who is about to be canonised) once said: "I shall drink … to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards." Should we have a duty to anything other than our own conscience? If so, what else should demand a claim on our obedience? Many who applaud the civil disobedience of school pupils leaving lessons to join climate protests are appalled by the rise of recreational drug-taking, yet both are acts of rebellion. Individual disobedience can be harmful to ourselves and others, but mass disobedience can change the world. Does our culture value obedience too highly, or not highly enough?Producer: Dan Tierney
28/02/1943m 1s

The Collapse of the Caliphate

“The Caliphate is ready to fall”, tweeted President Trump. The so-called Islamic State’s territory is all but recaptured. If only that were the end of the matter. We can take away their land, but not their warped and dangerous ideas. And there’s the small matter of what to do with the 800 European-born ISIS fighters who have been captured in Syria. The US president has threated to release them if Britain and other European countries don’t take them back. If the British jihadis are traitors to their country, as many see them, have they forfeited their right to citizenship? Or by following due process would we as a country make an important point about the superiority of our values compared to ISIS? What about our moral duty towards those who went to Syria but didn’t even fight? What about our duty to their innocent children? For some, Shamima Begum, schoolgirl runaway and now mother, is a victim of extremist brainwashing. For others she was knowingly complicit in irredeemably evil acts of violence. Punishments aside, where does an individual’s moral agency come into this debate? It could be argued that the whole of Western society must take some of the blame for the demons that have been unleashed by what many believe are mistaken foreign policy interventions and the marginalisation of minorities. Or do we need to stop viewing serious organised criminals as the vulnerable victims of indoctrination and start being much more ruthless with those who reject our hard-won British values?Producer: Dan Tierney
21/02/1943m 8s

‘Decolonising’ the Curriculum

A report, commissioned by the Office for Students, has recommended that universities should “decolonise” the curriculum to end the dominance of western values and beliefs, which “position anything non-European and not white as inferior.” While the regulator hasn’t formally adopted the report as policy, campaigners have long argued that the perpetuation of what they see as a colonial legacy in education is immoral. They argue that a ‘white’ curriculum marginalizes BAME writers and alienates minority students, contributing to their low representation and attainment in higher education. While individual departments at some universities have been reassessing their reading lists, critics warn that it promotes tokenism and presents the works of black or female thinkers as being of equal worth merely by virtue of their colour or gender. Moreover, they argue, in an attempt to tackle racial bias in English literature, history and philosophy, it further entrenches racial thinking. What should we be teaching students in schools and universities? Are there too many dead white men on the curriculum, and if so, is it time to redress the power imbalance? How are we to narrow the education gap for minority students and broaden people’s understanding of those from diverse backgrounds unless we offer an education that engages with their perspectives? Or, in trying to be fair, do we run the risk of belittling important literary and historical figures and binding the curriculum in chains of political correctness?Producer: Dan Tierney
14/02/1943m 2s

The mental health of young people

By many measures the UK is better than it was in the 1950s, but is it a better place in which to be young? Teenagers are more likely to be depressed today than they were during the Great Depression. Self-harm and suicide are on the rise. What’s going on? Surely, it can’t just be the internet, whether we welcome it for giving young people freedom they never had before, or demonise social media for confronting young people, hour by hour, with evidence of their own inadequacy. Research suggests that children and teenagers are spending less time face-to-face with their friends. Parents used to send their kids out to play in the park; now that’s exposing them to ‘stranger danger’. Young people can go off the rails because of family breakdown, and parents can struggle to cope if there is a lack support from the extended family or the wider community. We remember that older generations have always been quicker to condemn young people than to praise them. How far should we feel collectively responsible for the mental health of young people? Is it time to intervene through government regulation and education policy to protect teenagers? If the politicians, teachers and doctors take increasing responsibility, do they risk undermining parents as authority figures? We worry about teenagers’ self-esteem, but are we in danger of wrapping them in cotton wool, and reducing their resilience? Are we over-medicalising the issue, diagnosing serious mental health problems where once we saw only the stresses and uncertainties of adolescence? In this ‘Children’s Mental Health Week’, how should we do the right thing by our children? Producer: Dan Tierney
07/02/1942m 58s

The Moral Duty of MPs

Another week, another page of script written in the screenplay for ‘Brexit: The Movie’. The plot and cast-list are beginning to look more complicated and extensive than those of the fantasy series ‘Game of Thrones’. MPs on all sides are voting on amendments (and amendments to amendments) to the Prime Minister’s deal. Within this muddle lies a fundamental question: what is the moral duty of a Member of Parliament? When they are deciding how to vote, should they be guided by their personal red lines, or the way their constituents voted in the referendum? What about the manifesto on which they were elected? Isn’t the main thing a pragmatic consideration of the national interest? These unprecedented times also raise a significant question about whether ultimate power should be held by government, Parliament or the people. It’s argued that the government has to be in control, or the country will lack the leadership to deal with the crisis and risks descending into self-indulgent chaos. For others, the very nature of the crisis demands that Parliament must have the opportunity to say no to ‘no-deal’ or push back on the backstop. Add to that the shouts in favour of taking the crisis back to the people, although no future referendum can guarantee a clear-cut result to get us out of the mess. With all that in mind, is it time to rewrite the constitutional rule-book? And who has the moral authority to do it?Producer: Dan Tierney.
31/01/1943m 2s

The Morality of Friendship

It’s the time of the year to dust off the Christmas card list and perhaps delete one or two of the names on it. Who’s been naughty and who’s been nice? Who should never have been on the list in the first place? The Labour shadow chancellor John McDonnell has made the honest admission that he can’t be friends with his Tory colleagues, saying he can’t “forgive them for what they’ve done” to the country. And yet Tony Benn was friends with Enoch Powell. Tee-shirts with the slogan ‘NEVER KISSED A TORY’ have been popular this year, but so have those that read ‘EMPATHY IS NOT ENDORSEMENT’. When it comes to friendship, where should we draw the line? Some believe it is morally corrupting to befriend, date or marry anyone with different values, beliefs and lifestyle to their own. For others, friendship trumps morality, and we should do everything in our power to remain friends with others, short of those who have committed an irredeemably evil act. This goes beyond personal relationships. Many have voiced the concern that hatred is infecting public discourse, where ‘opponents’ who are ‘wrong’ become ‘enemies’ who are ‘evil’. Is this the sign of a more morally-empowered society, or are we are losing the ability to debate and disagree? Do we have a moral duty to befriend those who hold views and values we don’t share?Producer: Dan Tierney
29/11/1842m 37s

The United Nations

Britain has been heavily criticised by the United Nations expert on extreme poverty and human rights, over what he describes as its “draconian” benefits sanctions. Philip Alston has taken a 12-day tour of some of the most deprived areas of the UK and he is not impressed with what he has seen. Quoting the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, he says that current government policies are condemning the most destitute to lives which are “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. Poverty campaigners are hailing Professor Alston’s intervention, while others not only dispute his politically incendiary conclusions, but are furious that he has been allowed to advance them on behalf of the United Nations. Why shouldn’t an outside organisation be allowed to investigate poverty in Britain? This calls into question the wider purpose of the UN, which rose from the ashes of the Second World War. Is it living up to its founding mandate to make the world a better, more peaceful place? Supporters praise its commitment to the welfare of all of humanity, affirmed in statements like the Universal Declaration Of Human Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals. They are happy to report that – globally – we’re winning the war on poverty and disease and we’re sending more boys and girls to school. But the UN also has its critics, who do not see it as a cohesive body with a unifying sense of moral purpose. They point out that the Security Council is deadlocked and impotent in the face of any major conflicts in which permanent members have a stake, and they see rising prosperity principally as an achievement of global capitalism. What, then, is the point of the United Nations and does it still have a moral role in the world?Producer: Dan Tierney
22/11/1842m 34s

The Morality of Compromise

The Prime Minister’s Brexit plan is now on the table, but the table is looking very wobbly. We learned this week that the Chequers proposal, backed by cabinet ministers in July, was not so much a lollipop as a spoonful of castor oil, an “undesirable compromise” to be grudgingly accepted rather than greeted with enthusiasm. When the deal goes to Parliament for approval, will MPs and peers have a moral duty to support Theresa May's compromise, however unsatisfactory they believe it to be? Some will say ‘No, it’s a matter of moral principle to reject it,’ either because it’s not what the country voted for or because it’s not in the nation’s interests, or both. Others will accept that the reality of Brexit has turned out to be very different from the idea; it’s not a yes-no question any more, it’s a deck of political and economic priorities being shuffled and dealt round a crowded poker table. If ever there was a time to play the odds and cut our losses, they insist that this is it. Compromise can be a dirty word, especially where moral conviction is involved. To concede any ground in a deal is to risk being accused of weakness or lack of principle. Conversely, those who refuse to give ground can be seen as impractical or downright mulish. In our politics, our business deals and our personal relationships, how should we balance flexibility and integrity?Producer: Dan Tierney
15/11/1843m 8s

Lest We Forget: the Morality of Remembrance

The centenary of the end of the First World War this weekend is a significant moment for collective moral reflection. What is the point of remembering the fallen? Is it to make a solemn vow that we will not let their sacrifice turn out to have been in vain and that we will fight to hold onto the freedoms they fought to defend? Or is it formal commitment that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past and that we will never again send our young men to die uselessly for a cause they do not understand? We can all accept that the rituals and symbols of remembrance say a lot about the values and shared emotions of our nation in the 21st century, but do they express the best or the worst of our nationhood? History and psychology teach us that we are bad at learning from our mistakes. Maybe that’s because remembrance, according to critics, sentimentalises the past, sugar-coating history with the politics of the present, reinforcing nationalism rather than national togetherness. Maybe, in many corners of our grieving and grudgeful planet, there is a moral case for forgetting. That view - reply the crowds who lined the streets of Wootton Bassett to welcome home the heroes of Helmand - is unpatriotic rubbish. Meanwhile the armed forces are seeing their biggest personnel shortage in a decade. The Chief Of Defence Staff, General Sir Nick Carter recently questioned whether today’s young people understand the "notion of service". If that’s true, should we welcome their independence of mind, or deplore their lack of loyalty? If it does nothing else, perhaps the act of remembrance serves to remind us of the virtue of sacrifice and that millions of people once rallied to a cause they believed to be greater than themselves.Producer: Dan Tierney
08/11/1842m 58s

Words as Weapons

In a Pittsburgh synagogue at the weekend, history’s oldest hatred delivered yet another tragedy. Eleven people were killed as worshippers were gunned down during Sabbath prayers. We know that the attacker is an anti-Semite, but we do not know whether he was induced to kill, as some commentators have suggested, by the current political climate. Only days earlier a very vocal supporter of Donald Trump was arrested for allegedly posting bombs to 14 of the president’s enemies. Part of the presidential response was to blame the mainstream media for the ‘bad and hateful’ atmosphere and describe them as ‘the true enemy of the people’. In London, meanwhile, Theresa May was asking politicians to be ‘careful about language’ after anonymous MPs spoke of ‘hanging’ and ‘stabbing’ her. When does ugly discourse, encouraged by anonymity and magnified by online sharing, begin to have violent consequences? Does giving a platform to hateful views ‘normalise’ hatred? If there is a direct link between verbal and physical violence, are we entitled to police the language others use? At a deeper level, can a verbal assault itself be an act of violence? Some argue words are weapons which should be used as carefully as any other weapon. Others believe language itself cannot be violent, and history has shown how curtailing it may itself be the first step towards dehumanisation and mass killing. How can we achieve civility and a public discourse that won’t end in bloodshed, while at the same time protecting freedom of speech?Producer: Dan Tierney
01/11/1842m 53s

The Morality of Ends and Means

First it was Salisbury and now it’s Istanbul. Once again the news outdoes the most lurid spy thriller. This time the story features the bumping-off of a dissident journalist as he collected divorce papers from a Saudi Arabian consulate, while his fiancée waited for him outside. At first, the Saudis flatly denied the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, saying he left the building unharmed. Now the Kingdom admits he died in a "rogue operation" - without explaining unverified reports of a team of suspected agents arriving from Riyadh in two private jets, accompanied by a pathologist with a bonesaw. How should Britain and her allies respond to this dark episode? Is it time to cut ourselves loose from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman? The young ruler has been a reformer; he has let women drive and curtailed the oppressive religious police. On the other hand, those who care about human rights are concerned about the oppression of his political opponents. Bin Salman said recently that he was ‘trying to get rid of extremism and terrorism without civil war’. Is that an effort we should be supporting? Many believe we should stop supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia when we know they will be used to blow up children in Yemen. Others say it is hypocrisy for us to take the moral high ground and that we should be concerned only with what is in our national interest. More generally, when is it morally acceptable to make alliances with bad people in order to defeat worse people, or to allow bad things to happen in order to avert greater evils? When, if ever, does the end justify the means? Witnesses are: SORIN BAIASU, Professor of Philosophy at Keele University and Secretary of the UK Kant Society; DR STEPHEN DE WIJZE, Senior Lecturer in Political Theory at Manchester University; DR NEIL QUILLIAM, Senior Research Fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House; and ANDREW SMITH, Campaign Against the Arms Trade.Producer: Dan Tierney
29/10/1842m 45s

Guilt and Innocence

Hampshire Police are giving leaflets to suspected sexual predators, explaining the law to them and asking for their behaviour to stop. The "C5 notices" are used when there is not enough evidence to support a prosecution. Supporters of the scheme say it’s another way to prevent sexual crime and protect children. Critics say there’s no evidence it changes anyone’s behaviour and it risks stigmatising the innocent. Where does this leave the principle that everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law? Is this non-negotiable or can there be a place for pre-emptive justice? The question is more pressing in the age of social media. While public naming and shaming can give victims the confidence to come forward and talk to the police, it can also risk creating the assumption of lifelong guilt for those who are accused but have never been convicted. Some say the new social dynamics have changed our culture and behaviour for the better; others make the historic comparison to witch hunts and pillories. This applies to all kinds of behaviour, not just the criminal. When an individual’s every past teenage misdemeanour is a matter of public record, from an ill-advised selfie to a casually racist tweet, how should they be treated in adult life? Have we lost the capacity to forgive? If justice is a combination of punishment and rehabilitation, how should we strike that balance? Witnesses are: Jamie Bartlett, Director of the Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at the think-tank Demos; Dr Marian Duggan, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Kent; Michael Lane, Police and Crime Commissioner for Hampshire; and Corey Stoughton, Acting Director of Liberty.Producer: Dan Tierney
18/10/1842m 52s

Climate Change

Twelve years to save the world. While we're squabbling about Brexit, climate scientists are reminding us that the existential threat of our day is global warming. This week’s report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issues the most extensive warning yet on the risks of rising temperatures. According to its authors, keeping to the preferred target of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels will mean cutting carbon emissions by 45% by the year 2030. That will involve, they say, "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society". Decades of increasing prosperity, freedom and choice in the West have come at a cost. The rest of the world wants rapid growth too, but should they be allowed to have it? In a society that badly needs to learn the meaning of ‘delayed gratification’, how should we, as individuals, change our behaviour? When the priority is putting food on the table, many choose economic expedience over sustainability - it can be expensive to go green. Would it be right for the government to make us all greener by taxing or even banning log-burning stoves, gas-guzzling cars and cheap air travel? Many make the moral case for saving the planet on behalf of our grandchildren. But what of our moral obligation to those who don’t yet even exist? Is it morally dubious to put the theoretical interests of posterity before the real and immediate needs of poor people today? If climate change is the organising call of our age, how should we respond? Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk. With Shiv Malik, Anne McElvoy, Tim Stanley and Giles Fraser. Witnesses: Leo Barasi, Author of “The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism”; Ross Clark, Journalist, author and political commentator; Charlotte Du Cann, Core member of the Dark Mountain project; and George Monbiot, Journalist, columnist and campaigner.Producer: Dan Tierney
11/10/1842m 55s

The NHS at 70

The Prime Minister Theresa May has announced a 70th birthday 'present' for the NHS: an extra £20bn a year by 2023, paid for in part by tax rises. It has been received with cries of 'about time' and 'not enough.' Other voices mutter that we are simply pouring good money after bad into a system that is broken. To go with the funding boost, the government has promised a 10-year plan that "tackles waste, reduces bureaucracy and eliminates unacceptable variation," but sceptics say we've seen those promises before. With an ever-aging population and increasing pressures on the system, is it time for a fundamental re-appraisal of the NHS's priorities? What is it actually for? Is the job of the NHS to help us when we get sick, or to keep us from getting sick in the first place? Do expensive treatments need to be rationed, and if so, how should we decide who gets them? The sickest, the youngest, the ones with the best chance of recovery or the ones who can't afford to go private? The mantra of 'free at the point of delivery' embodies a fundamental moral principle that makes the NHS the envy of the world, according to many. Others believe it has turned our healthcare system into a religion - and delivered worse health outcomes than different systems in comparable countries. Ultimately, is it fair to ask those who look after their own health to pay for the treatment of those who don't? Witnesses are James Bartholomew, Dr Brian Fisher, Caroline Abrahams and Dr Kristian Niemietz.Producer: Dan Tierney.
21/06/1842m 44s

The Morality of International Diplomacy

These are difficult days for diplomats; President Trump has torn up the rule-book. In just a few hours he went from firing off a salvo of angry tweets criticising America's G7 allies to embracing Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea - seen for decades as a rogue state - in an historic summit. Mr Trump's supporters see a man who gets things done in the interests of the people who elected him. As the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson put it recently, "Imagine Trump doing Brexit... There would be all sorts of breakdowns, there would be all sorts of chaos, but you might get somewhere." Others shudder at the breakdowns in communication, the name-calling and what they insist is a threat to economic freedom and global stability. They believe that international relations should serve higher moral ideals of loyalty and the common good rather than the mere pursuit of national self-interest. While many applaud the historic talks with North Korea this week, others question whether talking to tyrants proves that morality is dead in international relations. Is there a moral duty to do our trade deals and make our alliances with nations that respect human rights? Or should we abandon the idea that some countries are simply beyond the pale? Witnesses are Sir Robert Cooper, Dr Philip Cunliffe, Dr Jan Halper-Hayes and Dr Leslie Vinjamuri.Producer: Dan Tierney.
14/06/1842m 38s

The Morality of Suspicion

With 25 Islamist plots foiled in the last five years and four extreme right plots stopped since March 2017, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid this week described a "step change" in the terrorist threat to the UK. As a result, MI5 is to declassify and share information on UK citizens suspected of having terrorist sympathies. "Key" biographical data on - potentially - hundreds of people will be given to neighbourhood police, councils and other public agencies such as the Probation Service and the Charity Commission. Is this an example of sensible information-sharing in the interest of national security, or is it the problematic extension of counter-terrorism responsibilities to those who may not be qualified to handle them? Many believe that as the nature of terrorism is changing, so should our behaviour. Anyone can buy a knife and hire a van, therefore we - citizens, employees, officials - should all be vigilant and prepared to report our suspicions. But is all this suspicion good for us or can it result in an unhealthy culture of paranoia and vigilantism? The question goes much wider than terrorism. For example, should clergy, therapists, journalists and teachers be duty bound to report suspicions of criminality? Is respect for confidentiality no longer an unassailable virtue? Witnesses are Phillip Blond, Silkie Carlo, Adrian Hilton and Hannah Stuart. Producer: Dan Tierney.
07/06/1842m 32s

Irish Abortion Referendum

Following the landslide vote to overturn strict abortion laws in the Irish Republic, attention has shifted to Northern Ireland - the last corner of the British Isles to resist both legal abortion and gay marriage. The Prime Minister Theresa May is facing growing calls to bring the laws in line with the rest of the UK. It's a complicated political picture, but it raises a number of important moral questions. The first is about the extent to which a nation's religious and cultural traditions should be enshrined in its laws. Is it morally acceptable that Northern Ireland should have laws on abortion and same-sex marriage that are different from those in the rest of the UK? Can - or should - a government ever be neutral, or merely procedural, on substantive moral issues? Yet, the Irish referendum also highlighted a wider moral point about the concept of shame, and its complex relationship with respectability and institutional religion. Speaking about the scandal of Ireland's mother and baby homes, the former Taoiseach, Enda Kenny said: "No nuns broke into our homes to take our children. We gave them up because of our morbid and perverse pursuit for respectability." After the abortion vote, the current Prime Minister Leo Varadkar declared: "The burden of shame is gone". At what point does shame stop being corrective and start to become corrosive? Does it still have a useful role to play in society? From #MeToo to the public pillorying of greedy bankers and carbon-emitters, don't we still need the sanction of shame? Witnesses are Susie Boniface, Ed Condon, Martin Pollecoff and Prof Julian Savulescu.Producer: Dan Tierney.
31/05/1842m 45s

The Morality of Big Data

Worried Facebook-users who have deleted their accounts because of the Cambridge Analytica scandal have been discovering that the social network held even more data about them than they had feared: complete records of their phone calls and text messages, contacts from their address books, appointments from their calendars, reminders of their friends' birthdays... It is naïve to suggest that we can ever again be truly private individuals, however much we might like to be, but is the harvesting of our personal information getting out of hand? The moral issue is not just about privacy - whether these companies should have such information about us in the first place - but is also about the ways in which it can be used. Is it right to divide up the population into sub-groups, without their knowledge, so they can be precisely targeted with advertisements and political propaganda? "Shocking!" say some newspaper pundits. "It's what advertisers and campaigners have always done," say others. What, if anything, should be done about it? Harsher punishments? Stricter regulation? Is it the moral duty of companies to be more transparent, beyond the small-print 'Terms and Conditions' that hardly anyone reads or understands? Cheerleaders for Big Data point to its potential to transform our lives, improving health and education. Its detractors say the abuse of personal information is nothing less than a threat to democracy. And there are some who believe both positions are overstated and who worry that we have lost faith in the public's ability to make its own judgments. Witnesses are Silkie Carlo, Christopher Graham, Timandra Harkness and Katz Kiely.Producer: Dan Tierney.
29/03/1842m 47s

Cold War 2.0?

The icy winds from the East have been an apt meteorological metaphor for UK-Russia relations. Since the Salisbury spy incident, and the immediate pointing of blame at the Kremlin, diplomats have been kicked out of both countries. But that's unlikely to be the end of the matter. All eyes are on what happens next. What would be the most moral course of action to take? Should the UK pursue the strongest possible sanctions and perhaps even refuse to compete in this year's World Cup in Russia? Some believe that unless we take a firm moral stand we put our own citizens at risk and we let down the Russian people. Others urge caution, believing sanctions will mostly hurt ordinary people and will do little to change the regime's behaviour. Aside from tit-for-tat punishment, it has been suggested that Putin's alleged antics with chemical weapons are bringing us closer to a "Cold War 2.0". After the Berlin Wall fell almost thirty years ago, we hoped for progress towards a more peaceful world. Was that a delusion? It could be argued that the world is more dangerous now than it was when power-blocs followed the rules of realpolitik, and everyone knew where they stood. Even then, we came perilously close to mutual destruction - so should we press on now with the search for a new and better kind of international moral order? Witnesses are Simon Jenkins, Dr Rebecca Johnson, Mark Rice-Oxley and Prof Robert Service.Producer: Dan Tierney.
22/03/1842m 51s

The Morality of Comedy

Tatty bye, Doddy. The most famous resident of Knotty Ash, wielder of the tickling stick and creator of the Diddymen, has died. Sir Ken Dodd's widow said: "He just wanted to make people happy". He was both of his time - described as "one of the last music hall greats" - and timeless. From his debut at the Nottingham Empire in 1954 as "Professor Yaffle Chucklebutty: Operatic Tenor and Sausage Knotter," he never failed to reduce his audiences to tears of helpless laughter. For some, there could be no higher moral purpose of comedy than this. Yet we don't all agree about what is funny or even about what comedy is for. There will always be those who think that some subjects are beyond humour. Others will say it's the target of the humour that's important. Should comedy reinforce or challenge the moral consensus of its audience? When is mockery offensive and when is it satire? Where is the line between challenging bigotry and reinforcing stereotypes? Are comedians as important as pundits or politicians to the health of democracy? Or has comedy dumbed down debate and trivialised issues we should be taking seriously? Was Molière right when he said that the function of comedy is "to correct men's vices"? Or should we just stick a cucumber through next doors' letter box and tell them the Martians have landed? Witnesses are Dominic Frisby, Prof Matthew Flinders, Lynne Parker and Ted Robbins.Producer: Dan Tierney.
15/03/1842m 53s

The Morality of Competition

Cycling is again in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. A damning report by MPs argues that Sir Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky "crossed an ethical line." They claim that the Tour de France champion used an asthma drug - which is allowed under the anti-doping rules for medical need - to enhance his performance. The accusation is strenuously denied, but where exactly is the "ethical line"? Isn't it expected that competitors will do anything and everything within the rules to gain an edge? Even the model sportsman Roger Bannister sharpened his running spikes and rubbed graphite on them before breaking the four-minute-mile barrier. It certainly gained him an edge, but not unfairly. In sharp contrast, there are those who believe this latest case is another example of how sport has lost its soul. They say the ideals of 'sportsmanship' and respecting the spirit of the rules have given way to making money, winning at all costs and cheating if you can get away with it. In sport (and in competition generally) there will always be a grey area between what is moral and what is forbidden. Should we aim to narrow that gap, tighten the rules and enforce harsher sanctions? Or can ethical grey areas be a good thing? It could be argued they are essential in order for sportsmanship to shine. In business, they can be seen as necessary for innovation. In our personal lives, they give us moral agency to make important decisions and they provide a means by which we judge others. Surely a regime in which everything is either illegal or acceptable is the black and white landscape of tyranny? And yet - if the line is not simply between winning and losing, where should it be drawn? Witnesses are John-William Devine, Dr Paul Dimeo, Dr Emily Ryall and Ed Smith.Producer: Dan Tierney.
08/03/1843m 11s

The Morality of International Aid

Since we learned that aid workers, sent to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake, chose instead to have sex with some of them, there's been something of a moral earthquake within the international aid sector. Charities had seemed to be beyond criticism; paragons of virtue. Now their moral high ground is crumbling away. It's not just Oxfam, though that was where the revelations began and where loud apologies failed to stop 7,000 private donors from cancelling their direct debits. Now the spotlight is on the aid 'industry' as a whole. It seems we can't stand the hypocrisy of powerful organisations using taxpayers' money to lecture us on how to behave, while failing to get their own house in order. There is a wider question about their effectiveness in helping people out of poverty: sceptics argue that global capitalism and stable institutions are much more important; without them, development aid is a waste of time and money. They believe the UK's "overgenerous" foreign aid commitment should be scrapped. Others dismiss that reaction as a moral panic which is ignorant, duplicitous and totally disproportionate. Of course, they say, charities - like any institutions - can be infiltrated by bad people, but when it comes to long-term development, oversees aid helps far more than it hinders. Regardless of whether or not international charities are supremely efficient or every one of their employees is a saint, do we still have a moral duty to give them money, either individually or collectively through tax, to help people in poor countries?Producer: Dan Tierney.
01/03/1842m 36s

Religious orthodoxy versus liberal values

Orthodox faith schools have long been crucibles in which enlightenment values and religious freedoms have simmered uncomfortably. The bubbling grew fiercer this week with the prospect of more faith schools and the scrapping of the rule that they have to take in non-believers. The concern among many about what religious conservatives are teaching children has hardly been assuaged by a group of ultra-orthodox rabbis in Hackney, who are urging their schools not to accept government funding for teaching the 'lie' that the Earth is more than 6,000 years old. The influence of religious conservatism, of course, extends beyond the education system. Halal slaughter, considered cruel by many outside the Muslim faith, is on the rise and we're increasingly and unwittingly eating the product of it, according to Lord Trees, former president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. Many believe that such orthodox beliefs and practices have no place in modern society; Iceland, for example is proposing to criminalise male circumcision. Yet, conservative adherents of minority faiths believe such interference displays religious illiteracy. The attempt to snuff out thousands of years of tradition in the name of recently acquired 'liberal' values is, they say, ignorant, arrogant and oppressive, because truly liberal values should respect cultural and religious diversity, not flatten beliefs into state-sanctioned uniformity. Their opponents draw the line when they perceive harm to others - children, animals or society. Can we - should we - live in a society that accepts religious orthodoxy? Witnesses are Dr Susan Blackmore, Prof Philip Booth, Stephen Evans, and Jonathan Arkush. Producer: Dan Tierney.
22/02/1842m 49s

Romantic Love

As restaurant prices double for the day and the world turns pink and fluffy, it's easy to be cynical about February 14th. Romance is a marketable commodity, partly because most of us grow up convinced that our most important aim in life should be to find true love, believing that the perfect partner is out there waiting, if only we can identify him or her, and then it will be hearts and flowers all the way to the grave. You don't have to be starry-eyed to argue that this vision of romantic love is a good thing; it holds families together, it inspires hard work and virtuous behaviour - and it affects the chemistry of the brain in a way that is similar, it seems, to cocaine. There is an alternative point of view; romantic love was invented a mere five hundred years ago and has been a nuisance ever since. In this view, a couple's aspiration to remain together and faithful until death do them part (which gets more ambitious as people tend to live for so much longer) is an unrealistic ideal; it under-values both shorter-term and less exclusive relationships, and it causes unnecessary family breakdowns over infidelities that ought to be forgiven - if not indeed permitted. Is Saint Valentine the harbinger of human happiness - or the devil in disguise? Witnesses are Katie Fforde, Prof Simon May, Dr Julia Carter and Andrew G Marshall.
15/02/1842m 50s

The Objectification of Women

That rich men attract beautiful women - and vice versa - has for centuries been obvious and unquestioned. Suddenly a few noisy scandals have started a social avalanche that some call the new puritanism. In the past week Formula 1 racing has abolished the 'grid girls' whose role had been to look glamorous in the company of racing drivers; the Professional Darts Corporation, in consultation with BBC TV, has done away with the 'walk-on girls' who had provided a similar service for the masters of the triple-twenty; and the UK's gambling regulator has threatened to boycott the world's largest gambling industry conference, accusing exhibitors of using 'scantily clad' women to attract people to their product displays. Reaching back into Victorian times for things to tut about, Manchester Art Gallery last week removed from display Waterhouse's painting 'Hylas and the Nymphs' - then, after a public outcry, put it back. Feminists such as Janet Street-Porter have welcomed all this. 'At last,' she says, 'we're moving out of the stone age.' Others think what women choose to do with their bodies is their own business, be they prostitutes, lap-dancers, fashion models or pretty waitresses flirting for tips. Do we want a world in which it's as bad to employ women for their looks as it would be to discriminate on the basis of race or religion? The objectification of women - our Moral Maze this week. Chaired by Michael Buerk, with Matthew Taylor, Claire Fox, Melanie Phillips and Giles Fraser.
09/02/1842m 52s

The Morality of 2017

2017 has been a year of sex scandals and toppled reputations; trigger-happy tweeting and polarising rhetoric; 'remoaners' and 'Brexiteers behaving badly'; 'no-platforming', 'safe spaces' and 'snowflakes'. This year some cherished values - among them free speech, accountability, democracy, sovereignty and the rule of law - have been called into question as never before. For this final Moral Maze of the year, we're inviting our four panellists to nominate their "most important moral issue of 2017" and to face witnesses who passionately disagree with them. Here are some moral questions to consider. First, as round one of Brexit talks draws to a close, is the entrenched behaviour of the various camps making it impossible to deliver a good deal for anyone? Second, in the wake of the Weinstein and Westminster revelations, while we are appalled by crimes of sexual abuse and applaud the bravery of victims who come forward to report them, have we overlooked the moral consequences of making unsubstantiated accusations against public figures? Third, as we debate whether or not to pull down the statues that celebrate our colonial past - such as that of the controversial imperialist Cecil Rhodes - how can we reconcile our history with our identity? Finally, are university 'safe spaces' an important protection for vulnerable minorities or a shameful example of blinkered intolerance? 2017: moral maze or moral minefield? Witnesses are Dr Tiffany Jenkins, Peter Saunders, Richard Tice and Maya Goodfellow. Producer: Dan Tierney.
08/12/1742m 51s

The Institution of Marriage

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's engagement was announced this week after a frenzy of speculation. We are used to media excitement about the personal lives of young royals, but perhaps this also says something about the value we still place in the institution of marriage. At the same time, the fact that nobody seems to mind that Ms Markle is divorced suggests an acceptance that relationships are more complex than they used to be, and that divorce no longer carries any great social stigma. Beyond the traditions and expectations of the royal family, the reality is that the number of unmarried couples living together in Britain has more than doubled in the last two decades, from 1.5 million in 1996 to 3.3 million in 2017. In that time, some may lament the fact that fewer people are getting married, but it is also the case that fewer people are getting divorced. It's seldom easy to end a marriage, and there is now a campaign to ease the pain by introducing quicker and simpler 'no-fault' settlements. Such a move received the backing this week of Britain's most senior judge Baroness Hale, who also believes co-habiting couples should have greater legal protection when their relationships break down. Her supporters say long-drawn-out divorces are more likely to have harmful consequences for children, while improving the legal status to non-married couples is a necessary step towards a fairer society. Her opponents say these measures would weaken the institution of marriage, which they see as an important public declaration by two people (whether of the same or opposite sex) promoting stable relationships, commitment and self-sacrifice. Is marriage still a moral cornerstone of society? Should it continue to have a special legal status and be incentivised with tax breaks? Or is the traditional ideal of the nuclear family, bound together by marriage, both patronising and outdated? Producer: Dan Tierney.
30/11/1742m 43s

The Morality of Artificial Intelligence

Driverless cars could be on UK roads within four years under government plans to invest in the sector. The Chancellor Philip Hammond said "We have to embrace these technologies if we want the UK to lead the next industrial revolution". At the thick end of the wedge, Silicon Valley billionaire Elon Musk believes artificial intelligence is "a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilisation". AI is changing our lives here and now, whether we like it or not. Computer algorithms decide our credit rating and the terms on which we can borrow money; they decide how political campaigns are run and what adverts we see; they have increased the power and prevalence of fake news; through dating apps they even decide who we might date and therefore who we're likely to marry. As the technology gathers pace, should we apply the brakes or trustingly freewheel into the future? For those inclined to worry, there's a lot to worry about; not least the idea of letting robot weapons systems loose on the battlefield or the potential cost of mass automation on society. Should we let machines decide whether a child should be taken into care or empanel them to weigh the evidence in criminal trials? Robots may never be capable of empathy, but perhaps they could be fairer in certain decisions than humans; free of emotional baggage, they might thus be more 'moral'. Even if machines were to make 'moral' decisions on our behalf, according to whose morality should they be programmed? Most aircraft are piloted by computers most of the time, but we still feel safer with a human in the cockpit. Do we really want to be a 'driverless' society?Producer: Dan Tierney.
24/11/1742m 43s

Defining Gender

The Church of England has issued its schools with advice on transphobic bullying, suggesting that boys should be free to dress up in tutus and tiaras, and girls allowed to wear tool-belts and superhero capes, in the spirit of exploring "who they might be", without fear of stigma. The traditional view of gender is in rapid retreat. Both the Westminster and Scottish governments are considering making it easier for someone to change their legal gender. The LGBT campaign group Stonewall has called the current UK system - in which individuals have to appear in front of a Gender Recognition Panel - "demeaning and broken". The first moral consideration must surely be the wellbeing of people whose transitions can often be accompanied by complex mental health problems and a painful battle against the judgements of their families and society. Next is how far society needs to change to accommodate those individuals. Some women, for example, are uncomfortable with trans-women accessing 'women only' spaces such as lavatories and changing rooms. Whose rights take precedence? There is no one type of trans person. Some are binary, identifying as either male or female, others are non-binary and might self-describe as agender, gender fluid, bi-gender, a demi-girl or a demi-boy. An increasing awareness of gender fluidity is, for many, the mark of an inclusive and enlightened society. For others, multiple complex gender labels serve only to reinforce the insecurities of children and teenagers, at a time when it is normal for them to feel confusion about all sorts of things, including their sexuality. Whichever way you view it, how can we - parents, teachers, society - best enable young people to discover and become who they really are, in a period of complex and rapid social change? Witnesses are Dr Heather Brunskell Evans, James Caspian, Jane Fae and Prof Stephen Whittle.Producer: Dan Tierney.
16/11/1742m 47s

Moral Progress

The Westminster sex scandal has shone a light on yet more public figures behaving badly. The behaviour may not be new, but people appear to be far less tolerant of it. This raises questions about where our morality comes from and whether human beings can become collectively more ethical. Is this apparent shift in social mores an example of how our collective moral standards have improved? Or has an increasingly sexually-permissive culture - in which even children as young as ten are now "sexting" - created the monster from which many now recoil? It's not just about sex; there is an increasing public intolerance of tax havens, but does that mean we are any less greedy? While some argue that individualism has made us more selfish, others say it has encouraged a morality based on considered personal conscience rather than on a consensus which can be flawed. This week, Nicola Sturgeon apologised on behalf of the Scottish Government to all men convicted of now-abolished homosexual offences. Conversely, slavery - once thought acceptable - is now illegal. Are such retrospective judgements not a clear sign of moral progress? To what extent should moral values change as the tide of public opinion ebbs and flows? There are far fewer people who think homosexuality is wrong, but those who continue to think it say that morality should not be decided by a majority vote and does not change over time. If they are right, how can we even begin to define what we mean by moral progress, let alone attempt to measure it? Producer: Dan Tierney.
09/11/1742m 41s

The Morality of Self-Determination

Before the Cava corks had finished popping to celebrate Catalonia's declaration of independence, direct rule was imposed from Madrid, the region's autonomy stripped away; its president sacked. It was a tumultuous few minutes by any country's standards. To some, the Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont is a traitor to Spain who should face criminal charges. To others, he is a Catalan patriot fighting for the region's right to self-determination - a cardinal principle of international law enshrined in the UN charter. When such a right collides with the territorial integrity of a state, competing ideas of democracy emerge. Separatists decry scenes of women being pulled out of polling stations by their hair and the detention of what they call political prisoners. Those sympathetic to the Madrid government are convinced it is they who have the moral high ground and that the actions of Catalan leaders amount to a serious breach of the Spanish constitution. A key moral question centres on what is meant by the "will of the people". In the case of Catalonia, should we base our moral judgements on the 90% who voted for independence in the illegal referendum (which only had a 43% turnout) or on the majority of Catalans who, for whatever reason, didn't vote? Does a democratically-mandated central government have a moral duty to uphold the rule of law for the sake of unity, or can self-determination trump the duty of loyalty to the nation? What are the moral boundaries of self-determination? When, if ever, is a unilateral declaration of independence morally justified? Witnesses are Chris Bambery, Joan Costa Font, Jose V.Rodriguez Mora and Diego Zuluaga.Producer: Dan Tierney.
02/11/1742m 42s

Elite Universities

Newly-released data obtained by the Labour MP David Lammy shows the dominance of the top two social classes at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Four-fifths of the students accepted between 2010 and 2015 were the offspring of barristers, doctors and chief executives - and the numbers are edging upwards. More offers were made to pupils in the London commuter-belt than in the whole of northern England. Most prime ministers, most judges and a large proportion of those who work in the media went to Oxbridge. It's a route to the top, but according to David Lammy it represents and perpetuates a ruling elite which is "fatally out of touch with the people it purports to serve." Some argue that the admissions bar should be lowered for socially-disadvantaged candidates - that a 'B' from a struggling comprehensive is worth an 'A' from Eton. Some of the top US colleges give weight to an applicant's class to ensure that talented students who have succeeded against the odds are recognised. Others argue that admissions should be based on academic considerations alone, and that the greatest barrier to disadvantaged students is not the entrance criteria of elite universities but the schools that have let them down. For many, social mobility is an intrinsic moral good; they want everyone to achieve their potential regardless of their postcode and they think universities should work towards that. It is, they say, part of their job. Others say their job is simply to be academically outstanding, and if universities mirror social and racial inequalities, that's just a symptom of a bigger problem. Witnesses are Dr Wanda Wyporska, Raph Mokades, Prof Tim Blackman and Prof Geoffrey Alderman.Producer: Dan Tierney.
26/10/1742m 44s

Moral Complicity

Following claims of rape or sexual harassment made by dozens of women against the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, a picture emerges of one of the most powerful men in Hollywood exerting pressure on young actresses at the start of their careers, often in hotel rooms and offices. While the allegations of non-consensual sex are denied, the story has prompted a collective soul-searching in Tinseltown and beyond. How was Harvey Weinstein's behaviour tolerated, why did so few people speak out against him, and how many other Weinsteins are out there? Some say this is not an aberration, just a typical example of unrestrained male behaviour. They believe that many men would do the same sort of thing if they thought they could get away with it. For others, the problem has less to do with gender and is more about a general abuse of power. They argue that in showbiz - as in other sectors such as fashion and sport - there is not enough accountability, and there needs to be stricter mechanisms to deal with bullying at work. Central to both those interpretations of the problem is the concept of moral complicity. To what extent are those who tolerate a crime also responsible for it? Do we all have a moral duty to speak out about unacceptable behaviour, even if that comes at huge personal cost? Or are we too quick to label those who knew, and did nothing, as 'hypocrites'? Should we do more to encourage and support the reporting of suspicions? Or is there a danger of creating a society of greater division and mistrust? Witnesses are Ella Whelan, Laura Bates, Prof Josh Cohen and Corinne Sweet.Producer: Dan Tierney.
19/10/1742m 47s

50 Years of the Abortion Act

The Moral Maze returns with a special programme marking 50 years of the Abortion Act, recorded in front of an audience of students at UCL Faculty of Laws. Under the 1967 law, terminations were made legal for the first time in limited circumstances, with the agreement of two doctors. By far the most common reason for abortion (accounting for more than 181,000 of the 185,596 abortions in 2016) has been that continuing the pregnancy would risk injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated (as a point of clarification, the introduction to the programme only states the strictest grounds, which account for a very small number of abortions). Social attitudes have changed and many doctors now support the official line of the British Medical Association which wants abortion to be decriminalised completely. So is it time for abortion to be treated like any other medical procedure that is regulated by the General Medical Council? On the other side of the dispute are those who say the Act has been too liberally interpreted. With nearly 200,000 abortions a year in the UK, they say we effectively have 'abortion on demand' and they want the law to be tightened to protect the rights of 'pre-born children' and their mothers. Whatever the details of time-limits and interpretation of the law, the moral dividing line remains as deeply-etched as it was in 1967: it is between those who think a human life starts at conception and those who don't.The Moral Maze has teamed up with Dundee University's Centre for Argument Technology. For the first time, researchers will analyse the debate and use the data to create an interactive web page called "Test your argument", hosted by the BBC's experimental site "Taster" and available via the Radio 4 website after the broadcast.Producer: Dan Tierney.
11/10/1742m 43s

The Morality of Holidays

For the crowds of holidaymakers flocking to Spain, it must have come as a shock to see "tourists go home" daubed on buildings in Barcelona and Majorca. You'd think the locals would be more grateful for the millions of euros they bring with them to spend. The resentment is not just about belligerent and under-dressed Brits drinking all day and yelling all night. The anti-tourist graffiti, tyre-slashing and window-smashing are protests against the economics and morality of mass tourism, which - according to activists - impoverishes the working-class. Yet in other parts of the world, the tourist trade is seen as vital to the livelihood of local people. Does that make the decision about where to go on holiday a moral one? Even if we are aware that tourism can have negative impacts, and that our money may not end up in the pockets of the poorest, it's easy not to think about it. Can't we just rely on the tour operators to behave ethically? Does it really matter if tourism is trashing the planet as long as we're spreading prosperity and everyone (or almost everyone) is having a good time? Or do we have a moral duty to think carefully before we book our all-inclusive package holidays? Is it ethically defensible to live it up in a country with a lousy record on human rights? And what about the environmental damage caused by all those air miles? Perhaps it's our patriotic duty to reach for the umbrella and enjoy a staycation in soon-to-be post-Brexit Britain? Witnesses are Dr Steve Davies, Prof Xavier Font, Dr Harold Goodwin and George Monbiot.Producer: Dan Tierney.
10/08/1742m 48s

Veganism and Animal Rights

One of the less predictable arguments to result from Brexit concerns the rights and wrongs of chlorine-washed chickens. Perhaps chlorinated-chicken-gate made many people feel temporarily smug about UK standards of animal welfare, compared with those in other parts of the world. Yet, at the same time, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld a 'Go Vegan World' advert with the headline "Humane milk is a myth" - a claim which suggests we do have much further to go before we can feel morally-superior about our treatment of animals. Veganism is on the rise, driven by animal welfare, health and environmental concerns. According to the Vegan Society, sales of vegan food increased by 1,500% last year and there are now more than half a million vegans in the UK, up from 150,000 ten years ago. Is veganism the next step in the march towards a more morally-enlightened and humane society? Or is it just a city-dwellers' fad, detached from the realities of food production, global economics and evolutionary biology? Whether vegans, vegetarians or meat-eaters, can our food production and consumption ever be compatible with animal welfare? Even if the language of animal 'rights' is unhelpful, do humans have a moral duty to avoid cruelty of any kind to other living things? Or is that an impossible goal while we prioritise the interests of Homo sapiens over the welfare of all other animals? Some believe that a society which is caring towards animals is more likely to be caring towards people. Others say that our conditioning from early childhood to embrace cuddly, friendly, talking animals has made us much too sentimental. As long as basic welfare standards are met, shouldn't important human needs be served by animals - including cheap chlorinated chickens? Producer: Dan Tierney.
03/08/1743m 1s

Morality and Gender Equality

Despite the introduction of the Equal Pay Act nearly half a century ago, the BBC salary revelations of last week suggest that the most dramatic example of inequality for women - the gender pay gap - shows no immediate sign of narrowing. In a letter urging the corporation to act now to deal with the disparity, many of its highest-profile female personalities emphasise "what many of us have suspected for many years... that women at the BBC are being paid less than men for the same work." Logically, the legal and moral case for paying the same rate for the same job is overwhelming. But in practice, can two jobs ever be exactly the same? Even if they are the same on paper, what people do with their jobs may be very different. Many examples of the difference in the average earnings of men and women stem from the biological fact that women are the child-bearers. Does that mean we will never be able to escape an inherently misogynistic culture? What more could or should companies, government and society reasonably do about gender disparities? Is positive discrimination essential, or does it merely address the symptoms rather than the causes of inequality? Would a ban on the promotion of perceived gender stereotypes in advertising be one useful way of tackling everyday sexism? Or is viewing society through the prism of gender an unhealthy obsession and an unhelpful distraction from the job of tackling wider inequalities in wealth, health and education? Witnesses are Emily Hill, Nikki Van De Gaag, Sophie Walker and Dr Joanna Williams.Producer: Dan Tierney.
27/07/1742m 57s

The Morality of Faith Schools

A long-running legal battle between Ofsted and the Al-Hijrah Islamic state school in Birmingham has reached the Court of Appeal. The principle at stake is whether segregating boys and girls - for all classes, breaks and trips - amounts to unlawful sex discrimination in a mixed-sex setting. Ofsted's lawyers argue that it is "a kind of apartheid", leaving girls "unprepared for life in modern Britain". The school maintains that gender segregation is one of its defining characteristics and that the policy is clear - parents can make an informed choice. The case is based on the Equality Act, which means the implications of the ruling will be far-reaching and will apply to all schools, not just state schools. Should gender segregation be allowed in co-educational faith schools? If it is as abhorrent as segregating children according to their race, why is the great British tradition of single-sex education not the subject of similar scrutiny? The case also raises wider moral concerns about what we as a society will allow to go on in faith schools, whether they are publicly-funded or not. Is the promotion of one dominant world view - taught as "truth" - desirable? Are faith schools a vital component of multiculturalism or a threat to it? Should a truly integrated society be judged on the diversity within its schools, lest they become cultural or religious ghettos? To do away with faith-based education entirely would be to do away with some of the best and most over-subscribed schools in the country. Would that be a price worth paying for a more cohesive society, or a monstrous display of religious intolerance? The morality of faith schools. Witnesses are Afua Hirsch, Prof Anthony O'Hear, Iram Ramzan and Asad Zaman. Producer: Dan Tierney.
20/07/1742m 53s

The morality of parental rights

The case of Charlie Gard, the desperately sick 11-month-old on life support in London's Great Ormond Street Hospital, has captured the attention of the world. At the centre of it are two parents who instinctively believe in going to any lengths to fight for their baby's life, even when the doctors treating him have reluctantly come to accept there is nothing more to be done to mitigate the effects of his exceptionally rare genetic condition. The legal battle raises painful ethical questions about who - parents, doctors or judges - should decide whether or not to continue the treatment of a critically-ill child, and where the line should be drawn between preserving life and preventing suffering. Away from the strict field of medical ethics, there are wider questions about the value society should place on the parental claim to know what is best for a child. Should there be limits on parents' rights to make decisions for their children, based on their own personal moral, ideological or religious convictions? Should they, for example, have the right to withdraw their child from compulsory sex education? Should babies be subjected to certain religious rituals or cultural practices which are the subject of wider ethical concerns? It could be argued that children don't belong to their parents as much as they belong to the community as a whole and that there is a collective duty of care which trumps parental wishes. On the other hand, if parents are responsible for taking all sorts of practical decisions for the sake of their children's well-being until they're 18 years old, isn't it also reasonable to accept their right to make moral judgements on their behalf? To what extent should the state be responsible for determining what are 'good' and 'bad' parental decisions? The morality of parental rights. Witnesses are Ed Condon, Prof Raanan Gillon, Carol Iddon and Prof Dominic Wilkinson.Producer: Dan Tierney.
13/07/1742m 54s

The Morality of the Public Sector

It's not very often you see the complete breakdown of the constitutional convention known as collective cabinet responsibility. The issue at stake is whether to loosen the reins on austerity by giving a pay rise to public sector workers, from prison officers and nurses to judges and senior NHS managers. Ministerial heavyweights have been falling over themselves to urge the government to reconsider the 1% pay cap the Conservatives had wanted to keep in place until 2020. The fragile general election result has prompted a serious re-think. The debate is not just an economic one; it also concerns the moral value we place on the public sector. Paying public sector workers more than the minimum required to recruit them is surely the best way to retain and motivate gifted and dedicated people in the service of others? Or should their awareness of being in a socially-useful job be compensation and motivation enough? Besides, is the lifting of the pay cap too high a price to pay, when the extra money inevitably has to come from the taxpayer or risks detracting from the services themselves? Is the special value ascribed to the public service ethos justified? Does society need to retain the principle at all costs; a vital necessity for people who hold our lives in their hands; a recognition that we can be motivated by higher values than the mere pursuit of profit? Or - at a time in which the traditional distinctions between the public and private sectors are outdated - is it a self-serving myth? The morality of the public sector - our Moral Maze this week. Witnesses are Sean O'Grady, Dr Mary Bousted, Dr Jamie Whyte and Chris Graham.Producer: Dan Tierney.
06/07/1742m 52s

Moral Philosophy for the Internet

Theresa May has been forced to ditch whole chunks of her party's manifesto in the wake of the election, but one of the key non-Brexit policies to survive is the plan to crack down on tech companies that allow extremist and abusive material to be published on their networks. The recent terrorist attacks have strengthened the arguments of campaigners who've long said that it's far too easy to access this kind of content and have accused internet companies of wilfully ignoring the problem. The promised "Digital Charter" will aim to force those companies to do more to protect users and improve online safety. With the growing power of tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter, connecting billions of people around the globe, is it pie in the sky to promise that Britain will be the safest place to be online? On one level this is a moral argument which has been going on for centuries about what we should, and should not be allowed to read and see and who should make those decisions. But is this a bigger problem than freedom of speech? Have we reached a tipping point where the moral, legal, political and social principles that have guided us in this field have been made redundant by the technology? Do we need to find new kind of moral philosophy that can survive in a digital age and tame the power of the tech-corps? Or is the problem uncomfortably closer to home - a question that each and every one of us has to face up to? Tim Cook, the chief executive of Apple, recently said that he was concerned about new technologies making us think like computers "without values or compassion, without concern for consequence." Witnesses are Nikita Malik, Tom Chatfield, Mike Harris and Mariarosaria Taddeo.
29/06/1742m 44s

Grenfell Tower Fire

Rage is an understandable emotional reaction to the Grenfell tower fire. It's not just a response to the number of people who died or were severely injured and the many hundreds more who lost loved ones or have been evacuated from their homes in the area. It's when you look at the accounts of Kensington and Chelsea council that the emotion crystallises into something more morally troubling. In the last financial year the council had spendable reserves of more than £300 million and was running at such a profit it could afford to write off £1.5 million on subsidising Holland Park Opera. A sprinkler system for Grenfell tower would have cost around £200,000. Were those in Grenfell tower victims of the dogma of the free market - to which New Labour signed up along with the Conservative party - that has destroyed our sense of social obligation and the common good? If they were victims of bad government, is the answer more regulation? Or does "red tape" reduce morality and personal responsibility to a tick-box mentality? This Wednesday campaigners are planning what they call a "day of rage" to protest at the social injustice they say is at the heart of the tragedy. They are calling for people to "defy Tory rule". It's not hard to turn this tragedy into a political morality tale about rich and poor and it may even be understandable to do that, but is it a justifiable tactic when emotions are running so high? Anger is an energy that can be focused to achieve change, but it can also career out of control as we saw outside a mosque in north London this week. With3 recent major terrorist incidents and a fractured political climate you could argue that as a nation we're living through febrile emotional times. Do we all have a responsibility to choose our words carefully?
22/06/1743m 4s

The morality of generational voting

British politics has experienced what's been dubbed a "youth-quake." What seemed like political certainties a few weeks ago have been turned on their head by the high youth turnout. And that's a Good Thing isn't it? Politicians have long bewailed the fact that young people don't exercise their democratic right - even if all it takes is not much more than putting a simple 'X' in a box. Until now electoral arithmetic meant that politicians targeted increasingly smaller groups of voters in key constituencies. Now, with people under the age of 25 more engaged than ever in the political process, it's argued that politicians will have to recalibrate their policies to serve a wider group of citizens. There are also those who argue that political parties have been too ready to bow to the power of the "grey vote", too reluctant to look to the next generation and the future. The philosopher John Gray wrote that "the modern world is founded on the belief that it's possible for human beings to shape a future that's better than anything in the past." Has this election been a triumph for young people who've captured that spirit and finally made their voice heard, or has it enshrined grievance and divisive notions of inter-generational unfairness? Is the political engagement of the young a triumph for democracy, or just another group blatantly voting in their own interest? Will the newly enthused youth vote now engage more with the political system and take responsibility for their vote, or just drift off when the next shiny new thing comes along? Has the "youth-quake" spelled the end of managerial politics and brought back commitment, principle and idealism, or has it brought just dangerous uncertainty? The morality of democracy and generational voting. Producer Phil Pegum.
15/06/1742m 48s

Morality of the Green Belt

When it comes to talking about home ownership in this country it quickly divides in to the "have's" and "have not's." According to the OECD fewer than half of low to middle income families are now able to afford to buy a house and some campaigners estimate that, by 2020, families earning the National Living Wage would be unable to afford to buy homes in 98 per cent of the country. The answer, according to many, is radical deregulation of the planning laws and building on the greenbelt. 8 million new family homes could be built if just 2% of the greenbelt was handed over to developers. To those threatened with the prospect of bulldozers arriving in a field near their home, it will mean urban sprawl and the destruction of large swathes of natural countryside so that builders can make a quick profit. Economists argue that when the greenbelt was created in 1955 it arbitrarily distorted the market for building land. But the current housing crisis is about moral issues too and in such a polarising debate it's vital that we're able to identify them to get the root of the issue. How do we draw the line between legitimate self-interest and Luddite nimbyism? People talk a lot about inter-generational justice, but do we have an absolute moral duty to provide for the next generation whatever the cost? How do we choose between conflicting moral goods? We all love a beautiful pastoral scene, but does the physical landscape have a moral value beyond how it can be used in the service of mankind? Obviously, having somewhere to live is a fundamental need, but is home ownership a moral good and even a human right? Panellists George Buskell, Poppy Cleary, Maddie Groeger-Wilson and Jane Fidge.
29/03/1756m 42s


This week the Prime Minister is touring the devolved nations of the UK as she prepares to trigger the Brexit process. Her message to the people of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is clear: we are better as one nation - the United Kingdom. Brexit has whipped up a complex and (some would say) toxic mixture of politics and patriotism. While Theresa May and others champion the national credentials of the UK, she's having to shout down the voices in the devolved nations that say their economic, cultural and democratic interests would be best served by independence. At the same time, nationalist political parties across Europe are growing in strength, with electoral challenges in France and Germany on the horizon. Is nationalism a moral force for good, because there's no better vehicle for the exercise of freedom and self-determination? Does it encourage a sense of belonging, community and culture? Or is it the worst kind of identity politics - exclusionary, divisive and populist, with sinister currents of "us" and "them"? Are we entering an age when trans-national ideas of the "Brotherhood of Man" are being replaced by loyalties closer to home? At the heart of the debate on nationalism there is an acute moral tension - between solidarity with oppressed national groups on the one hand and revulsion from the crimes perpetrated in the name of nationalism on the other. How and where should we draw the line? The morality of nationalism. Witnesses are Sophie Gaston, Simon Winder, Prof David Conway and Hardeep Singh Kohli.
23/03/1742m 51s

Meritocracy Of Grammar Schools

The government has pledged that a new generation of grammar schools will improve social mobility. One way being proposed to ensure that is to force grammar schools to lower the 11-plus pass mark for poorer children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The idea is already running into opposition. People are asking what's the point of having a selective academic system if you don't select the most able students? It's also said that it risks patronising disadvantaged communities by sending out a message that less is expected of them. At the heart of this debate is the moral value of meritocracy - that you should be rewarded on the basis of your skills and not on your background. Every child should be offered the chance to achieve their maximum educational potential, but what if they can't achieve that because of an accident of birth? Isn't it right to try to balance the scales? Or will that come at the cost of another, perhaps more able child, being denied a place at a grammar, again because of an accident of birth? Does this encourage identity politics and blur the line between equality of opportunity and equality of outcome? Is this treating the symptom and not the cause - creating a state education system that's lost sight of the quest for academic excellence and is more interested in the politics of social mobility, class envy and division? Witnesses are Dr Martin Stephen, Dame Rachel De Souza, Prof Peter Saunders and Conor Ryan.
16/03/1742m 54s

Virtue Signalling

There was a time when publicly standing up to protest at injustices, especially if they didn't affect you personally, was the sign of an upright citizen - the very definition of altruism - a "disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others." Now such expressions of moral outrage are as likely to be dismissed as "virtue signalling" as they are to be applauded. It's a neat and pithy phrase and like all the best neologism seems to capture and distil something in our cultural discourse. It's only been in use for a couple of years. You know the sort of thing - ice bucket challenges, male actors and politicians wearing t-shirts with the slogan "this is what a feminist looks like". Virtue signalling - the practice of publicly expressing opinions or sentiments intended to demonstrate our good character or the moral correctness of our beliefs - was only coined a couple of years ago, and has caught on like wild fire. Perhaps because the only thing people seem to like more than virtue signalling is judging other people. To some the phrase deftly skewers an age where politics is driven by narcissism and the echo chamber of social media where being moralistic is more important than being moral? But has what started off as a clever way to win arguments become a lazy put down or mental shortcut to dogmatism? Does accusing others of virtue signalling encourage you not to interrogate your own beliefs? Even if we can't change something we know to be wrong, big collective moral shifts in society have to start somewhere, so is dismissing them as empty gestures a cynical counsel of despair? There was a time when virtue was its won reward. Is that still the case? The morality of virtue signalling. Witnesses are James Bartholomew, Maya Goodfellow, Dr Jonathan Rowson and Professor Frank Furedi.
09/03/1742m 52s

Morality of Loyalty

298 days after Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri had done the seemingly impossible and helped his team win the Premiership league title, he's been sacked. Even by the standards of football it was a decision that shocked many. Gary Lineker, a former Leicester player, said he shed a tear. Leicester had never won a top-flight title but their improbable triumph rekindled some of the romance of the sport and Ranieri was made FIFA's Coach of the Year. This season has been a disaster. Leicester now face relegation - which will cost the club £70m. That might be a simple mathematical calculation, but this is a complex moral equation. Is loyalty a moral virtue? Isn't hard-head commercialism, loyal only to the bottom line, the only rational approach in a results-driven environment? As much as loyalty is a virtue, is blind loyalty a vice? Is loyalty owed to moral principles and objectives rather than to people, who can lead us badly astray? In an era when friendships and relationships have been reduced to the click of a mouse or a swipe to the right, should we value loyalty more highly? And then of course, there's the issue of loyalty to your leader and your political party... Witnesses are Rev. Rachel Mann, Dr Shahrar Ali, Jim White and Richard Bevan.
02/03/1742m 48s

The Morality of Fake News

You can't open a newspaper or hear a press conference at the moment without having to dodge the allegations of "fake news" being thrown around the place. Journalism used to be regarded, at least by journalists, as the "Fourth Estate" - the foundation of a civilised society and an essential part of the democratic process. A properly working democracy, it's argued, cannot function if its citizens don't have reasonably accurate, reasonably fair and reasonably comprehensive information about the world in which they live. Now we have the President of the United States and the mainstream media accusing each other of lying and peddling fake news, while a plethora of social media and alternative online news sites are weighing in with their (often highly partisan) views. Has the internet democratised news journalism, creating a new plurality of reporting and opinion? Are we witnessing the healthy overturning of the apple cart of the entitled metropolitan elite who've run the media for so long? Or are the moral rules of journalism being scrapped and the old expectations of objectivity and fairness being replaced by a toxic digital fog of instant comment, rumour, cynicism and outright lies? Is this a danger to democracy or just entertaining political theatre? Are those who complain about accuracy and spin confusing facts with truth? The morality of fake news. Witnesses are Jim Waterson, Tom Chatfield, John Lloyd and Manick Govinda.
23/02/1742m 41s

The Morality of Empathy

The government's decision to end the scheme that let unaccompanied migrant children into the UK has provoked an outcry. Many had hoped that we could offer a home to thousands of child refugees and the closure of the scheme has been branded "shameful". It's hard not to empathise with the bewildered and vulnerable child refugees now stranded in Europe and it's a very natural human reaction to want to do something to help. But what if, in the very act of helping, we make matters worse? The resettlement scheme has been halted because it's feared that it will just encourage child trafficking. In this case, our empathy could be leading to greater harm and suffering. Morally, how useful is the emotion of empathy? It might encourage us to feel compassion - and experiencing that emption may make us feel better about ourselves - but, as Aristotle warned, "we are easily deceived concerning our perceptions when we're in the grip of our emotions." In a difficult world where there are no easy answers, does empathy cloud our judgment? It is morally better to use reason and evidence to decide on the most effective, altruistic course of action? The morality of empathy. Witnesses are Oliver Moody, George Gabriel, Harry Phibbs and Prof Paul Gilbert.
16/02/1742m 55s

Peace, Justice and Morality

How far should we be willing to forgive and forget past crimes in the interests of building lasting peace? The issue has been a running sore in Northern Ireland politics despite the Good Friday peace agreement. The Police Service of Northern Ireland has a special unit, the Legacy Investigations Branch, to review more than 3000 murders during the Troubles. But there are allegations it is prioritising re-opening the killings where soldiers from the British Army were involved, over those carried out by terrorists - the majority of which were by Republicans. There are practical issues of getting evidence for crimes that happened so long ago and the cost of investigations, but the moral questions are harder to answer. How do you weigh the right and the need of the families of victims to get justice for their loved ones, against the need to move on and find peace for the whole community? A general amnesty might solve the narrow question, but does that serve the interests of justice? And can you find reconciliation and peace if people feel they've been denied justice? As we move further away from the conflict, does the current generation who lived through it (and in some cases took and active role in it) have a responsibility to set aside their history in the interests of peace for the next generation? These are questions for Northern Ireland, but also around the world - in Cyprus, where there are renewed hopes for a peace deal that can united the island; in Colombia where, in a referendum, the people rejected a peace deal between the government and Farc rebels that would have ended the 52-year-long conflict that has killed more than 220,000 people; and in the Balkans where the truth and reconciliation process is struggling. What price peace? Producer: Phil Pegum.
09/02/1743m 10s

Morality of international trade

If you want to watch the reality of modern politics being played out in real time, you could do worse than visit the Parliament petitions website. The petition to prevent Donald Trump from making a State Visit to the UK has now got well over a million signatures. Rather like the spinning figures on a petrol pump, you can see the total rising by the hundreds every minute as people register their moral outrage at the President's executive order banning travel to the US from certain Muslim majority countries. What price should we, as a nation, be willing to pay to make it clear to a foreign nation that their policies are unacceptable? Publicly humiliating Donald Trump by withdrawing, or downgrading, his state visit would certainly send him a message and might win us the equivalent of a diplomatic round of applause around the world, but what impact would that have on our ability to negotiate a favourable trade deal with the US? Would that be a price worth paying? If you draw the line at Donald Trump, how do you feel about the UK signing a £100m arms deal with Turkey - a country that, according to some human rights groups, jails more journalists than any other? These are questions we'll increasingly have to answer in a post-Brexit world where we need to sign deals to replace the trade that might be lost on leaving the EU. People talk euphemistically of "holding their noses" and "supping with a long spoon" in the national interest, but how far should you morally compromise to keep the bottom line in the black? Producer: Phil Pegum.
02/02/1742m 44s

The Psychology of Morality

Go on - admit it. You like to feel you're above average. Don't worry. We all like to feel we're somehow special - that our gifts make us stand out from - and above - the crowd. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as positive illusion. It's the sort of self-deception that helps maintain our self-esteem; a white lie we tell ourselves. The classic example is driving: the majority of people regard themselves as more skilful and less risky than the average driver. But research just published shows that this characteristic isn't confined to skills like driving. Experiments carried out by psychologists at London's Royal Holloway University found most people strongly believe they are just, virtuous and moral and yet regard the average person as - well, how shall we put it politely? Let's just say - distinctly less so. Virtually all the those taking part irrationally inflated their moral qualities. Worse, the positive illusion of moral superiority is much stronger and more prevalent than any other form of positive illusion. Now, as a programme that's been testing our nation's moral fibre for more than 25 years, we feel this is something we're uniquely qualified to talk about. Well, we would wouldn't we? So, if we can't entirely rely on our own calibration to judge a person's moral worth, how should we go about it? Is the answer better and clearer rules, a kind of updated list of commandments? There might need to be a lot more than ten though. Does legal always mean moral? In a world that is becoming increasingly fractious, being less morally judgmental sounds attractive, but if we accept that morality is merely a matter of cognitive bias, do we take the first step on the road to moral relativism? The Moral Maze - making moral judgements so you don't have to. Witnesses are David Oderberg, Michael Frohlich, Anne Atkins and Julian Savulescu.
25/11/1642m 59s

Social Integration

Do we have a moral duty to make friends with people of different races, social backgrounds and sexuality? The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, is warning that a lack of social integration in the UK is costing our economy about £6bn and he says the answer lies in our own hands. Talking at an international conference on the issue he said "Promoting social integration is a matter for everyone, for every citizen of our cities. It means ensuring that people of different faiths, ethnicities, sexualities, social backgrounds and generations don't just tolerate one another or live side by side but meet, mix and forge relationships as friends and neighbours as well as citizens." London is said to be one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world, with over 300 languages spoken in it and more than 50 non-indigenous communities with a population of more than 10,000. Yet even there it's clear that some groups choose to settle in areas where there are already a high proportion of people from the same background. Go outside London and that effect is even more pronounced. At a time when social polarisation is an issue in many communities, is it time to see social integration not only as a policy priority but also a personal moral imperative? Should it be as unacceptable to admit to having a mono-cultural social network as to admit being prejudiced? Or is this the kind of PC interference in our lives which fires public resentment and actually encourages division by fostering identity politics? Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk. With Michael Portillo, Mona Siddiqui, Anne McElvoy and Matthew Taylor. Witnesses are Ludi Simpson, Jon Yates, Jemma Levene and James Delingpole.
17/11/1642m 45s

Political Discourse

When the actor Kevin Spacey was filming the current series of House of Cards, with its brutally cynical take on American politics, he said he was worried that they may have gone too far. As the US presidential election reaches its vituperative climax, he now concedes they haven't gone far enough. The invective has reached new heights this week with Donald Trump claiming the election is being rigged and Hilary Clinton countering that he's unhinged and dangerous. Has political discourse ever been as poisonous? It's not as if we can look down from the moral high ground. When three High Court judges found that Parliament should have a say on Brexit their photos were splashed across the front pages with one newspaper headline branding them "enemies of the people". Ours is not, of course, the first age to fret about the quality of political discourse. Plato and Socrates did their fair share of lamenting, but the digital age has intensified the political cycle and ratcheted up the stakes. Is this all just part of the theatre of current affairs - an entertainment that we all are knowingly a part of and can tune in and out of at will? Or is a political discourse in which there is no longer any presumption of good faith between opponents not just morally bankrupt, but also dangerous? Is this a healthy revival of robust political engagement, or have we abandoned moderation as a moral virtue?
10/11/1642m 59s

US Presidential Election

On the afternoon of Thursday 19th November 1863, the American President, Abraham Lincoln, delivered what has become perhaps the most important speech in American history. Lincoln was dedicating a National Cemetery for the 50,000 men who'd been killed in the Civil War battle at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. His address was only 272 words long, but it has become one of the greatest and most influential statements of a national moral purpose "that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." America has always seen its Constitution and the Declaration of Independence not just as foundational documents, but as statements of moral purpose. America was to be the "shining city on a hill", a light unto the other nations of the world. At a time of national crisis, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address was a reaffirmation of those founding principles that all men are created equal and share rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This November the American people have to choose between two people bidding to step in to Lincoln's presidential shoes: 'Crooked Hillary', the machine politician under an FBI investigation, and the narcissistic self-confessed women-abuser Donald Trump. What has gone wrong with America's moral vision? Were the fine words of Lincoln and the Founding Fathers just that - fine words? Has America ever confronted its problems of inequality, race and class? Have big government and bigger corporations betrayed the founding principles of liberty and the American dream? Where is the moral vision of America in this year's presidential election? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Claire Fox, Melanie Phillips, Giles Fraser and Matthew Taylor. Witnesses are Charlie Wolf, James Kirchick, Carol Gould and Erich McElroy.
03/11/1642m 40s

Moral imagination and migration

The demolition of the Jungle camp in Calais this week has highlighted a moral paradox at the heart of the debate about migration. The media are full of heart-rending stories of the suffering, endurance and hope of individual migrants - each one of them a compelling cry for our help and understanding. Yet, despite our growing collective knowledge of the plight of migrants, our attitude to migration seems to be hardening. Why? In many other areas of our society the opposite is true. Take, for example, the case of mental health. As more people overcome stigma to talk about it, we know more about its impact, our empathy with suffers has increased and people are now being treated more humanely. It's a virtuous circle that doesn't seem to work for migrants. Is this a failure of our moral imagination? How can we, at the same time, feel moved by the plight of one refugee but indifferent to the plight of thousands of refugees? Should we be trying to turn what we can see to be right in individual cases into general moral principles to be applied across the board? Or is it sometimes legitimate and desirable to reduce morality to numbers? What it may be rational to do for one individual, it may be irrational to do for thousands. When the German Chancellor Angela Merkel reacted, like most of us, with horror to the terrible picture of the body of a drowned toddler being carried from a Greek beach, she agreed to take in hundreds of thousands of Syrian asylum seekers. Now many in Germany and across Europe are questioning whether that was the right and moral thing to do as countries struggle to accommodate the new arrivals. Was that a triumph of moral imagination or the worst kind of emotionally driven gesture politics? Moral imagination and migration. Witnesses are Matthew Parris David Goodhart, Dr Wanda Wyporska and Zrinka Bralo.
27/10/1642m 44s

Authors of Our Own Misfortune?

This week the Moral Maze asks "in a society where resources are scarce, should we take account of whether people have contributed to their own misfortune?" The issue has been raised by Phil Kay, the assistant chief constable of Leicestershire. Like other public bodies, the force is struggling to stretch resources to cover demand. He told his local newspaper that he would "far rather" officers focus on preventing crime and protecting the public than spend their time investigating break-ins where carelessness may have played a role. In time-honoured fashion Mr Kay says his remarks have been taken out of context, but does he have a point? This week it's been reported that some NHS authorities are considering closing hospitals to meet a £22 billion savings target. At the same time demand from patients has never been greater. Is making an explicit connection between our lifestyle choices and the chances of getting treatment for the consequences of them the most just and moral way to allocate resource? Or is it the worst kind of victim blaming? There are already many ways in which we reward so called "good behaviour" - no claims bonuses, reduced premiums in return for fitting better security, tax breaks for pension savings. Wearable technology like fitness trackers will make looking after ourselves even more feasible in the future, so why not punish "bad behaviour"? We already have sin taxes, and they're called that for a reason. When the cost of our collective sins is so great, is it morally justifiable to expect the rest of society to pick up the bill for our moral blameworthiness? Or is the very notion a kind of mass hardening of the heart that weakens the bonds of our collective humanity?
20/10/1642m 55s


For Donald Trump it was an 11 year old dusty tape that appeared from the archives. For Sam Allardyce it was a sting by undercover reporters. For the Olympic gymnast Louis Smith it was a video leaked on to the internet. All of them conversations they thought were private becoming embarrassingly public, with varying degrees of consequences. We all say things in private we wouldn't want made public, so what right to privacy should those in the public eye be entitled? Is it a simple case that we have a right to know if it tells us about the character of people who have power or who are asking us to trust them? If that's the case how do explain the myriad of examples from minor sporting celebrities to victims of stings by fake sheiks? Should we put them in the same category? We may think their views are unattractive, even offensive, but shouldn't they be allowed to express them in private, like the rest of us, with some confidence that they'll remain private? What right do we have to know? Would the world be a better place if we never said anything privately we wouldn't want made public? In our clamour to expose and condemn are we creating an unhealthy reality gap between what our leaders and politicians are allowed to say and what they actually think? Or has the digital age rightly blown apart the tight and elitist clubbable privacy that was once so much part of our society? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Anne McElvoy, Michael Portillo, Giles Fraser and Matthew Taylor. Witnesses are Prof Steven Barnett, Prof Josh Cohen, Paul Connew and Tom Chatfield.
13/10/1642m 57s

A world without Down's syndrome?

Do we want to live in a world without Down's syndrome? This isn't just a theoretical question. It could soon become a reality. A new technique called non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT), detects Down's syndrome with 99% accuracy and it should soon be available on the NHS. It's already being used in Iceland where 100% of Down's syndrome pregnancies are terminated. The Danish health system declared the objective of being Down's-free and introduced the test in 2006. The termination rate there today is 98%. In Britain the termination rate for positive tests is 90 per cent and around 775 babies with Down's syndrome are born every year in England and Wales. A lot of effort has been made to increase people's knowledge of the condition which has a wide range of symptoms. Many children with it will grow in to adulthood and lead very integrated lives, but some will never walk or talk, or may have severe heart defects, glaucoma, deafness and a risk of early dementia. Would it be a sign of human progress if we reduced the number of people born with Down's syndrome to zero? Many people would agree that reducing suffering is an unequivocal moral good, yet when Richard Dawkins told a woman on Twitter that if she was carrying a child with Down's she should "abort it and try again" and "It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have a choice" there was an outcry. NIPT could soon be available for other single gene disorders such as cystic fibrosis and we've done our best to eradicate many other disabling conditions, so why not make the most of what technology can offer? Or is this a kind of nightmare eugenicist council of perfection - a triumph of cold hearted utilitarianism over our moral duty to embrace difference and care for our fellow man? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Anne McElvoy, Claire Fox, Giles Fraser and Melanie Phillips. Witnesses are Sally Phillips, Jane Fisher, Prof Dominic Wilkinson and Simone Aspis.
06/10/1642m 47s

Policing Offence

When is a personal opinion so offensive that it becomes morally unacceptable? This weekend former Tory leadership candidate Andrea Leadsom discovered her comments on motherhood had transgressed an unwritten social convention. The outraged legions of leader writers, columnists and Twitterati descended and by Monday she was gone. As the politics of offence, identity and rights become ever more toxic, they become equally hard to navigate and the price of transgression is ever higher. The whole Brexit debate and its aftermath have been characterised by claim and counter claim of racism, ageism and classism. We've had laws against "hate speech" for many years now, but are we too keen to create whole new categories of "-isms" to which we can take offence? If morality rests on the ability to distinguish between groups and make judgements about their lifestyles, how do you distinguish between a legitimate verdict and an unjustifiable prejudice? Why is it acceptable to say 'It's good that the President is black' but not to say 'It's good that the next President will be white'? Why is the insult "stale, male and pale" OK, but it wouldn't be if you changed gender and race? Is this about defending the powerless against the powerful, or limiting people's rights to say what they think? Where do we draw the line between policing the basic principles of equal rights and mutual respect with a capacity to judge people by what lies in their heart? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Anne McElvoy, Claire Fox, Giles Fraser and Matthew Taylor. Witnesses are Maya Goodfellow, Josh Howie, Peter Tatchell and Dr Joanna Williams.
31/08/1643m 1s

The Summer of 2016

As someone once said 'Whoever you vote for the government wins'. Whether we thought it was a conspiracy or not we've got used to the idea that something we called the establishment ran societies like ours. No longer. From Brexit voters agreeing with Michael Gove that we shouldn't listen to experts, to Donald Trump supporters relishing the hostility to their man of every part of the American establishment or Jeremy Corbyn supporters rejecting conventional wisdom about what is needed to win elections: everywhere it appears the conventional, the expert, the elite, the establishment view is on the defensive. For some this is a brave new world of openness, activism and renewal. For others it's a post-factual world of populism, extremism and damage. Is the establishment dying? Is this the assertion of the independent-minded? A welcome jolt for a complacent ruling class? A time of renewal? Or a brainless twitch by people bored with issues and complexity, ushering in a host of dangerous isms - populism, extremism, nationalism. "The Summer of 2016" - should we cheer, worry, or despair? The Moral Maze. Witnesses are Will Moy, Ian Chamberlain, Milo Yiannopoulos and Philip Collins.
04/08/1642m 50s

Legalising Drugs

Going to a music festival has become a rite of passage for the post GCSE teenager. Their excitement at the prospect of a long weekend of unsupervised possibility is perhaps only matched by the anxiety of their parents who know exactly what that might entail. Those fears may have been heightened by the news that a music festival in Cambridgeshire has just become the first UK event of its kind to offer people the chance to have their illegal drugs tested to establish the purity of content before they take them. The testing facility, at the Secret Garden Party, was offered with the co-operation of the police. The organisers said the aim was to reduce harm from drug taking and promote welfare. The group conducting the forensic tests this weekend hope other festivals will follow suit. Is this a pragmatic and realistic approach to drug taking that will save lives or a tacit endorsement that will cost them? Is it part of a gradual slide toward decriminalisation of drug taking? According to the 2016 European Drug Report, ecstasy has surged in popularity in Britain among those aged 15-34 in the past three years. Is it logical on the one hand to criminalise the sale of legal highs, but on the other to make it easier to take an illegal drug like ecstasy? Needle exchanges have long been available to registered intravenous drug addicts. Is this a logical extension or does discovering people have illegal drugs and then allowing them to walk away and use them, while the police turn a blind eye, cross a moral Rubicon? It will make it safer for people who want to take drugs, but what about those people who want to attend a festival knowing it is drug free? How should we balance those competing moral goods? Witnesses are Dr Ian Oliver, Johann Hari, Steve Rolles and Deirdre Boyd.
28/07/1642m 49s

Nuclear Weapons

MP's have voted overwhelmingly to renew our Trident nuclear weapons system and the first job of any new prime minister is to write the "letters of last resort" which contain prime ministers' instructions for what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. The handwritten notes are taken to the UK's four Vanguard-class submarines, the ships which carry the ballistic missiles the Royal Navy calls "the nation's ultimate weapon" and contain instructions of what to do in the worst-case nuclear scenario: the obliteration of the UK state. The value of nuclear weapons is in their deterrence - the promise of mutually assured destruction. Theresa May has told the Commons that she wouldn't hesitate, but she could do no other. It is rumoured previous prime ministers may not have been so certain. By their nature the letters have to make broad moral judgments rather than situationally-dependent ones. They're about morality and ethics, not tactics. In the event that deterrence fails and we are attacked, would it be moral to use our nuclear weapons against civilians in retaliation? What would you do in the event of nuclear war? Under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, collective punishment is a war crime. If you think the moral principles of collective punishment are clear when it comes to nuclear weapons what about in other stories in the news? Is it always wrong to punish the innocent in pursuit of a wider justice? Should we ban all Russian athletes from the Rio Olympics to punish the drug cheats? Is protecting American citizens against terrorist attacks a greater good than the right of Muslims to travel to the USA? The morality of retaliation and collective punishment on the Moral Maze. Witnesses are Major General Patrick Cordingley, Air Vice Marshall Nigel Baldwin, Avia Pasternak and Austen Ivereigh.
21/07/1642m 40s

The Chilcot Inquiry

130 sessions of oral evidence,150 witnesses, 150,000 documents, more than 2.5 million words - the Chilcot Report on the Iraq War was finally published on the day of this programme. The inquiry was set up to examine our reasons for taking part in the US-led invasion of Iraq, how the war was prosecuted and its aftermath. But was the decision to go to war morally justified? Chilcot confirms that there was a massive failing in intelligence in the lead-up to the decision to go to war, especially around WMD; it accepts that Tony Blair was acting in good faith and did not deliberately mislead Parliament and the public about that intelligence. The relationship between morality and consequences is complex and sometimes contradictory. If Tony Blair and his government were acting in good faith but the consequences of that war were so catastrophic, can we still describe the decision to go to war as a moral one? If the government were a limited company, isn't this the kind of gross negligence that would lead to directors being prosecuted for corporate manslaughter? On the other hand, if - being wise after the event - we were to hound all politicians for making decisions that went wrong, wouldn't that produce sclerosis and the replacement of democratic judgement with technocracy? Is this a counsel of moral perfection that produces only paralysis of the will? When does ignorance become a moral failing? Is that contingent on outcomes? What if the war had been a success and Iraq transformed into a flourishing democracy? Would we still be worrying about whether it was moral? Would we have spent £10m on an inquiry about it? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Michael Portillo, Matthew Taylor, Giles Fraser and Melanie Phillips. Witnesses are Prof Michael Clarke, John Rentoul, Haider Al Safi and Dr Dan Bulley.
07/07/1642m 45s

Morality of Victors and Vanquished

Pundits and politicians alike are struggling to capture the enormity of the consequences of the result of the referendum vote. It's at times like these people often turn to George Orwell for inspiration. He likened our nation to "a family with the wrong members in control" - "that" he said "perhaps, is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase." Who'll be left standing and in charge after all the political recriminations and bloodletting have ended is still not clear. It's been described as the worst peace-time constitutional crisis this country has faced. So this week on the Moral Maze we're asking what should now be the moral priority for the victors and the vanquished? Has the democratic will of the people been clearly expressed so that the victors must now deliver Brexit at any price? Is it the moral duty of those who championed Brexit to deliver on all their promises made during the campaigning? Or, once normal politics has resumed, should the utilitarian principle of cutting the best possible deal triumph - even if that means forgetting campaign promises on immigration and the single market? Should the vanquished now support Brexit and work towards it with all the enthusiasm they can manage? Or was this a mistake by the British people that means they have a moral duty to go on fighting to keep Britain in the EU and campaign for a second referendum? Or should the priority, above all others, be to find a way to heal a divided nation?
30/06/1642m 46s

The EU Referendum

The murder of the MP Jo Cox has cast a very long and dark shadow across the closing days of the EU referendum. The nature of the campaign and how her death might influence the result are a matter of conjecture. On this week's Moral Maze we're going stand back from that speculation and ask a much bigger question - has this referendum been good for us and good for democracy? The intense campaigning has been going on for many months now and comes hard on the heels of the Scottish independence referendum. Arguably, both have been characterised by trenchant, sometimes bitter and even abusive debate between two sides passionately and honestly committed to their positions. And, arguably, both referenda have left large parts of the electorate dissatisfied by a seemingly endless round of fact-free claim and counter-claim. Are our expectations unrealistic? Have referendums been, for all their faults, exercises in democracy that have engaged and inspired people in a way that party politics increasingly fail to achieve? Should we, like Switzerland, hold more of them? Is there a better way? Should we turn to technology and the internet for answers? 76% of people in the UK own a smart phone; with the growth of social media and online petitions there's a movement that believes the future of democracy is online, where it will engage more people in a wider variety of issues, putting more power directly into the hands of the electorate. Will e-democracy encourage more passionate engagement in issues and be a powerful force for progress? Can it cope with complex issues and complex societies with tens, or hundreds of millions of voters? Will we always need representative democracy to protect us from the tyranny of the majority, however that majority cast their votes? Chaired by Edward Stourton with Mona Siddiqui, Matthew Taylor, Giles Fraser and Claire Fox. Witnesses are Paul Hilder, James Bloodworth, Dr Philip Cunliffe and Tim Stanley.
23/06/1642m 57s

Assisted Dying

Every year thousands of terminally ill patients are being helped to die by their doctors, according to Baroness Molly Meacher, the new chairwoman of Dignity in Dying. She claims doctors are prepared to risk their own freedom rather than see their patients continue to suffer unbearably. Her assertion comes as the British Medical Association next week prepares to discuss the results of its 18 month long survey in to the public and medical professionals' attitudes on end-of-life care and physician-assisted dying. For 26 years now this programme has charted the moral and ethical life of the nation and this subject, above all others, has been the one we've returned to most often. And little wonder as it's an issue that combines moral dilemma, religious principle, human compassion and fear in equal measure. As a prelude to the BMA debate, this week we're going to invite back witnesses who've appeared on our programme over the years to explore how the debate has developed over time. In 1991 we started out discussing the morality of suicide manuals. Advances in medical technology since then have transformed our expectations of what we demand from life. We've seen a growth of the "me generation" that prizes and demands individual choice and rights above collective responsibility. While as a society we have increasingly recognised the rights of disabled people, there is also growing support for legalising assisted suicide, which may give comfort to some, but could put many more vulnerable people at risk. And there has also been our changing relationship with religion. The moral maze that is the debate on assisted dying, live at 8pm Wednesday. Chaired by Michael Buerk with Mona Siddiqui, Anne McElvoy, Giles Fraser and Claire Fox. Witnesses are Dr Michael Irwin, Lesley Close, Dr Kevin Yuill and Prof David Cook.
16/06/1642m 41s

The Morality of Business

The sales signs are going up in 163 BHS shops around the country as the liquidators try to salvage something from the wreckage of this once proud company. When Sir Philip Green bought BHS in 2000, it was making a profit. By the time he sold it in 2015, for £1, to a three-times bankrupt with no retailing experience, it was making a loss and the company pension fund was more than £400m in deficit. Exactly what went wrong at BHS is the subject of no fewer than four separate inquires. What is certain is that it's you and I, the tax payers, who will pick up the bill for the redundancy payments for the 11,000 staff and responsibility for the 20,000 members of the BHS company pension scheme. The head of the Institute of Directors described the affair as deeply damaging to the British business world. It's all a far cry from the days of Quaker philanthropy that inspired so many Victorian entrepreneurs. The study of business ethics is one of the few growth areas of the economy. You might be forgiven for wondering how effective such courses are when we see so many headlines about companies avoiding tax, walking away from pension liabilities, using legal loopholes to make excessive profits, zero hours contracts, falsifying data, mis-selling... The list goes on. Do companies have any moral duty beyond the bottom line? Is the only duty of a company to make money for its shareholders within the law? Where and how do we draw the line between legal duty to shareholders and moral duty to society? The individuals that run companies have moral agency, but is there such a thing as a collective, corporate moral agency? Can we impose a set of moral values, or a social licence, on a company? Or will that create a climate of "What can we get away with?" rather than "What is right?"? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Giles Fraser, Claire Fox, Mathew Taylor and Melanie Phillips. Witnesses are Dr Steve Davies, Dawn Foster, Prof Chris Cowton and John Morrison.
09/06/1642m 42s

Social Convention

Would you ******* believe it? A council has ******* banned swearing in public. The council in question is Salford which has used a Public Space Protection Order to tackle anti-social behaviour in the Salford Quays area which includes Media City, home to the BBC, which might be just a coincidence. Part of the order says it will be deemed a criminal offence if anyone is caught 'using foul and abusive language'. Public Space Protection Orders, or PSPOs, are similar to ASBO's (anti-social behaviour orders), and allow for broad powers to criminalise behaviour that is not normally criminal. PSPOs are geographically defined, making predefined activities within a mapped area prosecutable. Since they came into existence in 2014 many councils have embraced their new powers enthusiastically, with various PSPO's making, or attempting to make, it a criminal offence to sleep rough, drive a loud car and walk a dog without a lead. It seems that control, or regulation, of public space is becoming more common. In the last month alone a council in Wales has banned smoking on a public beach, the London Underground is considering stopping people walking up escalators and a well known store asked a customer to leave because her toddler was having a tantrum. Are regulations to tackle public nuisance a commendable attempt to protect us or an oppressive enforcement of social conformity targeting public activities that are merely unusual or unpopular? This tension between individualism and the common good is an issue which bedevils so many aspects of contemporary society. If it is true that inconsiderate behaviour is increasing in our society, how should we deal with it? How do we balance our moral obligation to the rest of society with our desire to do what we **** well please? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Claire Fox, Michael Portillo, Giles Fraser and Anne McElvoy. Witnesses are Anna Minton, Alfie Moore, Danny Kruger and Terry Christian.
14/04/1642m 58s

Brussels Bombing

The fact that the Belgian authorities had been expecting an attack doesn't diminish the shock of yet another bombing with mass casualties in a European capital. Belgium's foreign minister said on Sunday that Salah Abdeslam, the prime surviving suspect in the Paris attacks, could have been plotting more operations. Tragically, he was proved right. That Salah was able to hide in Brussels, under the noses of the Belgian police, for more than four months raises uncomfortable questions for them - and also for us. The UK government is still fighting to get its Investigatory Powers Bill onto the statute book. Its supporters believe it will enable the police and security services to fight terrorism and crime more effectively. Opponents say it will destroy our fundamental right to privacy and believe their arguments have been given more force by the revelations of Edward Snowdon about the extent of secret surveillance. The Brussels bombs came on the day that the FBI in America said they'd found a way to get round Apple's security and unlock the phone of an Islamist terrorist who killed 14 people in California last December. Apple had refused to co-operate, saying it would have security implications for millions of iPhone users all over the world. When we're faced with ruthless terrorists, intent on committing mass murder, how much privacy do we have a right to demand? And who should police it? These bombs were in the city that is the symbolic heart of the European Union and that has - for many - come to symbolise the hard-won freedoms and values we cherish in the West. What price do we place on those freedoms and values? And how much are we willing to compromise them to ensure our safety? How free do you want to be? Witnesses are Professor Anthony Glees, Mike Harris, Douglas Murray and Inayat Bunglawala.
31/03/1642m 44s

Morality and the EU Referendum

Claim and counter claim in the EU referendum debate have filled the air waves and packed the papers and there are still 14 weeks left to the actual vote. The atmosphere is already highly charged and the political stakes couldn't be much higher. The way we vote on June 23rd will have profound implications for generations to come. We've heard a lot about the political and economic arguments that we should consider when casting that vote, but what are the moral considerations? Is preserving our national cultural identity behind strict border controls a moral priority? Do we have a wider duty as good citizens of Europe and the world? Is fear of immigration and fear of an uncertain economic future a defendable moral position? Is it a moral argument to say our choice should be a utilitarian calculation of where we personally and as a nation will be financially better off? Is sovereignty the moral trump card? Morality and the EU referendum. Chaired by Michael Buerk with Melanie Phillips, Michael Portillo, Matthew Taylor and Anne McElvoy. Witnesses are Anthony O'Hear, Kirsty Hughes, Brian Denny and Sebastian Farquhar.
17/03/1642m 58s

Is Science Morally Neutral?

In 1816, when Mary Shelley sat down to write her Gothic novel Frankenstein, it was a time of social, political and scientific upheaval. It has given us the archetypal image of the mad scientist single-mindedly pursing his grotesque experiments whatever the cost. "Frankenstein Science" has even become its own category, especially beloved by tabloid headline writers. 200 years on and the pace of scientific development has increased exponentially; the fact that Shelley's Frankenstein still has such a hold reflects the powerful role science plays in modern life and also, perhaps, the fear that we don't understand it or know how to control it. Now the head of the Science Council has said that scientists need their own version of the Hippocratic Oath and a regulation system of ethical standards and principles similar to doctors. Would more control give us better, more ethical scientists, or just restrain creativity and academic freedom? If we control scientists more closely, is there a case for arguing that we should exercise more control over the research they carry out? Is science morally neutral? Is it just the choices about how to apply scientific knowledge that are truly moral? In a world where advances in science have the power to profoundly change our lives and the lives of future generations, can scientists still rely on that distinction? This week scientists are meeting in America to discuss the controversial "gain-of-function" research on highly infectious viruses such as avian flu. Do we need more moral, ethical and democratically accountable oversight of research? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Giles Fraser, Claire Fox, Mathew Taylor and Michael Portillo. Witnesses are Belinda Phipps, Prof Terence Kealey, Prof Andy Stirling and Bryan Roberts.
10/03/1642m 42s

Historical Sex Abuse

The idea that we shouldn't speak ill of the dead has an ancient heritage dating as far back as 600BC. It's attributed to the Greek philosopher Chilon of Sparta, but judging by recent headlines around allegations of historic sex abuse it might not have much more of a shelf life. Police forces keen to redress claims that in the past they haven't treated victims fairly and to demonstrate they're not part of a an establishment cover up, are devoting huge resources to cases often dating back many decades and even when the alleged perpetrator is dead. Combine that with a press hungry for salacious gossip knowing that the dead can't sue for libel and it's open season on people who are not only unable to defend themselves, but who will never be brought to trial. The most famous example is the former Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath, but there are numerous others. Should the dead have the same rights as the living? Should they be presumed innocent until proven guilty? Is this just vindictive muck raking or do we owe the many victims of child abuse a duty to try to expose the truth, even after so many years have passed? If we aren't willing to expose what really happened 50 years ago, then what are the chances that we will ever face up to the truth of what happens today? There are those who argue that for too long the victim's voice has been ignored in our legal system and that these investigations help them get closure. But is that the same as justice? Should we hear these cases in court, or would they be better suited to some kind of truth and justice commission? In an increasingly victim-focused climate is our pursuit of historic crimes distorting the meaning of justice? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Giles Fraser, Claire Fox, Anne McElvoy and Mathew Taylor. Witnesses are Barbara Hewson, Peter Hitchens, Mark Watts and Malcolm Johnson.
03/03/1642m 37s

Who Owns Culture?

It may not have the same impact as the Elgin Marbles, but a slightly battered bronze statue of a cockerel has re-ignited a row that has potentially profound implications for our museums and opens a Pandora's Box of moral dilemmas. The statue in question sits in the dining hall of Jesus College Cambridge, but it was originally from the Benin Empire, now part of modern-day Nigeria. It was one of hundreds of artworks taken in a punitive British naval expedition in 1897 that brought the empire to an end. In the same way that Greece has pursued the return of the Elgin marbles, Nigeria has repeatedly called for all the Benin bronzes - which it says are part of its cultural heritage - to be repatriated. The students at Jesus agree with them and are demanding the cockerel be returned. But to whom? There are dozens of high profile campaigns around the world to repatriate cultural artefacts, but the legal issue of rightful ownership is complex and made more so by the value of the objects in question. Does the fact that many of the finest treasures in our museums were acquired during the height of our imperial history mean we're duty bound to return them? If we accept the principle that art looted by the Nazi's should be returned, why not, for example, the Benin Bronzes? Artefacts like the Elgin Marbles are important because they are part of the story or humanity itself. Can any one country claim ownership over that? Would artefacts that have been returned to their original setting take on a new and more authentic cultural meaning that we in the West may not be able to understand, but which is nonetheless important to those who claim ownership? Should repatriation be part of a wider cultural enterprise to re-write our national and imperialistic historical narrative? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Giles Fraser, Claire Fox, Melanie Phillips and Michael Portillo. Witnesses are Dr Tiffany Jenkins, Prof Constantine Sandis, Mark Hudson and Andrew Dismore.
25/02/1642m 58s

Banning Boycotts

How far should you be allowed to express your moral and political beliefs through boycotts? There have been high profile boycott campaigns on everything from companies involved in the arms trade, fossil fuels, and tobacco products to economic and academic boycotts of Israel. Now the government is planning a law to make it illegal for local councils, public bodies and even some university student unions to carry out boycotts. Under the plan all publicly funded institutions will lose the freedom to refuse to buy goods and services as part of a political campaign. It's said that any public bodies that continue to pursue boycotts will face "severe penalties." The government believes cracking down on town-hall boycotts is justified because they undermine good community relations, poison and polarise debate and fuel anti-Semitism. Beyond the narrow principle of what tax payers money should be spent on, what is wrong with a group of citizens organising to express their moral, philosophical or political objection to a company or country through their economic, intellectual or cultural power? Such boycotts have in the past been very effective. If every pound we spend can on some level be seen as an expression of our individual moral codes, why should we not have a say on where money is spent on our behalf? Are boycotts misguided empty political gestures more designed to make us feel self-righteous? And even if they are is outlawing them justified? Banning the boycott - the Moral Maze. Chaired by Michael Buerk with Melanie Phillips, Matthew Taylor, Claire Fox and Jill Kirby.
18/02/1642m 50s


Charity in the UK is big business. There are over 165,000 charities registered with the Charity Commission, and the total annual income of the sector is more than £100 billion. But what should they be allowed to spend their money on? The government has just announced that charities which receive state grants will not be allowed to spend any of that tax payers cash on political campaigning. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations has described the change as "draconian" and will amount to "gagging" them. There is a lot at stake. Charities get £13 billion pounds a year from national or local government. Figures from the National Audit Office show that that money makes up well over a half of the annual income of many well-known charities. Being a prophetic witness has always been a key aspect of what charities do. Campaigning and political activity is a vital part of that, but should it be funded by us the taxpayer, whether by direct grants or via the tax breaks that are part of charitable status. Or do we need to rethink our definition of what is and isn't a charity? If public schools can qualify for charitable status, why not campaigning groups like "Liberty"? With headlines about aggressive fund raising tactics of some organisations, the charity halo has become somewhat tarnished in recent times. But do we have an outdated "Lady Bountiful" view of what charities are for? If we want our charities to make a difference is it time to accept that they need to apply all the modern commercial tools you'd expect from such a large industry. Or, in their rush for influence and impact, have charities lost site of the personal relationships, responsibilities and trust that lie at the heart of altruism? What should charity be for? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Michael Portillo, Anne McElvoy, Giles Fraser and Matthew Taylor. Witnesses are Andy Benson, Debra Allcock-Tyler, Christopher Snowdon and Craig Bennett.
11/02/1642m 52s

Selfie Culture

The wobbly mobile phone footage and someone calling out "you ain't no Muslim bruv" has given us a powerful rallying cry. It was filmed by a bystander as police restrained a man who's since been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. What it doesn't show is how one very brave man fought to try and disarm the attacker, while people stood around filming it all on their phones. Mobile phone footage has now become a staple of our news and not so private lives. Which one of us hasn't clicked on a link and experienced a vicarious thrill from watching the latest talked about clip of death, disaster or embarrassment? It is undeniably useful too, but what are the moral consequences of videoing and displaying everything in public? Does looking through the prism of a phone camera create a kind of moral distance that atrophies human capacities like empathy, compassion and self--reflection? The instinct to say 'I was there' is immensely strong, but earlier this year there were a number of cases bystanders filming distressed people as they threatened to jump to their deaths. Are we trying to give life meaning by creating a permanent record of it, instead of by thinking more deeply about it and living life in the moment? Is the craze for selfies just a harmless piece of fun or are we gradually being infected with a narcissistic personality disorder? Or is the drive to record everything and to make our lives public, part of what makes us human? And mobile phone footage is just today's equivalent of ancient cave paintings of hunting scenes? Live our life on film - the Moral Maze. Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Matthew Taylor, Giles Fraser, Anne McElvoy and Claire Fox. Witnesses are Madeleine Bunting, Jane Finnis, James Temperton and Justine Hardy.
10/12/1542m 51s

Moral Certainty

We live in a complex world where it's often hard to know what's the right thing to do - the right thought to think. But there are increasing sectors of our public discourse where any sense of moral ambivalence or doubt will not be tolerated. Race, homosexuality, child abuse are just some of the touchstones where any expression of doubt is often pounced on and hounded out, especially on social media. Our Moral Maze this week isn't about freedom of speech, or political correctness; it's about the moral value of certainty. We prize and reward moral certainty and consistency, especially in politics, but also business and even sport. Any expression of doubt is seen as weakness - even moral turpitude. Is this a good way of binding society with a set of common values? Or is the public shaming that follows the transgression of those boundaries not so much about morality, but ensuring conformity that itself is a kind of prejudice? Do we need a bit more humility about our moral certainties? Or would that mean bowing thoughtlessly to the latest fashionable cause? Bertold Brecht made the point that doubt is a good servant but a bad master. In an uncertain world if we don't stick to our values do we risk indecisive moral paralysis? Chaired by David Aaronovitch with Matthew Taylor, Claire Fox, Michael Portillo and Anne McElvoy. Witnesses are Iain McGilchrist, Katie Hopkins, Professor Andrew Samuels and Ben Harris-Quinnery.
03/12/1542m 47s

Just War and Syria

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, will make his case for bombing ISIL in Syria this week. Some commentators are predicting that, if parliament votes in favour, the raids could start as early as next week. This will mean our going into a coalition not only with France and America but also with Russia - a country that has been a long-standing ally of the Syrian leader President Assad, the man whom we wanted to bomb only two years ago. The adage "my enemy's enemy is my friend" dates back at least to the 4th century BC. It might be harsh to say that we're basing our foreign policy on an ancient proverb from a Sanskrit treatise on statecraft, but it's hard to avoid the parallels. Is it, though, a moral justification for going to war? On the Moral Maze this week we discuss what is meant by the phrase "just war" and the morality of pacifism. Has the pacifist case been heard enough? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Claire Fox, Giles Fraser, Michael Portillo and Melanie Phillips. Witnesses are Dr Alexander Moseley, Richard Norman, Helen Drewery and Richard Streatfield.
26/11/1542m 50s

Drugs in Sport and Human Enhancement

The report from the World Anti-Doping Agency couldn't have been clearer. Russian athletes were involved in state sponsored cheating and the IAAF was involved in bribery and corruption. Admittedly it's not exactly the stuff of Chariots of Fire, but what are the real moral boundaries that have been transgressed? If you think elite sport is all about individual talent and dedication you're sadly mistaken. Top athletes in all sports are supported by multi-million pound programmes that ensure they get the best of everything - including scientists who maximise their nutrition and medical treatment. If you come from a country that can't afford to pay for it, you're already handicapped. And if your son or daughter is showing some sporting promise you better get them in to a private school quickly. Half the UK gold medal winners in 2012 were educated privately and the pattern is repeated in almost every sport outside football. Sport is many things, but fair is not one of them, so why single out performance enhancing drugs in sport when we positively embrace them in other aspects of our lives? Has anyone turned down Viagra because it might give them an unfair advantage? As science progresses the possibility of human enhancement is becoming an everyday reality. Drugs to enhance memory and attention and to enable us to be smarter? Why not? If this all sounds like some kind of dystopian nightmare don't fret because there's a growing interest in the field of bio-medical moral enhancement to make us better people as well. Human enhancement - physical and moral on the Moral Maze, but beware, listening could give you an unfair advantage. Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Giles Fraser, Claire Fox, Melanie Phillips and Anne McElvoy. Witnesses are Ellis Cashmore, Martin Cross, Dr Rebecca Roache and Nigel Warburton.
12/11/1543m 3s

Population Control

This week the Moral Maze asks: "is it our moral duty to have fewer children?" The question has been brought in to focus by two stories in the past week. First, that by 2027 the population of the UK is expected to top 70 million people and the second that China is to end its "one child" policy. With 238,737 births every day the world population is rapidly approaching 7 and a half billion and will be 8 billion by 2024. While many people will be campaigning for tougher policies at next month's UN climate change conference, should they also be calling for policies to control population growth? Without some technological miracle, more people will mean more unsustainable resource use, worse climate change, massive population displacement and large scale migration - something we're already seeing. If we can foresee the suffering that unrestrained population growth will cause for all those who live after us isn't it our moral duty to do something about it? Is it time to accept that having more than one child is just something that none of us has a moral right to do? Of course, if all the world's resources of food, energy, homes and knowledge were evenly distributed, the problems of population would be less urgent. So do we have a moral duty to take a less of them so that others who were born less fortunate can have more? This is global question, but also an intensely personal one. Is it reasonable to expect people to sacrifice their own family interests, in terms of size or privilege, in favour of the common good? Is our profound love for our family and our children a barrier to a more just society and equitable world? Chaired by Michael Buerk, with Matthew Taylor, Giles Fraser, Melanie Phillips and Anne McElvoy. Witnesses are Prof Sarah Conly, Hazel Healy, Frank Furedi and Dr Dernot Grenham.
05/11/1542m 21s

Public Opinion

When Professor Averil Macdonald, the chairwoman of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, said that women are opposed to fracking because they don't understand it, the reaction was predictable. She was accused of being sexist, patronizing, misogynistic. But in all the brouhaha what was missed was the difficult moral question at the heart of her argument. Professor Macdonald was citing research that shows only 31.5% of women are in favour of shale gas exploration compared to 58% of men. She argued that while women do accept the rational benefits of shale gas, they prefer to give more weight to their emotional fears about its possible impact. Setting aside the issue of gender, fear has been a powerful motivator in many campaigns such as GM crops, nuclear power, the MMR vaccine and numerous others. Combine that with an understandable streak of nibby-ism and you get an implacable and emotionally charged opposition to progress or developments that could benefit the majority of people in this country. It took eight years to apporve Heathrow's terminal 5; a third runway is being fought even harder and HS2 is yet to get beyond the stage of computer generated graphics. Do we rely too heavily on public opinion? Should we trust politicians more to make the correct decisions on our behalf? Or are we abdicating our powe