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Radio review: Moral Maze, The Punch, and The World This Weekend

31 July 2020


Michael Buerk, presenter of Moral Maze (Radio 4, Wednesday)

Michael Buerk, presenter of Moral Maze (Radio 4, Wednesday)

WE DO, indeed, live in extraordinary times. Last week’s Moral Maze (Radio 4, Wednesday) would have been unimaginable ten years ago — not because of the subject whether or not the British Empire was a force for good, but because, with Dr David Starkey on the panel, the Moral Maze panel would have been paralysed by indignant uproar. Michael Buerk’s show is a tamer affair nowadays, and is generally better for it.

In this encounter, the witness most likely to induce apoplexy among the Starkeyites was surely the director of the Centre for Research on Race and Law at Birkbeck, Dr Nadine El-Enany. But neither she nor her co-sympathiser, Professor Alan Lester, managed to do more than their opponents in convincing us that we should learn more about the history of colonialism.

How that is done within the context of the British education system is less about morality and more about power struggles within education, academia, and publishing. Nobody is going to “de-colonise” the syllabus with a click of the fingers; and morality will be used merely as a means of validation in the process.

If you want a moral dilemma to chew on, then last week provided a better case-study in the form of The Punch (Radio 4, weekdays). In 2011, Jacob Dunne punched James Hodgkinson in a drunken brawl. Hodgkinson was hospitalised by the single blow, and died nine days later. Dunne, who had no previous criminal record, was imprisoned for manslaughter.

The balance here between crime and punishment is a delicate one. As a result of her son’s misdemeanour, Dunne’s mother lost her job and drank herself to an early grave. On the other hand, the sentence appeared to many, including Hodgkinson’s family, shockingly lenient. When you are grieving, the requirement for “malice aforethought” to distinguish murder from manslaughter seems like an impertinent technicality.

But The Punch was about so much more than the crime itself. Over five days, we heard the moving story of how Dunne engaged with the Restorative Justice process, and built a relationship with the Hodgkinson family so trusting that all parties participated in this series. Dunne has become something of a poster boy for a system that has had more than its fair share of challenges over the past couple of years, and provides a reminder that the efforts of groups such as Remedi can be genuinely transformative.

Those of us invested in the future of high-quality choral singing in church will have had plenty of opportunity to huff and puff at the decision of Sheffield Cathedral to wind up the choir for reasons of perceived exclusivity (News, 24 July). The World This Weekend (Radio 4 FM, Sunday) did not provide quite the cathartic punch-up many may have wanted, but Ed Stourton’s interview with the Director of Music of Bradford Cathedral, Alex Berry, did offer an insight into how inclusivity can sit happily alongside excellence. But was it deliberate irony to finish the piece with the choir intoning the word transeamus?

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