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Decision Time

Nick Robinson | 15:09 UK time, Sunday, 24 December 2006

Do we have to stop flying to save the planet from climate change? How great a threat is Iran? Two topics on the news agenda and - as it happens - which kick off a new Radio 4 discussion programme which I'm hosting and which begins just after Christmas.

Decision Time aims to lift the lid on how those in power make the big decisions that affect all our lives, inviting listeners to hear the sort of arguments, calculations and heart-searching that take place as the Government wrestles with a decision it simply can’t avoid.

Ministers like to claim that the Government makes its decisions purely in the national interest. The cynics insist they always put their own interests first. Decision Time will aim to show how any government of any political colour might deal with the conflicting interests they have to try to reconcile.

On Wednesday 27 December at 2000 GMT on Radio Four (repeated on Saturday 30 December at 2215 GMT) you can hear the first programme in which Steve Norris - a former Tory Transport minister - will argue that if he was in charge now he'd force aviation to pay for the environmental damage it does.

Roy Griffins (the head of civil aviation at the Department of Transport until a couple of years ago), Toby Nicol who's corporate communications director for Easyjet, Helen Goodman MP, who was head of the strategy unit at the Treasury, and the travel writer Simon Calder will confront him with the obstacles he'd meet if he tried.

A week later on Wednesday 3 January at 2000 GMT on Radio Four Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former foreign and defence secretary will argue that military action against Iran cannot be ruled out if she pursues her nuclear programme. He'll be in discussion with Sir Jeremy Greenstock, our man at the UN in the build up to the war with Iraq, Sir Stephen Wall, the prime minister’s former adviser on Europe who has since attacked Tony Blair's conviction that he has to hitch the UK to the chariot of the US president, and Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA specialist on the Middle East who has warned that we may have to fight a war with Iran sooner rather than later.

So that's a couple of things coming up. Otherwise Newslog is going to be taking a bit of a Christmas recess, barring any sudden unexpected incidents of high political drama. Thanks to everyone who's been reading and commenting this year. Let's do it all again in 2007!

EDIT (2300, 27 December): You can now listen to the first episode of Decision Time by clicking here.


  • 1.
  • At 04:43 PM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Nick Thornsby wrote:

Sounds interesting I shall be listening.

Its been great reding your blogs and the debates between comments in 2006 and I shall look forward to it next year.

Merry xmas Nick and everybody else!!

  • 2.
  • At 08:58 PM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Alice wrote:

Enjoy your break!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year xx

  • 3.
  • At 10:00 AM on 25 Dec 2006,
  • John Galpin wrote:

Compliments of the season Nick and lets hope for some good news in the New Year for all of us.

With respect to the competing parties environmental claims and credentials I am still a little puzzled by politicians claims such as the one above "force aviation to pay for the environmental damage it does". Well I can see this raises money for the government and might just reduce air travel a bit. However how is it going as it where "to pay the environment back"? I see no proposal to use the money to actually undo the damage done by air travel which remains. And as for for all this support and promotion of "non poluting" electric vehicles just where does the electricity come from in the first place? Why CO2 generating gas fired power stations of course which have taken up the capacity demand for electricity generation because politicians have ducked the renewables and nuclear issue and the lack of capacity in public transport for at least 15 years.

The politicians hubris and and selective amnesia when it comes to finding someone else to blame for the consequences today of their past lack of vision , policy and real leadership never ceases to amaze and apall in equal measure.

Something to ponder on as I pull the wisbone? I's a turkey!

All the best and thanks for your efforts, openess and good grace throughout the year.

  • 4.
  • At 01:45 PM on 25 Dec 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Saving the planet from climate change may already be impossible. That's because environmentalists have never spoken past the taboo which lies at the heart of the matter. It's not flying which should be curtailed, it's procreating. The Earth cannot sustain the number of people who live on it. With the fossil fuel based technologies for generating power we have, in order to prevent climate change through excessive CO2 emissions, more and more people would continually have to emit less and less CO2 each. Population control should have begun decades ago. The rate of procreation and the ability of modern medicine and agriculture to keep people alive has outstripped the deaths caused by war, old age, famine, and disease which kept the population in check. As a result, environmentalists have demanded a simplistic per capita ceiling on CO2 emissions starting in nations they define as "industrialized." This concept flies in the face of the fact that those who produce the highest per capita emissions also happen to be among the highest per capita producers of wealth and food and the greatest economic engine in the world on which all others directly or indirectly depend. The entire world's economy requires their output and consumption to sustain itself. A sudden reduction in their economy would have grave consequences globally, not marginally reducing the world's total economic output but severely impacting it. Environmentalists would avert a looming global ecological disaster by exchanging it for an immeditate global economic disaster whose consequences would be every bit as dire. This would include mass starvation, mass poverty, political and social upheavals, even wars. The most vulnerable populations would be those in the third world all over Asia, Africa, and Latin America. At that point the environmentalists would presumably wash their hands of the entire matter by saying it is a problem for economists and politicians to solve and outside of their area of expertise. The liklihood of this happening is virtually nil. The largest producer of CO2 and the most productive engine of wealth also happens to be by far the strongest military power and will not be persuaded to destroy its economy for the greater good either voluntarily nor is it possible to persuade it by force.

Had European environmentalists who seem most concerned been honest, they'd have also concentrated their efforts decades ago to replace the carbon based technologies with others having less or no environmental impact and urged other governments to undertake the same quest. Instead, they sat idly by while their own societies invested their technological capacities on useless ego boosting projects like a redundant super jumbo airplane, a redundant space program, and a pie in the sky project to harness thermonuclear fusions which is at least several decades away from success if it ever is made to work at all. Their self admittedly inadequate program, the Kyoto protocol has proven to be a complete flop. Beyond not persuading the largest producer of CO2 to agree to its inequitable reductions, those nations in Europe which did sign up to it will largely fail to meet their agreed to targets by a wide margin, having refused to take effective action for exactly the same reason the largest producer refused to agree, namely its adverse econimic impact. By limiting their definition of the problem to a purely environmental one and excluding all of its other aspects and ramifications, the environmentalists guaranteed that it would not be solved. Why did they do that? There are only two possible reasons I can think of. Either they are incompetent or their true goal was political, not ecological. Now along with their friends whose crusade has always been overtly purely political, they've managed to alienate and isolate the largest single force on earth. What do they do for an encore, where do they take us from here? Fly all you the time you have left. With mad men in charge of government of Iran, a nation determined to build nuclear weapons to destroy those it defines as its enemies, our end may be much sooner than even global warming would have it.

  • 5.
  • At 10:50 AM on 28 Dec 2006,
  • Alice wrote:

Nick, after watching John Seargeant on Grumpy Old Men a few nights ago talking about receiving Christmas cards from the PM etc., what is the situation with cards around Westminster? Do journalists recieve them from the PM, Cameron, Campbell, etc etc? Do tell!

I've just listened to your programme on policy making and I'd like to say *congratulations* to you and all of those involved.

I teach politics at University and I have to say sometimes get a little fed up (a la Steve Richards!) with the sometimes populist tone of media coverage of the subject.

Your programme went a long way to restoring my faith! It showed politicians, civil servants, journalists and pressure groups trying to balance and trade off their interests to achieve a compromise they could all live with -which to me is the essence of representative politics. It's what takes place everyday, notwithstanding the political theatre of Westminster, and should serve as a reminder of quite how difficult and worthwhile an activity politics can be.

I'm taping it for my students: I reckon it's required listening for anybody tempted by the postmodern cynicism and potshot-taking that so many of us lucky enough to live in a democracy fall into these days.

Well done! I'm looking forward to the next programme.

  • 7.
  • At 02:11 PM on 29 Dec 2006,
  • Matt wrote:

Really interesting programme. It unfortunately re-enforces my view however, that the printed press are not interested whatsoever in debating and making well thought out comment. The representative of the press in this discussion made it clear that the printed press was more interested in whipping up a storm of hysteria, rather than looking at the policy. I have often thought that in the papers today, many issues are presented as "how the people feel" without that actually being even remotely true.

But the programme itself was a great insight into the hoops and hurdles of political office when handling sensitive issues. Its a great shame that none of the big decisions get tackled directly head-on due to fear of lost votes and the press. All solutions seem to end up between two stools and solve nothing - no wonder there is voter apathy. Still, with no one voting, perhaps it will remove that aspect of fear from attacking an issue with a controversial solution.

Finally, I found the interaction between minister and civil servent so very reminscent of 'Yes, Minister', clearly some things never change!

  • 8.
  • At 06:38 PM on 31 Dec 2006,
  • Derek Barker wrote:

Fascinating to hear how Steve Norris(the would be mayor of London)describe how he would introduce legislation and how he would use a process of support and elimination to achieve his goal!which clearly opens the can of worms as to how decisions are made,those two highly significant words "COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITIES" ARE NOW CLEARLY SEEN AS THE BEATING STICK TOO SUBMISSION AND LEAVES THE DEMOCRATIC VOICE OF ALL M.Ps IN SILENCE.

  • 9.
  • At 09:40 AM on 04 Jan 2007,
  • Ian Hymers wrote:

Are there any plans to make the programme available as a podcast? I can't listen at the broadcast times but would like to be able to listen to the debates?

I've just discovered this series (last night's programme on local government finance), and I'd love to hear the earlier programmes. Surely this is the kind of material the BBC should leave up on the website indefinitely, rather than take down after a week.

There is an interesting game that central government plays with local government, which goes something like this: "We want you to do X, but we want you to do it democratically - in other words with a mandate from your local voters - rather than simply because we tell you to do it." X may be anything from cutting or capping public expenditure to raising standards or tackling environmental issues. Central government therefore wants to set the parameters of local government finance such that local government is forced to do the right things of its own accord. POSIWID - "the purpose of a system is what it does" (Stafford Beer).

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