A debt too big to bear. Shifting it would be horribly painful; letting it grow would risk shattering confidence in Britain and its economy. That's what comedians call a reveal: you think we're talking about today, but as Jonathan Freedland informed us, kicking off the new series of his ever-fascinating The Long View, it was also the case in the years after the Battle of Waterloo.
Freedland convened a stellar cast of thinkers at Apsley House, the Duke of Wellington's gaff – No 1 London, as it was often referred to, being the first house people came to after the Knightsbridge toll gate. We also learnt that stone-throwing mobs outside forced him to have metal shutters fixed to the windows – hence "Iron Duke". But that was an incidental pleasure in a thoroughly meaty discussion. In 1815 the national debt was £800m, or 200 per cent of gross national product. Now it's 55 per cent, "but going up very rapidly", as the BBC's economics editor Stephanie Flanders kindly informed us. Having got rid of income tax after Waterloo, the government turned to indirect taxation, which meant that the poor stumped up the most. In the event Britain was saved by empire and the industrial revolution. No chance of help like that now.
The programme degenerated, in the nicest possible way, into a high-class bar-room brawl between Will Hutton, Britain's most prominent liberal intellectual, and Niall Ferguson, Tory historian, not over the past so much as the immediate future, and how we're going to get out of this mess. The former sounded sensible, the latter apocalyptic. Flanders wasn't too cheerful, either. "Some people think the crisis is over," she said. "No one will be feeling better off in two or three years' time."
History has always been one of BBC radio's strong suits. And so has sport – but given that they've sent more people to cover the Winter Olympics than Britain has competitors, the radio coverage is pitiful. There's nothing live, though it would seem a relatively inexpensive matter to devote 5 Live Sports Extra to it lock, stock and barrel roll. (That's snowboarding parlance, the obscure-terms editor writes.) As usual with the Beeb, what it does it does well; it just feels like lip service. Every morning, from 7.30 till 10, the same 15-minute report on the previous day is repeated over and over. Led by the personable Vassos Alexander, with reports from perky old hand Eleanor Oldroyd, it's actually very good – lean and nuggety. It's just that there should be a lot more of it.
On Wednesday Oldroyd was talking to the bobsleigh pair Nicola Minichiello and Gillian Cooke. Like Amy Williams, who won skeleton gold last weekend, they give their vehicle a name – Arthur in Williams's case, Magnus in theirs, after Magnus Magnusson. No, not that one – Magnus Ver Magnusson, the four-time World's Strongest Man champion. Williams had dropped by, they said, and had a chat with Magnus, rubbing her gold medal on him (sorry, it) for luck. "Do Magnus and Arthur get on well with each other?" Oldroyd asked. The girls floundered. "That's surely the question of the Games," Alexander said back in the studio.Reuse content