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Friday 28th August
News moves fast – but it doesn’t move far. We find ourselves at the same themes, the same debates, the same conversations, the same sticking points and impasses. Not just year on year or month on month these days, but week on week.
In the last fortnight, we’ve had a sparky debate about Media Studies being a non-subject, and railed against the BBC for banning a patriotic song that they were never going to ban in the first place. Does that feel familiar? It should. You could have lifted those stories and plonked them into any August from the last couple of decades.
The merry-go-round of the Coronavirus coverage is, though, something different. It is less a boring regurgitation of old news and more a tussle for ideas. The same themes come up again and again because we are still grappling with them now as we were in March – and because the interests and convictions on each side of the ‘arguments’ are relentless in laying their claims.
I believe in working from home. Not just because it presents a sustainable way of helping to thwart the spread of the virus – when other ways, like closing schools and shops, have been anything but sustainable – but because its also good for us. It alleviates the pressure of the commute, the stresses and distractions of an office environment and gives us freedom and control. It has been proven to be good for productivity and good for wellbeing. It is about as close as we’ll come to a win-win situation.
Close, but not quite. Because there are, of course, losers. If you’ve been anywhere near a major city recently, you will know how strangely quiet they have become. My high street, in a small suburban village outside Manchester, is thriving. Bustling with people and activity and the air filled with the ringing of the till. The ten minute drive into the city centre is like heading into the wild west. It’s derelict, but for the odd wandering soul or plucky coffee cart.
The government will launch a drive next week, aimed at encouraging people to get back to work. (I say work – and not the office – because that is how it is presented. Most people have, of course, been working – just from the back bedroom). There are some suggestions that ministers will wield the axe over our heads – arguing that those who continue to work from home are more ‘vulnerable’ to being sacked.
It is a breathtakingly irresponsible approach. To encourage is one thing – make the emotional case for helping revive city centre economies – but to threaten insecurity and uncertainty is sickening. Not least because such a large chunk of the working population already feel insecure and uncertain – the workforce don’t need another reason to stew in anxiousness.
The fact that we would pour such a toxic argument over an issue that is so full of promise and possibility leads us, of course, to the interests of the city centre landlords and big money property developers. The tables have turned and they are now the ones facing down a cultural shift that risks locking them out of the prosperity.
As with everything, there is a balance we have failed to strike. Work from home if it really works for you – but if you can, if you feel able to, if you’re usually a city dwelling singleton, give us a lift, chum, and spend a couple of days a week in town. Shop, eat out, buy a coffee. Give us a lift, please?
Some things require a delicate negotiation with the public, rather than a sledgehammer. I think for the most part, we would understand and do what we can. Instead, we have chosen to cook up anxiousness and risked resistance and resentment.
It will be down to individual organisations to carrying out the negotiations with their employees. A high number likely won’t put any pressure on at all – a handful already relinquishing eye-watering rents and improving their profit margins – but a few will no doubt take the government’s line and crank up the pressure.
I make my case for home working with a pinch of irony, because this weekend I return to talkRADIO’s London studios. I know the pressure because I have felt it – and not because my employer had leaned on me, quite the opposite, talkRADIO have been unbelievably helpful and accommodating – but because I felt a bit of a social shame. I felt like I was in hiding, cowed away from the world. That is, of course, nonsense – and we should shake it off.
In fact, I’m here now. I type this from the talkRADIO building in central London and I’m really enjoying being back. I’ve caught up with friends, checked out the new studio developments and eased back into life in this great city. But I did it on my terms, at my speed, when I was ready. And that’s important.
As this story bubbled up this morning – and as my producer and I were chewing through what to cover – I let out an exasperated sigh. Are we really, honestly, going to debate the merits and pitfalls of working from home until we’re blue in the face? We could copy and paste that in from a few weeks ago – and a few weeks before that. Picking a ‘for’ and ‘against’ and arguing it out. And like so much of our discourse, it has become an argument. Impassioned views on both sides, feeling attacked by the opposition and doggedly determined to win the day. About working from home. Working. From. Home.
Our focus this weekend will be to ask that question – why has this become such a sticking point? To do that, we will actually need a voice from either side of the debate. It is astonishing, telling and depressing that we are thinking of this as yet another point of fraught disagreement. We’ll bring them together and see if we can bridge another divide.
We could copy and paste coverage of Extinction Rebellion’s protests into the show, too. Another weekend of disruption awaits as they plan more action. We’re a couple of years on from their rapid rise, and we may be in a position to ask what, if anything, it has achieved. The organisations spokeswoman, Clare Farrell, will join us to take that question – and calls from a few disgruntled travellers too, I imagine, but we’ll try and step off the merry-go-round of that story.
The merry-go-round of the US election does continue this week. The Republican Convention saw Trump officially announced as the candidate and a string of speeches from the usual suspects. If it had anything in common with the Democratic Convention last week, it was that. The same people – making the same arguments. Could we copy and paste our coverage of the 2016 election? On this, I don’t think so. It does feel different. It feels more urgent, more breathless and more fraught. Already. We’ll find out for sure over the next ten weeks. Ed Hardy from the Hardy Report and Greg Swenson from Republican’s Abroad will join us to thrash through that in our now regular Saturday feature – The Road to the White House.
I’ll see you in the morning – bright and breezy from our new studios.August 28, 2020 | No Comments