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The Spectator Podcast: Madness in the Med

20 July 2017

3:00 PM

20 July 2017

3:00 PM

On this week’s episode, Isabel Hardman is joined by guests to look at the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean and how NGOs might be making things worse, rather than better. We also wonder whether Bristol should be ashamed of its past, and discuss binge drinking with Julie Burchill.

Fewer than 300 miles off the Libyan coast lies the Italian island of Lampedusa. With a population of just over 6,000, Lampedusa has become the nexus of a migration crisis that has rumbled on for years, with seemingly no resolution in sight. In this week’s magazine, Nicholas Farrell reports from Italy on a crisis that he believes is being compounded by boats run by NGOs bringing migrants ashore in Europe. To discuss this issue, and what can be done about it, we were joined on the podcast by Douglas Murray, author of The Strange Death of Europe, and George Graham, Director of Humanitarian Policy at Save the Children.

Nicholas lays out the situation:

“The problem hasn’t gone away; it has shifted westwards to Italy, where things just go from bad to worse. Last year a record 181,000 migrants arrived there by sea, nearly all from Libya, and this year there are sure to be many more: over 90,000 have so far been ferried across the Mediterranean from near the Libyan coast to Sicily, 300 miles away, according to the latest figures from IOM, the UN migration agency. Earlier this week IOM reported that 2,359 migrants have died trying to cross the Mediterranean already this year, on top of 5,083 deaths last year and 2,777 in 2015.”

Next, the city of Bristol is famous for many things – its theatres, graffiti artists, and suspension bridges, amongst many cultural delights – but there is a movement afoot to highlight its infamous association with the slave trade. Edward Colston, the city’s greatest historical benefactor, is the subject of a campaign to redress what activists consider a whitewashing of the region’s history. Will Heaven went to Bristol to find out more and was surprised by his own response, and he joins the podcast along with Tom Slater, deputy editor of Spiked.

As Will writes:

“Colston made some of his fortune in the Royal African Company in the late 17th century. At the time, it had a complete monopoly over the slave trade from west Africa, transporting about 85,000 enslaved Africans across the Atlantic, including 12,000 children as young as six. All of them were branded — hot irons on flesh — with the initials ‘RAC’. Roger Ball says just under a quarter, 19,300, including 2,500 children, died during the crossings, in filthy conditions. Colston was eventually the deputy governor of the company that oversaw this horrendous business. It’s absurd, argues Ball, to pretend he was some sort of moral hero to be honoured…The Countering Colston group are as thoughtful and measured as Rhodes Must Fall are hysterical and vituperative.”


And finally, the writer Julie Burchill is famous for her pugnacious prose, and few would be surprised to discover she’s a heavy drinker. But on a recent trip to Amsterdam she found herself increasingly conscious that her tendency towards paralytic drunkenness might have tipped into something more serious. She joined me now to discuss the role that alcohol plays in her life. As she writes:

“Born into the British working-class, then at 17 becoming a journalist, it was predictable I’d become a drunk. And I’ve honestly loved these 40 years of binge and spree — but I feel now that if I don’t change my ways, I may well lose my marriage. Trickily, I can’t help thinking that it was the person I became through drinking — all that swagger, sass, sex-pestiness — which made my husband love me so much in the first place; without drink, I can’t help thinking I literally will not be myself. Lose myself, or lose my love, or lose both and keep my life? It’s a tough call.”

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