Michael Portillo: On Politics

Michael Portillo: On Politics

A BBC Radio Collection


Michael Portillo presents these specially selected shows exploring the history of democracy and the modern political system

In a parliamentary career spanning over 20 years, Michael Portillo served as a Conservative MP and held numerous Cabinet posts. Few people are better placed to comment on politics than him, and in these thought-provoking programmes, he gives us his take on the development of democracy and contemporary political theory.

In the three-part series Democracy on Trial, Portillo investigates the difficult and dangerous global journey taken by this fragile ideal over 2,500 years, and the surprisingly tenuous grip it holds upon the world today. From Athens in the fifth century BC to the present day, he examines the effectiveness of a form of government we take for granted, and analyses its rise, fall and future.

For Whom the Division Bell Tolled sees him looking at the history and peculiarities of the back-bencher, asking historians whether these traits have been present since the very first Parliaments in the 1300s. Across three episodes, he traces the origins of the back-bench revolt, recalls the good and noble works of back-benchers from the past, and wonders whether those on the back bench have always been more interested in keeping their jobs than changing the world.

In The Right Stuff, Portillo considers the lasting influence of the author and philosopher Ayn Rand, questioning whether her work remains a blueprint for those on the political right. Talking to contemporaries and critics, he probes the origins and impact of Rand's writings, and assesses how her controversial ideas relate to the current political landscape.

Capitalism on Trial finds him pondering years of bailouts, stagnating growth and market instability, and asking whether free-market capitalism is looking a little tarnished. Over two programmes, he talks to leading thinkers including Amartya Sen, Will Hutton and Gillian Tett as he weighs up the costs and benefits of the economic system that governs our lives.

Finally, in Things We Forgot to Remember: The 1945 Labour Government, Portillo looks back at Clement Attlee's postwar government, querying how radical their agenda really was and how much our collective memory of it is due to myth-making by subsequent Labour administrations.

Production credits

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on the following dates:

Democracy on Trial

Episode 1 11 May 2010

Episode 2 18 May 2010

Episode 3 25 May 2010

Produced by Philip Sellars and Julia Johnson

For Whom the Division Bell Tolled

Episode 1 14 May 2008

Episode 2 21 May 2008

Episode 3 28 May 2008

Produced by Philip Sellars

The Right Stuff 11 November 2008

Produced by Owen McFadden

Capitalism on Trial

Episode 1 27 September 2011

Episode 2 4 October 2011

With Amartya Sen, Will Hutton, Ha-Joon Chang, Gillian Tett, Nigel Lawson and Hernando De Soto

Produced by Julia Johnson

Things We Forgot to Remember: The 1945 Labour Government 6 May 2007

With Denis Healey, Peter Carrington and Tony Benn

Produced by Julia Adamson

© 2023 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd. (P) 2023 BBC Studios Distribution Ltd.

About the author

Michael Portillo

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