Greta was on the Vine Show last week on BBC Radio 2. As one of the world’s most influential women she is easily identifiable by first name only. So used to the obfuscations of government ministers as we are, her directness was a breath of fresh air. Jeremy was asking about the early days, of sitting outside the Swedish Parliament with the home-made “school strike for climate” placard. Didn’t her school friends urge her to lighten up? She laughed. “I didn’t have any friends. I was a geek.” What about her teachers? Were they worried about her? “They just ignored me. I was invisible.” At what point did she realise she had become a celebrity? “We don’t have a celebrity culture in Sweden.” When she said that, I was reminded of a certain high court judge from New Zealand who was drafted in by Westminster to lead an enquiry into historic sex abuse in high places. How would she cope with the Establishment? She didn’t understand the question. “We don’t have an Establishment in New Zealand.” For whatever reason, the judge changed her mind about the enquiry and went home.
Matt Hancock, who, at least according to the title of the TV programme he has joined, thinks he is a celebrity, has jetted off to Australia apparently to devour the reproductive organs of kangaroos live on air. It was really the Japanese who inaugurated this particularly gruesome form of reality TV. The late Clive James used to show clips of the citizens of Tokyo being suspended in a tub of maggots and, just as there was an ironic remove in having Margarita Pracatan close his show, the predilections of the Japanese were viewed through a prism, and at a distance. How can these people be so bizarre? Now we’ve caught up. Some people are angry with Mr Hancock because he has gone off on a media junket while an enquiry into the Westminster government’s management, or mismanagement, of the pandemic has started. People died as a result of government policy, and the erstwhile Minister of Health has disappeared into the jungle. Personally I got angry with Mr Hancock quite some time ago, when he instructed the GPs in England to use Zoom as the default mode for GP – patient interaction. Consultations would remain remote. “No more going back to your bad old ways,” he said. This was before he resigned, having broken Covid rules.
Jeremy asked Greta about Cop 27, in Sharm El Sheikh. Should King Charles have gone? Should Rishi go? She made diplomatic noises about conflicting priorities. Should Boris go? She giggled. There was quite a lot of giggling. I think she has lightened up, without compromising her position. In fact she has “created” a book – The Climate Book (allen lane 2022), a comprehensive compilation of short essays by climate scientists and other interested parties, about the state of the planet. I popped out to Waterstones and bought a copy. It is a sobering read.
I don’t think Greta is going to Egypt. I think she’s given up on big movers and shakers. Bla bla bla. My guess is she is with George Orwell – If there is hope, it lies with the proles. So her “creation” is, I think, an attempt to galvanise popular opinion in order to drive the politicians to act. A kind of trickle-up effect, if you like. I was relieved to hear she still holds a stake in the game. There was a time when we didn’t hear much from Greta. I didn’t know whether she had fallen silent, or whether the media moguls had chosen to cancel her. Frankly I was worried that her silence implied we had crossed a tipping point, or, as they might have called it following the Paris Accord, “un point d’appui”. Greta had given up because there was no longer any point. But no. Limitation to an increase in global temperatures of 1.5 degrees may be a missed opportunity, but every 0.1 degree rise is worth resisting. In other words, we are no longer staving off disaster, but striving to mitigate it.
Do you remember the spring of 2020? The world closed down and everything came to a grinding halt. Life became very simple. You held yourself aloof, stayed at home, and occasionally went out to exercise or get provisions. That was it. It sounded very miserable but in fact we all began to notice certain benisons. The absence of industrial noise. Little traffic on the roads, and none overhead. Birdsong. Profound silence. And a breathtakingly beautiful spring. We all said, “Let’s not forget this. We mustn’t go back to our bad old ways.”
At noon, Jeremy Vine has taken to summarising his show in four words, reflecting the four topics to be covered over the next two hours. “Chancellor Drug Nose Badger”. Or “Energy Racers Strike King”. I jot them down, thinking they contain some arcane secret message, of the sort that London might have broadcast to the Resistance in Nazi-occupied France. “This is a message for Pierre in Dieppe. Greta Hancock Celebrity Kangaroo”. Perhaps they are crossword clues.
Is it just that I am entering my dotage of disgruntlement, or has the BBC, aged 100, become utterly puerile? I gather that Radio 4’s Today programme has lost 600,000 listeners in the blink of an eye. They appear to have defected to Radio 2 and the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show. I used to quite like Zoe on telly’s Strictly – It Takes Two. But I confess I can’t listen to the Breakfast Show. How can anybody be this relentlessly upbeat? Particularly at that time in the morning. The BBC has dumbed down. It has opted for the amusing over the serious, and as a result is neither amusing nor serious. The funniest thing to me about Have I got news for you is that I can sit through it with a stony face. Lord Reith must be turning in his grave. But I don’t think the controllers will much care. They will echo the words of Winston, when Reith once left a meeting in high dudgeon. “There goes the Wuthering Height.”