The neo-Byzantine environs of the Cadogan Hall – once a church and more recently a vanity purchase by Mohammed Al Fayed, before becoming home to the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – in the heart of old-moneyed Belgravia, was a curious choice of venue for an evening devoted to disquisitions proposing revolutionary solutions to the economic, social and politic ills of our age. Or perhaps it was not so curious, given that so much of the discussion was about breaking apart long ossified structures of capitalism and socio-cultural conservatism, evidence of which is unavoidably to the fore in surrounding Sloane Ranger-land.
Efficiently Chaired by BBC Radio 4’s Ritulah Shah, the evening allowed 58-year-old Greek MP and former Syriza Party economics minister Varoufakis and his friend, ambient music doyen Eno, now 71, to extol the virtues of global blue sky thinking while proffering their cerebral, activist credentials. Both clad in demure rock-star black and emanating relaxed, professorial confidence, it was Varoufakis’s strikingly leonine presence, dry sense of humour and encyclopaedic, articulate command of his topic that most impressed. Happy to refer to himself as “an old Marxist”, his ideas are nonetheless fearlessly future-facing – not least the notion of shrinking the City of London to one tenth it’s current proportions and using it’s idly sloshing trillions to help fund a far-reaching Green Revolution.
Crucially, his polemic went way beyond hackneyed ‘string ‘em up’ revolutionary conceptions and simplistic left/right binary oppositions – seeing a role for markets, for example (if not exploitative marketers). His plea for progressives to empathise with disenfranchised Trump supporters and working class Brexiteers, rather than simply denigrating them, was typical of his well-rounded, humane sagacity.
Eno is normally the highbrow boffin-in-chief in a lecture theatre environment like this, but while he made some thoughtful observations – about the power of communities, the grim hijacking of social media by advertising, the rampant monetisation of previously sacrosanct aspects of life – he had to play second fiddle and, indeed, seemed happiest simply enjoying his fellow speaker’s meticulously delivered pearls of innovatory wisdom. In general, there was much agreement between the two, although Varoufakis was forced into a vigorous defence of alternative, renewable energy sources in dismissive response to Eno voicing support for nuclear power. Another Green World, anyone?
I was not the only one won over by Varoufakis’s persuasive eloquence, certainly not judging by the massive queues at his post-lecture book signing. Eno, however, hadn’t bothered with any merchandise (or, indeed, writing a book for the last 20-plus years) and had left the building.