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Diary

Nigel Lawson's diary: My secret showdown with the Royal Society over global warming

Plus: Milan yearns for a Thatcher, and how I might have killed Hugh Gaitskell

30 November 2013

9:00 AM

30 November 2013

9:00 AM

The long-discussed meeting between a group of climate scientists and Fellows of the Royal Society on the one side, and me and some colleagues from my think-tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation on the other, has now at last taken place. It was held behind closed doors in a committee room at the House of Lords, the secrecy — no press present — at the insistence of the Royal Society Fellows, an insistence I find puzzling given the clear public interest in the issue of climate change in general and climate change policy in particular. The origins go back almost a year, to a lecture by the president of the Royal Society, the biologist Sir Paul Nurse. In it he chose to launch a gratuitous personal attack on me, making a number of palpably false allegations. I wrote to him, pointing out his errors, and he replied — somewhat changing his tune — conceding that ‘it is quite legitimate for both of us to talk about climate change policy, but before doing so we need to have access to the highest quality climate science. I am not sure you are receiving the best advice, and I would be very happy to put you in contact with distinguished active climate research scientists if you think that would be useful.’

I readily accepted his offer: hence, at long last, this month’s meeting in the House of Lords. The charge that my critical views about climate change policy are based on inadequate exposure to reputable scientists was always absurd, not least given that the academic advisory council of the GWPF has on it, among others, the world’s most highly regarded physicist, Professor Freeman Dyson of Princeton, arguably the world’s most eminent climate scientist, Professor Richard Lindzen of MIT (who flew over for the meeting), and three Fellows of the Royal Society. So Nurse’s team were able to tell me little I did not already know. But what did emerge was that, if anyone needed educating, it was them. Despite the fact that they were headed by Professor Sir Brian Hoskins, the Director of the Grantham Institute, which has pronounced views on climate policy, and a member of the Climate Change Committee, which is concerned with the implementation of the Climate Change Act, they were very reluctant to engage on the crucial issue of climate change policy at all. What was clear, however, was that they had no understanding of, or interest in, the massive human and economic costs involved in the policies they so glibly endorse.

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These days I normally confine my travelling to my weekly commute between London and my home in deepest Armagnac. But I did pop off a few days ago to Milan, to be the principal speaker at the annual dinner of the Istituto Bruno Leoni, an excellent free market think-tank, run by some impressively talented youngsters. Each year the IBL chooses a theme for its annual dinner, and this year, to mark her death, the theme was Margaret Thatcher. They had asked me to explain how she had managed to achieve the impressive programme of radical economic reform in this country for which she will always be remembered. It was a sizable occasion, with well over 400 diners, and the only drawback was that, by the time I got up to speak (there were other, earlier speakers, as well as the inevitable fund-raising), it was well after 11 p.m. But it seemed to go down well with the digestifs. The next morning I was interviewed at length by Italy’s leading newspaper, the Corriere della Sera, which published a long piece headed ‘In Italia lo Stato pesa troppo. Sarebbe necessaria la formula della Thatcher’. Her reputation around the world continues to resound. I cannot think of any other British politician since Churchill of whom that can be said.

Talking of free market think-tanks, I have also just done a lunchtime meeting for the Institute of Economic Affairs. They had invited me to make the case for ‘Brexit’ — the departure of Britain from the European Union — which I now believe to be highly desirable. The room was packed and the discussion was refreshingly free of the fanatics, on both sides, who normally make debates on Europe so dreary. My mind went back to an occasion exactly 50 years ago, when I was at a small private dinner in Chelsea at which the guest of honour was the then leader of the Labour party and leader of the opposition, Hugh Gaitskell. During the course of the dinner, I found myself in an increasingly heated argument with Gaitskell over whether the UK should join what was then the European Economic Community. He was passionately opposed, and I was in favour of it. He became more and more exercised, his face got redder and redder, and I was afraid he was about to burst a blood vessel. Then, a few days later, and still only in his fifties, he dropped down dead. I was overcome with guilt, fearing that I may have precipitated his untimely end. Perhaps my present stance on the EU is some kind of penance.

Nigel Lawson was editor of The Spectator from 1966 to 1970. He then went into politics.

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