13 Mar 2015

Manhattan Institute Interviews Nigel Lawson, Former U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer

Staff had an opportunity to attend an interesting ‘conversation’ at the Manhattan Institute with Nigel Lawson, now Lord Lawson of Blaby, the former Chancellor of the Exchequer (1983-1989) under the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher. His conversation was about the likely results in the upcoming U.K. general election and his Global Warming Policy Foundation.

At the moment, the government is run by a coalition, consisting of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democratic Party (Nigel Lawson is a strong conservative voice and sits in the House of Lords – the U.K.’s upper chamber of parliament). Currently, the two main parties, Conservative and Labour, maintain an even support – about one-third of the electorate. The Liberal Democrats are losing support. The U.K. Independent Party (UKIP), who argues for withdrawal from the European Union, has about a 15 per cent support. With only one Member of Parliament now, UKIP appears to be taking 2 votes from the Conservative Party to one vote from Labour, according to Lord Lawson. He was concerned that the lack of a clear leader in the election will mean that neither major party will get a majority. This means another period of unstable government in the U.K. He added that the real ‘wild card’ is the Scottish National Party (SNP). This party has been pushing for independence for Scotland. There, it has a lock on almost all the seats. So, the Labour Party cannot form a government without the help of SNP (itself even more left-wing than Labour). But the leader of the Labour Party has refused to enter into an alliance with SNP – so far. Lord Lawson mentioned that the differences between these two parties are quite clear but was worried that ‘politics’ might trump principle.

Asked about Greece and the fate of the Euro, after all Lord Lawson was in charge of the U.K. finances during the 1980s, Lord Lawson made a very interesting observation. Apart from his view that the European economies have been a disaster since the onset of the recession of 2008, especially by paying lip-service only to supply side economics, he pointed out that all unions in history have been political first and foremost. Monetary union came later. He gave the examples of Germany (1871), Italy (1871) and the United States (1789). But, he said, the European Union did it backwards – monetary union first to be followed by or as an incentive for political union. In his mind, that was unprecedented.

Then the conversation turned to what has become Lord Lawson’s current and now main interest – Global Warming. He is admittedly what today is called a climate change sceptic. His argument to be fair to him, and as he said, was that there has not been a reasonable amount of debate about the subject. As a result, he wrote a book in 2008 addressing this issue, which became a ‘best-seller’. Its title was, An Appeal to reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming. The success of the book led him to create his Global Warming Policy Foundation that sponsors a Policy Forum. The forum acts as a ‘think tank’. The key issues it wants to emphasise are: (1) a balanced science and policy research; (2) against bias and ‘alarmism’ – what Lord Lawson calls the persistent discussion of Global Warming as an ‘existential threat’ to the world’s survival and (3) economic scrutiny and realism – what can be done to make the conditions better for those developing countries that as of now cannot afford the climate green energy targets that the industrialised nations can. Interestingly, shale oil and gas has been discovered recently in large quantities in the North of England. As Lord Lawson said, it has become part of the election campaign.

It is not often one can get a chance to hear one of the leading ‘colourful’ U.K. politicians of the 20th Century.