MARGARET Thatcher’s chancellor, Nigel Lawson, has criticised as an “inappropriate intervention” in Australian politics British Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron’s letter of support for Julia Gillard’s carbon tax.
On his arrival in Australia, Lord Lawson also challenged what he said was the widespread misrepresentation of the reason for Baroness Thatcher’s early support for action on climate change.
“I am not surprised Cameron says he supports what Gillard is doing in Australia because we have in the UK a totally misconceived climate change plan as well,” said the father of celebrity chef Nigella.
“The means may be different, but the objectives are the same,” he told The Australian in Sydney.
“I do think this is a controversial matter in Australia that splits the parties and it is wholly inappropriate for a British prime minister to interfere in domestic politics here.”
Lord Lawson — energy secretary from 1981 to 1983 and then chancellor until 1989 — said that he was not surprised by Mr Cameron’s letter to Julia Gillard last week praising her for sending a “strong and clear signal that Australia is determined to make its contribution to address this challenge”.
While Baroness Thatcher was at the forefront of Britain’s moves to set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Lord Lawson said her motivation was to challenge the coalmining union and at the same raise support for nuclear power as a clean energy replacement for coal.
Lord Lawson, 79, has long been an outspoken critic of the direction of climate change politics, doubting the ability of world leaders to agree on co-ordinated action, instead favouring adaptation and development of new technologies to replace carbon-intensive power generation.
Comments in Australia about Baroness Thatcher’s position as one of the pioneers of action against climate change were “not an accurate portrayal”, he said.
“I was as close to Margaret Thatcher as anybody at the time. The fact is initially she felt this issue needed to be looked into, but she was agnostic as to whether it was a serious problem or not.
“She was instrumental in having the IPCC set up, but it has changed greatly from what she intended as a fact finding organisation to become a lobby group.”
Lord Lawson said Baroness Thatcher made her position clear in her memoirs and her later book Statecraft.
“She did have reason for highlighting the possibility of global warming because the biggest threat to the UK energy security at the time was the stranglehold the Marxist National Union of Mine Workers had on the coal industry.
“She felt Britain should not be so dependent on coal. She was in favour of building up nuclear energy to break the dependence on coal and the main opposition to nuclear came from the environment movement. Mrs Thatcher thought she could trap them with the carbon emissions argument.”
Lord Lawson said that in Statecraft Baroness Thatcher had said she had moved from agnostic on climate change to sceptical. The accounts that are given in the current debate in Australia were seriously misleading. “I think it is unfortunate to use her in that way, particularly given she is not in any position to answer back.”
Illness has increasingly forced Baroness Thatcher, 85, the Conservative prime minister from 1979 to 1990, to withdraw from public life. At the weekend, her son Mark confirmed that her office in the House of Lords had been closed down.
Lord Lawson said it was clear that neither China nor India was prepared to cut CO2 emissions, and that the US was not prepared to cut emissions unless they did so.
“In Britain and Australia we can say, OK, we are pretty rich, we can afford this burden, but China, with hundreds of millions of people in the direst poverty, cannot.” Lord Lawson said there was a proposal on the table that the climate change burden should be shared unevenly with the developed countries.
Developed countries would cut emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 and developing countries would cut more gradually.
“People need to grow up,” Lord Lawson said.
“Prime Minister Cameron says he wants to be the greenest government ever, but the definition of green is immature . . . I don’t deny for a moment that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but there are so many other factors that affect climate. It is more complicated than the computer models that we are using. What the truth is nobody knows.”
Lord Lawson is in Australia to take part in a climate change debate being organised by the The Spectator magazine.