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Ex-Editor Sets Banking Agenda – And Is Winning The Climate Debate Too

Martin Vander Weyer, The Spectator

The sun shines warmly in south-west France, and rabbit bouillabaisse is the pièce de résistance of a New Year lunch at which Nigel Lawson is a fellow guest. The former chancellor and Spectator editor divides his time between his home in the Gers, the Global Warming Policy Foundation which he chairs, and the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards on which he has been sitting alongside the new Archbishop, Justin Welby — who he calls ‘my new friend, an excellent man’.

We agree that the argument on banking reform is moving Lawson’s way. As banks continue to rack up huge fines — £2.5 billion between RBS and UBS for Libor-rigging and HSBC for money-laundering — the Lawson view that retail banking should be completely separated from the dangers and temptations of investment banking is gaining momentum. The commission’s first findings before Christmas proposed ‘electrifying the ring-fence’: that is, giving regulators power to demand full separation in any bank that tries to sneak under the rather weak barrier erected by George Osborne in response to the 2011 Vickers Report. And if abuse of the new rules is pervasive, says the commission, periodic independent reviews should advise on the need for ‘a move to full separation’ across the sector.

There’s still a theoretical argument in favour of the well-managed and ethically robust universal bank that offers every service corporate and personal clients require — but it’s now impossible to cite an example of one which has not committed a range of shameful misdemeanours that might not have occurred within a more protective structure. So I’d wager full separation is the way our recidivist bankers will be forced to go by the end of this -decade.

And speaking of wagers, I put it to Lawson that in contrast to the banking debate, the argument on climate change, in which he is Westminster’s leading sceptic, has been moving away from him — not because there’s anything new in the fiercely disputed science of global warming, but because the phrase ‘climate change’ has been inserted into every BBC report of the winter’s rain and floods, subliminally reinforcing alarmism in the public mind.

Not at all, says Lawson, and what’s more, he has just won £100 that proves the continuing strength of his position. In July 2008, in the columns of Standpointmagazine, he bet Oliver Letwin — now David Cameron’s policy co-ordinator — that the Kyoto Protocol on carbon reduction would reach its expiry date on 31 December 2012 without a substantial successor treaty being signed to enforce binding cutbacks in emissions. ‘There has been no new agreement, let alone a “substantial” one,’ declares Lawson, brandishing an email from Letwin that concludes: ‘Shall I send a cheque to the House of Lords?’

Finally, we agree this has been a most convivial lunch. And since Lord Lawson and I have converged from starting-places 120 miles apart, I point out, it has been a lunch with an unusually large carbon footprint. ‘Even better,’ he chuckles, ‘even better.’

The Spectator, 5 January 2013