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Nigel Lawson: BBC Imposes Its Party Line With Quasi-Stalinist Thoroughness

Nigel Lawson, Daily Mail

The fact is that on climate change the BBC has its own party line (indistinguishable from that of the Green Party) which it imposes with quasi-Stalinist thoroughness.

Over the years, both in and out of government, I have frequently been invited to appear on BBC radio’s flagship Today programme, usually to discuss economic issues. 

But despite the fact that I had written a thoroughly well-documented book about global warming (An Appeal To Reason), which happily became something of a best-seller, and the following year founded a think-tank, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (which is advised by a number of eminent scientists), I was never invited on Today to discuss any aspect of climate change.

That was until earlier this year, when I was asked on to discuss the recent bad weather, which had caused widespread flooding in parts of England, the extent to which this may have been connected with man-made climate change, and what should be done about it.

My opposite number was the scientist Sir Brian Hoskins. It was an appropriate pairing, since Sir Brian is no remote and unworldly academic: he is chairman of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change, a lavishly-funded alarmist pressure group, and a member of the Government-appointed Climate Change Committee, which exists chiefly to promote the abandonment of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) by the UK.

It was a thoroughly civilised discussion, ably refereed by presenter Justin Webb. Following the programme, on February 13, all hell broke loose.

The BBC was overwhelmed by a well-organised deluge of complaints — many of them, inevitably, from those with a commercial interest in renewable energy, as well as from the Green Party — arguing that, since I was not myself a scientist, I should never have been allowed to appear. 

The BBC responded reasonably robustly. 

Ceri Thomas, head of programmes for BBC News, pointed out that, after six weeks of flooding, ‘this was the first interview on Today with a climate change “sceptic” ’, and that as a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, I was well qualified to discuss the most cost-effective policy response to the flooding.

But the orchestrated complaints continued and it now seems, from widespread leaked reports which the BBC has nowhere denied, that poor Mr Thomas has been over-ruled.

The head of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit, a Mr Fraser Steel, whose qualifications for the job are unclear and whose knowledge of the complex climate change issue is virtually non-existent, has written to a little-known but active Green Party politician called Chit Chong to apologise for the fact I was allowed to appear on the programme and to make clear this will not happen again. 

Among the reasons given in Mr Steel’s letter for upholding Mr Chong’s complaint and over-ruling the BBC’s head of news programmes is the mind-boggling statement that: ‘As you have pointed out, Lord Lawson’s views are not supported by the evidence from computer modelling.’ 

Evidence? However useful computer models may be, the one thing they cannot be is evidence. Computer climate models are simply conjectures, expressed in the form of mathematical equations (the language of computers), which lead to forecasts of future global temperatures, which can then be compared with the evidence on the ground. 

So far, it has to be said, they have not been doing very well; but we shall see in due course if they improve. In fact, there was nothing I said in the entire Today programme discussion that was incorrect, nor, indeed, did Sir Brian Hoskins suggest otherwise. 

This can be confirmed by reading the full transcript, still available on my foundation’s website, and possibly also on the BBC’s website, if they have not removed it out of embarrassment.

The only untruth came from the unreliable Mr Chong of the Green Party who accused me of claiming on the programme that climate change ‘was all a conspiracy’. Needless to say, I said nothing of the sort, as the transcript makes clear.

During the discussion, I made two principal points.

First, that rather than spending untold millions on subsidies for wind farms and solar panels, which provide unreliable energy at exorbitant cost, we would do better to spend (much less) money on protecting the country from whatever nature throws at us, such as improved by flood defences.

Second, that forecasts of global temperatures over the next 100 years are highly uncertain.

The first is a matter of judgment. The second is a matter of fact, which Sir Brian did not contest. The greatest (but by no means the only) uncertainty, and one about which climate scientists disagree, is the crucial question of precisely how sensitive the Earth’s climate is to carbon dioxide emissions.

This is known in the trade as ‘climate sensitivity’. The fact — and it is a fact, borne out by the measurements made by the Met Office and similar bodies in America — is that there has been no recorded increase in global temperature over the past 17 years, during which carbon emissions have grown dramatically.

This has led a growing number of scientists to conclude that the existing models exaggerate the climate sensitivity of carbon dioxide.

Sir Brian, for the present, is reluctant to accept this, arguing that the ‘missing heat’ was being secreted in the ocean depths — which I described as ‘speculation’. This was the only serious disagreement we had.

And the eminent scientist, James Lovelock, famous among other things for the Gaia hypothesis (which states that the Earth operates as a single, living organism) wrote to me after reading the transcript.

He said: ‘The weakness of Brian’s case is that no one yet knows the climate of the oceans and, until they do, projections of future climate are little better than guesses.’

(Incidentally, it is a scandal that, at the age of 95, James Lovelock has still received no honour from his sovereign.)

It is also unclear, of course, how much it matters if the icy-cold ocean depths become very slightly less cold.

Needless to say, while apparently in active correspondence with the Green Party politician and non-scientist Mr Chong about the iniquity of allowing me to appear on the Today programme, at least not without emphasising that, as a non-scientist, no one should take any notice of what I may have to say, at no time has either the head of the Editorial Complaints Unit or anyone else from the BBC sought to get in touch with me about all this.

Had they done so, I might not only have sought gently to educate them on a subject about which they clearly know very little.

I might have suggested, too, that if there is to be a ban on non-scientists discussing climate change issues (which I do not, of course, support), this should in the best BBC tradition be an even-handed one.

That is to say, they should also ban non-scientists such as Energy Secretary Ed Davey, Ed Miliband, Lord Deben (chairman of the Government’s Climate Advisory Committee), Lord Stern (former adviser to the Government on the Economics of Climate Change and Development) and all the others who are regularly invited to appear.

The truth is that the BBC’s outrageous behaviour is nothing whatever to do with whether I am a climate scientist or not. Indeed, it is not about me at all. 

Matt Ridley, for example, is arguably this country’s — indeed, the English-speaking world’s — leading science writer who has researched the climate change issue and reached a conclusion which is very close to my own.

(He is also among the unpaid members of the Academic Advisory Council of my think-tank.)

Not once has he been invited to discuss any aspect of the issue on Radio 4’s Today programme.

The fact is that, on this issue, the BBC has its own party line (indistinguishable from that of the Green Party) which it imposes with quasi-Stalinist thoroughness. 

The one occasion, last February, on which it permitted a balanced and civilised discussion is now seen by the Corporation as a colossal error for which it must grovel and undertake never to repeat.
This amounts to a policy of outright political censorship.

It is hard to imagine a more blatant breach of its charter, which commits it to political balance, or a more blatant betrayal of the people’s trust, on which the continuation of its licence fee depends.

The BBC justifies its unique compulsory funding model — a television tax — by claiming that it provides a fair and balanced public service. Its treatment of climate change shows this is simply not the case. 

It is little wonder that a recent poll found most people would like to see the licence fee scrapped.

Daily Mail, 9 July 2014