When I joined the House of Lords in 2013 I soon realised that, despite its poor reputation, the place contained plenty of wise, quick-witted and courageous minds. None more so than Nigel Lawson who died this week. An intellectual titan who had once almost become a philosophy professor, he was not content to rest on his considerable laurels as a politician and seemed unafraid to challenge any conventional wisdom to check if it deserved that status.
But it was a lunch in 2017 with Lord Lawson and two ninety-somethings who are also now dead that remains probably the most sparkling memory of my nine years as a member of the Lords.
It came about thus. In 2016 Lord Lawson asked me to give the Global Warming Policy Foundation’s annual lecture. In it I argued – among other things — that on the whole the good effects of carbon-dioxide-induced global greening were being understated and the bad effects of carbon-dioxide-induced global warming were being overstated. Nigel chaired a lively discussion afterwards with characteristic verve.
Shortly afterwards he told me he had sent a copy of my lecture to the Duke of Edinburgh and was surprised to have had almost by return of post a lengthy response, in which Prince Philip agreed with some of the points I had made but expressed pessimism about population growth. Nigel, never one for beating about the bush, had drafted a response, which he showed me, and which said – I exaggerate but not by much – “Matt’s right and you’re wrong”.
I suggested a rewrite with a good deal of oily stuff about how honoured we both were that HRH had taken the trouble to read the lecture, etc, etc. Nigel reluctantly agreed though I could tell such flattery did not come naturally to him. And why not, I suggested, invite the duke to lunch to discuss the matter? He was highly unlikely to accept.
A few days later Prince Philip replied, suggesting a date for this lunch. We then had the problem of where to hold it. We could hardly bring him into the peers’ dining room or the terrace canteen. We approached Black Rod and the Lord Speaker, who agreed to make a room available upstairs and send food up. To make four I suggested we invite James Lovelock, the inventor and author of the Gaia hypothesis, a chum of Lawson’s.
So it was that on 14 March 2017 we four sat down to a lively lunch in which we discussed environmentalism from several angles. The duke drank beer, Lord Lawson wine.
Prince Philip the pioneering conservationist was 95, Jim Lovelock the pioneering inventor was 97 and Nigel Lawson the pioneering economist was 86. I was a non-pioneering stripling of 58. I wish I could recall more of what was said but I know that wind farms came in for a good deal of stick and nuclear power plenty of carrot. And I remember a few rounds of no-holds-barred discussion about population, climate and whether modern environmentalism was exaggerating problems and ignoring solutions to the extent that it might in itself be a threat to the planet.
I then made the mistake of saying “if you don’t mind me saying so, you three are a very good advertisement for old age”. At which they all rounded on me and told me I did not know what I was talking about, and it was horrid being old, or words to that effect.
I miss all three of them.