Humbug 'til the end

How Tony Blair's foreign farewell tour contributed 600 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere, writes the G

So Blair is on his way at last. I must admit that even though I know nothing will be different on my first post-Blair dawn, I do feel a sense of relief at seeing the back of him. But until then, he’s been saying goodbye, and what a long goodbye it’s been.

Blair’s farewell tour has taken in four continents and about four hundred self-congratulatory photocalls. In the past six weeks he’s been to the USA, Kuwait, Iraq, Libya, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Germany, Belgium and Italy. We’ve watched his premiership being praised by everyone from Nelson Mandela to the Pope in Rome.

The purpose of the trip is obvious. Blair and his PR chiefs want him to go out on a high, and he wants to polish up his CV for all those post-PM jobs. Parading him around the world stage, showing him pressing flesh with celebs and world leaders is the ideal way to demonstrate what Blair is perceived - outside the UK at least - to be good at.

Of course a tour of the UK, reflecting upon the last ten years with the people who put him in office would have been a disaster. A six-week gauntlet of heckling by public sector workers with below-inflation pay rises, students suffocated by debt and angry residents blighted by new roads and runways would have been more honest but wouldn’t have pleased the spin doctors. No, much better to send him off abroad than let him face the people he’s responsible to.

On Blair’s penultimate day as PM, his final press conference was a joint effort with Arnold Schwarzenegger. The subject was one of Blair’s favourites – climate change. Yet again we heard him say it was his top priority. “We need to tackle climate change at every level,” he said.

But on this subject probably more than any other, Blair’s rhetoric and the facts on the ground are miles apart.

To see where his real priorities lay over the past decade, don’t read the speeches, look at where he has been spending our money. If Blair really did take global warming seriously, he would have made sure we were investing in tackling it, not backing plans that are guaranteed to increase our emissions.

To give just one example, the amount being spent widening the M1 from Luton to Leeds dwarfs the amount spent on renewable energy. The Low Carbon Buildings Programme of £80 million for renewable energy in homes and communities is less than one sixtieth of the £5.1 billion committed to one road. In every sector - road transport, aviation, energy efficiency and renewable energy - the climate rhetoric has not been matched with the policies we need. No wonder the UK’s emissions have risen not fallen since he took over.

And the farewell tour itself seems to mirror the hypocrisy of Blair’s climate policies. As if trying to fulfil his plan to double aviation in the next 25 years all by himself, the carbon footprint of Blair’s final months is astounding.

Covering more than 34,000 miles in eight trips abroad, largely in private jets chartered at the public’s expense, he and his entourage have emitted around 600 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The average person in Britain emits around ten tonnes a year – too much still, but sixty times less than Blair managed in less than two months.

There has never been anything humble about Blair, and the grandiose posing of his final weeks perhaps sums up his premiership rather well. For all his fine words on the threat posed by climate change, he clearly doesn’t believe that the limits of the world’s resources apply to the likes of him.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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An English hero for the ages: Ian Botham at 60

Botham blends his sportsmanship and deep-seated passion for cricket with a lust for life.

Begging W H Auden’s pardon, it is possible both to honour and to value the vertical man, and in the case of Ian Botham, who turned 60 on 24 November, it is our bounden duty. No sportsman has given Britons so much to enjoy in the past half-century and no sportsman is loved more. Two decades after he retired from first-class cricket, his reputation as one of life’s champions remains unassailable.

No mere cricketer is he, either. Botham is a philanthropist, having raised more than £12m for various charities, notably Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research. In December, 30 years after his first walk from John o’Groats to Land’s End, he will set off again, in South Africa, where England are on tour. And he really does walk, too, not amble. As somebody who accompanied him on one of his dozen walks said: “You can’t keep up with him. The man is a phenomenon.”

Of all postwar sportsmen, only Bobby Charlton and, at a pinch, Henry Cooper come close to matching Botham’s enduring popularity. But Charlton, a shy man who was scarred by the Munich plane crash of 1958 (and may never have recovered from its emotional effects), has never comfortably occupied a public stage; and Cooper, being a boxer, had a solitary role. Botham, by contrast, spoke for England. Whenever he picked up his bat, or had a ball in his hand, he left spectators in no doubt.

Others have also spoken for England. Bobby Moore and Martin Johnson, captains respectively of England’s World Cup-winning football and rugby teams, were great players but did not reach out to people as naturally as Botham. Nick Faldo, Lester Piggott, Sebastian Coe and, to bring us up to date, Lewis Hamilton have beaten the best in the world, but they lacked those qualities that Botham displayed so freely. That is not to mark them down. They were, and are, champions. But Botham was born under a different star.

It was John Arlott, the great cricket commentator, who first spotted his uniqueness. Covering a match at Taunton in 1974, he asked the young colt to carry his bags up the rickety staircase to the press box, where Arlott, wearing his oenophile’s hat, pulled out a bottle of red wine and invited Botham to drink. Forty years later Botham is a discriminating wine drinker – and maker. Along with his friend and fellow England great Bob Willis, and their Australian wine­making pal Geoff Merrill, he has put his name to a notable Shiraz, “BMW”.

Arlott, with his nose for talent and good company, saw something in the young Botham that Brian Close, his captain at Somerset, was beginning to bring out. Later, Mike Brearley, as England captain, drew out something even more remarkable. As Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote, you’ve got to be carefully taught. And Botham, a fine team man as well as a supreme individual performer, has never withheld praise from those who enabled him to find his voice.

If sport reveals character, then cricket is the game that reveals it most clearly. In no other sport is the individual performance rooted so firmly in a team context. Every over brings a contest of skill and intelligence between batsman and bowler but only a team can win the match. “A cricketer,” as Arlott said, “is showing you something of himself all the time.”

Cricket also reveals national character more than any other sport. Football may be the most popular game in the world but cricket, and cricketers, tell us far more about England and Englishness. It is instructive, in this regard, to hear what Philippe Auclair, a French journalist and author long resident in London, has to say about Botham: “He is essentially an 18th-century Englishman.” In one! It’s not difficult to sense a kinship with Tom Jones, Fielding’s embodiment of 18th-century life, who began his journey, as readers may recall, in Somerset.

A country boy who played for Worcestershire after leaving Somerset, and who lives by choice in North Yorkshire, Botham is an old-fashioned Englishman. Although nobody has yet found him listening to the parson’s sermon, he is conservative with a small and upper-case C, a robust monarchist, handy with rod and gun, and happiest with a beaker in front of him. He represents (though he would never claim to be a representative) all those people who understand instinctively what England means, not in a narrow way, but through something that is in the blood.

Above all, he will be remembered for ever as the hero of 1981. Even now it takes some believing that Botham bowled and batted with such striking success that the Australians, who were one up after two Tests, were crushed. Some of us who were actually at Headingley for the famous third Test – thousands who claim to have been there were not – recall the odds of 500-1 on an England victory going up on the electronic scoreboard that Saturday evening.

Botham made 149 not out as England, following on, beat the Aussies by 18 runs. For three hours the country seemed to stop. In the next Test, at Edgbaston, Botham took five wickets for one run as Australia fell under his spell. Then, at Old Trafford, on a dank Saturday afternoon, he played the most memorable innings of his life and one of the greatest innings ever played by an Englishman: 118 magnificent, joyful runs. Joy: that’s the word. Botham brought joy into people’s lives.

Yet it was the final Test at the Oval, which ended in a draw, that brought from him a performance no less remarkable than those from before. He bowled 89 overs in that match, flat out, continuing to run in when others withdrew with injury. That was the team man coming to the fore. Little wonder his comrades thought the world of him.

Modest, loyal, respectful to opponents, grateful to all who have lent him a hand, and supported throughout a turbulent life by Kath, his rock of a wife, and their three children, this is a cricketing hero to rank with W G Grace, Jack Hobbs, Wally Hammond and Fred Trueman. A feature in the lives of all who saw him, and a very English hero. 

This article first appeared in the 26 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Terror vs the State