Blair goes from “greenwash” to landing green job

Former PM lands green energy advisory role.

The decision by the Silicon Valley-based Khosla Venture to hire Tony Blair as strategy adviser on green energy will surprise some environmental campaigners. You need only go as far back as 2003 to find the former prime minster being slammed from all sides for attempting to "greenwash" the then government's environmental record, publishing a white paper on energy provision that many felt was full of hollow promises and light on hard targets.

Published on what the government at the time called "Green Monday", the white paper on energy provision was met with derision from environmentalists, including the Green Party. The Greens' principal speaker, Margaret Wright, described Blair's white paper and the environment secretary Margaret Beckett's annual report on sustainable development as "green spin and greenwash".

Wright pointed out back then that the £350m set aside for renewable energies in the energy white paper was just over half the taxpayer bailout of the privatised nuclear power industry that had recently been announced.

Even the prime minister's environmental adviser, Sir Jonathon Porritt, warned that the UK would fall "well short" of its goal of cutting carbon-dioxide emissions by 20 per cent by 2010 unless major policy changes were made, particularly on reducing car use.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) -- which was considered Blairite at the time -- warned that the energy white paper could put investment in renewable energy projects at risk, saying that by failing to commit to firm targets for renewable energy, the government had jeopardised new investment.

The IPPR research fellow Alex Evans said: "The white paper is chronically short on detail. It is frustrating that the government doesn't have the nerve to commit to formal 2020 targets for renewable energy and energy efficiency."

Back then, the government said it did support renewable energy, and that the white paper set out how it would spend £30m more per year in the sector.

But the Liberal Democrats' environment spokesman, Norman Baker, said: "Tony Blair's speech is just more warm words about greenhouse gases. Every few years the prime minister feels the need to give a speech on the environment which is followed by inaction."

Yet Khosla Ventures, launched in 2004 by Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of the former technology giant Sun Microsystems, has chosen Tony Blair Associates as its part-time adviser on green energy. Khosla Ventures is an investment group that says it specialises in environment-friendly technologies, including solar, wind and -- ahem -- nuclear energy start-ups.

Khosla insisted that Blair will be of enormous value to his venture capital firm. "Understanding local and global politics is now important for us, techie nerds," he said. "This is where our relationship with Tony Blair can really help us. Tony understands far better than I ever will the political and geopolitical forces, as well as organisational behaviour and social behaviour and change."

The company said in a statement that Blair has led on climate change: "He was the first major head of government to bring climate change to the top of the international political agenda at the 2005 Gleneagles G8 summit. He is a proponent of pursuing practical solutions to tackle climate change through technology and energy efficiency.

"Tony Blair now leads the Breaking the Climate Deadlock initiative, a strategic partnership with the Climate Group, working with world leaders to build consensus on a new, comprehensive international climate policy framework."

As for Khosla, although he is heavily into investing in renewable energy, he is clearly not wholeheartedly against nuclear power. He once said:

I suspect environmentalists, through their opposition [to] nuclear power, have caused more coal plants to be built than anybody. And those coal plants have emitted more radioactive material from the coal than any nuclear accident would have.

Jason Stamper is NS technology correspondent and editor of Computer Business Review.

 

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May's Brexit gamble

The Prime Minister is betting that the economic hit from putting border control first will be delayed and go unnoticed. 

Britain’s European referendum was about immigration. That doesn’t mean the country was divided on it. Had the question been a Yes/No proposition on whether or not immigration was a good thing, it would have between a 78 to 22 per cent rout for Brexit.  As it was, what separated those who opted for a Remain vote over those who backed a Leave one was not whether or not you thought that immigration to Britain should be lowered. Remain did, however, 88 per cent of the vote from the pro-immigration majority.

The real dividing line was between people who thought that bringing down immigration would come at a cost that they were unwilling to pay, and people who thought that it could be done without cost, or, at least, without a cost that they would have to pay. Remain voters, on the whole, accepted both that there would be an economic consequence to reducing immigration generally and they’d pay for it personally, while Leave voters tended only to accept that there was a cost to be paid for it in general.

That leaves politicians in a bind, electorally speaking. There undoubtedly is a majority to be found at the ballot box for reducing immigration and there is an immediate electoral dividend to be reaped from pursuing a Brexit deal that puts border control above everything else.

But as every poll, every election and the entire history of human behaviour shows, the difficulty is that this particular coalition is single use only. It’s very similar to the majority that David Cameron and George Osborne won to cut £12bn out of the welfare bill. People backed it at the ballot box but revolted at the prospect of cuts to tax credits, one of the few ways that the cuts could possibly be achieved. In the end, the cuts were abandoned and George Osborne’s hopes of securing the Conservative leadership were, if not permanently derailed, at least severely delayed.

The nightmare scenario for Theresa May is that the majority for border control dissolves as quickly on impact with reality as the planned cuts to tax credits did.  That’s also the dream for the Liberal Democrats and Greens, who, due to Labour’s embrace of the Conservative approach of abandoning single market membership, are well-placed to benefit if everything comes unravelled.

Who’s right? In both cases, the gamble is clear. There will be a heavy economic price to be paid through leaving the single market. The question is whether that price will come in one big shock or be paid out over a number of years. If the effect of leaving the single market is an immediate fall in people’s standard of living, job losses and negative equity, then Theresa May will find herself in jeopardy. But if the effect is longer-term, and the consequences of Britain’s single market exit are only made clear when in 2030, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to abandon promises made to pensioners at a time when the pound was worth more than the Euro, then May will be able to reap the electoral dividend of getting Britain’s borders under control.

But there’s a more pessimistic future than either of these. The worst-case scenario isn’t that we all become poorer and the freedom of future governments to do what they want is sharply reduced by its weaker financial consequences. It’s that the economic hit is immediate, noticeable, but that the blame centres not on the incumbent government, but on immigrants and minorities.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.