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

Nicola Sturgeon and Tony Blair. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Nicola Sturgeon's SNP, like Tony Blair's New Labour, is heading for a crash landing

The fall of Tony Blair should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP.

If there was one thing the SNP and New Labour had in common, it was the hope. Both offered themselves as a burning torch of optimism to publics that had become tired of the same old gang running things in the same old way. Both promised a fairer, more equal society and a fearless embrace of the modern world with an appealing freshness and energy. The voters bought it: both won big, repeatedly.

The thing is, if you’re elected on a mandate to be different, you’d better be different. In many areas, for a long time, New Labour managed to be just that. The smiling PM with the huge majority pushed through radical policies, some of which even worked. Tony Blair’s methodology was so successful and so convincing that the Conservatives and the Lib Dems reshaped themselves in his likeness. Arguably, a form of New Labour won in 2010 and 2015.

But, as they say, it’s the hope that kills you. When the inevitable attritional realities of governing start to weigh, when you make, as you will, bad decisions, when the list of enemies grows long, when you’ve just had your time, you’ll fall like all the rest – only, when you’ve soared so close to the sun, you have that much further to plummet.

The fall of Blair and of Labour should be a set text for anyone wishing to know what happens next to the SNP. Sunday night’s debate between the Scottish party leaders was, I think, a foretaste of what’s coming – a public that until recently was politically and emotionally invested in the Nats is growing restive. In time, this will turn to disenchantment, then anger, then revenge at the ballot box. This is the unbreakable cycle of democratic politics.

Some of us have warned since the start that the SNP had over-promised and could only under-deliver. Its raison d’etre is independence; everything else - literally everything else - is just another brick to build the path. And so education reform cannot be either radical or unpopular, even if it needs to be so to work, because the SNP cannot afford to alienate teachers or the teaching unions or parents. Bricks, you see. Same with the NHS and doctors and health unions and patients. All the separatists have done – all they could have done, given their nature - is deploy the rhetoric of the radical while in reality body-swerving hard choices and conflict at any cost. And where they have found themselves taking flak, they’ve pointed south to Westminster: "it’s no’ our fault, it’s theirs".

But voters show signs of wearying of the predictable blame game and waking up to the time-limited strategy of show-over-substance. Middle Scotland is either ignored or maligned by the middle-class socialists who drive the nation’s political debate, but it is where elections are won. The SNP has secured the support of enough of these people to win every recent election in style, but somewhere along the way the party seems to have forgotten this was a mandate not for independence, but for good government. Ten years in to SNP rule, each new audit of public services seems to wail like a warning siren – things aren’t just not improving, they’re getting worse. The SNP is not keeping its part of the deal.

So, during Sunday night’s debate it was Nicola Sturgeon, not Ruth Davidson or Kezia Dugdale, who found herself in the audience’s cross-hairs. It will have been a strange experience for a woman more used to public adulation and a clamour for selfies. There were the teachers, who complained about the damp squib that is the Curriculum for Excellence, the SNP’s flagship education policy; who pointed out that a fifth of primary pupils are leaving without basic literacy and numeracy skills; and who warned that lowering the standard of exams in order to push up the pass rate was not a mark of success.

Then there was the nurse who said she had been forced to use a food bank (the existence of which has been used repeatedly by the SNP as a stick with which to beat the Conservatives and Westminster): ‘I can’t manage on the salary I have [which is set by the Scottish Government]. You have no idea how demoralising it is to work in the NHS. Don’t come on your announced visits, come in in the middle of any day to any ward, any A&E department and see what we’re up against.’ She delivered the evening’s killer line: ‘Do you think your perceived obsession with independence might actually cost you… in this election?’

The list of reasonable criticisms is growing and will grow further. The ideological obsession with free university tuition for Scottish students is increasingly seen as a sop to the better-off, while in England the fee-charging regime has seen the number of students coming from poorer families climb. Ms Sturgeon’s demand for a quick second independence referendum, when a worried middle Scotland was focused on what Brexit might mean for its future, was tone deaf.

The SNP has another problem (one that New Labour, for all its flaws, didn’t face): its doctrine of infallibility. The Nats’ constitution explicitly prohibits its elected members from criticising the party, its policies or each other. While total unity is useful when you’re on the climb, it starts to look bonkers when the cracks are showing. Allowing public self-criticism, far from being a sign of weakness, is a necessary vent for inner tensions and a sign to voters that a political party is something more than a cult.

That ‘cult’ word has long dogged the SNP and its supporters. The party has tried hard to normalise its electoral appeal while keeping the flame of independence burning bright, but it has been a difficult balancing act. The pro-independence mob is an ugly thing when it is unleashed (and it has suited the leadership to open the cage at times). Claire Austin, the nurse who criticised the First Minister on Sunday, has found herself at its mercy. Immediately after the debate, the Nats briefed (wrongly) that she was the wife of a Tory councilor. The SNP branch in Stirling said Tebbitishly that if she was having to use food banks "maybe she needs to tighten her belt a bit more?" Joanna Cherry, a QC, MP and the SNP’s Home Affairs spokesperson, was forced to publicly apologise for spreading "Twitter rumours" about Ms Austin.

The ravening horde has largely kept its head down since the 2014 independence referendum, but we now see it hasn’t gone away - it is not enough for the SNP’s critics to be debated, they must be destroyed. This isn’t the behaviour of a normal political party: it’s the behaviour of a cult.

I might be wrong, but I have a feeling that when the SNP does fall it will fall quite quickly. Its belief in its infallibility, its inability or unwillingness to do self-deprecation or apology, will increasingly aggravate voters. There is nothing to suggest the current public policy failings will be addressed, and plenty of signs that things will get worse. How, then, do you arrest your fall?

The SNP offered hope and promised it was different, and the voters believed. The sense of betrayal could make for a very hard landing indeed.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland). 

0800 7318496