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Discussion > Thatcher and peace

Margaret Thatcher never won the Nobel Peace Prize. But in the week she died I spotted something that surprised me about the 1995 gong: acceptance speeches in Oslo were given by veteran physicist Joseph Rotblat, the oldest ever laureate, and someone called John Holdren. Now where have I come across that name before?

I won't bore you with the details. Google is your friend. I will say that I interpret the 1995 prize as the Norwegian Nobel committee's attempt to celebrate those in the West they felt were most responsible for the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet states, without a shot being fired. Even just looking at the reduction of worldwide arms sales between 1990 - when Gorbachev became a peace laureate - and 1995, anyone could see that a measurable blow had been struck for world peace.

Ronald Reagan was another who never won the prize. Malcom Rifkind was persuasive in the Commons on Wednesday that it was highly unlikely that he would have taken Gorbachev seriously as 'someone to do business with' unless Thatcher had been the person advising him so.

I learned the strange fact about the Nobels from Jay Nordlinger's excellent Peace, They Say which I happened to be in the middle of when the Baroness died. Would she have minded the oversight? Listening to Michael Forsyth's anecdote about the cleaning lady who came face to face with her at the height of her pomp, I doubt it.

Apr 12, 2013 at 7:56 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Actually Margaret Thatcher had a role in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, awarded jointly to Al Gore and the IPCC. She set up the Met Office Hadley Centre and was very supportive of Sir John Houghton in his founding of the IPCC. Her speech opening the Hadley Centre is here - it includes this statement about the IPCC 1st Assessment Report:

Your Report confirms that greenhouse gases are increasing substantially as a result of Man's activities; that this will warm the Earth's surface, with serious consequences for us all, and that these consequences are capable of prediction. We want to predict them more accurately and that is why we are opening this Centre today.

It is well known that later she was critical of Gore and the "climate doom" lobby, but I don't believe she felt there was any problem with the science coming out of her climate institution, the Met Office Hadley Centre. This merely serves to illustrate that scientific results do not automatically lead to any particular policy view - this also depends on other factors outside of natural science, including economics and of course politics.

Thatcher was also a patron of James Lovelock's Gaia Charity until her death (she and Lovelock were friends).

Apr 14, 2013 at 10:24 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Betts

Sorry Richard, but as someone who travelled around Central Europe for 20 odd years, I find it quite insulting that these politicians get any credit for the sudden fall of the Berlin wall/iron curtain.

There time was right, and some people really did make crucial decisions - but mostly those people who made a difference were on the East side and lost to western history.

What people do not understand was that in reality Socialism was about consensus. But the "lowest" consensus. No one took a decision on their own. No one stuck their neck out. Meetings were typically attended by 20 people, and a consensus decision was reached in "public" view. You can imagine the quality of those decisions.

These countries basically reached the ultimate consensus decision. If this had not been the case then you would have revolutions, and there were none (Nicolae Ceaușescu was just the necessary scapegoat.)

The fall of Socialism was not due to Thatcher. She had a role, but to play her at the Nobel prize level is a distortion of history. But as Thatcher's history is being written as I write it does not surprise me.

People think that Britain would not have changed had Thatcher not been around. The social history of countries has changed everywhere simply because education, gender equality and knowledge has increased/improved.

Maggie had no imagination - she just wanted to make you THINK you were middle class. That was the sum total of her greatness. BFD. Many of these ex socialist countries still have their cultural soul, something that Maggie ripped out of Britain leaving a vacuum that has still not been filled.

A car, a house, a holiday abroad and a tele vote on X-Factor does not fill that vacuum.

Apr 15, 2013 at 7:34 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

I cannot but help view the Nobel Peace Prize Committee as made up of people who never outgrew the socialist idealism of their adolescence, and who have stumbled upon the notion of using the prize to help 'raise our consciousness'. Hence we have seen awards given to people who were anything but peaceful, and even to an organisation such as the IPCC which could yet cause even more loss and conflict through the facile blaming of harmful weather events and trends on ‘The West’. Every drought, every flood, every hurricane – and out will come the agitators to point fingers and rally support for their causes. Not conducive to peace, nor indeed to rational discourse.

So, I do not think it a great loss that Margaret Thatcher did not get the award. She had plenty more substantial achievements to win our respect and her place in history.

But who in the frenetic swirl of government can be perfect? She was taken in for years by climate activists such as Houghton (who sought more influence for his religious side) and Tickell (who sought it for his scientific one), and of course the widespread adulation in those days for such as Carson, Ward, and Brundtland all added to the pressure. Given how little interest most people took in the workings of the climate system, and therefore how few people were well-informed about its complexities, who could blame Mrs Thatcher and others for being swayed? Chapter 13 of Ruper Darwall’s new book ‘The Age of Global Warming’ tells of these and more pressures during the years 88 to 92 on political leaders, with a fair bit of detail on Mrs Thatcher’s reactions. She helped launch the IPCC and the Hadley Centre, for example. As I understand it, she later saw what an awful blunder she had made, but by then, of course, it was too late. Twenty years and a great deal of avoidable tragedy and societal loss later, we are only beginning to see the possibility of an end to the hyperbole over CO2 and the use of it as a vehicle for the few to increase either or both of their bank accounts and their power at the expense of the many. ‘Twas ever thus I suppose, but it is a shame nevertheless.

I’m only on Chap 15 now of Darwall’s book – which I am finding both engrossing and heavy going at times. His work though is surely going to be invaluable as part of the investigation we need into the astonishing political impact of a rather weak hypothesis about a trace gas being a major driver of the climate system.

The madness seems to be fading away. Even on a left-wing site like Kos, thronged as I imagine it to be by young leftwingers, has just conducted a poll at the end of a ludicrous homily to that Walter Mitty of the climate cause, Michael Mann (http://wattsupwiththat.com/2013/04/14/another-internet-poll-goes-horribly-wrong/ ). Here are the votes when I looked just now:

Out of 4931 votes, 3502 were for the notion that he is ‘distorting evidence to prove his point’, and 1301 that he ‘should be fired from the university’.
(http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/03/09/1072828/-Michael-Mann-is-a-Modern-Hero-and-we-need-to-acknowledge-that)

Anthony Watt (loc cit) argues that the voting might well be genuinely from the Kos regulars since the piece has had little publicity. Hope springs eternal and all that.

Will we see the day when Nobel Peace Prizes will be withdrawn to popular acclaim? We have seen it in the UK for knighthoods awarded to destructive incompetents after all.

Apr 15, 2013 at 10:35 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Sorry Richard, but as someone who travelled around Central Europe for 20 odd years, I find it quite insulting that these politicians get any credit for the sudden fall of the Berlin wall/iron curtain.

There time was right, and some people really did make crucial decisions - but mostly those people who made a difference were on the East side and lost to western history.(...)
Apr 15, 2013 at 7:34 AM Jiminy Cricket

C'mon. Gorby at least deserves some credit. Honecker wanted him to send in the tanks, from what I remember. The Kremlin old guard, had it still been in place, would have done so.

Apr 15, 2013 at 11:09 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

John Shade

She helped launch the IPCC and the Hadley Centre, for example. As I understand it, she later saw what an awful blunder she had made, but by then, of course, it was too late.

Nope - as I said above, Thatcher was involved in supporting climate science until her death, as patron of Lovelock's Gaia Charity. Although it seems she did change her view on the policy response, this doesn't mean she thought the science shouldn't be done. I repeat - science alone does not lead to a particular policy conclusion. It is perfectly possible to accept mainstream climate science but still disagree with mainstream climate policies such as the Kyoto Protocol and the Climate Change Act.

Apr 15, 2013 at 11:52 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Betts

I wish I could share your positive view of all this, Richard. It is after all a bit tiresome to see things in a more jaded, perhaps even cynical way.

From where I see things, both the IPCC and the Hadley Centre were fruits of pressure being applied by people who wanted particular policies to be pursued - all hinging around dramatic reductions in CO2 emissions, and the pursuit of something called 'sustainable development'.

Apart no doubt from details here and there, such people took the science as settled, and this was a basis for their deep convictions. The IPCC was explicitly designed as a vehicle for government policy-making, and seems to have been dominated by alarmed people such as Houghton, Santer, Watson, Solomon, and so on. I am not aware, but perhaps you can correct me, of the Hadley Centre being anything other than an ally for their ambitions.

Did the Hadley Centre invite Richard Lindzen to speak there or advise them in any way for example? Did they rush out with press releases and learned works to counter the flaws in 'An Inconvenient Truth'. Did they object to the various efforts of the Labour government to push climate alarm everywhere they could reach, including into schools. This odious 'advert' reported on here being part of that: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1221577/A-bedtime-story-drowning-kittens-puppies--Labours-6m-campaign-highlight-dangers-climate-change.html .

So it seems to me the pursuit of knowledge has taken a very distant second place to the pursuit of power, policy, and, for some, financial gain. Whether they be zealots for a cause, fanatics seeking power, or extreme wealth seekers in hot pursuit of government-given opportunities, such folks rarely go about saying ‘we need more research’. Thatcher was one of their victims. I wish I could see it differently.

Apr 15, 2013 at 12:27 PM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

Martin, lots of people can take some credit...

Do not forgot that in the West anti-Communist propaganda was prevalent. They painted the oppressed masses being driven by small elite of which Gorby was the head. With the USSR similarly oppressing the other Bloc countries.

It wasn't like that. Life revolved around the "path of least resistance". This path slowly altered course as distance form WWII increased. As people died off. As communication increased. As society progressed.

Gorby was not the possessor of some magic switch. He was not even the Captain of a "Super-Tanker" gently guiding the huge mass. He was more the figure head. When he did try to navigate the ship there was a mutiny. Just because he sits in the Bridge doesn't mean he can change course wherever he wants.

Apr 16, 2013 at 8:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterJiminy Cricket

Thanks to those that have commented. Just picking up with Jiminy:

The fall of Socialism was not due to Thatcher. She had a role, but to play her at the Nobel prize level is a distortion of history.

The first question being what is the Nobel Peace Prize level for anything. Had Arafat deserved the prize in 1994, the year before Holdren represented Pugwash, for a very early stage agreement which didn't in fact lead to peace? Indeed, Tony Blair's comment to George W Bush when he took on a role in the Middle East peace process is one of the best in the book: "If I win the Nobel Peace Prize you will know I have failed."

Let me give you a few pointers on my own approach. First, like Nordlinger, I totally repudiate the extension of the prize into other areas, such as the IPCC and Gore in 2007. Note this would imply that Lech Walesa, union leader and freedom fighter, would have been out of contention in 1983. Great guy - one of the most realistic and amusing interviewed by Nordlinger - but not a valid Nobel peace laureate, in the circumstances of that time. Stick to the knitting.

Alfred Nobel's will says that the prize should be given at least every five years. During the World Wars they took a break, understandably, and at other times, until recent years. I'd argue that there should be fewer prizes and much better consistency. Like Nordlinger, and against Midge Decter, who thinks the whole concept is an abomination, I think on balance there should be a prestigious prize for peace. It's that important, given the hell that is war. (They need a far better story on genocide, if I can put it like that, though.) The year before Arafat, Peres and Rabin the prize had gone to Mandela and de Klerk. That for me was a very good one. It was gutsy and right to include de Klerk, because he was crucial to the process (as was Thatcher's advice to him to release Mandela, in my view, but that's whole different story).

I also have less problem with Arafat, Peres and Rabin the next year than some. At least they were trying - or seemed to be. Peace is too hard to insist on the finished article each time and, to his credit, Nobel had the realism to make allowance for that in his will.

But did Rotblat, Holdren and Pugwash really deserve the prize in 1995? My own view: they had been proved to be totally the wrong side of history and the award was an utter joke. But they were scientists so that must mean they were good guys, right? Or did the 'corruption of science' go back further and deeper than the sort revealed by Climategate in November 2009? About which Nordlinger is devastating by the way:

These men were shown to be conniving, dissembling, stonewalling, bullying, deceiving - very far from scientists, as we like to think of them.

No mention of McIntyre, Hansen, or Lindzen, just that, as light on the 2007 prize. That deep question about the roots of the corruption of science was one of many reasons I put something up on this.

I fully take your point Jiminy that the real heroes of the movement for freedom were behind the Iron Curtain itself and I'm certain Margaret Thatcher would have fervently agreed. But I don't think Thatcher's contribution was negligible. I owe you a debt of gratitude that because of this challenge I came across the YouTube excerpt Thatcher in Poland, recording the story of November 1988, yesterday. Although I was very conscious of the Gdansk initiative and the key advice over a meal to Walesa and friends (see also the Guardian the day Thatcher died) to see the amateur video of the event is truly amazing. Add to that the testimony of Michael Howard last Wednesday in the Lords about what General Jaruzelski said to him after the event - "before Thatcher came I had more chance of flying to the moon than talking to Solidarity" (here for just another day and a bit - after that see Hansard). This is the stuff of authentic Nobel Peace prizes. Sometimes the ex-terrorist like Gerry Adams is left out and the 'clean men' like John Hume and David Trimble get the gong, as in 1998, another good year for the Norwegian committee. But, as with de Klerk and Mandela, one can't be too squeamish either. Even the Iron Lady might be worth a shout.

So there were at least three directions I wanted to go with this. The corruption of science angle, what the Nobel Peace Prize should be about and the rather wonderful person (in my biased view, obviously) we had as prime minister 1979-1990.

Apr 16, 2013 at 9:31 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Richard Betts: "...but I don't believe she felt there was any problem with the science coming out of her climate institution, the Met Office Hadley Centre."

How do you think she'd feel about this science:

"Britain’s winters are getting colder because of melting Arctic ice, the Government’s forecaster said yesterday.

Met Office chief scientist Julia Slingo said climate change was “loading the dice” towards freezing, drier weather — and called publicly for the first time for an urgent investigation.

Prof Slingo said: “If you look at the way our weather patterns have behaved over the past four or five years, we’re beginning to think that there is something happening.

“Our climate is being disrupted by the warming of the Arctic that we have observed very dramatically since 2007.

“We should pull together the best scientists to see how we can detect the influence of the Arctic on the jet stream, and on weather around the world.”

Paul Homewood went to the CET and reported:

"So just how cold have Britain’s winters become? Well, according to the Central England Temperature series, not very! The winter just gone ranks an unremarkable 187th coldest in the 354 years since the index started in 1660. Figure 1 shows just how unremarkable it has been. The 2012/13 winter finished at 3.83C, a fraction above the mean over the whole record of 3.72C."

So the last winter was normal and the Met Office' Chief Scientific Officer tells us, in an undignified rant the jet stream is being affected by Arctic ice. Are there any papers in the literature providing rigorous evidence of this latest alarmist "guess du jour"? The Met Office have told us that winters would be warm and wet for 15 years, but when it gets cold it's because of "global warming", that might have some credence if it had been forecast 10 years ago. It is clear to me that Dr. Slingo has lost the plot if she can say with certainty that a normal winter is being caused by human emissions.

Apr 16, 2013 at 10:19 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Richard Betts: "...but I don't believe she felt there was any problem with the science coming out of her climate institution, the Met Office Hadley Centre."

How do you think she'd feel about this science:

"Britain’s winters are getting colder because of melting Arctic ice, the Government’s forecaster said yesterday.

Met Office chief scientist Julia Slingo said climate change was “loading the dice” towards freezing, drier weather — and called publicly for the first time for an urgent investigation.

Prof Slingo said: “If you look at the way our weather patterns have behaved over the past four or five years, we’re beginning to think that there is something happening.

“Our climate is being disrupted by the warming of the Arctic that we have observed very dramatically since 2007.

“We should pull together the best scientists to see how we can detect the influence of the Arctic on the jet stream, and on weather around the world.”

Paul Homewood went to the CET and reported:

"So just how cold have Britain’s winters become? Well, according to the Central England Temperature series, not very! The winter just gone ranks an unremarkable 187th coldest in the 354 years since the index started in 1660. Figure 1 shows just how unremarkable it has been. The 2012/13 winter finished at 3.83C, a fraction above the mean over the whole record of 3.72C."

So the last winter was normal and the Met Office' Chief Scientific Officer tells us, in an undignified rant the jet stream is being affected by Arctic ice. Are there any papers in the literature providing rigorous evidence of this latest alarmist "guess du jour"? The Met Office have told us that winters would be warm and wet for 15 years, but when it gets cold it's because of "global warming", that might have some credence if it had been forecast 10 years ago. It is clear to me that Dr. Slingo has lost the plot if she can say with certainty that a normal winter is being caused by human emissions.

Apr 16, 2013 at 10:21 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Jiminy, there are always people who don't get the credit. That's life, the unsung heroes will have to take it on the chin, but there is no doubt that the catalyst for the peoples revolution in the East will be the troika of Gorby, Reagan and Thatcher. The peoples of Eastern Europe knew they had a Soviet President who wouldn't intervene to help the government/impose Soviet will on them, so that's a massive contribution from Gorby. The uncompromising stance taken by Reagan and Thatchergave succour to the many millions of people who'd got by, as you say, by making do. It was a Russian newspaper that provided her with her soubriquet. There is little doubt that, although you don't believe she had any/much impact on the break up of the Soviet Empire, the Russians did.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-22149063

Apr 16, 2013 at 10:35 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

Can I respectfully suggest that it's pointless to try and guess Mrs Thatcher's attitude to the latest details of the climate debate. Her comments in Statecraft in 2002 are for me definitive and extremely interesting. I personally don't want to get into that yet - others are free to, of course. But I do value Richard Betts coming in on this, not least the reminder of Thatcher's long-term relationship with James Lovelock. I've become an admirer of Lovelock as he has distanced himself from many of the policy non-sequiturs and commercial scams associated so glibly and falsely with the word 'climate'. There's much to learn in that direction, surely.

The latest missteps of Slingo and co are not, in my view, where the tit-for-tat should go in this particular thread. I've given three areas in which I am interested in my previous comment. And I've added here Thatcher's considered view on CAGW expressed in Statecraft, where it's worth realising she cites Richard Lindzen twice in footnotes, as I pointed David Henderson to a few weeks before her death. If we can avoid turning this into a bunfight about the latest on the Met I'd appreciate it. There are many other places for that.

Apr 16, 2013 at 10:43 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Geronimo (10:35): commenting on the Nobel prize for Gorby in 1990, Lech Walesa told Nordlinger that it was a prize for having the tools for rape and not actually raping. One of the many thought-provoking comments in the book, which I recommend, in case that isn't already clear :) Of course there were more worthy people, the unsung ones always are, but I'd go with the Norwegian committee's choice of Gorby. It was the Western side of the equation that they got so horribly wrong in 1995. That was what I wanted to highlight and ask why. Why scientists and why those particular scientists. It's a glaringly bad choice and there must be reasons.

Apr 16, 2013 at 10:57 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Richard, I believe I know why Reagan and Thatcher didn't get the Nobel Peace Prize, they are conservatives. We've had the same discussions on other posts. The Nobel Committee doesn't give prizes to conservatives, who are generally evil. While a nice liberal chap who spends his Thursday mornings picking victims for next week's drone attacks gets it while the seat in the Oval Office is still warm from the last incumbent. Look no further than that.

Apr 16, 2013 at 11:21 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

So de Klerk, paired with Mandela in 1993, and Begin, with Sadat in 1978, were woolly liberals?

Which shows how hard it is to generalise. These were two of the better choices of the last fifty years, for me - and I mean the combination, not just what would be considered the right-wing half. These years showed that the committee can overcome its biases in recognising an authentic striving for peace. So why couldn't it do that at the end of the Cold War in the case of (at least one of) Reagan, Thatcher and John Paul II? The latter being probably the most controversial proposal of all. I'm not sure I would go that far myself but a case has been made so I duly mention it. Let's push the boundaries here.

Right-leaning historian Andrew Roberts was one who suggested that trio as the obvious choice when he reviewed Peace They Say in March 2012. I have some significant quibbles with other points he made but I think it's well worth a read, even if you don't count yourself a right-winger, let alone a conservative - a strange word for Thatcher in so many ways. And as a first approximation to the truth I am happy accept your verdict, gerby. (I am wont to use shorted forms for pseudonyms and I'm afraid with Gorby in the picture it's where I ended up.)

Apr 16, 2013 at 12:59 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

I meant in the modern "Notting Hill" and "Friends Actually" period Richard, where the culture has formed that right wing views are evil. Previously there wasn't this great divide, althogh quibbling with you I don't think you'd find many Afrikaanse who'd consider de Klerk a right wing leader.

Apr 17, 2013 at 8:51 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

The quibble is welcome, thank you. I also thought of David Trimble, feted with John Hume in 1998. I'm sure there are many Northern Ireland Unionists who would say the same about Trimble. Not right-wing or at least not right-wing enough. The same would nowadays be said no doubt by some even about Ian Paisley, who was so strangely passed over in 1998!

I think this quibble in fact uncovers one of the keys to understanding why the Nobel committee couldn't stomach an acknowledgement of Thatcher or Reagan, because in negotiating with, and seeking peace between, Gorbachev, Jaruzelski, Walesa, Havel and the rest they believed in doing so from a position of strength and thus, in the common mind, didn't lose any of their credentials as right-wingers. And I think this applied to Thatcher more than Reagan, as her grave concerns about the United States giving too much away at Reykjavík showed. I think she led the process, ideas-wise, though always deferring in public to the greatness and wisdom of her closest political ally and the superpower he represented.

And the end result of these labours for peace? One side of the negotiations disappeared forever. That was very much not to the liking of those, like Holdren's Pugwash, who had long argued for appeasement of that side, despite its sterling record of mass murder of its own peoples.

The radicalisation of the hard left in the West after all this (which is how I would describe current trends) is I think a consequence of not facing the facts of 1990. Something that a Nobel Peace Prize for Margaret Thatcher, as well as being richly deserved, would have greatly assisted.

And this is all highly relevant to the climate debate, which as Richard Betts has implied is much more about politics than science. Though that's no excuse for grotty science dressed up in the finery of institutions like the Royal Society. Which reminds me, I want to say something about Thatcher as honorary FRS before we're done.

Apr 17, 2013 at 9:35 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

This is an interesting discussion, and in part it is hinging around the nature of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee which I suppose has more in common with Holdren and Pugwash and the hardening left than with any other segment of opinion.

On a more parochial point, I do not see from the comments on this thread that RB is implying the climate debate is 'much more about politics than science'. I have asserted that that is the case here. But his position seems more of the wounded scientist, hurt by the politicking going on around his field of interest. I get the impression that he sees the climate 'debate' (such as it is) as being a scientific challenge with an aim, for government-funded institutions at least, of providing the clearest possible assessments so that policy-makers can give them due weight in their deliberations. In my view, that level of detachment was abandoned by key players on the science side long ago, somewhere in the 1980s, and made manifest for all to see with the formation of the IPCC.

Apr 17, 2013 at 10:14 AM | Registered CommenterJohn Shade

John, I agree with what you say about Richard - a significant tribute to the man. I'll have a further think about Thatcher and the science-policy interface when I discuss what Robert May said about her in the Lords a week ago. The most notable thing being that May didn't even mention global warming. Another indication for me of how the intellectual and policy winds are changing.

Apr 17, 2013 at 10:32 AM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake

Less than four hours before the first batch of Commons Thatcher tributes expire on the iPlayer, here are three relevant highlights for me:

1. Malcolm Rifkind, including the crucial influence on Reagan regarding Gorbachev, as mentioned at the top

2. Peter Lilley pulls no punches on why Thatcher was hated by the left and starts by saying how he and others loved and admired her

3. Frank Field, a man of the left who also clearly loved her.

I believe Thatcher herself would consider the last easily the most important, because it talks about her failures, which she herself admitted, and (not quite the same thing) the unfinished business she left. You may not agree with Field's list but he does serve as an vital example of a constructive left-wing response.

Apr 17, 2013 at 12:47 PM | Registered CommenterRichard Drake