13 April 2017

Free Exchange: CapX meets Lord Lawson


One of the most common complaints about political coverage in Britain – and elsewhere – is that it’s overwhelmingly superficial. It’s all about who’s up and who’s down, what this minister said to that adviser. Even when politicians do talk to the press, it’s just a blizzard of soundbites and buzzwords.

Free Exchange, the new CapX podcast, is our attempt to change that. We want to talk to people who don’t need or want to follow the party line, to people with strong beliefs and strong ideas, to people whose lives have been about doing things rather than just saying them. We want to know why they do what they do, and think what they think.

To get each new episode as it comes out, you can subscribe via iTunes or listen via our host company Acast. There will be a new interview every Wednesday, with people from all parts of the political spectrum.

Our first guest is Nigel Lawson, aka Lord Lawson of Blaby. His most recent contribution to British politics came as interim chairman of Vote Leave, when he provided vital stability to the campaign during its most turbulent period.

But that was only the latest act in an extraordinary career. As a journalist, he was a Financial Times columnist, founding business editor of The Sunday Telegraph business pages, and editor of The Spectator. He was a speechwriter and adviser to two Prime Ministers, a tax-cutting Chancellor who worked hand in glove with Mrs Thatcher to transform Britain’s economy, and more recently one of Britain’s most prominent climate change sceptics.

We talked about what he’s learned over his career, how he thinks Brexit is going, and where the next crisis is coming from.

Lord Lawson on… being the first senior Tory to come out for Brexit (1 min)

“It was perhaps easier for me than for many people. I didn’t mind being banished from polite society and I couldn’t damage a political career that had already happened. But I was very concious that I was breaching a taboo.”

Lord Lawson on… why no deal on Brexit really is better than a bad deal (10 mins)

“I don’t think a trade deal is possible [within the two years] – certainly not a good one. And no trade deal is better than a bad trade deal… One of the most important things we have to decide is how we are going to conduct ourselves once we are outside the European Union when we’re free to take our own decisions. And on the trade front, there may well be various tariffs which we decide unilaterally to eliminate.” 

Lord Lawson on… how he got into politics (20 mins 30 secs)

“It happened by chance, like most of things in my life. I was telephoned out of the blue by the then chairman of the Conservative Party. He said the PM’s speeches – this was Harold Macmillan – are getting like laundry lists: ‘We are building so many miles of motorway etc’. Would you come along and help?'”

Lord Lawson on… becoming Chancellor (31 mins)

“I was very lucky. I didn’t expect Margaret Thatcher to make me Chancellor, because I was a slightly unconventional figure. But fortunately, she was an unconventional PM.”

Lord Lawson on… why he’s a climate change sceptic (50 mins)

I think it is absolutely intolerable that we are pursuing policies that have completely messed up energy policy in this country, which impose a quite unnecessary burden on British industry and in particular on households who pay far more than they need to for no benefit whatsoever, just so people can prance around saying what a wonderful example the UK is setting.”

Lord Lawson on… where the next crisis is coming from (54 mins 30 secs)

“I share the view in Mervyn King’s book, which he brought out last year. His position is that the flaws in the banking system which led to 2008 have not really been addressed properly. I think he is right.”

Lord Lawson on… why Brexit matters more than Trump (1hr 30 secs)

“I get slightly cross when people bracket Brexit with Trump. Trump is just one president in a long line of presidents of different character and nature. Whereas Brexit is a fundamental historical turning point. The question of who happens to be President of the United States is not without interest, but it is not on the same level.”

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Robert Colvile is Editor of CapX. His book 'The Great Acceleration: How the World is Getting Faster, Faster' (Bloomsbury) is out now in paperback