The Prime Minister is in a trap of his own making by sucking up to David Attenborough
Regardless of one’s views on climate change, one should welcome the fact that Boris Johnson removed Claire Perry O’Neill from her post as president of this year’s Conference of the Parties (COP 26), which will be held in Glasgow. He is at last trying to exercise the power of patronage.
Ms Perry O’Neill is a George Osborne protegée, anti-Boris and anti-Brexit. She stood down at the end of the last parliament. She is also a keen self-publicist. Given that international climate conferences are chiefly forums in which governments strike attitudes, it was highly unwise to let her strike the Glasgow ones. She was almost bound to be disobliging to the government. With the election out of the way, the government recognised its mistake and acted just in time.
Ms Perry O’Neill accidentally showed its decision justified by going on air this week to claim that Boris had told her he did not ‘get’ climate change. Little good can come of the Glasgow COP, as David Cameron presumably recognises by refusing to replace Ms Perry O’Neill.
The Prime Minister is in a trap of his own making by sucking up to David Attenborough: all the more reason why the COP president should be in tune with the government. Since the spending of something between £20-40 billion of Treasury money per year is at stake, a current minister needs to be in charge. It has taken the Tories nearly ten years in office to learn to use patronage to advance their broad policy aims, not to offer publicly funded platforms to their critics. Tony Blair understood this from his first day in office.
Another reason why the Glasgow COP will be a nightmare is that it will be in Glasgow. The Scottish government will therefore emit unprecedentedly toxic levels of hot air. Nicola Sturgeon will go to greet foreign dignitaries at the airport (and Greta Thunberg at the quayside) as if she were the leader of an independent nation. Interesting that Donald Tusk is urging that she should be.
While in office, no EU officials dare give public comfort to secessionists, because they know they must not provoke the rage of Spain, Belgium and so on, but when he was in office, Mr Tusk was always privately friendly to petty nationalisms. Now he speaks openly. He holds the view, quite common in Brussels, that these narrow statelets are much easier to turn into EU satrapies than are full, free-standing, multi-ethnic nation states such as the United Kingdom. There may be trouble ahead.