The Prime Minister's speech to the UN was an exercise in bluster
In 1989, a blonde-haired British Tory Prime Minister gave a speech about climate change to the UN General Assembly. Yesterday, it happened again — only this time the minister in question was Boris Johnson, not Margaret Thatcher.
Johnson made no reference to his predecessor, an inexplicable omission. Thatcher’s speech was one of the most important ever to be given at UN — arguably, the most important. It was the rallying cry that made climate change a worldwide political concern, not just a scientific one.
Her speech was prophetic in tone as well as content. It managed to combine scientific detail and appeals to “the special gift of reason” with overtly religious rhetoric:
Now compare that to Boris Johnson’s effort, which he wrote on the Amtrak over to New York. Like the newspaper columns he used to write, it’s not boring — just desperately thin:
I wonder if our Prime Minister is capable of being completely serious about anything. Certainly, this would have been a good time to give it a go. With the make-or-break COP26 conference coming up in December — which the UK is hosting — he had the opportunity to deliver the speech of a lifetime.
Instead, it was an exercise in glibness. The jokes weren’t even funny. A nod to Britain’s world leading offshore wind industry was turned into a painful pun linking “Boris” to “Boreas”, the Greek god of the north wind. Gales of laughter did not follow. (In any case, the prevailing winds in the North Sea are westerly, so the deity in question would be Zephyrus.)
What made the whole thing so frustrating is that buried within the bluster there was a serious thought:
It’s a vitally important point — and I wish he’d spent more time developing it. Of course, no one expects a profound meditation on hubris from Boris Johnson. But then no one expected a warning about the destructive side of capitalism from Margaret Thatcher — it’s what made her speech so powerful. If only he’d followed her example.