The Right Honourable David Cameron, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (2010-2016), participated in a question-and-answer session with Hamilton College President David Wippman on Oct. 15 for the 2018 Sacerdote Great Names series. Mr. Cameron, who, after Margaret Thatcher, is the second British Prime Minister to speak in the series, spent the evening discussing his time as Prime Minister and current political issues that affect the United States and the United Kingdom.
As the UK’s youngest Prime Minister in two centuries, Cameron came to power in 2010 at a moment of economic crisis and with an unprecedented fiscal challenge. Under his leadership, the UK’s economy was transformed. The deficit was reduced by over two-thirds; one million businesses were set up; a record number of jobs were created (1,000 extra jobs for every day he was Prime Minister); and Britain became the fastest-growing major advanced economy in the world.
That created the stability Cameron needed to cut taxes, introduce a national living wage, transform education, reform welfare, protect the National Health Service, and increase pensions. The number of families on welfare fell; the number of students attending university – including those from disadvantaged backgrounds – increased rapidly; and the number of people employed was higher than at any previous point in British history.
Internationally, Cameron developed a foreign policy in the post-Iraq era that addressed the new challenges of the Arab Spring, as well as a more aggressive Russia, while ensuring that Britain played a full role in the global fight against ISIS. Under his leadership, Britain built a strong partnership with India and became China’s preferred partner in the West. Throughout, he championed Britain’s special relationship with the United States, working closely with President Barack Obama.
A short video introduced Mr. Cameron, displaying video clips from previous UK elections that eventually led up to Mr. Cameron’s “relaunching” of the Conservative Party. The video also detailed Mr. Cameron’s work in addressing events such as the fallout from the nation’s economic downturn prior to 2010 and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. The video then concluded with Mr. Cameron’s reelection in 2015 and subsequent resignation in 2016 following the UK’s referendum on membership of the European Union, during which he campaigned passionately for the UK to retain EU membership.
Among topics discussed at Hamilton, President Wippman asked Mr. Cameron how he went about modernizing the Conservative Party – the oldest and most successful political party in the world. Mr. Cameron discussed the reforms he brought about – including in areas of policy as wide-ranging as healthcare, education, welfare and also more social issues, such as legislating to legalize same-sex marriage. Mr Cameron also discussed what he did to attract more women and ethnic minorities to the Conservative Party. Altogether, he expressed his conviction that political innovation stems from reflecting the needs and wants of an ever-changing population.
President Wippman also asked Mr. Cameron his thoughts on the notion that liberal democratic international order is at risk, referencing The Jungle Grows Back: America and Our Imperiled World, a book by Robert Kagan P’20 who also recently spoke on campus. Mr. Cameron asserted that globalization has “left some people behind,” causing anxiety about nations as international players, but remained upbeat about the future if governments recognize and start to address the economic and cultural causes of what some call the ‘populist movement’.
In his remarks, Mr Cameron discussed how what happens in other countries, particularly acts of extreme terrorism, affects nations like the US and UK, and how there needed to be a rational and considered approach to tackling extreme Islamism and other threats.
Closing out the long answer portion of the session, Wippman asked Mr. Cameron if he had any advice for students aspiring to be politicians, and Mr. Cameron responded with a resounding “Do it.” He continued, “There’s nothing more satisfying than public service,” and then emphasized the immense amount of “great people” one meets in public service and the fact that “Great things have been done.” Though he noted that politics could seem frustrating and slow, he ultimately concluded that “It is immensely satisfying work.”
Finishing the event by answering a “lightning round” of questions, Mr. Cameron discussed a variety of topics, from his hardest course at Oxford to his thoughts on the Queen, who he described as the “most amazing public servant.”
Mr. Cameron said he was proud of his achievements in Government – not least what his Government did to stabilize the UK economy and increase jobs and opportunity. Furthermore, he stated that he was also immensely proud of and emotionally tied to “being the first Conservative to push ahead with equal marriage.” He had felt committed to “making sure you can love who you want to love,” and ultimately was overjoyed with the legislation’s outcomes.
Mr. Cameron likewise left the audience with the general notion that, through politics, one can achieve great change and improve the lives of those friends, neighbors, and people overall.