Politics and public affairs lecture series brings former British Prime Minister to speak to community
Former British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed a crowded Laurie Auditorium on Tuesday as a part of the Flora Cameron Lecture on Politics and Public Affairs. Hours before, Cameron held a Q&A session in Northrup Hall 040 attended by select political science, history and international studies students.
Cameron won two elections to serve as Prime Minister between the years 2010 and 2016. Last year he called a referendum on whether or not the United Kingdom would remain in the European Union, and Cameron resigned after the results showed Britain would leave the Union.
“As a believer in democracy, I will never regret asking the British people to take the sovereign decision about one of the biggest questions we face as a county,” Cameron said during the lecture in Laurie Auditorium.
As a part of the lecture series, visiting speakers field questions asked by students on pertinent issues and experiences they may have had while in office.
“These leaders meet with groups of students providing them with the opportunity to ask direct questions of individuals who’ve experienced first hand, and often wrestled with, some of the modern world’s most challenging questions,” said Trinity University President Danny Anderson.
The session opened with a question on current populist trends, asked by political science professor Peter O’Brien. Other questions revolved around democratic political philosophy, the growth and meaning of nationalism, whether the E.U. is becoming a more centralized state, Scottish nationalism, NATO presence on the border of Latvia, European political culture, ISIS, Cameron’s total departure from Parliament, possibilities for other European countries leaving the Union, the United States as the world’s police force and the relationship between the U.K. and China.
No cell phones, recording devices or cameras were allowed inside the room. Students were permitted to bring notepads and pencils, allowing them to take as many notes as they pleased.
Cameron discussed how the parallels between Brexit and Trump were attributable to certain economic hardships mixed by immigration and multicultural policies that seemingly strained some British people. Yet he believed that the vote to leave shouldn’t be so quickly misinterpreted as a rise in nationalism, a word that he believed had turned into a pejorative for the values some British people hold for their nation state.
Cameron was particularly intrigued by a question on European centralization. He predicted that Europe would become more centralized in the future due to the influence of Germany, France and Italy. This move caused tension between some of the European countries, particularly Britain since it had different historical influences that made a centralized state far less attractive to its interests.
On the topic of Scottish nationalism Cameron was blunt. He believed that the county’s government would be hesitant to hold another referendum on their place in the United Kingdom because another loss would end that possibility for good. You can’t have a “neverendum”. Cameron also stated that leaving the United Kingdom would not guarantee admission into the European Union. Spain would likely veto their entrance on the grounds of its own separatist issues.
When asked about NATO forces building up on the borders of Eastern Europe and Russia, Cameron stated he supported Trump when he said that Europe needed to pay a fairer share of its dues for the NATO alliance.
European culture won’t change drastically after Brexit and will maintain its traditionally liberal democratic approach with light social welfare. The only difference, according to Cameron, would come if the hard right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen wins the 2017 election in France. He does not believe that the borderline racist candidate will win.
Cameron described the greatest regret of his Prime Ministership as not being able to do more in Syria. He lost a vote in parliament to enact more military intervention in the country after the government crossed the infamous “red line” by using Chemical Weapons.
In a humbled and seemingly open tone, Cameron described his sadness at the early conclusion of his political career. However, he wasn’t referring to the end of his Prime Ministership but rather his departure from the back row of Parliament. He described the conundrum that would pursuing a presence in the hall would ensue as a former Prime Minister. Voicing positive opinions would translate as slavish adherence to party rhetoric, negative opinions as vicious rhetoric and silence as a giant sulk. He stated that he would work to assure that the Conservative party doesn’t slip back to practices it engaged in before his ascension to power.
Paige Brown, a senior Chinese and international studies student, asked the last question related to the UK’s relationship to China. He described the relationship as extremely strong, with China calling the UK its best partner.
“I was really nervous and I don’t really remember exactly what I said,” Brown said in reference to the question she asked Cameron. “Before going in I Skyped with my parents, who live in Scotland right now, and asked if they had any interesting question to ask. They just wanted to know what he thought about Donald Trump being president, which was the first question he was asked anyway. After that I just restored to the topic I was familiar with”.
Cameron responded to most students who raised their hands to ask questions. Despite the diversity in topic, some felt that they could have furthered the scope.
“I hoped for questions that were a little bit more probing in the Q&A,” said Solomon Umana, a senior international studies and political science student. “It would have been nice to hear about some of his other foreign and domestic achievements, but regardless I was surprised at his candor. I was surprised that he didn’t seem to be talking down to the people. It was an actual conversation we were having, which I appreciated.”
The event lasted nearly an hour and concluded with Cameron being whisked through the bottom exit of the Northrup room, surrounded by advisors and his security detail.
“He’s one of the leaders of the free world, if you want to say that,” Umana said. “It’s a really rare opportunity.”