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Former Prime Minister David Cameron sits down with Herald

One-on-one interview focuses on British referendum, global rise of isolationism

Former Prime Minster of the United Kingdom David Cameron came to the University Monday to deliver the Ogden Memorial Lecture at the Pizzitola Center. Prior to his lecture, the former Prime Minister sat down with The Herald for an exclusive interview touching on isolationism in global politics, Britain’s independence referendum, how technological increases will affect politics and more.

The Herald: With the referendum vote last summer and the election of President Trump this fall, there has been a trend towards isolationism in the political arena. Do you think this trend will continue or reverse itself as its ramifications become more clear?

Cameron: I think that will depend on what the mainstream politicians do. If they recognize that you’ve got to deal with the underlying causes of the populism that we see,we can keep moving forward with a sort of, sensible, moderate, liberal globalization. But we have to address the people left behind economically to make sure they are benefiting from globalization and trade.

We also have to address people’s concerns about the excessive levels of immigration and concerns about the Euro. If we deal with these things then these changes are reversible. f we don’t, we’ll see more even more of the events that we saw in 2016.

If people’s concerns aren’t dealt with … you could see one of these quite extreme parties winning power. In France, as many as 40 percent would consider voting for a party like the Front National. The reason people are doing it is not that 40 percent of French people are racist or xenophobic, it’s just that they are angry that  high unemployment, wages not rising, frustrations with the European Union, frustrations with the Euro  aren’t being properly addressed. The mainstream parties have to address them and deal with these problems.

What factors brought Britain to the point of a referendum?

We joined the European Union in 1972, and it changed a huge amount over the subsequent 40 years. It had powers granted to it treaty after treaty, and there was a frustration that there had not been a referendum . As an opposition leader, I wanted there to be referendums on these treaties. It was a train coming down the track, and what brought it about was a sense that this organization had changed and the people hadn’t been given a say. I also felt it was poisoning British politics that referendums had been promised but not delivered. So I thought better … it’s decision time: let’s decide either to stay in this organization with our special status or to leave and form a new relationship with the European Union from the outside. That’s not the choice I made, but it’s the choice the people made, and we’ve got to make that work. What is your biggest accomplishment and regret in six years as Prime Minister?

The biggest task I had was the turning around of the economy after the economic crisis of 2007-2008. When I became Prime Minister, (the UK) had the biggest budget deficit of virtually anywhere in the world.the economy wasn’t growing effectively, unemployment was too high, but we cut the deficit by two-thirds, we created 1,000 jobs for every day I was in power over the six years, we turned around Britain’s economic performance. By the end it was, for two years in a row, the fastest growing country in the G7. I think that was the most important achievement; that was the job we were elected above all to do.

But there are other things I am proud of that will take longer to shine through. One of those is the education reforms. We set up free schools in the U.K., and they are going to be a really important part of the improved educational landscape. And then individual things like gay marriage: As a Conservative Prime Minister, that was a quite a feat to take that through and get it on the Statute Book, and I think now everyone accepts it was a sensible move.

The biggest regret I had waswithin the daily battle — between the short-term political fights with the media, the press, your opponents in parliament. I think every prime minister would look back and wish they spent more time on the long-term challenges than on the short-term political fight, and I don’t think I am any different. But, in the end, the things you look back on with pride are the long-term changes not the short-term punch-ups.

How do you think blockchain and the increases in technology as a whole will affect governments and their citizens around the world?

The United States is obviously the leader in tech, but in financial technology the U.K. has a really interesting opportunity because you’ve got our financial center, the City of London, and our tech center, Tech City, so geographically close together. Now where blockchain, and bitcoin go, who knows? All that I do know is that the opportunities and the potential is very exciting, particularly in an area I am concerned about, which is helping the most vulnerable people in the most vulnerable states. It seems to be this huge opportunity to facilitate economic transformations between these people, transfer money more effectively and with less cost and for people to have the opportunity for property rights and honest business relationships by using blockchain technology.

We also have new dev tech — the technology being used in development to try to help the poorest people in the poorest countries have a better life. Whether that is using satellite technology to improve crop yields or whether it is using blockchain technology to get money to disadvantaged people or whether it is using modern technology to cut out corruption because people are paid digitally rather than in cash, it seems to me there is a huge opportunity to use the technology to tackle the problem of global inequality.

What recommendations do you have for young people interested in global affairs and technology to learn to collaborate productively?

My strong advice would be to get stuck in, whether that be getting involved in student politics or local politics or joining a political party. It is a very exciting time to get involved because all of the arguments that had become rather standard — let’s support free trade, let’s support representative democracy, let’s believe in the root of law, let’s stand up for NATO, let’s try to enhance global institutions like the U.N. — all of these arguments have suddenly become quite contentious. Your president doesn’t agree with all of them. Instead of these arguments being what we all accept, actually these are things we have to fight for over and over again. … The arguments are never over, the battle is never truly won. So it’s a good time to get stuck in.

Editor's note: This article has been edited for length and clarity since its original publication date on Monday, March 20.


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