Last week, I had the privilege of meeting former British Prime Minister David Cameron. It was a fascinating experience. David Cameron was the youngest British Prime Minister in 2 centuries. He was 43 years old when he took office. Cameron served from 2010 until his abrupt resignation last year after the British referendum vote resulted in the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union. Cameron campaigned hard to stay. He resigned his premiership feeling new leadership was required to take Britain forward in this new direction. Theresa May is his successor and has her work cut out for her with Brexit. The official British exit from the European Union appears set for the Spring.
I have so many takeaways from his talk, I plan to cover it in 2 reports.
David Cameron acknowledged that free trade is under assault. The fundamental benefits of globalization are undeniable. Unfortunately, it hasn’t helped everyone. Around the globe, the Middle Class has been left behind. That’s what the elections were about. The message was loud and clear in Britain. That same message rang true in America. Walls are going up. This is very dangerous in Cameron’s view, but it is understandable. Mass immigration and the refugee crisis overwhelmed the system in Europe and triggered an extreme response. Cameron started off by quoting the old Chinese proverb: “May you live in interesting times”. Interesting indeed. It’s an exciting time but it’s a scary time. Many post-war norms are reversing.
Leadership and foreign relations are under great stress. Cameron offered a historical perspective that helped make some sense of things, to the extent possible. It’s important to take a step back and remember what’s happened the last few decades. He noted that protectionism failed in the 1890s and 1930s. Democracies thrived since Winston Churchill and Franklin Delano Roosevelt united against the fascist threat of Nazi Germany in the second World War. There were just 12 democratic governments throughout the globe back then. Today there are 170.
From Cameron’s perspective, business needs to show that globalization can help everyone. We need ethics and responsible capitalism. Transparency is key so people can understand who benefits from what and how. Who pays taxes. The tax code is so complicated that many companies pay very little tax. He also reminded us that today, immigration control doesn’t happen at the border anymore. The digital age requires modern solutions. Technological systems and software are the greatest tools for tracking and providing security. “We need clicks as well as bricks”, in Cameron’s words.
He’s not sure what to think of President Donald Trump, other than he is in office because he represents the complete opposite of traditional Washington governing. He hopes that Trump will engage the rest of the world and maintain loyal allies. Western democracies need to stand together. NATO should be cherished rather than criticized.
Cameron believes that Russia can have a friendly relationship with the West, but it’s impossible for Russia to be “like-minded”. The simple, deep-rooted fact is that Vladimir Putin believes that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest tragedy of the 20th century. Conversely, the West believes it was one of the greatest. That is the issue and both sides will never find common ground on it. That’s where the mistrust lies. Putin is completely fixated on getting back to the leaders’ table on the global stage, and has basically achieved it. Putin is set on re-establishing geographic strength and leadership. Cameron believes that Putin is thoroughly enjoying the internal fighting within Europe and the United States. He said we need to listen to brave democrats in Ukraine and the Baltics. They are the ones that face the greatest risk under tremendous stress. Cameron spent considerable time with the Russian leader over the years, and said Putin is KGB through and through. The Prime Minister playfully said he turned down Putin’s invitations to go horseback riding and hunting in the Russian woods.
One of the most cherished experiences a British Prime Minister enjoys is a standard hourly visit with the Queen every week. He admires Queen Elizabeth for her calming demeanor and experience. She has lived through 13 Prime Ministers and a quarter of US Presidents. She’s seen it all, and apparently little fazes her.
To David Cameron, values matter. We don’t need to be more like someone else. We need to be more like us. We the people matter. Jobs, family, neighbors and togetherness. He sees this period of history as another era of struggle and soul searching. But he believes in the Western way and he believes in the United States. He reminded us that Winston Churchill summed it up best when he said, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they’ve exhausted all of the alternatives”.
Have a nice weekend. We’ll be back, dark and early on Monday.