Former British Prime Minister David Cameron urges a return to core values in addressing worldwide challenges

Cameron, who served as prime minister from 2010 through 2016, was the featured speaker at Elon University’s Fall Convocation on Thursday, Oct. 5, in Alumni Gym.

Former British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday urged the United States and the United Kingdom to hold fast to the values that have made them great as they confront a wide range of conflicts and challenges worldwide and at home.

Speaking Oct. 5 to the crowd inside Alumni Gym during Elon University’s Fall Convocation, Cameron drew upon his time serving as political leader of the United Kingdom from 2010 through 2016, a period that saw him shepherd economic and cultural changes in his country after becoming the youngest prime minister to serve in nearly two centuries.

“We need to be more like us, the real us,” said Cameron, who stepped down from his post a little more than a year ago. “Yes, hard-working, pioneering, independent, creative, optimistic and can-do. But also the guardians of freedom, of tolerance, of equality of opportunity and justice. These are the things that made our two countries great.

“In all the change and uncertainty around us, hold fast to those things,” he said. “They are what made America, and for that matter, Britain, great, and if we believe in them, work for them, fight for them, then we really will be great again.”

Cameron served as leader of the Conservative Party for 11 years, and took office as prime minister during a time of economic crisis in his country. He’s credited with reducing the country’s deficit substantially during his time in office while leading it during a period of record-breaking job creation and economic advancement for the U.K.

After an introduction by Safia Swimelar, associate professor of political science and policy studies, Cameron took to the podium to offer his thoughts on what lies ahead for the global community amid widespread changes. Looking at the world today, Cameron acknowledged that it is a time or political and cultural turmoil, but said he does not share the pessimism of many. So much seems in flux, with economic challenges worldwide, climate change and the threat of a nuclear North Korea, he said.

“When you take the temperature of the times we’re in, I don’t deny that the symptoms are very grave,” Cameron said. “But what I do dispute is the diagnosis that many seem to offer.”

It’s important to stand back and look at the achievements of modern society in recent years, including advances in public health worldwide and efforts to address global poverty, Cameron said. Technological changes have improved our lives in countless ways, he said. “All these good things didn’t happen in spite of our values,” Cameron said. “They happened because of them.”

Cameron detailed three things to do in the face of modern challenges — to understand what lies behind the current unease about globalization, to win the argument, again, for the right values in our politics, and to establish clear thinking about the most important challenges that lie ahead.

Turning to globalization, Cameron acknowledged the role immigration played in the “Brexit” vote that saw British voters supporting his country’s exit from the European Union. That was a step Cameron campaigned against, with the results of the vote prompting his departure from office last year.

Voicing his continued support for globalization, Cameron said as prime minister he traveled the world promoting British business, and encouraged other countries to invest in the U.K. That said, he supports “responsible capitalism” that includes pushing for paying taxes, encouraging trade and promoting transparency on a global scale, all priorities he pushed for during his time in office.

“If we can see who owns what, who pays what, and who benefits and by how much, we can make globalization better and fairer and wipe out all of the corruption at the same time,” Cameron said.

However, the pace of change globally has been too fast for many to keep up from a cultural standpoint, he said. An increasingly diverse society in many countries has bred division and given rise to identify politics, Cameron said.

“We want countries that are strong and cohesive, where we integrate and build something together,” he said. “Frankly we all need to give up forever divisive and ultimately destructive identity politics. We’ll never build strong societies by emphasizing our differences and exploiting them for political gain.”

Shifting to the core values in today’s politics, Cameron said it is essential to focus on freedom under the rule of law, a priority he said was passed along to him by former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He argued against increasing polarization in today’s politics, in the U.K, in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world.

“We must not fall for the extremes,” Cameron said. “The center is often the toughest place to be. It’s where you have to balance interests, where you make tough decisions, where you weight out what is right, and it’s where you get things done.”

Looking at what lies ahead, Cameron identified two great challenges — renewing support for aid and development on a global scale and fighting Islamist extremism. It’s easy to have “giving fatigue” and solely focusing on domestic problems while ignoring the impact a country can have on those around the world. “There’s a powerful moral argument that we should love our neighbor, whether at home or on the other side of the world,” Cameron said.

With Islamist extremism, it’s important to separate out the religion from the extremism, to “revere Islam but attack Islamist extremism,” he said.

Cameron called on American leadership to help overcome the struggles that the world faces, and said that the U.S. will have “no more resolute partner than the United Kingdom.” Though the strong partnership between the two countries was never a given, Cameron said, they have shown what can be accomplished when they work together.

Recounting that relationship, Cameron described it as “one giant global exchange of ideas, talent, trade, compassion, and underpinning all of that, values, the values that formed our Magna Carta and your Declaration of Independence, the values that we need as we survey the state of the world today.”