David Cameron at Brown: Jokes, Politics, and Reflection

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On Monday, David Cameron took the stage at the Pizzitola Center and said the words “Josiah Carberry” and “sex festival.”

The former British Prime Minister visited Brown to speak at the 94th Stephen A. Ogden Jr. ’60 Memorial Lecture on International Affairs. His talk covered everything from admittedly strange comparisons between Brown and Westminster (see above) to the recent Brexit referendum.

President Christina Paxson introduced Cameron by poking fun at New England as the birthplace of the “special relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K; he went on to carry this theme throughout his talk. Cameron called the two countries “guardians of freedom” and compared the Brexit vote to the election of President Trump, saying that cultural background—not income—is the most reliable indicator of how someone voted in both cases. The former P.M. also hailed the U.S. and the U.K. as “the most successful multiracial democracies on Earth.”

Cameron took a moderate tone in his speech. He reminded the audience of his long time support for same-sex marriage (adding, “Barack Obama and I never actually held hands. Not in public, anyway”) and his push for progressive policies concerning the environment. However, he also made it clear that he supports strong borders.

After his speech, Paxson asked Cameron pre-screened questions from students and professors. When a student questioned his support of humanitarian aid, calling it “neo-colonialist,” Cameron became most impassioned. “Partnering with [the neediest countries] isn’t neo-colonialist,” he said. “They want and need our help.”

The talk was heavily attended—The Providence Journal reported 2,400 in attendance. The line to enter stretched out of the Pizzitola and down Cushing Street at times. Many attendees were British students; some supported Cameron, but many did not. 

Dayla Pascador ’18, a student from London, said she “hates” Cameron, but was nonetheless “extremely excited” that he was at Brown. Her friend Hannah Kim ’19 said that while she thinks Cameron is flawed and responsible for Brexit, he is still impressive given all he accomplished during his term and a half. “I enjoy his presence. I think it’s a bit weird that he’s in Providence,” she added.

Amos Jackson ’20 is a fellow Londoner who he explained that he has a “somewhat positive” view of Cameron. He also called context into question: “it was very easy for him to give that talk to an American audience with little idea of his impact in the UK,” he said. But Jackson maintained that “especially compared to his rivals in the Labour Party, [Cameron] had a strong economic policy and did lots of good things as PM,” even though “his government wasn’t sympathetic enough . . . towards working class people.”

“I did think that he was playing to the audience as opposed to what some of his previous policies have suggested. His point about helping the poorest was interesting given that much of his criticism was about his government’s social benefits and welfare cuts,” said Londoner, Jae Kim ’20.

Charlie Stewart ’20, also from London, thought that Cameron had an advantage because he is out of power and “can say things pretty much everyone agrees with without really trying to get into specifics.” Because Cameron spoke so generally, Stewart disagreed with very little, but questioned the implications of certain claims, wondering “what does it mean when he says ‘people need to integrate into a culture?’ ”

Jackson thought the questions were not hard-hitting enough, adding “whoever chose the questions really gave him an easy time.” He wished Cameron had given a clearer answer about why he called the referendum. He also thought Cameron could have spoken more seriously about President Trump.

Christian Kengeter ’20 is also from London. He said he had voted for Cameron and thought it was “comforting to hear the accent.” Regardless of their view of Cameron politically, many British students agreed that his charm was contagious.

Perhaps the most striking element of the talk was the ease with which Cameron spoke, moving freely between jokes about Vladimir Putin (“I’m very fond of riding horses, but I don’t look quite the same with my shirt off,” he quipped) and serious calls to support Ukrainians and Georgians in their fights against Russian aggression.

Cameron jumped out of his chair after the last question and urged students to become public servants, citing disappointment with current politics as all the more reason to get involved.

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