Realise, I’ve been quite bad, not writing about all the things that are going on here – all the time. Partly because I’ve been working more than usual recently; partly becaue we all begin to take these fantastic speakers for granted, I fear. We know there’s a steady flow of fantastic people coming here from all over the world, to talk to us about their lives and careers. Anyway, I will do better. Promise.
The Italian class this morning, was quite intersting, after four hours of sleep and a tutor jumping (literally) up and down, spitting out indefinite articles and pluralisation of nouns. Quite interesting to say the least. The beautiful summer day just kept on improving though, as just after lunch David Cameron returned to his old university. He gave a short speech in the chamber, about what Conservatism means to him.
”Change is possible”, he kept on repeating, sounding slightly like a democrat across the Atlantic. The danger is not Gordon Brown, it’s apathy – not wanting to change. He suggested ”Conservative means to progressive goals”, for example in dealing with poverty. To deal with the causes to problems, rather than the symptoms. Instead of just giving people money when they need it, try to find the root to the problem; the cause – in the case of poverty, it’s often family breakdown, he argued. Continuing by quoting Disraeli and the ”elevation of conditions of the people.” It is all about personal and social responsibility. Empowering people.
A lot of questions followed, among other things about how a less confrontational approach to labour can be achieved; something that is hard to avoid with the PM’s question time. However, he argued that in opposition the Conservatives have done well, voting on bills which they believe are the best for the country, rather than just automatically voting against eveything that is Labour.
Talking about equality, Cameron, unlike Blair, argued that he didn’t think it’d do the trick to take a little more money from Beckham, by increasing taxes for the super rich. Instead the solution is to look at voluntary contributions, like in the US. He took the example of Oxford, a 100 years ago to a large extent being fincanced by rich individuals. That is where we should try to get. The Human rights act and the necessary national replacement of the European Convention of Human Rights was another theme; arguing that the entitlement of hard pornography to criminals is not what a human rights act is all about.
Further, the so popular question of the environment naturally came up, with a girl arguing that the only way to solve global warming is with strict government control. Cameron skillfully replied that the Soviet Union was one of the worst environmental villains we have seen. Instead, tradable permits to carbon emmissions is the way forward, where the market set the price.
Throughout his speech, he also returned to the question of schooling, using Sweden as a text book example. Basically, for those of you interested, what the Swedish system use is a voucher system, where in practice a certain sum of money is connected to each student, who, together with his or her parents can choose whether to go to a state school or an independent shool, who then recieve the money. Maria Rankka is president of Timbro, a Swedish free-market think tank (also worked for the governing Moderate party in the ’90s) published an article in the Australian this week about the ”Scandinavian lesson”. The Adam Smith Institute has also written a report on ”Open Access for UK schools – what Britain can learn from Swedish Educational Reform”. Maria Rankka has also written a book about this in Swedish.
Anna, Joshua and myself outside the chamber.
Cameron himself. The pictures are not very impressive as I had to take them in secret. (We’re not allowed to take pictures in there, so don’t tell anyone)
The absolutely packed chamber.
Cameron’s speech was all in all very impressive, well balanced and on a good general level. Trying to adjust a speech to fit the Union chamber is a skill.
After the speech, we enjoyed Pimms in the sunshine for like 15 minutes before we rushed over to the Magdalen auditorium where Sir David Tang was to talk about his life and achievements. Incredibly interesting. I must admit I’ve never heard of him before, but apparently he’s big in China, among other things the founder of the Shanghai Tang. He spoke about relations between east and west, in short making a case of that in the last 100 years China has changed more than in the previous 4000 years of emperor rule. The three main contributors or philosophers behind this change, are all westerners: Henry George and J. S. Mill, secondly Adam Smith who influenced Chiang Kai-shek to capitalism. And thirdly, the communist regime under Mao Zedong, influenced by Karl Marx.
The west influences China a lot, with everything from jeans to music. Sir Tang argued that there are not as large differences between east and west as we might like to think, but the differences within ”the east” and within ”the west” are larger. He brought up a lot of interesting anechdotes, from his life and his new book ”An Apple a Week”, of which I’m now a proud owner.
He was in Stockholm yesterday, he said, talking to the female Swedish PM, but obviously he must have gotten that one wrong as it’s a he. Anyway, I suspect he was refering to Maud Olofson, the vice PM and minister of all sorts of things. She was naïve, he said, thinking that China would cut carbon dioxide emissions basically just because she asked nicely… (I can definately see her do that.)
He also said something very intersting about one of the differences between east and west, which definately will affect the future: we are satisfied here in the west with a ”great effort”, whereas in China that is not enough. ”A great effort doesn’t count in the Olympics”. He couldn’t be more right.