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Cameron condemns populism in Dubai speech

Responsible capitalists and big business need to deliver a fairer economy, former UK Prime Minister says

Gulf News

DUBAI: Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron warned against populism and strongman politicians in a speech at Dubai Diamond Conference on Tuesday.

“We believe in openness and international trade, we believe in cooperation and dialogue, we work through multilateral organisations,” International Diamond Exchange Online (Idex) reported Cameron saying. “But all of these things are under threat today from the rise of populism, and the so-called strongman leaders around the world.”

Cameron, who stepped down as UK Prime Minister in July 2016 after campaigning against Brexit in a referendum he staged and lost, spoke in a closed session on Tuesday morning at Dubai Multi-Commodities Centre’s headquarters, Almas Tower, in Jumeirah Lakes Towers.

At his representatives’ insistence, all media except reporters from specialist diamond trade magazines were cleared from the conference hall and lobby before his appearance. Idex has given Gulf News permission to use its quotes.

Before an audience of ministers and politicians from diamond-producing nations, and diamond industry leaders, Cameron strongly criticised the wave of populism that, among other things, brought Donald Trump to power in the US and led to the UK Brexit vote, though he did not directly refer to those events.

“Their proponents say that the free enterprise system, trading with the world, engaging with the world, rejecting the extremes, celebrating diversity, and practicing rational, reasonable, moderate politics, that all these things should be abandoned,” Cameron said,

“I don’t agree, I am a big supporter of globalisation. I believe that there is strength in our diversity, and there is no way I think that we should go down the populist route of tearing up the things — the open economies, and the open societies — that we hold dear.

“But equally, I do not think that we should ignore the concerns that have fuelled that rise. Because we should remember this, this sentiment of anti-globalisation, it does come from people. From real people’s hopes and fears, from their economic concerns, and from their cultural concerns. The pace of change being too fast.

“We should respond to this cultural and political dislocation, not by throwing the baby out with the bathwater, but by course-correcting, and … I believe [this] is the right opportunity to do so.”

Populist anti-European movement

Cameron told delegates at the Dubai conference that “responsible capitalism” has a significant role to play in the course-correction. “We need business, big business, to step up to do far more, to deliver a fair economy, the more just society, and the sustainable environment that we want to see.”

It is not the first time Cameron has condemned populist movements. In a speech to university students in Indiana in December — his first since leaving office — he blamed the populist anti-European movement in the UK for costing him his job as PM. Following the referendum, during which he campaigned for the UK to remain in the European Union, and while still serving as prime minister, he condemned the wave of xenophobic abuse that followed the narrow Brexiteer victory.

Praise for the UAE model

David Cameron praised the business environment created by UAE’s strategic growth and diversification plans.

“It is impossible to visit this country without being wowed, it is a towering example, quite literally, if you look outside, of what can be achieved,” he said.

“Lots of people questioned whether all of this investment in the desert would ever work, but your airports are international hubs, your tourist industry is a model for others to follow, you’re a business location of huge standing, there are over 100,000 of my fellow countrymen living here today, and I know that they don’t just come for the big attractions — the tallest building in the world, the biggest shopping mall in the world, the top seven star hotel in the world — they come here for the opportunities. They hope that in this global success story, they can write their own success stories.”