David Cameron at ISM: Heartfelt, Candid and Relevant

Earlier Tuesday, former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron gave the keynote address at ISM. I tried to live tweet some of his more memorable statements (see the highlights below or the full summary @jasondbusch).

Cameron’s was a heartfelt, candid and relevant talk — his first since leaving office to such a crowd, apparently — by a still young politician with a deft rhetorical touch. He even touched on the question of “why” regarding Brexit, which I’ll get to in a minute.

The Tragic Manchester Bombing

Cameron started the talk on a more somber note than planned. The tragic events of the previous evening in Manchester figured prominently as he began his address. “My heart is in Manchester,” he said, and “there is a time when you run out of words to explain the horror.”

Cameron further observed that while “there is no safe country” during this time, we must remember “this is not a clash of civilizations, which is what the terrorists want us to think.” Rather, “this is a clash within Islam,” within which “a tiny minority have perverted it into a cult of death.”

Procurement and Supply Chain

According to Cameron, procurement and the role of supply managers is integral to better economic outcomes for all. He noted that he had “seen for myself the increasingly intricate global supply chains,” observing, “You [the audience] reduce costs, you increase efficiencies, you create supply chains that deliver.” This “creates jobs and livelihoods.”

These activities “give us access to goods and services we could never dreamed up. He summarized that the job of making things and moving them from point A to point B is one of the great feats of the modern world.”

A Different Kind of Conservatism

How does this all play into politics and business?

Cameron’s is a conservatism that is different than an American one. It is one that believes that the best government is not the one that gets out of the way of business (entirely), but the one that encourages the right behavior and collaborates with industry. However, he is also for private and public sector partnerships.

Trade brings with it a responsibility, he argues. However, “We must not ditch globalization, but we must correct the course,” as “too many people have been left behind economically” and “a rising tide has not lifted all boats … wages at the bottom have been stagnant” and “a middle-class lifestyle has been out of reach” for many, Cameron said.

What is needed is “a responsible capitalism” as “these issues will only get bigger.” The question, in his view, is that as a business, shall a firm lead or have requirements “imposed on me” by government.

Public-Private Partnerships

“It is important for people who think they make the world go round meet the actual people who do,” Cameron said. “The world of politics and business may seem miles apart, but they shouldn’t be.”

Government can learn from business, but it can also improve it, as well. On the one hand, the U.K. government “put public procurement into the cloud” and “digitized public services,” which played a part in cost cutting alongside headcount reduction. But under his oversight, the U.K. “created five new jobs in the private sector for every one we shed in the public sector.”

Government can also collaborate with business to make the world a better place. On the topic of eradicating human slavery in the supply chain, “We listened careful to business to get the legislation right,” Cameron said. Government needed industry to “help us find and root out modern slavers.”

There was no way of enabling this goal without a public-private partnership and a genuine dialogue between government and industry. At its height, Cameron’s “Business Advisory Council” was “20 strong.”

And it tackled more than just modern slavery issues and creating the optimal legislation to enable business to be an identification and enforcement mechanism. It also helped steer public-private sector topics to optimize policy around minimum wages, job training and other topics, as well as implementing a “supply chain finance” program to get smaller suppliers paid earlier.

Brexit and the UK Road Ahead

Cameron devoted a small part of his talk to the issue of Brexit and European policy. It is safe to assume he is a supporter of moderate policy approaches generally, in this area, from both from a U.K. and continental perspective.

On one side of the channel, Cameron believes it will be a better outcome for all that the U.K. will be negotiating with an E.U. that is stronger as a result of the election outcomes in France. But on the U.K. side, Cameron said the country needs a “hard Brexit” versus one at the “softer end,” noting an outcome such as the state between the E.U. and Norway is not one that would be in the U.K.’s best interests. This despite that Cameron “did not want Brexit” and that he “campaigned for the alternative.”

Regarding effecting and negotiating Brexit, the U.K. should move deliberately, but not quickly. Given the fact the country “is halfway through an election campaign,” with a stronger mandate (from the results), Prime Minister Theresa May “will be able to get a much better deal for Britain” in the long run.

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