Triggered by the Wall Street crash at the end of the roaring twenties, the Great Depression lasted a decade and was the worst economic downturn in the history of the industrialised world. In its aftermath, nations resorted to protectionism, which would eventually feed into the rise of strongman leaders across the modern world and eventually lead to World War 2 and the Cold War.
The political climate is once again seemingly ripe for the rise of strongman leaders; leaders who Cameron said are effectively providing “fake leadership because they are saying there are short cuts to success”.
These leaders may be open to elections, but they trample on the free press and the rule of law, he said.
“The rule of law is actually the most important of all those things. In the end, the fact that your government is subject to the courts and that your home is safe or your investments are safe and government can’t confiscate what you have and that you can take a government to court and win, these are incredibly important.
“Your institutions in this country were vital in withstanding the last eight years, so the strongman idea that is all about strongman leaders getting elected and doing big stuff and undermining the institutions is a wrong path.”
The rise of more populist leaders was further evidenced over the past few weeks by the imminent departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has led the country since 2005. This week, she said wouldn’t stand for re-election.
Cameron said she would be missed on the global stage.
“She was extremely capable and a strong supporter of sensible fiscal policies and sensible trade policies, open markets and freedom.”
Cameron’s six-year term as prime minister came to an abrupt end in 2016 after a British referendum that he called – on whether the island state should continue its membership of the EU – went against his preference. He was in favour of staying in the 28-member union, but badly miscalculated the mood of the public outside economic centres such as London.
Since that surprise result, the UK body politic has been in a mad panic over just what kind of economic future the one-time British Empire has outside the EU. The pound has weakened more than 12% against the dollar since the decision was made on June 23 2016.
Cameron wouldn’t be pressed on political developments at home since that populist decision and on the performance of his successor, Theresa May, as the country battles to find amicable settlement terms with the EU by March next year.
“I believe strongly that you can be a member of the European Union and have very strong relations all around the world; that’s what I tried to do. But we are leaving the EU . and I think we are going to have to work even harder to say to countries like SA that we have a really special partnership,” he said.
There were reports in the British press this week of a possible return by Cameron to mainstream politics.
Speaking about the global mood of uncertainty, Cameron said that there’s “economic insecurity felt particularly by some people and some communities who have been left behind by globalisation, who haven’t seen the success that others have seen”.
“The second [aspect] is the sort of cultural insecurity that has come from quite high levels of movements of people and immigration in different countries. My argument is that if you want to keep moving forward with free trade and liberal economics and liberal democracy, you have to address the grievances.
“There is no good ranting and raving about the latest election in Brazil or America or wherever else; you’ve got to deal with the problems.
“I think it’s a very good case in point in SA, where we have got to make sure that more people are lifted out of poverty as investment comes into the economy.”