9 March 2023
Speaking live from Kigali in Rwanda, Rory Stewart’s talk about politics in the UK and globally over the last 30 years was a fantastic opportunity for Woldingham students to hear from a leading politician, campaigner and thinker about his reflections, as well as offering some hope for the future.
Organised by Professor Francis Davis, Head of Digby Stuart College, University of Roehampton, and Woldingham Governor, Rory Stewart OBE was the first speaker in the inaugural One Nation Lecture Series, where Woldingham joined students online from schools and universities across the UK.
Assessing politics since 1989 to 2022, Rory Stewart divided the period into three main sections. The years from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to 2004 he described as Western Liberalism hegemony, where the USA and its allies dominated the world. The number of democracies increased, with optimism about free markets and continued economic growth. The 10 years from 2004 were more unsettled with war in Iraq, the global financial crash in 2008 and the Arab Spring. The period from 2014 he called the ‘Age of Popularism’ with Modi taking power in India, Trump in the USA and the Brexit vote in the UK, where extremes views took hold with little room for the middle ground. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in spring 2022, he said the world has returned to unexpected global conflict.
Despite his rather depressing analysis, including his unhappiness with the post-truth world of Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, Rory Stewart offered hope with three things he suggests we need to rebuild positive moderate middle ground politics in the UK; restoring morality and ethics in politics, reforming of some structures of the British Constitution and seeking harmony around a political project that unifies in a positive way.
In the question and answer session, a number of questions from Woldingham students were put to Rory Stewart including questions about the rights of women and what should young people do to make positive change. In his answer he urged young people to consider politics but his description of his 10 years as a frontline politician as being ‘brutal and humiliating’ might not encourage those listening to follow his advice.