Gordon Brown on his feet, NYU Wagner on its toes


Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke candidly with policy students about, well, everything he was asked at NYU Wagner.

“We submitted your list of questions to the Prime Minister so he could choose from among them which to answer,” began Wagner policy professor and organizer of the well-attended Dec. 5 event, Shankar Prasad. “And, well, he said he’d take all of them.”

The longest-serving Chancellor of the Exchequer in Britain’s history did just that: he took every last question the full house of Wagner policy students had to offer. And he didn’t take them sitting down, either. Brown, a former university lecturer and no stranger to a mob of eager students, moved casually around the room as he engaged directly with each questioner, holding eye contact and offering responses that were at once direct and informative.

In tones both dulcet and grammatically elegant, the former Prime Minister offered his frank insights on the broadest possible range of subjects. Here is a (paraphrased) bit of what he had to say.

• On the effectiveness of the G-20: “They prevented a global depression—and then retreated back into their national silos.”

• On Europe’s role in the financial crisis: “Though they were happy to blame it on the US for a while, Europe had its own, even bigger banking problem.”

• On Rwanda: “The international community cannot say ‘We will not tolerate torture,’ and then do nothing when torture occurs.”

• On Greece’s position in the EU: “We know now that Greece should never have been permitted to join the EU, because they produced incomplete, misleading financial information to the Council.”

• On Afghanistan: “The theory was right. We needed to facilitate ‘Afghanization’ [i.e. build the capacity of the Afghan armed forces] and then get out. The strategy is a different story, and the jury’s still out on the final outcome.”

• On whether or not self-sufficiency politics can work in today’s global society: “No.”

• On the push for open data and open government: “It’s always the most uncomfortable for the first generation, but people learn; then they know the rules when they write emails.”

• On the fate of the EU: “Albert Einstein has this definition of insanity…”

Wagner students sat with rapt, polite attention, despite Brown’s insistence that we “fire back” at him if we disagreed or felt compelled to challenge his assertions. Alas, the tacit consent of the crowd precluded any reenactment of a House of Commons debate, which perhaps would have made Brown feel more at home.

On the whole, the former Prime Minister was incredibly well-received by a grateful Wagner audience. At the very least, Gordon Brown did his part in combatting the image he ascribes to today’s politicians: “so many of us have lost the art of communication, but not the art of speech.”

Prime Minister, consider this audience one who hears your message loud and clear.

– by Ashley Nichole Kolaya

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