Alastair Campbell, writer, communicator and spokesman for former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was awarded the Praeses Elit Award by TCD Law Society this afternoon.
Michael McDowell SC, former Tánaiste and Attorney General of Ireland, hosted the event.
Speaking with McDowell, Campbell discussed the nature of success in the context of politics, journalism and the wider world, following the release of his UK No.1 bestselling novel ‘Winners: And How They Succeed’ earlier this year.
In his opening speech, Campbell emphasised the changing understanding of “careers” and what this means for the next generation of graduates. He told the audience that they are now living in a “different sort of meritocracy,” in which the traditional single-career-orientated lifestyle is becoming less common. Referring to the sheer magnitude of information available in today’s world, he stated: “More and more people…will have to become their own entrepreneurs.”
Campbell spoke about the challenges and difficulties involved in the uncertain modern work environment. He advised students to “embrace that uncertainty,” stating that the benefit of living in a meritocracy is “being able to set yourself big, bold goals.”
He encouraged students to take advantage of what he considers an equality of opportunity in Irish politics, stating that: “[Ireland] is a much more meritocratic place” in comparison to Britain, where “Eton has produced twice as many prime ministers as the Labour Party.”
The UK’s current government and their stance on welfare reform was something that Campbell was critical of: “You look around the cabinet table and you wonder ‘how many people do you know who are on the working allowance?’”
Campbell also discussed topics ranging from the upcoming American presidential election to the aging of populations across the globe. He shared McDowell’s feelings of “horror” regarding the American election, describing republican candidate Dr Ben Carson’s level knowledge of Russia as “GSCE Foreign Affairs…naive and ill-informed.” His hopes lie with Hilary Clinton, believing that her government experience, following her loss to Obama, is beneficial to her campaign.
Campbell was critical of the negligence of governments to tackle the issue of climate change, which he described as “dangerously damaging.” Though global leaders are due to meet in Paris for climate talks this Monday, the recent terrorist attacks have called into question what political actions will take precedence.
Following his own battle with depression and mental illness, Campbell has long been an advocate for mental health and alcoholism awareness, working with organisations such as Time to Change and Alcohol Concern. He said that more than funding will be needed to tackle these issues. “This is an area related not just to social services. It’s about language, it’s about stigma, and it’s about openness,” he said. He stated that often stigma can have more of a negative impact on people than the illness they have, particularly in the work environment, where they may feel that they will be discriminated against on the basis of their mental health.