“You have to change this” - Alastair Campbell urges University of Stirling students to take action on politics

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McCormac Alistair Campbell Gardner
Left to right: Professor Sir Gerry McCormac, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Stirling; Alastair Campbell; John Gardner, Professor of Education and former Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Stirling

Young people are crucial to turning the tide of British politics, author and journalist Alastair Campbell told a University of Stirling lecture last night. 

As the guest speaker for the annual Williamson Lecture, Mr Campbell urged students to take action to address the “deep sense of frustration and powerlessness” he says is present in Britain today, and to get involved in politics. 

In the sold-out talk, chaired by broadcaster and former University of Stirling Chancellor James Naughtie, Mr Campbell explained that while young people today are the most socially conscious on record, they are “the least civically engaged”. He told the young people in the audience: “You have to change this.” 

The former communications advisor to Prime Minister Tony Blair showed his trademark candour in a speech followed by a question and answer session that covered everything from Brexit to religion. 

“It’s precisely because the political process does feel so remote and irrelevant to so many that it so badly requires the input, energy and activism of new people,” he said. “Protest is good. People power is great. Ultimately, though, we need individuals with intelligence, courage, energy and ideas to enter elected politics. Because if we don’t achieve this, we’re condemning ourselves to drawing our politicians from an ever-narrowing gene pool, with more than its fair share of the fanatics, incompetents and mavericks who further alienate normal people from politics.” 

The Williamson Lecture, now in its 36th year, was established in memory of Andrew John Williamson, a University of Stirling politics student who was tragically killed in a road accident in 1981. The memorial lecture was created and funded by his parents with the aim of bringing a high-profile political speaker to the University each year to speak on a theme of contemporary political interest. 

Mr Campbell is now a prolific author, strategist, podcaster and mental health campaigner. In a nod to his own mental health issues, he said: “People feel powerless not just to fight for the changes they think we need, but powerless even to confront the barriers preventing them from trying. That feeling of powerlessness in turn swiftly becomes one of hopelessness, which not only makes people give up the fight, but threatens their mental health too.”

Alistair Campbell James Naughtie Broadcaster James Naughtie (left) and Alastair Campbell

And in reference to the Windsor Framework, recently proposed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to address the issue of the movement of goods between Europe and the UK in the North Ireland ProtocoL, Mr Campbell said: “As for the great triumph of the Windsor Framework, I am all in favour of anything which protects the peace and prosperity built on the Good Friday Agreement these people have imperilled. But it feels to me like you come home from a weekend away to find your kids have trashed the house, you leave in disgust and when you come back they want all the credit going because they cleared up the worst damage in the bathroom.” 

Previous speakers at the Williamson Lecture have included Nicola Sturgeon, Dame Anne Glover and Ruth Davidson.