Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and former UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, joined the Global Education & Skills Forum 2018 in Dubai for a discussion on the state of the world.
The two were relaxed and friendly, but the global challenges they spoke about were anything but light-hearted.
How do we prepare young people for the future?
For instance, what do young people need right now, particularly in terms of education?
We had to confront the issue of technological advancement head-on, said Mr Blair.
“Technology will change the way we do everything, including education, and there are plenty of opportunities.”
But there were plenty of challenges too, he warned. For instance: “How do you get the change-makers – the innovators – in the right dialogue with the policy makers, who are the ones that will have to deal with the outcome of all of this?” he questioned.
George Osborne agreed, saying that education was indeed one of the ripest areas for change, and that technology could vastly augment what teachers do.
“The challenge is how public education systems are going to accommodate that change. The Western democracy that pulls it off will get an early advantage.”
Part of this radical change in education would be promoting lifelong learning, Mr Osborne said.
“Converting school and university education into lifelong education is one of the responses to the technological revolution, but will be really difficult.
“The history of the West is littered with the failure of taking people whose industries have become redundant and retooling them.
“But how do you take the 45 or 50 year old whose job has disappeared and not just park them on benefits?”
Mr Blair agreed, adding that:
“You are asking people to think quite differently about their own future and prospects.
“If I was back in government today I would completely renew infrastructure for today’s world, technological as well as physical.”
The conversation moved onto geopolitics, covering subjects such as Brexit.
Mr Osborne said that UK Prime Minister Theresa May had the future prosperity of Britain in her hands.
“We will be poorer as a result of Brexit, but how much poorer depends on how we leave the EU.”
Mr Blair added that there was no doubt that Brexit had diminished the UK’s standing in the world.
In addition, we were now without the support of a multilateral alliance on our doorstep.
This was particularly important, because of the geopolitical shifts that were currently taking place:
“The world is going to change in many ways, but one dramatic change is going to be in the geopolitics of the world, it’s going to shift East. By 2030 and then 2050 the whole picture changes.
“Today what is happening in China is of fundamental importance to the whole of the world, there are no issues without which Chinese influence won’t be manifest.”
Closer to home, the pair talked about British politics, and how much more polarised it was.
Mr Osborne said: “There is an enormous gap in British politics. I don’t believe that the moderate pro-business, socially liberal, internationalist part of the British population has just disappeared.
“What’s happened is that hard Brexiteers have sent the Conservatives to the right and a neo-Marxist has captured the machinery of the Labour party.”
That said, Osborne felt that if Labour was led by anyone other than Jeremy Corbyn, the party would be well ahead in the polls.
“Lots are staying with the Conservatives for fear of anything worse,” he argued.
Speaking about US President Donald Trump, Mr Osborne said that his policies were what you would expect from the Republican party, the only thing that had changed was the rhetoric from the top. Chiefly, its unpredictability.
“You would always, as a British Prime Minister or as a French President assume certain American actions, that they would come to your aid, that they would support you in an argument. You’re not sure with this guy.”
The conversation on American politics inevitably led to one on Russia, and in particular, the recent accusation levelled at Russia regarding the attempted murder of a former spy on British soil.
“No state can tolerate, and no alliance of western states can accept, what it is completely out of the rule of law,” said Mr Osborne.
“I think people know I’m not a completely enthusiastic supporter of Mrs May, but I think she has done a pretty good job with the response.”
Ultimately, concluded Mr Blair, the way that geopolitics was heading meant that the Western value system was under threat.
“Our value system in a fundamental way is going to be challenged in the 21st century. That’s not happened since the Soviet Union. Even then, you have to go back several centuries before there was a power in the East that could rival the power in the West.”
Now in its sixth year, the Global Education & Skills Forum welcomes global leaders and education practitioners to solve education, employment and equity for all. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.