David Cameron: scraping the bottom of the barrel?

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It would be hard for Rishi Sunak to have levied a greater indictment on his 350 Conservative MPs than appointing someone who, until Monday, did not serve in either House of Parliament – David Cameron – as his new Foreign Secretary. This decision, to dramatically reshuffle a Cabinet that has already been through a blistering succession of painful reshuffles, has left some wondering whether Mr Sunak is now scraping the barrel of Tory talent.

There is no doubt that newly ennobled Lord Cameron has experience. Indeed, his premiership of six years now seems inimitable, especially when compared to the service lengths of his successors. He also has a certain statesmanship that few on the Tory benches could muster. We must also consider the political ecology that produced Lord Cameron’s appointment in the first place: the sacking of discredited former Home Secretary Suella Braverman after her brazen comments towards the Metropolitan Police.

Lord Cameron may have experience, but his reputation is hardly one of unanimous regard. He was after all the unwitting architect of that most divisive of British political mainstays, Brexit, through his perhaps misplaced love of referendums. And then there is austerity, that most mephitic of Conservative Party experiments, which even Boris Johnson sought to distance himself from. For it was David Cameron and his former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who presided over those severe cuts to welfare and public services, which some argue was required in order to provide a balanced book.

Lord Cameron may have experience, but his reputation is hardly one of unanimous regard

But if not Lord Cameron, then who? There are Conservative MPs Mr Sunak could have called on. There is Tom Tugendhat, the Security Minister and Afghanistan War veteran. Or Tobias Ellwood, former chair of the Defence Select Committee, who famously came to the aid of police officer Keith Palmer during a terrorist attack
on Parliament in 2017. Or Penny Mordaunt, of Coronation sword-wielding fame. And yet Sunak overlooked them all in favour of a former Bullingdon Club member who resigned after he lost the 2016 Brexit referendum he needed to win.

Perhaps it would be harsh to label the former PM a coward. He is after all an intelligent, pragmatic politician; a centrist, who once sought to brand himself as the ‘heir to Blair’, and who knows that elections are won in the centre ground. However, his record is undeniably tarnished. Unable to stand up to the right of his Party on the war path against his moderate branch of politics, he called a referendum that he had no doubt he would win – despite even George Osborne expressing reservations at the wisdom of such a move – only to lose it.

Oliver Cromwell is believed to have uttered, during the English Civil War, that: “I had rather have a plain, russet-coated Captain, that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that which you call a ‘Gentleman’ and is nothing else.” Perhaps it would have been shrewder for Mr Sunak to have appointed a more prosaic leader, such as Mr Tugendhat or Mr Ellwood, as his Foreign Secretary – a politician less likely to grab a headline, but who might, in the quiet of relative obscurity, have space to conduct the delicate and nuanced business of foreign affairs.

Instead, we have the ebullient, broad-beaming Lord Cameron returning to Number 10. Is this the answer to the manifold and grave threats of our time? Is this the leader who will strive to contain an increasingly restless China, or make peace in Israel-Palestine, or tackle the war in Ukraine? And can he achieve that most elusive feat of all – a victory for Mr Sunak’s Conservatives at the next general election? Only time will tell if this new Foreign Secretary will be enough to steady the British ship of state, and to set it on course to turn around the polls before the next General Election.

Whether this appointment will win back more voters than it alienates is a difficult call to make, but regardless, it was a shock move.

Image: Tom Evans via Wikimedia Commons

2 thoughts on “David Cameron: scraping the bottom of the barrel?

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