Cameron’s return is based on an unusual, but not unprecedented, procedure | ET REALITY


A distinctive feature of the British political system is that ministers must sit in Parliament to propose laws and be accountable to their fellow legislators.

But another is that the government, when needed, can produce that seat more or less out of thin air by giving the new minister a lifetime place in the least powerful and unelected upper house of Parliament, the House of Lords.

That’s what Downing Street says will happen to David Cameron, who resigned his parliamentary seat, as well as the role of prime minister, after his defeat in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

The move means Cameron can return to government without needing to face an election.

It is not the first time in the modern era that a Foreign Secretary has been a member of the House of Lords, rather than the House of Commons. Peter Carington, who became Lord Carrington, played the role from 1979 to 1982, when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister.

The procedure can be a way of placing an expert in a position of power: in 2005, the then Labor government gave a seat in the House of Lords to one of its key advisers on a reform of the school system so that he could become a minister from the education department who implements the plan. (The adviser, Andrew Adonis, later joined the cabinet as Transport Secretary.)

It may also allow for the return call of a political figure whose career seemed over. The most frequently cited precedent for what is happening under Cameron is that of Peter Mandelson, who was appointed to the Lords in 2008 to join the cabinet of Gordon Brown, then prime minister. Mandelson had left Parliament several years earlier to take up a position as a European Union official.

Mandelson’s career also had many twists and turns: he had already twice resigned, under pressure, from the cabinet of Brown’s predecessor, Tony Blair.

While the situation is not unique, having Cameron in the House of Lords could cause tensions among lawmakers in the House of Commons, as he will not speak directly to them but rather to an assembly of unelected members of the upper house.

Although Cameron’s return to a senior political position surprised Westminster on Monday, it may not have been such a surprise in previous times. Since the 18th century, 14 prime ministers have returned to serve in governments led by others.

But in recent decades such measures have been rare. The last former prime minister to return to cabinet was Alec Douglas-Home, who served as foreign secretary from 1970 to 1974.

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