The unlikely return of David Cameron | ET REALITY


When David Cameron resigned as Britain’s prime minister after losing the Brexit vote in 2016, he offered members of Parliament a sad farewell: “I was once the future.” Few, perhaps including Cameron himself, expected to see him return.

And yet, on Monday morning, there he was, walking down the leaf-strewn path of 10 Downing Street to accept an appointment as Foreign Secretary from current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Cameron’s appointment must be considered one of the most notable comebacks in British political history.

For Sunak, who has presented himself as an agent of change, it is not only a surprising choice, but also deeply counterintuitive. Cameron is nothing more than a bridge to the conservative past. The decisions he made and the policies he followed irritate Sunak’s government today, a dubious legacy that helps explain the erratic course of a politically troubled prime minister.

Few public figures are more identified with Brexit than Cameron, who called the referendum on leaving the European Union, campaigned against it and then resigned after a narrow majority of Britons, including Sunak, voted in favor.

And few are more closely linked to austerity, the economic policy that Cameron, 57, introduced when he took office in 2010. It has been blamed for starving Britain’s public services, including the crisis-ravaged National Health Service, which has helped drag down the popularity of Mr Sunak’s government.

Cameron’s victory in 2010, forming a coalition government with the centrist Liberal Democrats, inaugurated a long era of Conservative government. While Sunak has at times embraced that legacy, particularly with her emphasis on fiscal responsibility, she also appears to oppose it.

“Be in no doubt,” he told Conservative Party members at their annual conference last month, “it is time for a change, and we are.”

It is unclear how the recruitment of a troubled former prime minister fits the definition of change. But Cameron’s appointment serves another purpose: with James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, moving to Suella Braverman’s role at the Home Office, Sunak needed an experienced and familiar figure to lead the Foreign Office at a time when that great wars are being fought. in Ukraine and Gaza.

“There is a possibility, weak but nonetheless, that this will give the UK more influence on the global stage at a time of intense international conflict,” said Timothy Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London. London. .

Bringing in Cameron will help Sunak bring his cabinet to the center after a period in which Braverman’s inflammatory statements sparked criticism that the government had become extremist and reactionary on issues such as immigration. Cameron also has a keen interest in foreign policy. As prime minister, he created a National Security Council modeled on that of the White House.

“Sunak is not that interested in foreign policy,” said Jonathan Powell, former chief of staff to Prime Minister Tony Blair. “This is a case of ‘Who can I give foreign policy to so I don’t have to worry about it for the next year?’”

But the internal politics of Cameron’s appointment “are quite difficult to guess”, said Professor Bale, “leaving aside, of course, the day or two of distraction that the late departure of Suella Braverman will provide”.

Cameron remains a divisive figure, even within his party, for the way he handled the Brexit referendum. Some conservatives accused it of political expediency, trying to quell the party’s restless right wing. Others said he led a lackluster campaign against Brexiteers such as Nigel Farage and another former prime minister, Boris Johnson.

Cameron justified calling the referendum by saying that Britons deserved a vote on the country’s relationship with the European Union, given how much the EU had changed during its decades of membership.

Still, Michael Portillo, a former cabinet minister, said calling the 2016 referendum “will be remembered as the biggest mistake ever made by a British prime minister,” a view that was not unusual in political circles.

When ITV presenter Tom Bradby interviewed Cameron in 2019 for the publication of his memoirs, “For the Record”, he said viewers had written to him to say: “I hope you ask him to apologize for the mess he left behind.” .

“I accept that my approach failed,” Cameron wrote in his book. “The decisions I made contributed to that failure. Yo failed.”

Fiscal austerity, which Cameron pushed for alongside his Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has also cast a long shadow over his tenure. Cameron has defended the policy as a necessary response to the global financial crisis. He noted that he left the British economy with more jobs than when he took office.

But cuts to public spending on institutions such as the NHS have left deep scars. Sunak has promised to reduce waiting times in NHS hospitals, making it one of his top five goals. Critics predict it will be an uphill struggle due to years of underinvestment, dating back to the Cameron government.

Cameron’s poll numbers were already low, Professor Bale said, and his reputation was further tarnished after he was caught in a scandal for lobbying on behalf of Greensill Capital, an Anglo-Australian financial firm that collapsed in 2021.

Cameron sent text messages to Sunak, who was then serving as chancellor, urging him to approve loans to Greensill, a supply chain finance company. Sunak did not comply with the requests, but it raised questions about why the company gained as much access as it did.

Cameron did not break any laws, but his businesses contributed to the image of a former leader raking in money. He stood to earn $70 million in Greensill stock options, according to the Financial Times; The company’s collapse left them worthless. He also traveled to Saudi Arabia with company founder Lex Greensill, where the two camped with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

By all indications, Cameron had been enjoying a comfortable post-political career. She was paid an advance of 800,000 pounds ($980,000) for his memoirs. He joined several boards and became president of an Alzheimer’s charity. He plays tennis regularly at a club near his home in west London. In 2017, Mr Cameron’s wife, Samantha, started her own women’s fashion business.

Cameron, a graduate of Eton and Oxford whose father was a stockbroker, was already a member of the British elite. He can now add a life peerage in the House of Lords, which King Charles III granted him on Monday so that he can be eligible to serve as foreign secretary. Cameron resigned as a member of Parliament in 2016; Cabinet ministers must serve in the House of Commons or the House of Lords.

Cameron’s six years in Downing Street will make him an extremely well-connected foreign secretary. But critics are examining his administration’s foreign policy positions, some of which seem questionable in retrospect.

Cameron hosted President Xi Jinping of China in 2015, heralding a “golden era” in relations with Beijing. He joined a US-led military intervention in Libya in 2011, which resulted in the overthrow of its dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, but was criticized in Britain for the messy aftermath.

Cameron cultivated close relations with the United States and once attended a college basketball game as a guest of President Barack Obama. But both hit a rough patch in plans to respond to Syria after it used chemical weapons against its own people.

Obama has cited Cameron’s failure to get parliamentary approval for a military strike as one of the reasons he shelved his planned attack. Cameron personally favored military action, even if he failed to persuade lawmakers, while Obama ultimately decided against it.

“On Syria,” Cameron said in an interview with The New York Times, “I don’t think we saw things the same way.”

Leave a Comment