Cameron, the comeback kid

But can he rescue the Tories?

Rishi Sunak’s shock decision to return David Cameron to government surprised not only the press and public, but many of his backbenchers too. The newly ennobled Lord Cameron took the senior cabinet role of foreign secretary from James Cleverly, who replaced Suella Braverman in that other “hot potato” post of home secretary. Cameron now bags a top seat at the Cabinet table, but as he is not an MP, can’t appear on the front bench. Instead, he operates from “the other place”, sending departmental underlings to report to the Commons. This legitimate though rarely adopted practice attracted derision from the opposition. On top of that, Cameron’s foreign policy has historically attracted much unfavourable attention. In 2016, the foreign affairs committee was scathing in its comments that the Cameron-led UK government, along with its major allies, was largely responsible for launching the disastrous 2011 war in Libya, with no proper intelligence analysis or defined goal. He was also, of course, the prime minister who called the EU referendum in 2016, confident of a resounding Remain vote, yet who quit straight after the Brexiteers triumphed. Foreign affairs aside, a parliamentary inquiry severely criticised Cameron two years ago for lobbying on behalf of a company, Lex Greensill, in which he held a personal stake. In 2020, he sent more than 60 messages promoting Greensill to ministers and top civil servants. Cameron claims this episode is “in the past” and he now just wants to focus on the job. Sunak’s decision to bring him back will likely please Tory moderates who were dismayed by Braverman’s increasingly aggressive, right-wing rhetoric. But it is equally likely to anger those who want to push the party further right. Sunak is making a gamble, particularly given Cameron’s frequent criticisms of his term as prime minister. Most recently, Cameron commented negatively on Sunak’s decision to cancel part of the HS2 link: “We are heading in the wrong direction,” he declared. For now, faced with smiles around the cabinet table, Sunak will hope he’s heading in the “right” direction. But will those smiles soon turn to tears?

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