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Out with the old, in with the old

David Cameron
By Rachael Ward
14 November 2023
Public Affairs
foreign office
david cameron

Cast your mind back to Rishi Sunak’s speech at the Conservative Party Conference, a little over a month ago.  

Warm wine, collapsible chairs, a crowded room, and Prime Minister Sunak stood centre stage, ready to make his pitch to the country.  

He said: “We’ve had thirty years of a political system that incentivises the easy decision, not the right one. Thirty years of vested interests standing in the way of change. Thirty years of rhetorical ambition which achieves little more than a short-term headline”.  

Now fast-forward to yesterday’s reshuffle and enter David Cameron, Prime Minister for six of the last thirty years.  

The decision to appoint Cameron as the new Foreign Secretary is striking for several reasons.  

First, as clear from the above, it seems to contradict the narrative peddled by No. 10 since the party conference. Indeed, Sunak has sought to portray himself as the ‘change candidate’, and to brand Labour as the party that will stick with the status quo.  

As Cameron takes his seat at the cabinet table, he will be joined by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove, both of whom also held prominent positions during the Cameron era. At first glance, and if one was unaware it was 2023, they might be forgiven for thinking that this is in fact David Cameron’s old government.  

Bringing back old blood is an unusual choice at any time; Cameron is the first former Prime Minister to make a comeback as Foreign Secretary in 53 years. Beyond that, moves of this kind are few and far between. But even more peculiar is the way in which this decision swims against the tide of Sunak’s messaging on ‘change’ for the past month.  

Another reason the new appointment has grabbed headlines is because Cameron’s time as Prime Minister is highly controversial. Not least, his record on foreign affairs with the intervention in Libya and his warm words towards China.  

There will be those who focus on the brighter bits of Cameron’s premiership, not to mention his political experience, communication skills and statesmanship appearance. But if one reflects on Cameron’s tenure, austerity and the EU referendum will no-doubt be up there with the most memorable moments. Both of which are seriously divisive.  

This therefore raises questions about the talent pool within the Conservative parliamentary party, particularly when it comes to foreign policy. Put bluntly, the PM could have appointed one of 350 Tory MPs, in a far simpler move than the one that has been made. Instead, he broke convention, brought an old PM out of retirement- one who publicly (and very strongly) condemned the recent cancellation of HS2-and put him in the Lords so he can serve in the role, with all the controversy that would inevitably create around the question of democratic accountability.  

But as commentators struggled to square the Cameron-shaped circle with the ‘change’ mantra hole, the shine was, at least temporarily, stolen from former Home Secretary Suella Braverman. Indeed, the initial news of Cameron’s comeback no-doubt overshadowed Braverman’s departure. It is, however, likely that Suella won’t be out of the limelight for long.  

If Braverman was something of a loose cannon around the cabinet table, cue fireworks as she reclaims her freedom on the backbenches. Many speculated that she was readying herself for a leadership race while in government, posturing as the ‘right wing candidate’- think of her comments about homelessness being a “lifestyle choice” or pro-Palestine protests being “hate marches”. Now that she is out, expect those efforts to be ramped up, and for her supporters to follow suit.  

Already, rumours swirled in the media this morning that some 50 right-wing Tory MPs expressed support for Suella Braverman before her sacking, while headlines asked if Sunak is “facing down” the Tory right by removing her. Certainly, Cameron’s return to government, and the wider reshuffle, marks a shift towards the centre and deals a blow to the faction of the Tory party that sits further to the right. As such, as the general election inches ever closer, right-wingers are likely to cause the PM a headache in the months to come.  

In the much shorter term, on Wednesday the Supreme Court will rule on the legality of Braverman’s legacy in the Home Office, the Rwanda deportation policy. No matter the outcome, Braverman will no-doubt have something to say in what will be a hugely important moment on route to the election.