Since assuming his position as UK prime minister, Rishi Sunak has been accused of being indecisive, overly managerial and not enough of a politician. Yet, for a man who has cancelled HS2, fired a home secretary and recalled David Cameron all in a short period, he seems rather determined and active.
While most of the media were astonished by the appointment of David Cameron as foreign secretary and into the House of Lords, some were not so surprised. Cameron was always far too young a politician to be remembered solely as an ex-prime minister without a proper position to follow. There are precedents for an appointment like this: Alec Douglas-Home was appointed foreign secretary while being an ex-prime minister in 1970. Peter Carrington in 1979 was also appointed foreign secretary as a member of the House of Lords.
However, the House of Commons does not like senior ministers being appointed in the Lords, and that predictable reaction was not long in coming. The second chamber plays a useful role in allowing people who are not members of parliament to be involved in government.
Though the announcement of Cameron’s appointment sharply divided opinion among Conservative MPs, many welcomed the return of an experienced politician with a record of winning elections. Others on the right felt the appointment of Cameron coinciding with the sacking of former home secretary Suella Braverman confirmed suspicions of a drift to the centre and a betrayal of the new red wall Tories.
So why did the prime minister appoint him? By all accounts, Sunak had been consulting Cameron privately and regularly. Cameron is a brilliant communicator; far better than any current cabinet minister. However, he has a past with a certain amount of baggage, but this is outweighed by his experience of both domestic and international politics.
Even so, it is important not to overstate the impact Cameron will make. He may be a source of wise advice on strategy and party management, but this doesn’t mean he can shift the political dial dramatically.
As foreign secretary, he will slip effortlessly into the role. Even as a former remainer, he will have no difficulty pushing for new trade agreements and emphasising our ‘new Brexit freedoms’. He will want to improve Britain’s relations as a third party with the European Union, building on what Sunak has already done with the Windsor framework and the Horizon programme.
It is also known that Cameron has been a strong supporter of Israel. That will continue. He may, however, have to moderate his views is in relation to China, where he, along with former chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne, was a strong advocate of deeper commercial ties and political engagement. At present, opinion in the Conservative party, just as in the US’ Republican party, has become increasingly hostile to China. Cameron will have to navigate carefully and accordingly.
Whatever effect Sunak intended the announcement of the new foreign secretary to have, it was immediately overshadowed by Braverman’s bitterly direct and personal attack on the prime minister. Swiftly following her departure was the announcement of the Supreme Court ruling on her brainchild Rwanda scheme – the verdict on which is a massive reverse for the government. There may be some solutions to the issues posed by the court finding but it is difficult to believe these answers can be put into effect before the general election. The ticking of the clock seems to be getting louder.
If the Conservative party is going to have any chance of avoiding a massive defeat at the next election, it needs to regain some sense of unity and purpose ahead of personal ambitions. It does not need a civil war which nobody can win.
Lord Norman Lamont of Lerwick is a Conservative Member of the House of Lords and a member of the OMFIF Advisory Network. He was UK Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1990-93.
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