Lazarus breathes. London has witnessed a political resurrection almost worthy of St. John’s Gospel, Chapter 11, in which a man is restored to life (or, here, public life) long after being given up for a goner by his friends.
David Cameron, the British prime minister who quit suddenly in 2016, has been appointed foreign secretary. The 57-year-old Cameron will now be presenting his country’s policies on, among other things, Israel-Gaza and the war in Ukraine.
His return to cabinet duties, unprecedented in the past half-century, has astonished Westminster, not least because no one leaked the plan to the media.
The last ex-prime ministers to serve a successor were Alec Douglas-Home, foreign secretary under Edward Heath in the early 1970s, and the ailing Neville Chamberlain, who sat in Winston Churchill’s war cabinet for five months in 1940.
Leader of the Conservatives from 2005, Cameron was prime minister of two governments between 2010 and 2016. He gained a reputation for patrician ease, breezy modernity and suave risk-taking.
An uphill battle
Although he managed in those years to reassert the Tories as a natural party of consensual, centrist government, his premiership ended instantly when, against his advice, the British people voted to leave the European Union.
It was Cameron who, never imagining such a result, had granted them that opportunity with a referendum. He resigned within hours.
“Brexit,” as Britain’s E.U. exit was called, led to prolonged squabbles but is now fading as a hot-potato issue. The Sunak government’s chief problem is the economy, which has been slow to shake off the effects of the pandemic and Ukraine-related energy inflation.
There is, moreover, a sense of administrative drift in Britain stoked by public-sector strikes and open rancour among senior Conservatives, some of them still angry that the Tories’ 2019 charismatic election winner, Boris Johnson, was toppled last year for breaking pandemic lockdown rules.
Johnson’s more lurid fans allege that his downfall was engineered by the elite as revenge for Brexit. The technically capable Sunak, 43, who came to office after the six-week government of Liz Truss, has been fighting an uphill battle from day one.
Sunak’s ministerial changes were originally planned for January to refresh his party’s appeal before next year’s general election. It was brought forward when he realised he could no longer tolerate the anti-immigration antics of his home secretary, Suella Braverman.
Smelling of lavender and roses
The appointment is not without its dangers. As prime minister, Cameron was markedly pro-China. Nor will the return of such a creamy grandee likely impress blue-collar Brexit supporters.
Their agitation might only have been increased by Wednesday’s UK Supreme Court ruling against the government’s plan to transport asylum seekers to Rwanda. This latest legal setback will increase pressure for Sunak to withdraw Britain from the European Convention of Human Rights, a prospect that would alarm “polite opinion” Tories such as Cameron.
Yet the former prime minister is an assured diplomat. He knows his way round Washington and Brussels. More important than these foreign policy values, he brings a civilising, optimistic polish to the Conservatives.
Paradoxically enough, his presence could even allow Sunak to embrace more right-wing policies while appearing centrist.
David Cameron, even in his darkest moments, has only ever come up smelling of lavender and roses. -- Washington Post
Quentin Letts is a noted political columnist