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Saturday 2 December 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Alamy Stock Photo David Cameron is back in business.

Analysis Cameron's return exposes a government that is more clown show than shrewd operators

Former UK/EU negotiator Sydney Nash says Cameron’s appointment is not a stroke of genius, but rather Sunak’s last-ditch effort to appear competent.

LAST UPDATE | Nov 17th 2023, 10:00 AM

THAT SOUND THAT you can hear from across the Irish Sea, that’s the sound of millions of Brits collectively groaning as news of yet another government reshuffle broke.

We have seen it all before. The infighting. The egos. The procession towards Number 10 Downing Street of men in suits whose one talent is to fail upwards, meaning that they are naturally next in line to be bestowed with the keys to one of the “great offices of state”. And, of course, David Cameron.

The former Prime Minister has been ennobled, with King Charles generously bestowing upon him the dignity of the barony of the whole United Kingdom. Why take just a bit when you can have it all?

london-uk-14-november-2023-david-cameron-who-is-the-newly-appointed-secretary-of-state-for-foreign-commonwealth-and-development-affairs-and-andrew-mitchell-the-minister-of-state-for-development Alamy Stock Photo London, UK. 14 November 2023. David Cameron who is the newly appointed Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs and Andrew Mitchell the Minister of State for Development leave No 10. Alamy Stock Photo

This cheeky piece of aristocratic slight of hand has allowed Rishi Sunak, the current Prime Minister and fourth since Cameron resigned a mere seven years ago, to appoint Cameron as foreign secretary without requiring him to go through anything quite as boring as getting elected. Such is the wonder of British democracy. 

Back to the future

Sunak’s decision to bring Cameron back is perfectly in keeping with a government that has long seemed to think that the best way to run the UK is as some ill-conceived tribute to Victoriana.

The glory of empire, trade with the dominions, putting those continentals back in their box, these are the things this Brexit government aspire to. So why not do like the Victorians did, and pick a cabinet of lordly Lords?

There are some British commentators who would like us to believe that Cameron’s appointment is a shrewd political move. They say that having a political heavyweight in the Foreign Office will free Sunak up to focus on domestic issues. Putting aside that this seems to be an admission that Sunak cannot walk and chew gum at the same time, it is rumoured that Cameron was not even his first choice. Sunak apparently wanted another former Conservative leader (and former foreign secretary) to take on the role. William Hague though, had the good sense to turn the offer down.

tony-blair-left-and-william-hague-at-the-shaping-us-national-symposium-at-the-design-museum-in-london-picture-date-wednesday-november-15-2023 Alamy Stock Photo William Hague was attending a symposium this week with former PM Tony Blair. He had 'the good sense' to turn Sunak down. Alamy Stock Photo

Cameron’s appointment is simply further evidence that Sunak is way out of his depth. At the Conservative Party conference, he used his speech to try to position himself as the change candidate as we head towards a general election.

This was a stretch, to say the least. Now, having appointed to Cabinet one of the key architects of the failed political consensus that, only last month, Sunak committed to smashing up, that speech looks like a joke.

britains-prime-minister-rishi-sunak-holds-a-press-conference-following-the-supreme-courts-rwanda-policy-judgement-at-downing-street-london-wednesday-nov-15-2023-leon-neal-pool-photo-via-ap Alamy Stock Photo Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak holds a press conference, following the Supreme Court's Rwanda policy judgement, at Downing Street, London. Alamy Stock Photo

Like the manager of a failing football team that is staring relegation in the face, Sunak has no strategy, is tactically inept and is overseeing a group of players who embarrass themselves each time they walk on the pitch. This clown show would be entertaining if we did not have to pay a pretty penny to live in it. All that is left for the British public is to stand on the terraces, wet, cold and groaning.

the-new-british-foreign-secretary-david-cameron-4th-right-attends-a-cabinet-meeting-inside-10-downing-street-in-london-tuesday-nov-14-2023-cameron-a-former-prime-minister-was-brought-back-into Alamy Stock Photo The new British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, 4th right, attends a Cabinet meeting inside 10 Downing Street in London, Tuesday. Alamy Stock Photo

Don’t underestimate Suella

One character in all of this who should not be considered a clown is Suella Braverman. Her behaviour has demonstrated that she is a far more dangerous and frightening prospect than the inept Sunak. If she is a clown, she is the type that Stephen King might imagine.

Braverman is British politics’ foremost Trumpian. She is an illiberal, authoritarian, populist who, steeped in the culture wars, tries to divide British society for her own political gain. Like Trump, she appears to be willing to send coded messages to the far right. Like Trump, when pushed, she may prove not to be a democrat.

file-photo-dated-121123-of-home-secretary-suella-braverman-during-the-remembrance-sunday-service-at-the-cenotaph-in-whitehall-london Alamy Stock Photo Suella Braverman. Alamy Stock Photo

Should Braverman succeed Sunak as leader of the Conservative Party, British politics could move into a very dark place. Despite what Braverman thinks, there is not a silent majority in the UK that supports what she is saying, but that will not stop her from stoking more division, anger and bitterness.

What is more, you do not need majority support to win power in the UK. Just like in the US where a majority voted for Clinton, but got Trump as President, here the majority could vote against the Conservatives, only for Braverman to waltz into Number 10 thanks to the backing of an angry minority.

Were this to happen, the sound you would hear from across the Irish Sea would no longer be a collective groan, but a stunned and terrified silence.

Sydney Nash is a former civil servant and UK/EU negotiator, and a former advisor to the automotive sector on Brexit and international trade. He writes in a personal capacity.

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