A defiant Rishi Sunak spoke at the Conservative Party Conference of being the “change candidate,” using the word “change” 30 times in his speech. It seems contradictory then, for a man trying to separate himself from the past to appoint his centrist predecessor to the position of Foreign Secretary. Indeed, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, MP Pat McFadden said that commissioning the return of David Cameron to Cabinet “puts to bed the prime minister’s laughable claim to offer change from 13 years of Tory failure”. Cameron said that his actions are motivated by his commitment to public service, and that his 11-year tenure as party leader, including 6 serving as prime minister, give him “useful experience and contacts and relationships and knowledge”. He will certainly need to draw on these when tackling ongoing critical issues, namely the war in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Lord Cameron, as he is now known after his appointment to the House of Lords, replaces James Cleverly at the Foreign Office. Cleverly in turn replaces Suella Braverman at the Home Office, who was removed from her role in government after writing an unsanctioned article for The Times. She called those involved in pro-Palestinian rallies taking place on Armistice Day “hate marchers” and accused the police of bias. Downing Street said the article had not “been cleared” and stressed the importance of collective responsibility and ministers speaking with “one voice.” The removal of Braverman also means that it is the first time since 2010 that a woman has not occupied the office of any of the top five positions in the UK Government (PM, Deputy PM, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, and Home Secretary). Downing Street said that the Prime Minister “does not feel the need for tick box diversity.”
You can read more about Suella Braverman’s firing here
Appointing Cameron to the Cabinet is not without controversy. A spokesperson for Sunak addressed the situation as “an opportunity for the Prime Minister to have a strong and united team,” a potentially ironic statement considering recent disagreements between the former and current prime ministers. One such example is Cameron’s opinion of the UK reneging on its commitment to spending 0.7% of gross national income on international aid, a policy Chancellor Hunt reaffirmed in the recent Autumn Budget. Cameron called the reduction to a 0.5% goal a “moral, strategic and political mistake”. United is certainly not a word used to describe the party in general, with an apparent shift towards the centre ground risking the wrath of an obstreperous Tory right. Former cabinet minister Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg expressed his displeasure, suggested that the Braverman was more “attuned to the voters’ concerns” than the Prime Minister and as such, the party is “in danger of losing votes to the Reform party.”
There are also practical concerns to Lord Cameron’s appointment. Both members of the Opposition and the Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, have voiced concerns about the ability of MPs to hold Cameron to account as he will sit as a peer, rather than in the House of Commons. The last Foreign Secretary to sit in the House of Lords was Lord Carrington under Margaret Thatcher in 1979. He later resigned over his failure to predict the 1982 Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands. Lord Cameron confirmed that he will present himself before MPs on Commons select committees “as appropriate,” with ministers below him at the Foreign Office being in the Commons during the regular departmental scrutiny sessions.
More pressing, however, are the ethical concerns to the nomination. The former prime minister was recently the focus of one of the largest lobbying scandals in the UK for decades, when the Financial Times reported that he had secretly lobbied former colleagues in government on behalf of the now-collapsed finance firm Greensill Capital. The Liberal Democrats have called for his peerage to be blocked, but Cameron said that the issues were “in the past” and had been “dealt with.”
Certainly, Lord Cameron’s appointment to the Cabinet demonstrates the willingness of Rishi Sunak to roll the dice as he steers the Tories towards the next general election. The question, however, is whether his choice of candidate, whose own premiership imploded over a matter of generation-defining foreign policy, is a decisive or desperate move.