Credit: Pete Souza via Unsplash

An old Etonian enters government, again?

Rishi Sunak tries to cling to power by making a change to his cabinet- but will it just be more of the same?

As Rishi Sunak enters what is possibly his last year as Prime Minister, the recent appointment of David Cameron to the role of Foreign Secretary appears to be a desperate grasp at the last straws available for Sunak. After all, the undemocratically elected PM chose to appoint a near unaccountable peer in the House of Lords. The pomp and circumstance of the Lords, adored by some and ridiculed by others, culminates in the formal swearing-in ceremony, where David Cameron became Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton. It is a step much like the final stop in a comeback tour that nobody asked for, with the exception of a few retirees who will nostalgically lap it up.

With the current political climates of Ukraine and the Middle East, there will be a barrage of demands hurled at Cameron, but who will be there to field the questions? Due to a historic convention preventing Lords from speaking in the Commons, MPs in the House of Commons must face his underling, Andrew Mitchell instead. Questions about scrutiny and legitimacy have been raised from all sides of the political spectrum, including his own party, with the Conservative MP Henry Smith, who sits on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, acknowledging how this convention may lead to a significant “scrutiny problem”.  The Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy has heavily criticised the appointment, branding Sunak as “a disastrous PM” and an ‘unelected failure’ on X, formerly Twitter. 

Despite the serious blemishes on Cameron’s reputation, Sunak cannot seem to draw himself away from the allure of a former PM. Lord Cameron has been dubbed the “architect of austerity” alongside fellow Bullingdon chum George Osbourne, who is better known for having been Chancellor of the Exchequer during the coalition government, and anecdotally for burning money in front of homeless people. His austerity policies crippled an NHS that was already on its knees, with health inequalities rising whilst Cameron and Osbourne were in office. Staff were left overworked and underfunded from multiple rounds of pay freezes and as a result, medical personnel were dangerously understaffed. There is no doubt that the systemic weaknesses in the NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic led to excess deaths, especially in care homes.  This has directly affected the lives of millions of citizens far away from the marble-topped kitchens of Westminster. 

During his time out of office, Cameron was found to have lobbied the government on behalf of Greensill Capital during the pandemic to fast-track their membership for taxpayer money. It has been suggested that over the course of two and a half years of part-time work, he made $10 million before tax, a tidy sum considering all he did was unsuccessfully wine and dine his former cabinet chums.

Cameron may be considered as a real grown-up in the room, but I would not want the man who gutted our social services to have a seat at the table in negotiations in a particularly heated period of international turmoil, especially when his arrival back into government has been undemocratically ushered in through the backdoor. His appointment has happened to the backdrop of massive Tory losses in central England safe seats, and it highlights the PM’s frantic attempt to draw back the moderate wing of the party even when current polling suggests the Tory government appears to be marching towards its inevitable defeat. Perhaps if, or indeed when such a defeat arrives, we can have a real grown-up at the table. 

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Simon

The disappointing thing is that for his terrible tenure as PM overseeing the travesty of austerity, the managed decline of the United Kingdom, and the departure of Britain from the European Union, he seems to be doing a pretty decent job as Foreign Secretary. Calling for a ‘sustainable ceasefire in Gaza’, increasing international aid, putting distance between US foreign policy – it is hard to say that he isn’t a good diplomat, he is experienced and well known on the world stage; it is important to keep in mind that a Foreign Secretary is known for their screw-ups (which he mostly has avoided) far more than any achievements.

A terrible PM and nothing can take away from that, but it looks like he might make a good (in Tory terms) foreign secretary.