Return of the prodigal?

The web of our life is a mingled yarn, good and ill together.

Hands up, who saw that one coming? No, me neither. The benefit of listening to the radio on digital technology meant that I could rewind the news, and check that the BBC reporter really had just said, in 2023, seven years after he left it,  ‘David Cameron has been seen entering 10 Downing Street’.

Wait, what the what now? Huh?

Maybe, we thought, he was in the area anyway, and just popped by for a cup of Yorkshire Tea and a digestive biscuit, or to collect a sweater that had been unearthed from the back of the airing cupboard.

But no. Cameron is back in the Cabinet, sitting in the seat warmed up by James Cleverly, who has budged up to his second Great Office of State chair in just over a year, taking over from Suella Braverman as Home Secretary.

As surprises go, Braverman’s departure wasn’t much of one. She’d been spoiling for a fight pretty much from the get-go. Her article on the Times, accusing the Met Police of being biased in the way they approach and police  marches, appearing as it did without the alterations requested by Downing Street, was a message to the PM, and it wasn’t a very polite one.

Many political commentators have suggested that her re-appointment by Rishi Sunak to a job she had resigned from following a breaking of the Ministerial Code of Conduct, was a way of heading off another potential leadership bid, by bringing the right of the Conservative Party on board with his leadership.

Sunak has been playing the slow and steady card, hoping to mollify the members of a party that has been subject to the rollercoaster rides offered by both the previous incumbents of Number 10. He’s been trying to keep his hands on the reins of the traditional Tory voters, as well as those who favour a more modern, moderate-conservatism, and those former Labour voters whom the 2019 election turned, possibly temporarily, blue. Rather like a dog-walker who’s taken on one more pup than he can feasibly handle, though, Sunak’s exquisitely clothed arms are being stretched in different directions.

At his core though, our PM is not a politician, he’s a numbers man at heart, more at home with spreadsheets than on the podium. The make-up of his opposite number in the Commons is, likewise, less traditional politician, and more lawyer. So, is it going to prove a stroke of genius that Sunak has brought back one of the most popular politicians of the last 15 years or so.

I know. It’s weird. But there is more lasting respect, even affection, in much of the Tory party for the man that made a calculated risk to shut the anti-European wing of his party up, and lost. Cameron is eloquent, erudite, and, along with Cleverly, has the knack of sounding reasonable in  TV interviews whatever the question. With him and Cleverly handling the Foreign and Home slots, Sunak can focus on the day job, without worrying about what grenades the malcontent Braverman would lob next.

I’m not sure Sunak will be our PM for longer than the length of this current Parliament, though I do think he will lead the party into the election. I also suspect that the appointment of Cameron is not something Labour and, more especially the Lib Dems, have welcomed. In-fighting amongst your opposition makes them a far weaker target after all.

Bringing Cameron back, and making him a Lord in order to do so, isn’t the usual way of playing politics. But these are not usual times. After everything that’s happened over the past few years, maybe what the Tories need, what the Government needs, is someone who’s seen it all before, who could be said to be something of a safe-ish pair of hands. And someone who can probably still appeal to the younger, pro-European voters who’ve been eyeing up the Lib Dems.

Although, I do hope that Sunak hasn’t set a precedent for the return to power of former leaders…

trump as palpatine

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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