Rishi Sunak's appointment of David Cameron as Foreign Secretary confirms a sense of desperation and decay
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Mr Sunak's appointment of the former prime minister as the new Foreign Secretary was the most dramatic move in last week's Cabinet reshuffle, trumping the sacking of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary. Commentators were falling over themselves to say what a surprise it was, no-one had seen it coming and no prime minister had returned to government in another role since Sir Alec Douglas Home was made Foreign Secretary by Ted Heath in 1970.
It may be useful to have a Foreign Secretary whom leaders of other countries have dealt with previously. And it’s certainly true that having held the office of prime minister gives him more standing on the world stage.
But Lord Cameron, as he suddenly became, comes with the baggage of his decidedly mixed record while in office and scandal since he departed. The inquiry into his lobbying of his former colleagues on behalf of financial services company Greensill Capital – from which he reportedly made millions – may have found he broke no rules, but it said that was only because the rules were not strong enough. And it concluded he had shown a "significant lack of judgement".
Mr Sunak may hope that David Cameron's return to the frontline will be reassuring for some traditional Tories in danger of deserting. But the Conservative party and British politics have moved on since 2016. David Cameron’s time at the helm feels like a different age – pre-Theresa May, pre-Boris Johnson, pre-Liz Truss and pre-Rishi Sunak.
Just rehearsing that list of his successors may make some nostalgic for the Cameron era. But he was the prime minister who presided over austerity – which saw massive cuts in public services and a widening gap between rich and poor – and also in a sense ushered in the chaotic seven years we have just lived through by his complacent failed gamble over Brexit.
Mr Sunak is hoping David Cameron will help shore up Tory support in the party's southern heartlands. But the back-to-the-future appointment is likely to alienate Red Wall Tory voters won over by Boris Johnson and his Brexit promises.
And it represents a bewildering change in strategy. Just a matter of weeks ago, in his party conference speech, Rishi Sunak was deriding the past 30 years of government in the UK and its lack of achievement. Now he has turned to the man who was in charge for six of those years, in the hope of rescuing his own desperate position.
Making David Cameron Foreign Secretary was a clever wheeze to divert the headlines from Suella Braverman, but it only managed to do that briefly. And it's not clear that it has much to commend it beyond that. Indeed it could have serious disadvantages for the current prime minister. David Cameron is no political giant, but his presence in the Cabinet makes Rishi Sunak look small and weak. Bringing in someone who has done the job before seems unlikely to make the crucial difference for a struggling premier who looks almost certain to lose when he faces the electorate.