When asked if Suella Braverman would remain on as Home Secretary, Defence Secretary quoted Harold Wilson remarking that “a week is a long time in politics” – and he was right on the mark. Just a day later, the political landscape lay shaken by not just her removal but a vast Cabinet overhaul. The most notable talking point of the reshuffle was David Cameron’s return to frontline politics. Still, the saga may be more reflective of something far bigger in regard to the next election.
David Cameron: An Unexpected Return
As recent as yesterday, the idea that David Cameron might become a minister and one of the Great Office of State holders seemed a preposterous proposition and yet today, it has become a reality.
In 2016, David Cameron stepped down, resigning as prime minister in the wake of the historic Brexit result for which he had fought to remain. Leaving just as he had caused one of the great constitutional crises in generations, Cameron’s political future seemed moribund.
Today however, Rishi Sunak finally took the long-requested step of sacking outspoken Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who had come under intense pressure for comments she had made. Not only had she labelled homeless people sleeping in tents as following a “lifestyle choice” but she had broken the ministerial code, writing an article in The Times criticising the Metropolitan Police Force without clearing the article with Number 10.
Braverman had to go and Sunak appointed Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to the Home Office, a position Cleverly has espoused his love for and begged not to be moved from.
So, who is for the Foreign Secretary position? David Cameron was seen going into 10 Downing Street, soon followed by an announcement the man who had been PM seven years earlier was now Foreign Secretary.
Cameron expressed his support in Sunak, explaining his reason for returning thusly: “While I have been out of front-line politics for the last seven years, I hope that my experience – as Conservative Leader for eleven years and prime minister for six – will assist me in helping the Prime Minister to meet these vital challenges,” noting Ukraine and the Israel-Gaza conflicts as top priorities.
Others point out how it reeks of desperation, not of change, and emblematic that a non-MP had to be introduced to restore a workable Cabinet. After all, are 300+ other Tory MPs not good enough? Labour has naturally pointed out that it reeks of desperation, not change.
Constitutionally, it was vital for Cameron to quickly ascend to the House of Lords, with Lord Cameron being the first former prime minister to become a lord since Margaret Thatcher.
To give some statistics to show the rarity of the situation, Cameron is the first Lords-sitting minister since Peter Mandelson in 2008 and the first PM to re-enter Cabinet since 1970 when Alec Douglas-Home was made Edward Heath’s Foreign Secretary.
Another example of a former PM taking on a significant role in government after their tenure in the country’s highest office is Arthur Balfour. PM from 1902-1905, he later served in high-profile roles in the First World War Cabinet and into the 1920s, such as Foreign Secretary.
Braverman’s removal and Cameron’s addition also means all four Great Offices of State have been held by men for the first time since the Conservatives took power.
Is Cameron A Problem?
Cameron’s return has been praised by some but Cameron is a man who comes with serious political baggage.
Firstly, look at Cameron’s role in Brexit; not only did he lead the nation, but he was also a remainer. How can a remainer govern sufficiently in a broadly anti-EU party – one that recently further argued for exiting the European Court of Human Rights?
Another stench Cameron may struggle to waft away is the Greensill scandal that enveloped after his premiership. Cameron earned kickbacks from the company, owned by friend Lex Greensill, and has ongoing criminal investigations in several nations with billions of dollars of investors’ money missing whilst Cameron intensively lobbied colleagues and civil servants into business with the groups.
There is also the factor of scrutiny. Now a member of the Lords, Cameron will not be subject to the same level of accountability as other MPs and ministers. This question is on top of the fact is now effectively a bureaucrat, unelected by the public.
Additionally, as a modernising liberal-conservative, Cameron may be at risk of dividing the party, facing a right-wing pushback, talking of which…
A Star-Marking Stage for Suella
Dismissal as Home Secretary can mean the end of a political career, see Amber Rudd and Jacqui Smith as recent examples. However, for Suella, it could be the start of something bigger.
Indeed, as a darling of the party’s right-wing, she has been seen as symbolic of trying to restore more hardline ideas back to a party, criticised for its high tax and imperilled migrant stance.
The woman who infamously dreamed of a Telegraph front page featuring immigrants being deported to Rwanda has a bloc of support that can be rejuvenated now that not only their representative has been knocked from government but knocked by a far more central political figure.
The party’s deputy chairman Lee Anderson was allegedly “far from pleased” with the decision whilst long-standing rival Jacob Rees Mogg called it a “mistake.” The Independent notes how the far-right might submit up to 50 letters of no confidence (53, 15%, is needed for a vote); the first of which has been sent by Andrea Jenkyns – the woman who unseated Ed Balls in 2010.
The End Of The Truss Era?
Rishi Sunak’s government has reflected how dawn has subsided on Truss’s ministry. The incumbent’s government has seen criticism from Truss for policies such as its high tax and anti-smoking positions.
Braverman who was appointed by Truss as Home Secretary, even if ousted by the time of her resignation, has now gone and she is not the only casualty.
Also gone in the reshuffle is Therese Coffey, Truss’s former Deputy Prime Minister. The Environment Secretary was shoved out of the Cabinet, and replaced by Steve Barclay as the environment seems like it could become an underlying issue in the upcoming election.
The only remaining Great Office holder from Truss’s time is James Cleverly, who himself has been moved.
Also notable is that this reshuffle, seen as a warm-up towards the election, has seen Sunak retain Jeremy Hunt as Chancellor. Although first appointed by Truss after the upheaval caused by the mini-budget, his economic policies are night and day from what Truss desires.
Today’s effort is evidently Sunak’s first big Cabinet reshuffle, one aimed at improving his party’s electoral chances, regularly polling at 20 points behind Labour, having not won an opinion poll since December 2021.
Lord Cameron could make sense, as a more liberal, centrist face and the first Tory to ‘win’ two elections (even if needing to form a coalition in 2010).
Braverman’s departure might be good to cleanse the far-right fears voters may have but a revolt from within the party – one recently plagued by in-fighting – which could further cause a hemorrhage. We shall see how things play out and if the policies followed by predecessors continue in the new Cabinet.
It is hard to believe the changes can overturn the odds the government are fighting at the next election but as 1970 and 1992 should tell us, we should not count out the Conservative Party even when it seems to be gliding towards defeat.
If not, it will be hard not to comment that the Conservatives were the future once.