Austerity era PM Cameron back on world stage several years on from Brexit exit

Austerity-era PM Cameron back on world stage several years on from Brexit exit

Britain’s new Foreign Secretary David Cameron will need little introduction to world leaders, diplomats and voters.

The former prime minister has returned to frontline politics, joining Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet seven years after his failure to win the 2016 Brexit referendum effectively cut short his political career.

The last image of Mr Cameron most voters will remember was outside Number 10, announcing his resignation the morning after millions of Britons voted to leave the European Union – putting paid to the Prime Minister’s hopes to keep the UK part of the bloc.

This is not to say that the former prime minister, who now enters the Lords to take up the senior Cabinet role, has been out of the headlines since then.

Lord Cameron was at the centre of a major scandal after it emerged he privately lobbied ministers to attempt to try to secure access to an emergency coronavirus loan scheme for the failed firm Greensill Capital, where he took up a role in 2018.

It shone a spotlight on lobbying in Westminster and prompted a look at how rules can be tightened.

The controversy was a long way from the electoral success that saw Lord Cameron defeat Gordon Brown in 2010 to enter Number 10, having sought to detoxify the Tory brand after years in the opposition wilderness.

Aided by a coalition with Nick Clegg and a resurgent Liberal Democrats, he and chancellor George Osborne embarked on an austerity programme that saw deep cuts to public services and welfare spending as well as a laser focus on reducing the deficit as the antidote to Britain’s economic woes in the wake of the 2008 crash.

Elsewhere, the Eton-educated prime minister floated new ideas such as the “Big Society”, while also grappling with unrest and conflict in Libya and Syria.

That foreign affairs experience was not always successful, with Lord Cameron chastened by MPs’ rejection of UK military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But it was in China where he perhaps tried to make his most notable mark, hailing hopes for a new “golden era” of relations with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Those remarks have not aged well, with ties between the West and the rising Asian power deteriorating dramatically over the last decade.

Rishi Sunak has tried to dampen tensions since taking office, labelling China an “epoch-defining challenge” while declining to heed calls from some hawks on his backbenches to officially call it a “threat”.

The return of Mr Cameron then to frontline politics offers something of a surprise, given that Mr Sunak – who backed Brexit in defiance of his then party leader – has not always been kind about his many Tory predecessors.

On China, he used his first foreign policy speech last year to suggest that the closer economic ties with the country over the last decade had been “naive”.

More recently, Mr Sunak also used his party conference speech to hit out at “30 years of a political system which incentivises the easy decision, not the right one”, criticising the “vested interests standing in the way of change”.

The decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2, confirmed in the same speech, also prompted a rare public rebuke from Lord Cameron who labelled the decision the “wrong one”.

The newly minted member of the House of Lords will now enter Mr Sunak’s government, taking up one of the great offices of state in a remarkable return for the former leader as the UK grapples with the conflict in Gaza and the war in Ukraine.

The return has already raised eyebrows, but it is not unprecedented – Alec Douglas-Home, after less than a year as prime minister, went on to serve as foreign secretary between 1970 and 1974.

Another former leader Lord Hague also went on to serve as Mr Cameron’s first foreign secretary.

But Lord Cameron’s legacy still remains contested and criticised in some quarters, with his former partners in Government the Liberal Democrats quick to call for his peerage to the blocked.

The party’s Layla Moran said: “Bringing back a scandal-hit, unelected former prime minister who has been criticising Sunak’s government at every turn has the stench of desperation. There is not even the bottom of the barrel left for Sunak to scrape in the Conservative Party.

“David Cameron was at the heart of the biggest lobbying scandal of recent times. Handing him a peerage makes a mockery of our honours system. Cameron’s peerage should be blocked given his shady past.”

Few returns to the political front line have been as unexpected as this – Mr Cameron will hope, on the second time of asking, he can secure a more successful legacy on the global stage.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said he was a “little bit puzzled” by Lord Cameron’s return given that “recently it appears he’s being paid by the Chinese government to promote certain things to do with the government”.

“That’s a conflict,” he told GB News.

“I want to know how that is to be settled because we are under threat the whole time and we are members of the Parliament – a couple of people are in Government – so this is a real question mark for me about what is that conflict and how is that to be settled?”

Published: by Radio NewsHub

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