Staff writer Geeta Nandwani discusses David Cameron’s past controversies amid his suprise return to British politics.
The nation took a collective gasp at 10am on Monday 13th of November when our various news apps tricked us into believing we had time-travelled back to 2015. This was not the poorly executed plot of a Marvel movie, but a notification that David Cameron would be replacing James Cleverly as Foreign secretary following Rishi Sunak’s cabinet reshuffle.
Many have referred to the former Prime Minister as being a force of stability for the current government. Given David Cameron’s history in politics, this decision was shocking.
It’s no secret that David Cameron had been hopeful regarding a ‘golden era’ of cooperation between the UK and China, moving ‘forcefully to strengthen ties between the UK and Beijing’. However, recently, the relationship between the UK and China has drastically changed due to concerns about civil liberties in the former British territory of Hong Kong, China being viewed as a threat to security and supposed human rights infringements in Xinjiang province. These changes are the complete opposite of how Cameron was hoping for relations with China to progress post 2015. A growing faction of the Conservative Party is increasingly sceptical of China, signalling the potential for further party divide in the future, if Cameron has not changed his approach for encouraging an increase in Chinese investment, which he oversaw during the period of 2010 to 2016, which has since been in the process of reverse. Famously, Huawei Technologies were removed from Britain’s fifth-generation telecommunications systems in the summer of 2020. Later, the UK-China investment fund was critiqued in a report by Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, saying that it was ‘possible’ that Cameron’s actions were ‘in some part engineered by the Chinese state to lend credibility to Chinese investment, as well as to the broader Chinese brand’. This is a worrying image for the UK, as Cameron’s previous image seems generally out of touch with the sentiment of the country and parliament in terms of relations with China, making his appointment as foreign secretary unexpected.
Then comes Greensill. A company that became a household name in 2021, when news leaked that the former Prime Minister had approached ministers in the treasury on behalf of a financial services firm, ‘Greensill Capital’. His aim was to give Greensill access to the ‘Covid Corporate Financing Facility’ (CCF) loan scheme after its collapse. The Labour Party has led an inquiry when it was uncovered that David Cameron sent several text messages to then Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s personal phone and approached two junior cabinet ministers. The situation worsened when a senior civil servant was granted permission to join Greensill Capital, whilst still working in the higher levels of government. Another cabinet official was hired for the firm whilst working in the civil service. Despite the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists clearing Cameron of breaking lobbying rules, there is still a grey area which suggests that his actions were unethical. The enquiry itself commented that Cameron exhibited a “significant lack of judgement” on Greensill, with the treasury select committee saying that it was “inappropriate for the ex-prime minister to send 62 messages to former colleagues” requesting assistance for the firm. This was made worse by Cameron having financial incentives for ministers assisting him, which he refused to specify in front of the committee despite apparently telling friends that he was granted stock options worth up to 1% of the company. The question of who has access to this power is integral here, whilst Cameron did comply with the two-year lobbying ban after leaving office, any other lobbyist could not have expected a reply, or even have sent personal texts to the Chancellor. Given that it has been just two years since this scandal, his appointment to the cabinet is surprising and should encourage the new foreign secretary to modify his behaviour regarding future endeavours with more caution and perhaps less self interest.
Conversely, Cameron has shown his ability to garner support among the nation through his majority election result in 2015 as well as through his appearance in a One Direction music video. This can be shown through his high approval ratings in 2015 of 41% (compared to his opponent Ed Miliband with 23%). Cameron also aligns himself with One Nation Conservatism, which championed ideas of tackling poverty directly (instead of the Neo-Liberal approach of allowing the rich to accumulate wealth which would ‘trickle down’ to the masses), equality of opportunity and safeguarding education and services such as the NHS. In an era of high levels of political polarisation, Cameron’s re-entry into the cabinet signifies a move by the Prime Minister to shift his party to the ideological centre in preparation for the election.