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Cameron’s Comeback and Suella on the Attack

'The Prime Minister attends the arrival of the RoK President', courtesy of Number 10 on Flikr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/number10gov/53346785088/in/photolist-2ph5dCG-2ph42wt-2pfzeaF-2pfzeoG-2pjAVdH-2pjzZBC-2pjCggy-2pjvhcH-2pjVJ8d-2pjWsaR-2pjUQss-2pjVJac-2pjCwh4-2pjBNXQ-2phBTxk-2phv5f3-2phAHic-2phv34K-2phAFku-2phv34u-2pKywqb-2pfAWTw-2pfuJpd-2pfAWbe-2pfzd4h-2ph42G3-2pKEMa6-2phCubN-2phv5jb-2phB6XJ-2ph5ac8-2pgYtGF-2ph6gE3-2ph5Bje-2pgYvQt-2pfA1Fd-2pfA1Fi-2pftNv6-2pfygM1-2pfA1Ew-2pftNuV-2pfygMB-2jNj36p-2pLS9Uy-2pLYt8C-2pLYXTe-2juHmXj-2piZxZB-2piTkZ9-2piTm2o

Staff Writer, Rayhan Hussain, dissects the recent cabinet reshuffle and the reaction from across the Conservative Party.

If you had told me, this time last week, that David Cameron would become the Foreign Secretary, I would have looked at you as if you were out of your mind. 

Although the move is not unprecedented, it was certainly a surprise for many seasoned political viewers as Cameron emerged from his Range Rover and walked through the big black door of No.10 on Monday morning. 

Then again, a week is a long time in politics – and I’m always reminded to expect the unexpected.

Appointing Mr. Cameron (or Lord Cameron, as he now is) to one of the great offices of state is certainly a huge move by Sunak. But will it help him or hurt him over the next few months?

First off, such a surprise tactic grabs headlines for a prime minister in the doldrums. It enables him to present a new type of government, one that is bold and exciting. To put it more bluntly, it is a last roll of the dice before the general election expected some time next year.

Another interesting observation is the way in which the former Prime Minister’s return to frontline politics diverted attention away from the sacking of the Home Secretary Suella Braverman that morning (more on her scathing letter later).

Indeed, it is astonishing that the Downing Street operation was able to pull this off without any leaks to the media over the weekend prior to the reshuffle. 

But why Cameron? And why not one of the 350 elected Conservative MPs who can actually be held accountable by members of the House of Commons? 

The general consensus is that Sunak wanted to bring some experience to the cabinet table, some familiarity and expertise. And in a job like Foreign Secretary, if you want someone who looks like a statesman – hire a former statesman!

Remember, too, that Sunak is not vastly experienced when it comes to foreign affairs. His own expertise lies in finance. Appointing Cameron to the Foreign Office enables the Prime Minister to focus more on domestic policy in the run up to the election. 

Perhaps, also, it gives Cameron the informal title of “chief diplomat.” Because, without question, he has name recognition. World leaders know who he is – and they’re more likely to want to co-operate with, and grant further access to, someone whom they have previously spent time with. He was, after all, Prime Minister for six years (2010-16) and leader of the Conservative Party for eleven.

Domestically, Sunak will want people to pay attention to this move. At the next election, the Tories are at risk of losing traditional “blue wall” seats to the Liberal Democrats, those commuter towns and villages in the Home Counties: Surrey, Kent, Berkshire, et cetera. Cameron may be viewed by No.10 as someone who can persuade this particular constituency of voters to stick with them. 

But following anger and accusations of leaving the country in a state of chaos after the EU referendum in 2016 – as well as an unforgettable lobbying scandal during the Covid-19 pandemic – people will question whether the former Prime Minister has anywhere near the levels of pulling power he once commanded.

His appointment has beguiled some, and dismayed others. For Tory MPs on the moderate wing of the party, the perceived prospect of a reunion of the moderate Conservative family delights them. Remember ‘compassionate conservatism’?

Meanwhile, the right of the Tory Party will view Cameron’s comeback as a shift away from them and towards the centre. Exactly the opposite kind of politician we saw in Suella Braverman – the former Home Secretary who was out for blood following her sacking.

In an excoriating three-page letter to the Prime Minister, she accused Rishi Sunak of “betraying the nation” and dodging “hard decisions.” Line after line was dripped with criticisms of Sunak and his No.10 operation. She certainly wasn’t pulling her punches.

Much of the letter needs no interpretation, given the clarity of her dismay at the man she was serving alongside until only a short time ago. But several words convey the disingenuousness with which Sunak is now regarded by his former Home Secretary: “equivocation”, “disregard”, “betrayal” and, most stingingly, “failure”.

Perhaps the most damaging claim in the letter was the allegation of back-door deals at the heart of Sunak becoming Prime Minister in October 2022. It is widely believed in Westminster that Braverman’s support for Sunak paved the way for him to enter Downing Street. Braverman claims her support in the Autumn leadership contest was contingent on a secret deal she claimes Sunak signed, promising to implement a number of policies.

She subsequently claims that all of these promises, one of which being to exclude the operation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Human Rights Act (HRA) in stopping the boats, failed to come to fruition.

Whether Suella Braverman can produce documentary evidence of this deal remains to be seen. She may be waiting for the right moment to cause maximum damage to Sunak’s premiership. But it exposes, to some extent, the level of infighting at the heart of the Tory party at a time when they were about to welcome their third Prime Minister in a matter of months. Clearly, they should have been prioritising party unity instead of wrangling over the minutiae of policy.

Suella Braverman also described the Prime Minister’s response to allowing pro-Palestinian protests on Armistice Day as “uncertain, weak and lacking in the qualities of leadership that this country needs.” She told Sunak in no uncertain terms that “your plan is not working” and “you need to change course urgently.” This rhetoric, along with her desire for an “authentic conservative agenda”, is being viewed by some as an unashamed leadership pitch. Surely not?

She may now claim to be the champion of the right-wing New Conservatives from the backbenches. Whilst it gives her time to galvanise her support base, there is just no way the Tories will change leaders this side of an election. And unless she’s chomping at the bit for the much-coveted role of Leader of the Opposition, then she’ll be on the backbenches for a little while yet. Sitting alongside the likes of Liz Truss and Jacob Rees-Mogg, their presence and clamour for an alternative approach will no doubt cause ructions for the government.

And following the Supreme Court’s ruling that the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful, the Tories are unlikely to show any restraint on the matter. Backers of Suella Braverman will urge the Prime Minister to go further. To ensure that deportation flights do start running – no matter how politically tricky it might be – even if that means leaving the ECHR.

But I’m not sure whether the public will be convinced by the rhetoric of a politician who was sacked from the same job twice – by two different Prime Ministers! And if Braverman really was so alarmed at Sunak’s direction of travel, it begs the question why she didn’t resign before she was pushed. 

This week’s events highlight the importance of personalities in politics. The rationale behind Lord Cameron’s extraordinary return to the Cabinet was down to his natural disposition as a statesman. And Suella Braverman’s self-defeating, sensational exit from government was her way of making clear she is going nowhere any time soon. She will continue to be vocal, albeit from a subordinate platform. 

A week really is a long time in politics. Nevertheless, whilst personalities do matter, it is delivery and tangible results that the public are more interested in. Sunak did have one victory this week in achieving one of his five priorities – halving inflation – but there’s a long way to go for redemption with the public.

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