Resurrection of Cameron



by Dr Upul Wijayawardhana

Cabinet reshuffles are part and parcel of the British political system with most prime ministers doing so at least annually. There is much to be commended about this system; ministers whose performance is below par could be removed. By the way, it is alien to the Sri Lankan political culture as the ministerial appointments are based on political affiliations and not merit! Usually, these are low key political events in the UK. However, Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet reshuffle on Monday (13) was different.

As expected, he sacked the Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who seemed to have been asking for it! It is no secret that she is harbouring prime ministerial ambitions and has the support of the extreme right-wing of the Conservative Party. She has been tough on immigration and has started a scheme to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, which was hampered by court decisions. She clashed with the head of the Metropolitan police in public, accusing him of being partisan. Since Israel started indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, provoked by the terrorist attack of Hamas, vast crowds have been gathering in London every Sunday to highlight the plight of the Palestinians.

By and large, there have been peaceful protests; numbers attending are increasing every week. Politicians were unhappy that a protest was scheduled for the Remembrance Day (11 Nov.,) as well, and wanted the police chief to ban it. He refused, stating that intelligence gathering did not indicate any threat to peace. When Rishi Sunak summoned him to Downing Street, he explained that as the two events were in two different venues, at different times, he did not anticipate any problems. The Prime Minister respected the opinion of Sir Mark Rowley, Metropolitan Police Commissioner but reminded him that if things were to go wrong, responsibility would be his.

Braverman, then Home Secretary, was not happy and accused the Metropolitan Police of being partial, being soft towards left-leaning demonstrators whilst being tough with the right leaning. She took the extraordinary step of expressing her opinion in a piece published in The Times without clearance from Downing Street, breaching protocol. Perhaps, egged on by her opinion, far-right groups tried to disrupt the Palestinian protest but prompt police action prevented any trouble. Remembrance Day celebrations were conducted with the solemnity it deserved without any interruptions. Mark Rowley’s job was safe but not Suella Braverman’s!

What was shocking in the Cabinet reshuffle was not the sacking of Braverman but the resurrection of David Cameron! This is the first time in a half-century that an ex-PM has returned to the Cabinet. Alec Douglas-Home, who was PM from 1963 to 1964, returned in 1970 as Foreign Secretary in Edward Heath’s government. But Douglas-Home continued to be a member of parliament throughout whereas Cameron left Parliament when he resigned as PM after the Brexit referendum, as the wish of the British voter went against his. Sunak had to make an urgent appeal to King Charles to make him a life peer so that Lord Cameron be made Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs!

It is being hotly debated whether Sunak bringing back Cameron from political wilderness to government is a stroke of political genius or an act of desperation. Perhaps, only time will tell. It is true that Cameron, having been British PM for six years from 2010, has international name recognition but his premiership is remembered not for good reasons.

He presided over an era of austerity, which most political observers opine was imposed without good reason. He was instrumental in the Brexit referendum and having promised to implement the wishes of the British public, shirked responsibility. After withdrawing from politics, he became associated with businesses, some of which were dodgy.

During his premiership, the financier Lex Greensill was an unpaid advisor with access to eleven government departments. After leaving office, Cameron became an advisor to Greensill Capital in 2018 and reportedly earned around $10 million before tax for 30 months part-time work. During the pandemic Cameron used his influence to get NHS Trusts to use Greensill app and lobbied extensively in an attempt to bend the rules to get Covid Business financing for Greensill before its collapse in 2020.

As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, Cameron’s role is certainly duplicitous. He skipped the opening ceremony of CHOGM in Colombo in 2013 to visit Jaffna and was among the Western leaders hounding Sri Lanka on human rights but was seen recently promoting the Colombo Port City Project in Dubai! Wonder how much he was paid for that promotion!

In a hard-hitting resignation letter, Braverman accuses PM Sunak of repeatedly failing on key policies and broken pledges over immigration. She accuses him of having adopted “wishful thinking” to “avoid having to make hard choices”. She could have made her points, some of which are valid, in a diplomatic manner but instead made it an incendiary letter loaded with derision using words like betrayal and equivocation, wherein she states: “Despite you having been rejected by a majority of party members during the summer leadership contest and thus having no personal mandate to be prime minister, I agreed to support you because of the firm assurances you gave me on key policy priorities.

” She calls him weak and attempts to portray herself as a strong leader. Perhaps, she is hoping that MPs would do what they did to Boris, so that she may win the leadership stake and be PM even for a short time! She seems to be in a mighty hurry. Most political commentators are of the view that this is the most vitriolic resignation letter ever and are surprised by the viciousness of the attack. Perhaps, only a politician of Indian origin can mount such a savage attack on a fellow politician of Indian origin!