The dreadful restoration of David Cameron
The former PM embodies the very worst of the technocratic politics that reigned before Brexit.
If any more proof were needed that Rishi Sunak is a bloodless technocrat cosplaying as a political leader, then look no further than his appointment today of ex-prime minister David Cameron as foreign secretary.
Yes, that David Cameron. Chillaxing Dave. The leader of the Cameroons, arguably the dullest political tribe in UK history. The man whose greatest achievement as PM was to announce a referendum he was convinced he could win, only to discover that the majority of Brits had very different ideas – about the EU, about democracy and about Cameron himself.
Sunak has clearly not brought Cameron back in from the cold for his political acumen then. He has done so, above all, because Cameron is very much a politician after Sunak’s own technocratic heart. It’s an appointment that will no doubt go down well among Remainer Tories and smug centrist commentators (‘Daddy’s home’, as one Cameroon put it). But it bodes terribly for the rest of us.
The centrists’ enthusiasm for Cameron makes a creepy sort of sense. It speaks to their nostalgia for the pre-Brexit past. They yearn to go back to a time before the public so rudely intruded on political life, demanding to be taken seriously. Before the liberal-establishment consensus faced any serious challenge.
Cameron, a self-avowed heir to Tony Blair, embodies the worst of the technocratic politics of the pre-Brexit era. As PM, his governments were little more than the ‘nudging’ successors to the nannying New Labour administrations of the 2000s. First in coalition with the Lib Dems, then with a majority government after 2015, Cameron’s Tories remained steadfastly committed to the managerial orthodoxies that had dominated British politics since the 1990s.
Cameron encouraged deference to ‘experts’ at the expense of the public, and he remained committed to ensuring Britain’s law-making powers were firmly in the hands of ‘those who know best’ in Brussels. He was seen as ‘competent’ and ‘sensible’, despite being neither of those things. But he was well-versed in management-speak clichés. A politician, that is, very much like Sunak himself. And so Sunak, in a bid to return to the pre-populist era, has now parachuted this ghost of politics past into the House of Lords and straight into the Foreign Office.
The Restoration of Dave is even more troubling than it might seem at first. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a role to which he is less well-suited than foreign secretary. Perhaps only the appointment of Blair, the architect of Iraq’s destruction, would have been worse. After all, Cameron’s decision to intervene militarily in Libya in 2011 led to the implosion of the country and unleashed forces that are still tearing the wider region apart.
The war in Libya was arguably one of the most calamitous foreign-policy moves of the 21st-century. Even Barack Obama conceded in 2016 that it was a ‘shitshow’. And now the co-author of that ‘shitshow’ is heading up the UK’s foreign policy again.
Cameron’s political resurrection serves as a reminder of the catastrophic failures of the technocratic model of politics that reigned before Brexit. It’s a reminder that Sunak’s tired brand of managerialism has failed before and will fail again. Nudging and nannying at home while bombing with abandon abroad didn’t work in the 2010s. And it certainly isn’t the answer to the UK’s problems today.
Tim Black is a spiked columnist.
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