Back from boredom:Former Prime Minister David Cameron returns back to politics

It turns out they were right.

Yesterday, the former prime minister made a surprise comeback, appointed out of the blue as Foreign Secretary in Rishi Sunak’s reshuffled Cabinet.

Having stood down as an MP in 2016, after coming out on the losing side of the Brexit referendum, the 57-year-old is no longer an elected politician, requiring a rare – but not unprecedented – situation where he will enter the House of Lords as a life peer, allowing him to serve as a minister again.

The new Lord Cameron wrote yesterday on X, formerly Twitter: “We are facing a daunting set of international challenges, including the war in Ukraine and the crisis in the Middle East.

“At this time of profound global change, it has rarely been more important for this country to stand by our allies, strengthen our partnerships and make sure our voice is heard.

“While I have been out of front-line politics for the last seven years, I hope that my experience – as Conservative Leader for 11 years and prime minister for six – will assist me in helping the Prime Minister to meet these challenges.”

In a Conservative Party struggling for stability, Lord Cameron will be welcomed by some as a mature voice of experience. All will consider him a Tory grandee and some a centrist within a party pulled in opposite directions by factions on the left and the right.

As PM from 2010 to 2016 – most of that period in coalition with Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democrats – Cameron oversaw several notable achievements. He successfully campaigned to keep Scotland within the union at the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

Together with Chancellor George Osborne, his austerity programme – although unpopular with many – resulted in a cut of government debt.

His other achievements included the UK military involvement in the 2011 overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi’s regime in Libya and the introduction of gay marriages in 2013.

But his reputation is forever tainted by his misreading of the public mood in the run-up to the Brexit referendum.

Vastly underestimating the British appetite to leave the European Union, he ran a lackadaisical Remain campaign and was forced to resign when he ultimately lost.

In the intervening years he has maintained a low profile, serving as chairman of the National Citizen Service – a social development programme for teenagers – and president of Alzheimer’s Research UK.

He has also worked for companies in the fields of software, biotechnology and financial services. In 2021 he was implicated, but eventually vindicated, in controversial lobbying activities on behalf of financial firm Greensill Capital.

But there will be criticism, even among the Tory faithful, that Lord Cameron lacks the common touch. Born in London in 1966, he benefited from a wealthy family background and a privileged education, first at prep school in Berkshire, then at Eton College, and finally at Oxford University, where he got a first-class honours degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

It was at Oxford, with Boris Johnson and George Osborne, that he joined the infamous Bullingdon Club, an all-male dining society with a reputation for heavy drinking and boisterous shenanigans.

A 2015 unauthorised biography alleged that, during his time in the club, the future PM indulged in some rather unseemly behaviour.

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Cameron has expressed regret at this period, especially the 1987 photo in which he and other club members pose outside Christ Church, Oxford, wearing tailcoats.

“When I look now at the much-reproduced photograph taken of our group of appallingly over-self-confident ‘sons of privilege’, I cringe,” he wrote in his 2019 memoir For The Record.

“If I had known at the time the grief I would get for that picture, of course I would never have joined.”

As he embarks on the next stage of his political life, accusations of elitism are sure to return, especially as he has been appointed Foreign Secretary without being an elected MP.

Indeed, as Patrick O’Flynn wrote yesterday for The Spectator: “The boarding school boys are back in charge and the possibilities of the Conservative party embracing much conservatism is at an end.

“We are back to the land of stuffed suits, handshakes with G7 chinless wonders and eventual elevation to the House of Lords for those who have toed the establishment line.”

Cameron’s history with the Conservative Party dates back to the late 1980s when he began working as a researcher under Margaret Thatcher’s government.

He was a key part of what was known as the “Notting Hill set”.

After a break from politics in favour of marketing – he worked as director of corporate communications for Carlton Television – he finally became an MP in 2001, after several years of trying, in the Oxfordshire constituency of Witney, which he served for 15 years until standing down post-Brexit.

In 2005, after delivering a rousing speech at the Conservative party conference, famously without any notes, he was elected leader of his party.

Five years later, he was PM in a coalition government with the Lib­eral Democrats. Cameron still lives in Oxfordshire with wife Samantha, who he married in 1996.

Together they have had four children. The first, Ivan, was born with cerebral palsy and epilepsy, dying in 2009 aged six. The experience gave him a deep respect for the NHS.

The couple’s other three children – Nancy, Arthur and Florence – were born in 2004, 2006 and 2010.

Perhaps Lord Cameron’s choice to rejoin frontline politics is as much a result of a mid-life crisis as it is of a desire to save the Tories from electoral disaster next year.

He once said he was “fed up with the Punch and Judy politics of Westminster”. Today, if he knows his seaside puppet shows, he would be wise to keep an eye out for
hungry crocodiles.

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