There was a moment after the Prime Minister had sacked Suella Braverman and appointed David Cameron, when one might have thought that bringing back the former PM was the more damaging of the two decisions. Had Rishi Sunak merely replaced Suella Braverman with James Cleverly — one Leave voter with another — and found a new suitably Eurosceptic Foreign Secretary to replace Cleverly (Kemi Badenoch, for example), Braverman’s removal from government would probably have been considered with some regret, but not thought of as an entirely reckless decision. The publication of Braverman’s letter to Sunak changes all that. If the content is true, it blows open the facade that the PM ever had the political will to deliver on his own promise to “stop the boats”. Sacking Suella then was indeed a highly reckless decision, made all the worse because it was combined with the elevation of Cameron.
The decision of the Supreme Court against the government’s Rwanda policy reinforces just how terrible matters are. We will probably look back in a year’s time and recognise that this was the moment that revealed that either Sunak doesn’t understand what he needs to do to keep together the coalition that brought his party to their first comprehensive victory since 1987, or, worse, that he really no longer seriously intends to make the attempt.
The litany of reasons Cameron’s return is so inappropriate is considerable, but bears repeating. Cameron emphatically led the campaign to remain inside the EU, in stark contrast to the approach taken by Harold Wilson in 1975. He made absurd warnings in that campaign about the severe economic damage to the UK economy of merely voting to leave. These dire predictions, made alongside his Chancellor, not only did not materialise but have since been shown to be emphatically wrong, leaving the impression of serious dishonesty.
In addition, again in partnership with George Osborne, Cameron implemented the austerity agenda that further weakened working class living standards, alongside the wage suppression brought about by European economic migration. That means that he, second only to Osborne, is most associated in the mind of former Labour voters with everything they most despised about the Conservatives prior to the referendum. Throw in that Cameron then resigned the day after that referendum, breaking his clear promise not to do so, and his track record as former PM is in tatters with most voters who wanted out of the EU.
This would all be more than enough, but add to the mix that to make him Foreign Secretary Sunak has had to appoint Cameron a Lord. People voted to leave in large part due to the lack of democratic accountability and the cronyism that are features of the EU, so they will see this installation in the House of Lords as a “job for the boys” move that reflects badly on the current Prime Minister. Never mind that both men are extremely wealthy. The appointment of one by the other draws renewed attention to how out of touch Sunak is with those suffering heavily from the cost of living crisis.
A return to Cameron politics is not what much of the 2019 voting coalition wants
By removing Braverman, the Government is losing a highly committed Leaver willing to appeal to the shared conservative values of traditional working class Tories and their newly allied former Labour voters. Both sets of voters have far more in common than many in the Conservative Party seem to recognise, particularly on law and order and robust controls on the rate of inward migration. If we then consider that Sunak was preparing to remove Braverman and bring back Cameron well before her most recent controversial interventions, we can see that Sunak wanted rid of her because she is resolute on ending the influx of economic migrants claiming asylum, which he isn’t. Even if voters are unaware of these machinations, and believe she was removed because of her recent public comments, her sacking — apparently because she said things that many socially conservative voters agree with — smacks of disdain and disregard.
Either way the point is that if, as seems likely, the contents of the Braverman letter turn out to be substantively true, this dual decision looks to have irrevocably damaged this government’s already severely tarnished reputation with socially conservative Leave supporting voters. Removing a Home Secretary because she was pursuing policies on the influx of migrants — policies that he had clearly committed to supporting — demonstrates with sufficient clarity that Sunak was never really serious about sorting out the problem. Aside from the significant but limited success in reducing the influx of boats due to agreements with France and Albania, it is increasingly obvious that there isn’t the sufficient political will to do what is needed legislatively to bring the problem to an end. Throw in what looks like a rehabilitation of Cameron to enable him to secure a cushy globalist job after the next election, and the overwhelming impression given is that Sunak is only really interested in those more socially liberal Conservative voters who regret the decision to leave the EU.
Personally I suspect the intended strategy of the Prime Minister, and his key advisor James Forsyth (hired last Christmas), is to try to keep enough of the Tory Shire voters and the former Labour and traditionally conservative voters on board to be able to glue together a victory of a similar proportion to what Cameron won in 2015. One can also understand a new and inexperienced Prime Minister wanting to hand over much of the international glad handing to an experienced and trusted ally. Whilst a longing for the politics of the Cameron era may be widespread amongst the media, Conservative Party staff and many Tory MPs, it is not what a great section of the 2019 voting coalition wants. Is it any wonder that Red Wall Tory MPs and their allies are clearly indicating the depths of their frustration?