Home Africa News The return of Mr Remain to the UK government gets mixed reaction

The return of Mr Remain to the UK government gets mixed reaction

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Under all manner of pressures, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak decided to reshuffle his cabinet recently. He parted ways with his secretary of state for the home department, and previously close political ally, Suella Braverman, firing her over a phone call, and replaced her with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly. 

Cleverly’s shift made way for the unexpected return of David Cameron to fill that role. Cameron served as prime minister of the UK between 2010 and 2016, notoriously resigning in July of that year after failing to persuade his fellow citizens to vote “Remain” in the Brexit controversial referendum he had arranged.

There have been mixed reactions to his return, with a YouGov poll showing less than 30% of those asked thought his appointment was a good decision on the part of Prime Minister Sunak (the fourth person to hold the position in the seven years since Cameron’s resignation seven years ago). 

The reasons include his questionable domestic and international legacy, from the imposition of austerity, to the war in Libya and Brexit itself. 

Many Conservative Party supporters were also dismayed that the prime minister could find no one good enough for the role, despite a comfortable parliamentary majority. 

Another criticism is the manner in which Cameron was appointed. Not being an elected member of parliament, he was hurriedly made a lord so that he could take up a seat in the House of Lords, making him the first foreign secretary operating from that body since the 1970s. 

This appears undemocratic, although Andrew Mitchell, Cameron’s minister of state for international development and Africa, will answer for him in the House of Commons. (In the British and other British-influenced systems, cabinet members are often divided between the senior secretaries of state and the more junior ministers of state.)

Others, including pundits and former government officials, were more positive. There is indeed a lot to be positive about. Cameron, for example, has been more willing to recognise the plight of the Palestinians (at least rhetorically) than any modern British PM. 

It has also been speculated that he will be able to use his stature to get direct meetings with world leaders, as opposed to foreign ministers, which would help his country obtain much-needed free-trade arrangements after its departure from the lucrative EU.

Whatever the merits and demerits of Cameron personally, his decision to take up a position as a cabinet member under the leadership of another must be commended. As a relatively young leader — having been elected party leader at 39, he began his premiership at 44 and ended it at 50 — he still has a lot to offer. 

Unlike many who ascended to the top job later in life, he has the capacity to re-enter public life as a 57-year-old who led his party for 10 years and his country for six. 

The move has the effect of diminishing the excessively high esteem with which former heads of government are often regarded (and indeed regard themselves), tending to be seen as senior statesmen and stateswomen who are too good to serve in a subordinate position in the administration of another. 

It is reminiscent of Kgalema Motlanthe’s unorthodox, and circumstantial, decision to serve as deputy president, having previously been president. 

The Cameron decision, coinciding with a week in which former president Thabo Mbeki was revealed to be the most popular politician in South Africa, should condition us to the possibility of a former president coming to a future administration to play a supporting role in the cabinet. 

Kevin Rudd of Australia has also been exemplary; having been PM, he has gone on to be foreign secretary and is ambassador to the US.

There are, of course, cynical undertones, as expressed by the Conservative majority in the UK in response to Cameron’s return — the political establishment might permanently entrench itself and prevent new talent from emerging. 

But two lessons from the Cameron moment are worth fleshing out. First, the person must still have something to offer and have time on their side. And, second, the conditions must be exceptional. 

Both are met by Cameron — being young, he still has a lot to offer and, having made more in income outside of public office than within, his motives are less about personal material gain than about public service. 

Finally, and most importantly, to make any meaningful comeback, one must have gone away.

Bhaso Ndzendze is associate professor and head of the department of politics and international relations at the University of Johannesburg. He writes in his personal capacity.

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David Cameron’s return to cabinet is a welcome precedent for former heads of cabinet willing to serve
The post The return of Mr Remain to the UK government gets mixed reaction appeared first on The Mail & Guardian.