When I first heard that Rishi Sunak had appointed David Cameron as the foreign secretary I thought it was a joke. I should have known better. With Sunak the joke is always at our expense.
Cameron has a very particular set of skills when it comes to foreign policy. He is the man who led Britain into a referendum on whether we should remain part of the EU without giving much thought to how he would campaign, who his allies might be, how he would deal with a suspiciously well-funded opposition campaign, or what would happen if he lost.
His approach was so casual and condescending that he even managed to make a known liar sound plausible to just enough people to win. Then Cameron slunk off the scene in disgrace.
In other words, Sunak has just put the man who paved the way for one of the most harmful European foreign policy disasters in Britain’s economic history in charge of foreign policy. How exactly is messing up the referendum supposed to be the ideal preparation for conducting successful negotiations with leaders of EU countries? Why would anyone in Europe offer a modicum of respect to a leader who ushered in the most chaotic seven years in British political history? How does this qualify him as a steady pair of hands well-equipped to steer Britain through difficult waters?
Turning a blind eye to Russia
It is not even the case that his diplomatic and foreign policy expertise lies elsewhere. Sunak may have felt that Cameron was someone who could at least be relied upon to show steadfast determination to resist Putin and his cronies. If so, then he has once again miscalculated. If Cameron understands what is happening in Russia and is determined to help resist it then why were so many Russian oligarchs allowed to move their money and their families to Britain during his time as prime minister and why was so little done to stop the growth of their money laundering here in Britain?
Cameron’s was the government which turned a blind eye to Russian corruption on such a scale that London became known as Londongrad. The main lesson that Cameron appears to have learned from Russian corruption was not how to resist it but that a lot of money can be made from joining a finance company and lobbying the British government over aggressively on their behalf.
Middle East stability?
Which leads us to the other critical arena of the most important foreign policy job in Britain. The Middle East. One of the key decisions that Cameron made and was most proud of was to authorise Britain’s involvement in military attacks on Libya. The bombs were supposed to help set up a peaceful and stable regime there. There has now been sufficient time to make an objective assessment of the consequences of that action.
Cameron’s decision has played a huge role in making Libya a much more dangerous place, in increasing lawlessness and violence, in strengthening extremist militias, in creating horrible refugee problems and in weakening Britain’s standing in the world. Making such a gigantic mistake hardly marks him out as an expert on foreign policy and a man of good judgement.
He did little better on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Throughout his time as PM Cameron carried on encouraging British arms dealers to sell as much weaponry as they could to one side. Whilst failing entirely to contribute in any meaningful way to the development of a peace settlement and a two-state solution. He is entirely the wrong person to carry any credibility on the world stage as a neutral figure who can help to pave the way for a negotiated settlement.
The purveyor of austerity
It isn’t just foreign policy where Cameron got it badly wrong. On almost every major domestic issue he adopted some very damaging stances. He thought the correct response to the financial crash was to inflict austerity on the poor and on public services. Which is a strange way to clean up the mess caused by free market investment bankers gambling with other people’s money. He presided over huge cuts in real term wages for doctors, nurses and teachers. Triggering massive problems with morale. Then he decided to cut the green crap and put an end to the rapid expansion in home insulation, crushed the emerging British solar industry, and ruined our onshore wind farm developments.
With policies like that it isn’t hard to see why he appeals to Sunak who has also preached the need for austerity. Whilst cutting taxes and removing regulations from investment bankers. Sunak has cut real wages in the public sector and provoked strikes that have seriously undermined the service whilst assuring us the NHS is safe in his hands. And, right now, Sunak is busy telling everyone who will listen that we need to go slowly on the environment and drill for every drop of British oil and gas that we can find. Whilst climate chaos is just starting to bite.
Cameron and Sunak united by the same political credo
The two men are therefore ideal bedfellows and made for each other. Both come from deeply privileged backgrounds. Both have inflicted huge pain on ordinary working people whilst increasing incomes for the very wealthy. Both have talked a lot about being green and then ditched every sensible green policy they could find.
Sunak wants the nation to believe that he is the man who can take us back to the good old days of quiet competence that Cameron provided for us. If that is his model of competence then we really do need to worry.
The country needs serious change. Not another dose of austerity followed by a giveaway election budget for the very rich and not foreign policy led by the very man who messed up our relationship with our European neighbours.