The Prodigal Returns

7 December 2023

View from the Cotswolds:  The Prodigal Returns

by Paul Branch

Picture the scene:  an impressive but not overly large mansion house in a charming hamlet in the North Cotswolds.  Evening has descended, the lights are on, a bijou Shepherd’s Hut is tastefully illuminated just off the driveway.  In the main dining room the table is set for dinner with candles flickering on the polished mahogany, reflecting off the gleaming silverware and crystal.  An elegant couple enter, kiss lightly and seat themselves.

Sam:  So darling, busy day?

Dave:  Yes thanks my love. Quite a good one.  Went to London, little chat with Rishi.

Sam:  Really?   How exciting … now you mention it, one of the maids did say she thought you were on the TV news.  You’re not in trouble again I hope, with that frightful antipodean chappie?

Dave:  No, no … quite the opposite.  Got offered a job.

Sam:  Rishi’s wife’s investment manager?

Dave:  Foreign Secretary actually.

{pregnant pause}

Sam:  Don’t you need to be in Parliament to do that?   Thought you’d given all that up after that horrid referendum nonsense.  No one’s spoken to us since.

Dave:  Clever chap that Rishi, he’d thought of that and put me in the House of Lords so I can be in the Cabinet too.

{slightly longer pregnant pause}

Sam: But don’t you actually need to be a Lord to get in there?   You’re not even a Sir …. are you?

Dave:  Aha!  Spot on old girl.  You’re looking at the new Lord Cameron, of Chipping Norton.  Rishi did all the necessary over lunch.  Wanted me to help out that ridiculous bunch he’s surrounded himself with.  And guess what ….you my love are now Lady Cameron!

{quite an elongated pause as the penny starts to drop}

Sam:   Lady Cameron …?    Of Chipping Norton …. ??!!   Have you gone completely mad????!!!!

And there we leave them, in an atmosphere of consternation and indignation.   Such too was the local reaction to the news that amongst us we now have Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, he of less-than-blessed memory in our Labour-dominated, EU-supporting, peace-loving, law-abiding (well, mostly …) little market town.  No one saw that coming.  And had the good burghers of Chipping Norton been asked beforehand for their opinion, or even permission, they would have mostly responded: “Do us a favour, you’re having a laugh!”

The appointment of young Dave is said to bring much-needed political savvy and gravitas to the struggling Cabinet, coupled with a global network of diplomatic relationships with other statesmen formed during his tenure as Prime Minister.  However, there is of course baggage.  Cameron’s career in the Commons seemed to vary from pretty good to pretty disastrous, starting in Opposition as leader of the Conservatives up against Tony Blair where he helped turn discussions away from childish points-scoring to something resembling reasonable debate.  As PM he was at his most statesmanlike at the conclusion of the Bloody Sunday inquiry, making an appropriate and much-needed acknowledgment of the British government’s role in the tragedy.  He was at ease with the EU, helped maintain the union with Scotland intact in the independence referendum (although his report of his telephone call to the Queen did sour the outcome slightly), and he tried really hard to make friends with China on the premise that talking is the best way to do that.

But the rest of it was not great, starting with his partnership with George Osborne and their approach to reshaping the country’s economic framework, a venture that served only to prove yet again that it’s the poor who suffer during a period of austerity, and the rich carry on as usual.  Abroad he went too far along with Emanuel Macron and against the advice of Barack Obama in toppling Muammar Gaddafi whilst leaving Libya in ruins.   Of Brexit there is no more needing to be said, nor of the embarrassing revelations concerning Oxford’s Bullingdon Club.  And in his subsequent career away from politics Cameron earned stern rebukes for lobbying (albeit a legal activity) for government contacts to further the interests of Lex Greensill’s finance company in servicing Covid loans.  Even now he is embroiled in questions relating to his backing of a controversial port scheme funded by Beijing, and closer to home it has been suggested by the Guardian that HMRC are checking whether he has paid enough tax on perks such as flights on private aircraft when working for the collapsed lender Greensill Capital.

No sooner in the job as Foreign Secretary and Lord Cameron is off to Ukraine, then to Israel, and frankly that’s what he should be doing:  reassuring friends and partners of his continuing support, offering material help but also advice if needed.   Talk is good, and it’s a shame he couldn’t persuade Rishi Sunak to swallow what pride he has left and meet the visiting Greek PM, even if the Elgin marbles made an unexpected appearance on the agenda.   Advice in situations like this is what Sunak should be seeking from Cameron, especially in negotiations with long-standing partners, and it looks even worse when our King seems to be sending subtle messages by wearing the Greek flag on his tie at COP28.  David clearly needs to extend his shuttle diplomacy to Athens to help smooth things over.

Picture now another scene:  the Pearly Gates, at which stands Father Abraham, book in hand, ready to welcome another hopeful resident.

Abraham:  Aahh, Dr Kissinger, welcome – Shalom!  We’ve been expecting you for some time.

Henry:  Thank you, that’s very kind.  I have to admit I was expecting Saint Peter, but no matter.

Abraham:  A common misunderstanding.  We have many gates, each with its own gatekeeper the aspiring entrant would recognise.  Saint Peter of course works with Christians, except for Catholics who have their own little hidden side entrance so they can carry on thinking they’re the only ones here.

Henry:  That’s clear now, thank you.  So, can I come in please?

Abraham:  Well now, we have a procedure to go through of course.  The old weighing up of events, the balancing of good and not quite so good.  How do you think you did?

Henry:   On reflection I’d say pretty well.  Lots of good things happened when I was Secretary of State and National Security Advisor, working for Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford mainly, and a lot more since.  Did a lot of travelling and talking:  Russia, China, Middle East … all the difficult places.  You know I got the Nobel Peace Prize?

Abraham:  Indeed I do, and well done you – Mazel tov!  But tell me about Cambodia, and the nasty bombings there …. not your fault perhaps?

{very long pregnant pause}

Henry:    At this point I must be honest …. we did it for good reason … we were just after the Viet Cong so as to protect our troops.  But I’m really sorry so many innocent people got in the way of our B-52s …     

Abraham:  OK, at least you’re showing remorse … I suggest we move on.    

And there we leave them to their little discussion about the eternal future and what it might hold for the good Doctor.   Lord Cameron could learn a few things from Dr Kissinger, and Rishi Sunak could also benefit from that in his own dealings with the powerbrokers of this world.  Our new Foreign Secretary has much to contribute on his return to the affairs of state, so let’s hope with the benefit of experience and the example of others that he’s up to it.

image: House of Lords/PA

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