UK Politics

Cabinet Reshuffle: Could Cameron's return help rebrand the Tories again?

Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron
David Cameron's return to frontline politics stunned the media

With the political world still digesting the shock return of David Cameron as Foreign Secretary, Paul Krishnamurty weighs the impact on Tory fortunes and betting markets moving forward...

  • Cameron return dominates news

  • Braverman isolated for now

  • Cleverly switch may be poisoned chalice

My longstanding mantra is that cabinet reshuffles are over-rated. Obviously, the details of who runs which department matter, and affect the balance within a government. But the 'event' always feels like pure PR. A symbol of an inward-looking political/media class.

Anecdotally, I can't remember a non-politico raising one in conversation. Whatever the eventual significance of today's changes, though, the shock return of David Cameron will at least get people talking.

Cameron supercedes Braverman sacking

Rishi Sunak urgently needed to change the conversation, following a week dominated by the most divisive Home Secretary in history, culminating in violence at Saturday's Palestine march and counter-protest, for which many laid the blame at Suella Braverman's door. The PM looked weak and hostage to her little faction.

It was widely trailed that she would be sacked, but the predictable implication was a backlash from her supporters, Tory grassroots and right wing media. The new narrative would be much like the old - Tories divided. No gain, perhaps a loss. Instead, by bringing back Cameron as Foreign Secretary, Sunak has completely changed the conversation. If reshuffles are about PR, this was a quite brilliant move.

It remains to be seen how it impacts Tory electoral fortunes. Transforming those seems a big ask given the generally grim state of public services, cost of living and worsening mortgage crisis. The first poll doesn't suggest a gamechanger.

Sunak signals move towards centre

Nevertheless, Cameron's return is an important signal to a key batch of voters - relatively socially liberal, Remain-voting, economic conservatives. Particularly associated with marginals in the 'Blue Wall', but present everywhere. They were the key to the Tories regaining power and a majority in 2015.

Nobody better understood the importance of messaging than ex-PR man Cameron. With little more than branding, changing the face if not substance, he turned the Tories from the 'nasty party' to one that could reverse that charge towards Labour.

Ideally for Sunak, this could alter the brand from far-Right, populist, even Trumpian to something more akin to the liberal conservatism of 2005-2016. At the very least, it signals to the outside world that Britain has a heavyweight as Foreign Secretary, during a time of crisis. German media proclaimed 'the adults are back'.

Are there risks? Of course. Others have compared this move to Gordon Brown bringing back Peter Mandelson, which didn't prevent Labour's defeat in 2010. That it smacks of a tired, failing government, bereft of new ideas and talent.

True, but that omits Mandelson playing a very important role, utilising his experience to steady the ship. It probably saved Labour a few dozen seats. Given their dire position, a repeat is probably the best Sunak can hope for. Small beer but better than the existential threat of wipeout indicated in recent polls.

Far-right and Brexiter backlash is inevitable

The greater risk is that Remainer Cameron, and any rebrand in that direction, alienates the new Tory coalition of Brexit voters. Were he not grifting in the jungle, I'm sure Nigel Farage would be damning the comeback. Braverman and her followers will doubtless use their platforms on GB News and social media to complain.

This may harden the defection of voters to ReformUK - a genuine existential threat if centre-ground voters don't return to the Tory fold.

Only time will tell whether there are more votes to be lost there than won back from parties to the Left of the Tories. My strong instinct, however, is that fighting a general election campaign from the far-Right has very limited potential. It may be that the far-Right segment of the 2019 coalition aren't returning, because they aren't reliable Tory voters when Brexit isn't on the ballot.

Gamble underway on early election

Whilst the main election markets were unchanged by today's news, money has come for an April-June 2024 date. Advised on these pages at 6.05/1 previously, that is now 4.84/1 and I suspect will shorten further.

Our market on Next Conservative Leader is also hotting up. Braverman is rated fourth best at 7.87/1, with Kemi Badenoch still favourite at 4.57/2.

I'm very happy to be against Braverman at those odds. She will presumably use her sacking to position herself among the grassroots, but these events demonstrated how little support she had among MPs. It was reported she had a mere six backers.

Assuming she retains her seat and runs in a post-Sunak contest, I doubt she'll get enough support from MPs to reach the final-two and run-off among members.

My main pick for next leader, tipped months ago at 9.89/1, is now Home Secretary and second favourite at 6.25/1. I don't think that poisoned chalice improves James Cleverly's chances. Nevertheless, this consummate TV performer will be front and centre of the government now, as law and order is sure to be the key plank of their election campaign.

I remain very keen on Gillian Keegan at the generous odds of 34.033/1. She stays in place as Education Secretary.

As for Cameron, he's at 21.020/1. Don't buy it. He's headed for the House of Lords and whilst it is technically possible to be Prime Minister from there, it isn't going to happen. Foreign Secretary is the job he wanted.

Read more Politics content here, follow Paul on Twitter and check out his website, Political Gambler.


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