Reshuffling the sleaze

Rishi Sunak’s big shtick was that he was the ‘change’ candidate, just a few short weeks ago he was telling the Tory party conference that British politics have been locked into a cosy and damaging short termist consensus for the past thirty years and that he was the guy who was going to change all that and shake things up. It was never a convincing claim at the best of times, relying as it did on us all collectively forgetting that the Tories have been in power since 2010 and that Sunak himself has been either Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer or a government minister since 2018. But then gaslighting the public and demanding that we ignore the evidence of our own lying eyes and ears has very much been the stock in trade of the Conservative party for many years now, that much at least did not come under the umbrella of those things about British politics that Sunak was determined needed to change.

However now even Sunak can no longer pretend that he’s the ‘change’ candidate, as he has brought back David Cameron into a senior role in Government, a man best known for being the architect of austerity, allegedly sexually molesting a dead pig’s head, and holding the disastrous Brexit referendum in order to get himself out of some internal party difficulties with the spittle flecked Brexit loving frothing right wing extremist end of the Conservative party. As we all know he lost that referendum, and immediately ran away from the consequences of his failure, leaving the rest of the UK at the mercy of a Conservative party which had been fully taken over by the spittle flecked Brexit loving frothing right wing extremists. All of Britain is still paying the price for that, and by sacking the dangerously incendiary Suella Braverman from her post as Home Secretary, Sunak has given the spittle flecked Brexit loving frothing right wing extremists a new reason to feel aggrieved.

Braverman will now return to the back benches from where she will continue her manoeuvring for the party leadership after Sunak takes the Tories to inevitable defeat at the next general election. Now free from the constraints and discipline of the doctrine of collective cabinet responsibility, Braverman is likely to become even more extreme in her attention seeking pronouncements as a back bencher. Should the UK Supreme Court rule later this week that her plan to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda is unlawful, she will be leading the Conservative calls for the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights, which if successful would amongst other things allow for the restoration of the death penalty.

In Braverman’s eyes, if her plan is deemed to be cruel and inhumane and in breach of an international treaty on human rights which a previous British government was instrumental in designing and implementing, the problem lies with the legal guarantee of human rights, not with her performative cruelty.

Braverman might have gone, but the constitutional and political vandalism she represents remain very much at the heart of the Conservative party.

Sunak had no choice but to sack her, it wasn’t her calling homelessness a lifestyle choice favoured by people with foreign accents that did it for her, it certainly wasn’t describing asylum seekers as an invasion, it wasn’t calling pro Palestinian demonstrations “hate marches,” it wasn’t even claiming that the police favour left wing protestors over those on the right and making the violence seen from fascists over the weekend more likely. What really signalled the end of her tenure as Home Secretary were the reports that she had, as protocol demands, submitted a draft version of her incendiary article in The Times to Downing Street for approval and had then refused to make the changes to it which the Prime Minister’s office had asked of her. It showed that Sunak was unable to control his own cabinet, reinforcing the already widespread impression of a weak Prime Minister who is being led by his party rather than leading it.

Braverman’s comments led to fascist demonstrators going on a violent rampage in London on Saturday, but the BBC focused on the placards and chants of those protesting against Israel’s collective punishment of the people of Gaza. Now the Tories are once again talking about cracking down on the right to protest.

By bringing David Cameron back as Foreign Secretary, Sunak is making a desperate gamble. His trying to shift the political dial in his favour, given that his conference speech and the King’s Speech were miserable flops. He is almost certainly about to reignite calls from the far right of the party for his resignation. And while appointing Cameron as Foreign Secretary via his hastily contrived elevation to the House of Lords is certainly attention grabbing, ensuring that on the day of the reshuffle press attention was mainly on Cameron and less so on the sacking of Braverman, it’s a move which comes with many risks. The appointment comes just two years after a parliamentary inquiry found that the former prime minister had shown a “significant lack of judgment”over a lobbying campaign for a financial services company in which he held a personal economic interest, Greensill Capital, which collapsed in 2021, but not until after then Chancellor Rishi Sunak had pumped £5 billion in public money into the company as a result of Cameron’s lobbying. But never mind any of that, there’s an SNP camper van for the Scottish media to obsess over.

The inquiry found that Cameron had not broken any rules in this sordid and grubby episode, but it was clear that the rules were woefully inadequate. Of course nothing has changed, and now the lobbyee has brought the lobbyer back into the heart of government, in a manner which ensures that Cameron will never have to face any democratic scrutiny or accountability. It’s all within the rules, and it’s the epitome of all that is wrong with Westminster, rules which Starmer’s Labour party has no intention of changing. But Sunak is gambling that this sleazy deal won’t come back to haunt him.

Now the man who gave us austerity and whose vanity gave us the Brexit referendum is back in the heart of government, still smug, still glib, still having learned nothing or having suffered any consequences for the havoc and chaos that are the lasting legacy of his term in Downing Street. That’s the real message of this reshuffle.

Just as Sunak’s claim to be the real candidate of change is a bad joke, so Starmer’s promise to be the ‘change Britain needs’ will be revealed to be equally hollow.



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