Rishi Sunak’s resolution to nominate former prime minister David (now Lord) Cameron as his international secretary has shocked and divided opinion, not least since Cameron left politics in 2016. It just isn’t, nevertheless, with out precedent for former prime ministers former to return to authorities.
There had been 5 notable twentieth century examples, two of whom additionally served as international secretary. All had been introduced again to offer expertise and to encourage social gathering (or coalition) unity.
That Cameron is the primary ex-PM in nearly 50 years to serve a successor maybe relates extra to the incumbent’s worry of being overshadowed. A predecessor solely returns when they’re now not thought of a risk.
Alec Douglas-Home: an skilled hand
Alec Douglas Home, who spent 363 days as head of presidency in 1963-1964, was the newest instance of a returning prime minister. He got here again as international secretary in 1970 to serve below Edward Heath, one among his personal former ministers. Douglas-Home was nonetheless an MP and was a former international secretary.
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Heath had a objective for appointing Douglas-Home, as his biographer, D.R. Thorpe later commented. The goal was to deliver “a determine of ballast and stability in Heath’s administration”.
At a time when the prime minister was targeted on negotiating Britain’s entry into the European Economic Community (the predecessor to the EU), having a international secretary able to coping with worldwide affairs was helpful.
Neville Chamberlain: backseat driver
The story of the early days of the second world struggle in Britain typically revolves across the alternative of Neville Chamberlain by Winston Churchill on the very day Germany attacked France and the Low Countries. More typically forgotten was that, till the month earlier than his demise in November 1940, Chamberlain served as lord president of the council in Churchill’s administration, sat within the struggle cupboard and remained as Conservative chief.
While remembered historical past has typically centred on the rise of Churchill, Chamberlain’s continued presence demonstrated how restricted the wartime premier’s powers initially had been. He led a coalition authorities and was chief of neither social gathering, whereas Chamberlain, an ex-premier whose management was tied to appeasement, remained within the cupboard.
The case exhibits how the inclusion of a former prime minister can generally allude to underlying weak point, slightly than prime ministerial confidence.
Stanley Baldwin and Ramsay Macdonald: buying and selling locations
During the Great Depression of the Nineteen Thirties, Britain’s experiment with nationwide governments – coalitions of the most important events serving within the nationwide curiosity – was dominated by the spectre and actuality of former and present prime ministers serving below each other. Throughout Ramsay MacDonald’s second Labour authorities, there have been questions over whether or not first world struggle chief David Lloyd George and his Liberals would kind a coalition with Labour.
Lloyd George’s social gathering had targeted on selling motion on unemployment. His incapacity attributable to post-operation convalescence probably value him an even bigger function within the nationwide authorities fashioned in August 1931.
However, whereas Lloyd George’s return by no means occurred, the opposite key determine in MacDonald’s Conservative-dominated nationwide authorities of 1931 to 1935 was Conservative chief (and two-time former prime minister) Stanley Baldwin. Serving as lord president of the council, Baldwin was a robust deputy prime minister as his social gathering made up the vast majority of authorities MPs.
Then Baldwin and MacDonald swapped roles. In 1935, Baldwin grew to become prime minister as soon as once more and a much-weakened and more and more unwell MacDonald returned to cupboard. He’d suffered a private parliamentary defeat on the basic election, survived due to a rapidly rearranged by-election and returned as chief of the very junior coalition accomplice.
The interwar period gives two classes. First, the broadly held fears over a Lloyd George return to workplace reinforce how sitting prime ministers hardly ever like predecessors too near the equipment of presidency.
Second, via Baldwin and MacDonald’s examples, we will see how belonging to the extra highly effective faction in both a coalition or one-party administration can improve that politician’s effectiveness. Politics stays a aggressive sport.
Arthur Balfour: international influence
The closing, and maybe most impactful ex-premier value contemplating was Arthur Balfour. The nephew of Lord Salisbury – whose resolution to nominate Balfour to a ministerial function was urged to be the origin of the phrase “Bob’s your uncle” – he succeeded his uncle as Conservative prime minister in 1902. He then resigned in December 1905 in a political manoeuvre that led on to the Liberal landslide within the 1906 election.
After being out of workplace for a decade, he returned to cupboard after the creation of a coalition authorities led by H.H. Asquith in 1915. His function was first lord of the admiralty, a significant workplace because the Royal Navy was the world’s largest on the time. Yet he didn’t cease right here.
After Lloyd George grew to become prime minister in December 1916, Balfour was appointed international secretary (like Douglas-Home and Cameron) from then till 1919. He later served as lord of president of the Council twice (1919-22,1924-29).
At the Foreign Office he oversaw important coverage initiatives, together with authoring his eponymous “Balfour Declaration” in 1917, which promised UK authorities assist for a “nationwide house for the Jewish individuals” inside Palestine.
In this fashion, Balfour created one of many main issues his successor has inherited it at the moment. Appropriately, Lord Cameron will take care of such points from the House of Lords, which was as soon as dubbed “Mr Balfour’s poodle” as a result of Conservatives’ management over the higher chamber on the time.
The House of Lords serves a really completely different objective at the moment in revising laws. That the entire above examples sat within the House of Commons, slightly than the Lords, on their return exhibits that even amongst these former prime ministers recalled to serve, Cameron’s case is uncommon.
Marc Collinson has obtained funding from the Royal Historical Society.