What is David Cameron doing back in Government and will Northern Leave voters accept his return? - Jayne Dowle

Richard Holden, the new chair of the Conservative Party, seems remarkably confident that his boss’s reshuffle this week, which has brought back former PM David Cameron as Foreign Secretary, will transform the Tories’ fortunes as they trail 20 per cent behind Labour in the polls.

Speaking to Times Radio on Tuesday morning, Mr Holden, who represents the seat of North West Durham, kept repeating, over and again, that the Conservatives still enjoyed vast swathes of support across the country, including the North of England.

The bold appointment of Mr Cameron, who together with his Chancellor, George Osborne, ushered in the era of austerity on assuming power in 2010, and left public life after unsuccessfully campaigning to ‘Remain’ in the 2016 Brexit referendum, will only underline this popular support, he argued.

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Whilst there is no doubt that Mr Cameron represents a safe pair of hands at the Foreign Office, and despite some well-publicised spats with Mr Sunak - including over the Prime Minister’s decision to scrap the northern leg of HS2, only last month - his appointment might not necessarily be the simple sticking plaster it first appears.

Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron during a meeting of the new-look Cabinet following a reshuffle on Monday. PIC: Kin Cheung/PA WireForeign Secretary Lord David Cameron during a meeting of the new-look Cabinet following a reshuffle on Monday. PIC: Kin Cheung/PA Wire
Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron during a meeting of the new-look Cabinet following a reshuffle on Monday. PIC: Kin Cheung/PA Wire

This is especially true in our region, despite what Mr Holden seems to think. Brexit was Mr Cameron’s downfall seven years ago, and it could well turn out to be again, but with wider repercussions come the next General Election.

With the exception of just a handful of ‘Remain’ areas, including Leeds, which voted to stay in the European Union with one of the narrowest of margins in the referendum, 50.3 per cent in favour, vast swathes of our region proved themselves staunch Brexiteers at heart.

Obviously, since we now know that the promised millions to save the NHS have not materialised – which were to be saved by unshackling the UK from Europe - and that since the pandemic at least, total net migration to the UK has actually risen, to 606,000 in the year ending December 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics, some of the key tenets of the Leave campaign have seriously unravelled.

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However, the Conservatives would be underestimating the strength of feeling in Leave-leaning Yorkshire areas if they assume that people have such short political memories that they’ve forgotten whose side political leaders were on. For many of these voters, Mr Cameron will always be associated with Remain; as such, he will not be trusted now he’s back in the highest echelons of government.

Also, and despite the recent bruising revelations from the ongoing Covid inquiry, there are still plenty of people - unbelievable as this might seem - who yearn for the glory days of ‘BoJo’.

Even though Boris Johnson turned out to be the most duplicitous and untrustworthy Prime Minister in living memory, if some of my social media feeds are anything to go by, he still has his fans amongst many ‘ordinary’ working people, who remain convinced that he broke the mould in their favour.

He and David Cameron may both share the same alma maters – Eton College and Oxford University – but the new Foreign Secretary has never really enjoyed popular appeal across urban areas of the North of England.

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For many voters, especially in all those ‘left-behind’ former industrial Northern towns, he will always be associated with austerity and hard times. The so-called ‘Northern Powerhouse’, first introduced in June 2014 by George Osborne in a speech in Manchester, turned out to be built on sand, not solid foundations. So this is hardly a plus point.

Much of the next General Election will be fought on matters of the economy, the cost of living, jobs and decent housing. As Foreign Secretary – presuming he’s still in post by then – Mr Cameron’s input will be limited.

However, he will present himself as part of a sober, serious government, and will have a role to play in what we might think of as ‘the package’.

And let’s be honest, what works in the suave political salons of Westminster, Washington DC and beyond, does not cut much mustard out on the campaign trail on a rainy Tuesday in West Yorkshire.

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One of the main reasons why the ‘Red Wall’ fell across the North of England in 2019, delivering Conservative MPs in long-held Labour seats, was because, misplaced though it was, thousands of voters were convinced that jolly old Boris Johnson would both get us out of Europe and do politics differently. This turned out to be true of course, but not in the way that many people wished for.