The recent announcement that former British Prime Minister David Cameron will be a life peer in the House of Lords and serve as Foreign Secretary in the new government has sparked debate and controversy. Cameron’s political career has been filled with ups and downs, gains and losses, achievements and scandals. As he returns to frontline politics, it’s worth looking back at some of the controversies that have surrounded Cameron’s time as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister.
The Expenses Scandal
In 2009, a scandal erupted over Members of Parliament misusing taxpayer funds to pay for second homes, lavish renovations, and other questionable expenses. Cameron was not directly implicated, but many senior Tory MPs were caught up in the scandal. Cameron initially took a hard line and promised to pay back money inappropriately claimed by Tory MPs. However, as more details emerged, Cameron was seen as responding slowly and inadequately. The expenses scandal highlighted the perception that Cameron’s Conservatives were still the party of the privileged elite. Cameron had campaigned on cleaning up politics, and the expenses scandal undermined his credibility on that issue.
Andy Coulson and the Phone Hacking Scandal
Cameron made the controversial decision to hire former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his communications director, even though Coulson had resigned from the paper over an earlier phone hacking scandal. When the full extent of phone hacking at NoW emerged in 2011, Cameron was forced to apologise for hiring Coulson. Cameron said he gave Coulson a “second chance”, but this raised questions about Cameron’s judgment and ethics. The scandal exposed the overly cosy relationship between Cameron’s government and Rupert Murdoch’s media empire. It left a stain on Cameron’s tenure as Prime Minister.
The Panama Papers
In 2016, the leaked Panama Papers revealed Cameron’s father ran an offshore investment fund which avoided ever paying tax in Britain. While Cameron did not own shares or benefit financially, he had previously spoken strongly against tax avoidance schemes. After several days of refusing to admit whether he benefited from the fund, Cameron finally stated he had sold his shares before becoming PM. However, Cameron was widely criticised for hypocrisy, and this fueled public cynicism towards his leadership.
Brexit Referendum and Resignation
Perhaps the greatest controversy of Cameron’s time as PM was his fateful decision to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership in 2016. Cameron campaigned vigorously for Remain but was stunned when Britons voted 52% to 48% to Leave. With his credibility destroyed, Cameron announced his resignation the very next day. His decision to hold the Brexit referendum will go down as one of the most consequential and disastrous miscalculations in modern British politics. It unleashed political chaos that continues to roil Britain to this day.
Life Peerage and Return as Foreign Secretary
Now, despite the controversies, Cameron has received a life peerage and returned to frontline politics as Foreign Secretary. Supporters argue Cameron’s experience and political skill can be an asset to the new government during the ongoing Brexit negotiations and transition. However, critics argue Cameron’s checkered history makes him ill-suited for a major role in government. They contend Cameron represents the failed political establishment that led to Brexit in the first place. Only time will tell if Lord Cameron’s return helps stabilise Brexit Britain or simply fuels more controversy and division.
Throughout his career, David Cameron has demonstrated political acumen but also faced his share of scandals and missteps. As a privileged Eton and Oxford-educated Conservative, he has often battled perceptions that he is out of touch with ordinary Britons. Nonetheless, Cameron can point to some significant achievements from his time as Prime Minister, including legalising same-sex marriage. Yet his legacy will forever be defined by Brexit, the most consequential disaster of his Premiership. Lord Cameron’s return to power is thus a controversial move that will be scrutinised by supporters and critics alike.