David Cameron is in a horrible bind as he perseveres with writing his memoirs. Remainers boo him for losing the EU referendum. And Leavers don’t cheer him for calling it – because he was on the wrong side, as they see it, and oversaw a Project Fear campaign whose apocalyptic predictions were swiftly disproved. He cannot believe that the decision to call the poll which, in effect, pitched him out of Downing Street was the right one. But he must go on claiming that he was correct to give the British people the choice: to come clean would be an admission of failure. Cameron has escaped from many a trap in his time, but this one holds him fast.
Furthermore, he surely can’t return to Parliament, at least for the moment. The Brexit negotiation is arduous, and he would be blamed, not without reason, for failing to make preparations for leaving. If, in the short-term, Brexit is turbulent, because it comes with an acrimonious and disruptive No Deal, he would be held responsible for harm. If, on the other hand, the economy manages just fine – either because there is a deal, or because No Deal works out better than some expect – he would scarcely be able to take the credit. So for the moment he has little option but to plug away at his book, while actors knock him for relaxing in France “with his trotters up”.
The medium-term could be different. Cameron is young enough to be able to look forward to it (he is 52), and the passing of time is a wonderful thing. If Brexit turns out well and the Conservatives win in 2022, he would be able to construct a case which, while tortuous, might not be beyond the reach of his powers of persuasion. Of course he didn’t want Britain to leave the EU but, look, the country’s steaming ahead now and, you know, that wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t had the courage to call that referendum – whatever the cost to himself.
That would be the first part of his pitch. We appreciate that it is less than full and frank. But the second part would be less easy to dismiss – namely, that he still has something to offer, and wants to put something back in. Having urged Cameron not to leave the Commons, we are scarcely in a position to argue that he shouldn’t return. He ran a government which, for all its ups and downs, ground the deficit downwards and delivered a remarkable run of public service reform. Think Iain Duncan Smith. Think Michael Gove. Think Francis Maude’s work in Whitehall, or Steve Hilton’s drive for transparency. For all that, Cameron must ultimately take the credit.
If Cameron really does want to become Foreign Secretary, he will be well aware that there is a precedent – well, of sorts. Alec Douglas-Home, having been succeeded as Conservative leader by Ted Heath, went on to serve him as Foreign Secretary from 1970 to 1974. He had left the Lords because it wasn’t believed practicable to run the country from the Upper House, and we can’t quite see the Foreign Office being run from it in this day and age, either. So the Commons it would be. No Association would have him, some will say. We disagree. He would persuade his way in somewhere, somehow. The chance to select a former Prime Minister would be irresistible.