The British are known masters of diplomacy and politics. This is exemplified in the quote by its former Prime Minister Winston Churchill who said: “’Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.”
That was how Britain, an island in the North Atlantic Ocean ruled the waves and the world before its sun began to set from the injuries of the Second World War. Britain and its allies won that war, but it lost its position as a world power.
It has, however, fared better than its sister, France, which, in the process of colonial rule, preferred direct, brutal rule while Britain settled for subtle indirect rule, which was equally brutal.
The same tactics in the de-colonisation process; France had preferred to drown its colonies like Vietnam and Algeria in rivers of blood rather than allow them to go. In contrast, Britain had realised the inevitability of the colonies gaining independence and had rather concentrated on subverting such independence.
In fact, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan travelled to Africa on February 3, 1960, travelled to Africa and in his address to the South African parliament, he proclaimed the “Wind of Change”. It is a monument to British diplomacy that for the three decades after that historic speech, resisted the wind of change in that country by stoutly supporting Apartheid.
In post-colonial international relations, while France forced its former colonies in Africa into nakedly subservient Francophone clubs, Britain floated a “Commonwealth,” which today, far from being under threat, has attracted even former French colonies like Cameroun, Rwanda, Gabon and Togo.
In joining the European Union, the UK tried to play its usual politics of eating its cake and having it. It refused to join the common Euro currency, preferring its Pound, and declined to join the common Schengen visa, preferring its visa. When it played other politics, such as wanting to stop citizens from other EU countries from free access and work, its cup was almost full. Then it took the gamble of Brexit and found itself out of the EU.
Prime Minister David Cameron, whose gambit backfired, leading to Britain’s exit from the EU on February 1, 2020, quietly threw in the towel in 2016.
A sort of instability has taken root since then. His successor Theresa May spent three years, and the quite boisterous Boris Johnson, who presented himself as the master of the game, was seen off under disgraceful circumstances, including a penchant for falsehood.
Liz Truss, who came next, spent some two months before being replaced by incumbent Rishi Sunak, who has tried to demonstrate publicly that he can stay the course.
But Britain, which had ruled the waves, has been struggling to keep its ship of state steady. Sunak entered into unprovoked and unnecessary attacks on China, which has generally ignored him. He has tried stoking the fires in Ukraine, perhaps to demonstrate that Britain is, once again, ready to lead Europe. The son of migrants, he has tried to demonstrate that he is very tough on migrants, even if it means violating their fundamental rights by forcing them into open prisons in Rwanda.
To worsen internal matters, he weighed his government down with an intemperate, bullish and undiplomatic Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, who attracts controversies like an open sore attracts flies.
Braverman, of Indian-African parentage, like Sunak, had relished in the plan to seize alleged illegal immigrants who are mainly African and Indian and dump them in Rwanda. She characterised the arrival of asylum seekers as “the invasion on our southern coast.” In April 2023, she told Sky News that almost all British Pakistanis “pursue, drug, rape, and harm vulnerable English girls”. To her, the homeless sleeping on the streets are doing so as a “lifestyle choice”, and the British police favour pro-Palestine protesters at rallies, implying it should have dealt harshly with them.
Britain which seemed to be in some state of confusion in an increasingly unpredictable world, decided to reset. The establishment decided to reduce tension internally by tossing out Braverman. She was replaced by the Foreign Secretary, James Cleverly.
However, its most surprising decision is its choice of the seventh Foreign Secretary in seven years, the same David Cameron seen off by Brexit seven years ago. First was how Sunak was persuaded that Britain at this point needed Cameron who has divergent foreign affairs opinions. For instance, while Cameron seemed at home with China and dined with it as Prime Minister, Sunak came to power, threatening China. The second surprise is how Cameron, as former Prime Minister, was persuaded that he could work under Sunak. Thirdly, the whole idea seemed unthinkable given the fact that only Members of Parliament and the Lords could, by Britain’s unwritten Constitution, be appointed Ministers, and Cameron was neither.
However, once the British establishment had decided that Cameron, with his wealth of experience, pro-Remain politics, strong connections in world power circles and respect as the former British Prime Minister, was the right choice, it went to work. The main challenge was to make him eligible. The establishment approached King Charles III to make Cameron a lord, and he obliged. So, he became eligible and was pronounced the Foreign Minister.
Part of the challenge is that since he is not an MP, he would not sit in parliament like other ministers under Britain’s parliamentary system. So, he may not be directly responsible to parliament nor be questioned like other ministers, including the Prime Minister.
Nigerians would remember Cameron as the world leader who, in May 2016, poetically described Nigeria as a “fantastically corrupt” country. They may also remember the shame when the then Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, a regular patient in British hospitals, said he would neither demand an apology nor was he embarrassed by the description. Perhaps lacking in basic understanding, when the Sky News Diplomatic Editor, Dominic Waghorn, asked Buhari: “Is Nigeria fantastically corrupt?” He answered, “Yes”.
David Cameron’s return may be good for Britain, but not for Africa, where he was engaged in the March 2011 criminal bombing of Libya, turning that fantastically rich African country into a basket case. Two years later, he tried to do the same thing in Syria, he was roundly resisted by the British.
As the new British Foreign Minister, Cameron is confronted by the unending war in Ukraine, the ongoing genocide in Palestine, the near impotency of the United Nations, the rise of the BRICS, a world of vast inequalities and the low esteem of Britain in foreign relations.
Cameron’s return to international politics may be good for the conservative British establishment, but not so for humanity.