OPINION - Be bold Keir Starmer — and keep my old boss David Cameron as foreign secretary

Lord Cameron said he was ‘very concerned’ about the situation in Rafah (Lucy North/PA) (PA Wire)
Lord Cameron said he was ‘very concerned’ about the situation in Rafah (Lucy North/PA) (PA Wire)

At a time of unprecedented disconnection between public and politics, David Cameron’s appointment as Foreign Secretary was a rare moment that reached beyond Westminster.

The astonishment of Sky’s Kay Burley when she saw my former boss stepping out of his Land Rover in Downing Street in November was echoed by a fair number of those in the swelling ranks of The Sod The Lot Of ’Em party.

As he builds his plan to “revolutionise” the way Britain is governed with an executive cabinet, Sir Keir Starmer might want to keep that moment in mind. And double-check that Sue Gray still has Lord Cameron’s number on her WhatsApp.

Because if he’s serious about being serious — and means it when he says a world in crisis needs more grown-ups with experience — Lord Cameron is the best choice for foreign secretary in his new government.

The Labour old guard would be choking on their organic natural wine at the idea of a former Tory PM remaining in government. But they should check their own history first.

As the creator of Goat — the Government of All the Talents — Gordon Brown should be the first to think again. His pound-shop Avengers ensemble featured Right-wing newspaper editors, city bigwigs and military commanders. Brown even invited Margaret Thatcher into No 10 as an honorary Captain Marvel. A day I remember well for the utter fury it provoked among my colleagues in CCHQ. The news that shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves is creating a National Wealth Fund taskforce made up of City high-flyers will have had a similar reaction this weekend.

Showing that he has the self-confidence to allow a predecessor to work for him would add a touch of grit

The coalition experience also suggests that Lord Cameron being appointed as Sir Keir’s foreign secretary is not an entirely stupid idea. There were some significant bumps in the road, of course, and our Lib-Dem colleagues perhaps don’t look back at that period with same warm glow as I do. But there was an undeniable sense of national mission with both Conservative and Lib-Dem ministers around the Cabinet table and, on occasions, the karaoke mic.

There’s no doubt that with his sure-footed interventions, Lord Cameron has had a positive impact on our reputation on the foreign stage. His appointment has elevated us in the geopolitical narrative, bringing benefits both strategic and optic.

Maybe the flags and fireplaces factor is less important these days, but it’s noticeable that Lord Cameron’s return has put him — and Britain — back at the centre of the diplomatic “family photo”. Having someone with clout and cred in those shop-window moments will be critical for a new prime minister, especially in the early months of office.

And showing that he has the self-confidence to allow a predecessor — and one from another party — to work for him would surely add a touch of bravery and grit to a brand that is lacking in that department. Having a centre-Right foreign secretary in place to deal with a Trump White House would also have its benefits.

There are one or two logistical hurdles to navigate, of course, to make this seemingly bonkers idea a reality. But in a world where chancellors end up editing newspapers and newspaper columnists end up running the country, it can’t be beyond the wit of Westminster to find a solution.

Lord Cameron would have to become, perhaps on a temporary basis, a crossbench peer and agree to stay well out of domestic politics on any level. Where his brief risks bleeding into affairs at home, his Labour ministers would have to step in.

But would Lord Cameron fancy it? To be the ex-PM who rises above the political fray to bring the country a little closer together? And the chance of writing a postscript to a failed Brexit campaign that did the exact opposite? I reckon he’d love it.

He was always open to the idea of leaning on Labour talents when we worked together, including with the brilliant Frank Field. And what better way to demonstrate a political philosophy summarised as “leave the country in a better state than you found it”.

Tactically it might also be an interesting move for Sir Keir. If leaked at the beginning of a campaign, it could colour Lord Cameron’s enthusiasm to be involved in the election. Although unlikely to have a major impact on the result, being able to rely on his steady hand is something Rishi is banking on, I’m sure.

And the other upside of all this is that the current shadow foreign secretary David Lammy would be free to focus on what he’s especially good at … his excellent phone-in show on LBC. It’s a win-win!

Andy Coulson is the former Downing Street director of communications, founder of and host of the podcast