‘Forgotten man’ champions China ties
His decision led to Britain’s Brexit controversy — but former prime minister could create a more positive legacy with his current project
Whatever happened to David Cameron? The former UK prime minister has been out of the public eye since he stepped down from the top job in the wake of the country’s 2016 referendum on membership of the European Union.
Having backed the losing side in a vote that he himself had enabled, Cameron bowed out after six years as head of government at the relatively young age of 49. He has largely been forgotten by a British electorate still divided by the unresolved consequences of the narrow Brexit victory.
This month, the gossip and lifestyle website That’s Shanghai claimed to have tracked Cameron down to a fashionable nightspot in the Chinese city, publishing a grainy video that appeared to show the former PM and members of his security escort.
There is no real surprise there, as much of Cameron’s energy since he quit politics has been focused on a major investment program linked to improving transportation links along the routes of the Belt and Road Initiative. As a frequent visitor, he was also in Shanghai back in January to attend the Shanghai International Ball and Leaders’ Forum.
As prime minister, Cameron was a key promoter of closer UK-China ties and heralded what he described as a “golden era” of bilateral ties at the time of President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the UK in October, 2015. The two leaders were pictured enjoying a pint of beer at a country pub, instantly making The Plough in Buckinghamshire the most famous pub in Britain.
They also met at the time of Cameron’s January visit to China. Cameron has taken a leading role in the new £750 million ($977 million; 841 million euros) UK-China Fund, a private investment initiative to fund improved port, road and rail infrastructure.
When Cameron’s former cabinet colleague, chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, visited China for trade talks in December last year, both sides welcomed the initiative.
“The fund will be led by a number of institutions in the UK and China, with the involvement of former prime minister, the Rt Hon David Cameron, and will be established and operated on a commercial and market-orientated basis,” according to a joint statement.
The fund would invest in innovative, sustainable and consumption-driven growth opportunities in the UK, China and other markets to create employment and boost trade links, supporting the Belt and Road Initiative, the statement added.
As an initiator of the “golden era” strategy of UK-China relations, Cameron is well placed to advance a policy of closer ties at a time when such partnerships will be of increased importance to a post-Brexit Britain.
At home, however, Cameron’s political legacy is still dominated by the referendum. The losing “remain” side still castigates him for allowing a vote that they saw principally as a gamble to resolve divisions between his ruling Conservative party. “Leave” voters remember him as the leader who enthusiastically campaigned for the UK’s continued EU membership.
There has been much anticipation over Cameron’s decision to publish his political memoirs that would give the inside story of the political machinations surrounding the Brexit vote. A tell-all book would certainly to put the almost forgotten prime minister back into the public spotlight.
However, with the country still embroiled in a bitter dispute over the terms of the UK departure, Cameron has delayed the planned autumn publication of his book until next year, by which time the UK is supposed to have left.
A friend of Cameron’s told a British newspaper that sections of an early draft on Brexit and his personal life were “very good”, but sections “where he tries to explain his achievements as prime minister are pretty dull”.
Maybe Cameron should drop the book idea altogether. It may be that his best prospect of political rehabilitation is as a champion of successful future UK-Chinese ties rather than by raking over the embers of Brexit.