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Lord Cameron, the anti-Cincinnatus, offers Brexit and Boris jokes aplenty

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs Lord David Cameron and Secretary of State for the Home Department, James Cleverly attend a ceremonial welcome for The President and the First Lady of the Republic of Korea at Horse Guards Parade on November 21, 2023 in London, England.
Rishi Sunak's stature was brought into sharp relief alongside his taller Cabinet members on Horse Guards Parade - Karwai Tang/WireImage

Rishi has made a huge mistake. He brought back David Cameron to make his Government look better, but he’s only made himself look smaller. As the two men greeted a Korean delegation at Horse Guards Parade, I’m told a look of confusion crossed the visitors’ faces: “Please sir, which one is the Prime Minister?”

Who can tell?! There’s Cameron, dressed by Gieves & Hawkes; Sunak by Mothercare. Rishi standing between Dave and James Cleverly, both giants, looked as if he were there not on the basis of his undeniable talent and experience, but having won an essay prize titled “My Favourite Prime Minister” – and DC is working hard to plant his ever-expanding name at the top of that list.

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton it is now. He sounds like he solves mysteries from the pen of Dorothy L Sayers. In fact, he told the House of Lords, it was the vicar’s wife who telephoned to say he absolutely had to take the village name (so I guess we’re lucky the rector of Pratts Bottom didn’t get to him first), revealing all in a debut speech that was elegant and funny.

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Of course, the Lords is a friendly audience, about as challenging as singing carols in a care home. The only disruption to its sleepy equilibrium occurred when a peer returned from a lengthy visit to the lavatory and demanded to sit back in the middle of a row, triggering a frenzy of painful elevations, walking sticks and artificial limbs.

Ken Clarke watched the speech from a wheelchair. He looked happy. Cameron was probably the last Tory prime minister he voted for.

‘Not some latter-day de Gaulle’

“It is truly an honour to stand here at this despatch box,” said DC, adding that when he compared the “oak panels … to my infamous shepherd’s hut, this is already a significant upgrade.” Not that he had spent his retirement “like some latter-day de Gaulle … waiting to be asked” to return and “take back control” – more’s the pity, laughed the chamber of militant Remainers – “nor am I Cincinnatus hovering over my crown.” No, he prefers to “leave all my classical allusions and illusions to another former prime minister” – an archaeological dig at Boris.

Well, maybe Dave hadn’t been expecting the call to serve, but he was clearly dieting just in case it ever came (I hear he’s down to one apple crumble a day) – and the Chipping Norton barber has proved his worth with that haircut. At the back it is pulled together discreetly, like a thin curtain, to shield prying eyes from the briefest flash of flesh.

Compared to the peers he looks positively juvenile; that fellow in the middle of the row apologised that needed to go back to the loo again – fast. And yet, as he joked, he was the venerable PM who gave so many of them their titles! Cameron concluded by recommending that his old mates vote for today’s Bill as “an investment in a brighter future,” adding: “I should know, because I was the future once.”

What exactly was that legislation they were debating? I’ve no idea, and neither had they – something about selling scones to Malaysia – but the implication of this display of assured salesmanship was very clear. David Cameron is The Alternative Prime Minister.

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