David Cameron’s story shares some odd similarities with a politician who was in power more than 100 years ago (Picture Getty Images)
He’s the Conservative prime minister who resigned due to serious splits in his party, only to return as foreign secretary a few years later in the midst of a major European war.
Yes, of course I’m talking about mustachioed Scotsman Arthur Balfour, who served as PM between 1902 and 1905, and who is regarded as one of the less impactful British leaders of the 20th century.
But it’s not for his achievements as top banana that Balfour is best remembered nowadays – it’s for something he did in his role as the country’s top diplomat 12 years after his resignation.
In that sense, he may serve as some sort of inspiration for the other Tory PM who resigned due to serious splits et cetera: David Cameron.
Today, current prime minister Rishi Sunak announced his predecessor would be given a peerage to enable him to return to front line politics for the first time in seven years and be his foreign secretary.
It’s fair to say the appointment was a bit of a shock to most people, but it’s not completely unprecedented, as the example of Arthur Balfour demonstrates.
First of all though, it’s important to make clear that there are a few differences between the two.
Cameron whisked to victory in the 2010 general election thanks to his image as a fresh face for the Conservative party and his (relative) charisma.
Balfour was certainly not a fresh face for the Tories when he took power in 1902 – in fact, he took over from his uncle, the Marquess of Salisbury. And he wasn’t exactly renowned for his charisma, as you can maybe tell from the pictures.
David Cameron never really nailed that ‘haunted’ look (Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
When Cameron resigned as PM in the wake of the Brexit referendum, he also stood down as an MP a couple of months later, and wasn’t directly involved in high-profile politics again until today.
Balfour, meanwhile, lost his seat in the Tories’ calamitous defeat at the 1906 election a month after his own resignation – but was back in the Commons a month later thanks to a well-timed by-election.
However, it’s worth taking a look at some similarities.
Balfour’s moody face was back in the cabinet less than a decade after his humiliating downfall, when Herbert Asquith appointed him First Lord of the Admiralty in 1915 (taking over from a certain Winston Churchill MP).
World War One was still raging away when David Lloyd George shifted him over to the post of foreign secretary in December 1916, and he remained in office until the ink was dry on the Treaty of Versailles almost three years later.
Cameron will have to take on some similarly tricky international issues as foreign secretary (Picture: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Cameron, meanwhile, is also taking over at a time of conflict in Europe: Russia’s war in Ukraine will undoubtedly be a massive focus for him during his term.
But the one issue that’s come to define Balfour may also prove to define the man who’s taking over the same role 104 years later.
In 1917, Balfour wrote a letter to Lord Rothschild – one of the leaders of Britain’s Jewish community – to express the government’s support for a ‘national home for the Jewish people’ in Palestine.
This came to be known as the Balfour Declaration, and it’s considered one of the biggest boosts that ultimately led to the creation of Israel in 1948.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine has reached a new level of intensity (Picture: Enes Canli/Anadolu via Getty Images)
The statement remains enormously controversial, with some blaming it for the Gordian nature of the Israel/Palestine conflict and others celebrating its publication on November 2 each year, known as Balfour Day.
Whatever moves he makes during his surprise tenure, David Cameron will be facing the consequences of decisions made by his predecessor as Tory leader, Tory prime minister and Tory foreign secretary more than 100 years ago.
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