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Former British prime minister David Cameron leaves 10 Downing Street, in London, on Nov. 13.Carl Court/Getty Images

Tom Rachman is a contributing columnist for The Globe and Mail.

Failure is no barrier to high office in Britain. It is proof that you’re suited to govern here.

To widespread surprise, David Cameron – prime minister from 2010 to 2016 – returned to government Monday, now as foreign secretary. A posh charmer, the former Conservative Party leader is the same chap who blithely scheduled a Brexit referendum for seven years ago, which led to a bitterly divided society, a punctured economy, and a steady dribble of idiots and ideologues in power.

Now, Mr. Cameron returns as the sheepish face of these isles abroad.

Novelist Jonathan Coe evoked the glory of Mr. Cameron’s past and the promise of his future with this wry quip: “BREAKING: New Foreign Secretary David Cameron promises to secure immediate, once-and-for-all solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict by holding a referendum.”

Meantime, in a giddy attempt at hype, the Tories announced the cabinet shuffle that elevated Mr. Cameron with a red siren emoji and the proclamation, “HERE WE GO,” as if this were a roller-coaster ride.

It is. And the people want off.

According to a recent poll, the governing Conservatives are 20 points behind their rivals, the Labour Party. Elections are expected next year, and the Tories face a wipeout. Until then, the strategy of Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer has been to keep a low profile, inviting the Tories to do what they have mastered: implosion.

As for current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, his strategy in hiring his predecessor is somewhat bemusing. Perhaps there is no strategy – just flailing around, as defeat in next year’s vote closes in.

Mr. Cameron’s presence is unlikely to attract droves of voters, given how bitterly many recall – and are still experiencing the consequences of – his emblematic policy: austerity. Those radical government cuts in the wake of the financial crisis left British public services in tatters, from the National Health Service to the police. Mr. Cameron’s return will also vex the populist right-wing of the Tory party, which rose to dominance after Brexit.

What you can say for Mr. Cameron is that he is far, far less awful than the other disasters who have populated the Tory elite since his departure, many with little experience and less seriousness. Their ding-dong fantasy – Brexit is a success! – led both to fact-flushing ballyhoo and endless leadership churn, as reality kept hitting them in the face.

Four Tory prime ministers have so far followed Mr. Cameron, not least the professional cad Boris Johnson, a long-time chum/rival. The two men were contemporaries at Oxford University, and belonged to the same notoriously destructive frat there, The Bullingdon Club.

While the national decline that Mr. Cameron had a pivotal role in triggering saw its low point in the persistent Brexit lies of Mr. Johnson and his inept handling of COVID-19, the epitome of British farce was the sitcom government of prime minister Liz Truss, who managed to crash the economy, have herself equated to a lettuce, and be heaved out of office within 49 days.

Less dramatic, but arguably as damaging to the country, has been the tumult itself, with members of cabinet fired and hired before you have time to learn their names. Case in point: Britain has seen a staggering 16 housing ministers since 2010. The politicians in charge can barely understand the issue they’re suddenly overseeing – and then they’re gone.

Still, the defining failure of Mr. Cameron’s past was losing a referendum that he recklessly called. He himself favoured staying in the EU, yet failed to adequately convey the folly of cutting ties with the country’s largest trading partner.

After the shock referendum result in June, 2016, Mr. Cameron quit, sauntering away in a carefree fashion unbefitting a man who’d broken Britain. A still-hot mic even caught him cheerfully singing a few notes as he strolled away from the cameras upon resigning.

He has spent the past few years doing what many leaders do after pledging themselves to public service: they venture into service for themselves. Besides earning oodles of money, Mr. Cameron lurked in a shed at the end of his garden, writing a memoir that hardly leapt off the shelves. Now, he finds an unexpected epilogue, during which he presumably hopes to find vindication.

Public shame is so rare among failed politicians. Maybe those with hubris enough to consider themselves right to run the world are unlikely to possess the psychological capacity for disgrace.

Or perhaps it is simply that no leader could ever quench the outrage of those they have wounded – so they do not even bother to try.

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