At his party’s conference last month, Mr. Sunak made “an attempt to hold on to the ‘red wall,’ and what we’re seeing now is a kind of U-turn and focus on the ‘blue wall,’” Professor Ford said. “And the problem is that they can’t have both.”
Mr. Sunak’s attempt to put on a populist mantle failed for another reason.
While he shares much of Ms. Braverman’s thinking, he had not proved effective in selling it. His public image is of a “cosmopolitan, technocratic, California-loving, globe-trotting tech-bro type,” Professor Ford said. “That sort of anti-woke, anti-immigration politics just seems very jarring coming from someone who is perceived in that way, even though it’s very likely to be pretty close to his actual personal politics.”
One risk for the Conservatives is that their pivot gives more space to Reform UK, the successor to the Brexit Party once led by Nigel Farage, a right-wing firebrand. A reinvigorated Reform UK could siphon off votes from the Conservatives, allowing Labour to win back “red wall” seats under Britain’s winner-takes-all electoral system.
Perhaps the biggest question is whether moderate Conservatives will view the return of Mr. Cameron, who embodies many of their values, as the restoration of their brand of politics. Many of those voters blame Brexit for Britain’s stagnating economy, as well as for unleashing the populism that has dominated their party since 2016 and often seemed to caricature them as members of a privileged metropolitan elite.
Mr. Cameron, of course, called the referendum that resulted in Brexit. And after losing the campaign to stay in the European Union, he resigned.
“They have had a seven-year barrage of abuse from their traditional party and now, as a way of trying to win them back, that party puts into the House of Lords the guy who kicked off the whole barrage of abuse and then ran away,” said Professor Ford. “There’s no guarantee that it will work.”