James Kirkup James Kirkup

Why yesterday’s men will loom large in 2023

Kirsty O'Connor - WPA Pool/Getty Images

New year, old politicians.  Yesterday’s men will loom large in the politics of 2023. 

British politics has a nostalgia problem, often to the benefit of our over-large population of former prime ministers. They may have disappointed in office, but the urge to rose-tint our memories means failure is no bar to a lucrative or influential post-premiership. 

How else to explain the £2 million earned by Theresa May since the end of her painful, pedestrian premiership? Her reputation has also been enhanced through the power of hindsight: during the chaos of 2022’s politics, the history of her shambling, stumbling government was quietly rewritten and she became a ‘grown-up’ politician from a lost age of sensibleness.

On the fringes of political conversation, you can even hear the start of a tendency to recast Liz Truss as a bold visionary who got the analysis right but encountered some minor snags when it came to implementing her plans. 2023 may see her launch a think-tank or growth commission to reinforce that narrative.

Then there’s David Cameron.  Posterity will accurately remember him as a dilettante clown who trashed British politics and economics for a generation, then clocked off early for a nice lunch. Yet for now there are people keen to recall him as a calmly competent technocrat who can teach others to rule well: he was recently hired to teach about ‘politics and government in an age of disruption’ at Abu Dhabi University, whose leaders clearly have a good sense of irony.

For most of us, the comfortable afterlives of our former rulers are just irritating. But for both Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer, former leaders will pose real problems in the year ahead.

Sunak’s historical headache is Boris Johnson. That particular former PM may be largely absent from Westminster as he piles up cash delivering the same old speech, but he haunts the place quite effectively nonetheless.

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