Unpicking Our New-Found Obsession With Rory Stewart

The Tory leadership candidate is now second favourite to win the race and become next Prime Minister – but has he really earned the ‘cuddly lefty’ persona we’ve all given him asks Rebecca Reid

Rory Stewart

by Rebecca Reid |
Published on

If you'd never heard of Rory Stewart until this week don't worry, you won't be alone. As is so often the case in politics, one moment someone is an MP you've never heard of and the next they might be running the country you live in.

Rory Stewart is a candidate to become the leader of the Conservative Party, which would make him the de facto Prime Minister. And following last night’s leader’s debate, which Boris Johnson, current favourite in the race, did not attend, Stewart has gone from rank outsider at 100-1 to second favourite to win the contest and, yes, become our next Prime Minister. But what lies behind his sudden appeal?

Following his vocal stance against a no-deal Brexit, a leadership campaign where he’s toured the country talking to ‘real’ people (as oppose to other Tory MPs) and a strong performance in last night’s debate, where he spoke about honestly about his flaws as an Eton-educated man from a highly privileged background, he’s been held up as the ‘left’ of the right – the option that liberals and lefties are most at peace with to lead the country. But given that he’s a white, public school and Oxbridge educated man with a financially conservative voting record, why exactly is he being heralded as the left’s favourite?

To start with, Stewart is objectively the coolest candidate.

His book, The Places In Between,was bought by Brad Pitt's production company for potential development into a film.

He's married to charity worker Shoshanna Clark. They have two children the first of whom Stewart delivered at home when his wife went into labour and they were unable to get medical assistance.

Believe it or not, in 2012, the Telegraph reported that Orlando Bloom was being lined up to play him in the film, which ultimately never made it into production, but is still a lot cooler than anything you could say about David Cameron.

Before he was in politics Stewart was in the Foreign Office, based out of Indonesia and then Montenegro.

It's even been suggested that he might have been a spy (though he’s denied it).

After the Foreign Office he joined an NGO and moved to Kabul where he tried to help rebuild the city. Which was a nice thing to do, and does wonders to offset the reputation of all Tory MPs as top hatted meanies who stamp on orphans’ hands.

On the face of it, he sounds like a really nice guy. But his voting record isn’t exactly what you’d expect.

Stewart voted in favour of same sex couples being allowed to marry, but that’s about as liberal as he gets.

He voted against a motion to put pressure on the government to improve abortion access in Northern Ireland.

He has also previously voted against smoking bans, investigations into the Iraq war, staying in the EU and a banker's bonus tax.

He's voted for military action against ISIS, the initial referendum on Brexit, a reduction in spending on the welfare state, raising the bands of income tax and increasing VAT.

So, given his less than warm and fuzzy voting record, where does this reputation for being the most left wing Tory come from?

Some of it is Brexit related (of course).

Unlike other members of the party, Stewart has publicly stated that he is opposed to a no-deal Brexit.

Other some of the harder line candidates for the leadership have said they'll leave Europe on the 31st of October at any cost. So for those of us who don’t want to leave the EU full stop, least of all in a No Deal situation, that’s something.

There is also an element of Stewart benefiting from comparison.

Other candidates for leader of the Tory party included Jeremy Hunt, who is reviled by most NHS workers, Michael Gove, who teachers still curse, Dominic Raab who called feminists ‘obnoxious bigots’ and Boris Johnston is, well, Boris Johnston.

Compared to that lot maybe it’s no surprise that Rory seems like a lovely sensible middle ground.

But there is still an undeniable element of the cult of personality sneaking in here.

It seems that we’re willing to believe that Stewart is the gentler, more left-wing candidate, in spite of his voting record, because of some charity work and the fact that Orlando Bloom nearly played him in in a film.

Yes, he worked for a charity, delivered his own child and admitted to having smoked opium at a wedding, and yes, all of those things are endearing.

But he also believes in military intervention and spending less on the welfare state.

We need to look deeper than that when we assess how suitable someone is to lead our country.

In an age of personality politics, we have to assess our leaders based on more than just the feeling we get from them, and how nice they seem. After all, is declaring Stewart as our favourite candidate based on some memable facts about his life really any different from people who favour Jacob Rees-Mogg because he dresses like a Victorian throwback, or Boris Johnson because of his bumbling moniker?

Voting based on personality is a dangerous, dangerous place to go.

It’s how we ended up with the richest country in the world being ruled by a reality TV personality.

If we want to avoid the same fate as the US, we need to learn to ask questions, to understand that someone can be good in some areas of their life and bad in others.

It’s entirely possible that Stewart is the most sensible choice, and that he would be the best possible leader on offer to us right now.

But let’s decide that based on all of the facts, not a few catchy factoids designed to appeal

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