People in the Westminster bubble are either getting excited about Rory Stewart’s bid for the leadership of the Conservative party, acting all sniffy about it (thus validating it in many respects), sometimes even suggesting Stewart must have ulterior motives for running; others are doing the classic Westminster thing and acting like they are too cool to be interested in it all. Anyhow, all of this indicates that Rory Stewart’s campaign is a thing.
I’ve met Rory on a handful of occasions; at dinners we were both at, sharing a panel with him, group meetings where I was one of the participants. My impression is of someone incredibly sharp with a low tolerance for what he perceives as bullshit, i.e. bureaucratic or obfuscating language. In a government which included amongst its cabinet Chris Grayling and Andrea Leadsom, Rory has been a real rarity: someone who not only understands their brief but has concrete, positive ideas for how to change things for the better. In terms of those running to be the next leader, only Michael Gove is on the same intellectual level as Stewart. Given all that, if I were a Tory MP, I would nominate Rory to be leader.
Trying to critically evaluate why I would nominate him, going beyond his competence (which, given most of the other candidates, should make him a shoo-in for at least the final three, yet for various political reasons, this is unlikely) – why do I think Rory would make the best prime minister out of those on offer?
After the vacuity of the May premiership, the country desperately needs a prime minister with ideas and energy. Stewart and Gove are the only ones who offer this at all. Raab is trying but failing; the others aren’t even trying. I also think – and I say this as a Remainer – Stewart is the only candidate with the brain power and the diplomatic skills to possibly get a Brexit settlement from Brussels and then get it through parliament. If the Tories really want Brexit to happen, Stewart is their only realistic choice with the possible exception of Gove (but even taking Gove into account, Stewart is the better bet here).
Finally, the best thing I can say for Rory’s leadership bid is he is far and away the best placed to beat Corbyn. Conservatives have a blindspot which I have spoken about a lot of times in relation to Boris Johnson – they love him so much, they cannot understand why large portions of the rest of the country do not. They enjoy pointing to Boris winning twice in London – one, that was against Ken Livingstone, which helped a hell of a lot; two, try polling Johnson’s popularity in London these days and see what you find.
The fact that Stewart knows what he’s talking about and weirdly more importantly, knows how to convey to people that he knows what he’s talking about, would crush Corbyn in an election situation. The current Labour leader knows nothing about anything save the minutiae of British socialist movements in the 1970s. Stewart would have what May lacked last time as well: sincerity. In the 2017 general election, you had two possible prime ministers, one who seemed to be badly reciting lines she’d half-learned, the other who at least appeared to say what he meant. Now, imagine for a moment Boris against Corbyn in a general election campaign. Again, Corbyn would be able to play the sincerity card against Boris’ buffoonery.
The Tories need a serious leader in order to save them from at least short term electoral oblivion. Boris is certainly not the answer to that problem. None of the rest of them, bar Stewart and Gove, are remotely good enough to even be in the contest. Sadly for them, they may look back on rejecting Rory Stewart as their final, fatal error, as Boris Johnson lays waste to final embers of the Tory’s last chance to turn things around.