June 1, 2019


How Rory Stewart went from 'Florence of Belgravia' to PM hopeful: The MP has taken a roundabout route to power - and drawn admiration and derision along the way (Esther Addley,  1 Jun 2019, The Guardian)

It would take a bold speculator to back Stewart for anything other than crushing defeat. And yet in the past week the MP has been capturing attention and praise with a campaign that is as idiosyncratic as he is. Stewart, now international development secretary, has embarked on a whistlestop tour of the country, chatting to shopkeepers in Warrington and students in Edinburgh, visiting a mosque in Woking and exchanging "rusty" Dari with Afghans in Barking.

His many media interviews, meanwhile, in which he has surgically outlined why he would rule out a no-deal Brexit (he is the only candidate to do so), have won broad and sometimes surprising support from left and right. Columnists in the Spectator have praised his "refreshing ridiculousness" and argued he can "save the Tories". Writers in the Guardian have praised him for putting "principle before power" and suggested he could come through the centre ground as a surprising winner. The scientist Brian Cox and Gary Lineker are admirers.

Why? "He is the very opposite of a career politician who has spent his life in the Westminster bubble," says Stewart's friend the documentary producer Jemima Khan, "and he is not afraid to get out and speak to people and to listen.

"The skills that a leader most needs right now ... are common sense, logic, diplomacy and pragmatism - not hyperbole, jingoism and wishful thinking."

"It's clear that he is talking to people - young people, people who are disaffected with politics or who haven't voted Conservative recently - in a way that other people aren't," argues Victoria Prentis, one of the MPs backing him.

Stewart's talent, she says, is that he "reaches the parts other Tories can't"; it is a phrase, word for word, that one used to hear about Johnson.

If the two men certainly have plenty in common - prep school, Eton, Oxford (where Stewart, like Cameron, did PPE) - Stewart has a much more eccentric biography than the man he describes, damningly, as "a very talented journalist". The son of a senior MI6 officer who would wake the young Roderick at 6am to practice fencing in Hyde Park, he grew up in Hong Kong and Malaysia and "a classic small country mansion" in the Scottish Borders.

He was a summer tutor to princes William and Harry, served briefly in the British army, and worked for the Foreign Office in Indonesia and Montenegro (about which he offers baroque denials that he was a spy). He walked for two years across Asia, part of which took in a traverse of part of Afghanistan in 2002, which led to a bestselling book, The Places In Between.

He has worked as the deputy to a US "governate coordinator" of an Iraqi region, been a lecturer at Harvard, and run a small NGO in Kabul. He has been the subject of a well-received play in London, been profiled by Time Magazine and (unmissably) the New Yorker, and has sold the film rights of his Afghanistan book to Brad Pitt's production company. In 2008 Esquire declared him one of the 75 most important people of the 21st century.

Posted by at June 1, 2019 3:37 PM