Rory Stewart: The leader the Tory Party needs but could easily miss

23 Oct 2017


Intelligent, academic, well-travelled, articulate, animated, cool and affable: junior minister Rory Stewart MP is just the kind of leader the Tories need – but could so easily miss. 


The son of a Secret Intelligence Service officer; Eton educated; black watch second lieutenant; Oxford graduate; Foreign Office mandarin; private personal tutor to Princes William and Harry; a one-time Labour Party member; keen traveller and enthusiastic walker; fellow of Harvard University: Rory Stewart MP OBE either is or has been all those things.


A man who has walked an astonishing 6,000 miles across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, India and Nepal. He has also written several books about his walk across Afghanistan, his walks along the English-Scottish border and about Western military intervention in foreign nations.


Rory Stewart is a man who has done more, indeed achieved more, in his 44 years of life than the overwhelming majority of people who live an average lifespan ever have or will.


The Honourable Member for Penrith and the Border would be a desirable candidate – the most desired candidate to any prospective employer.



Serving in the current administration, Mr Stewart serves simultaneously as a minister (with responsibility for Africa) at the Foreign Office as well as a minister at the Department for International Development (DFID) – having previously served as a Whitehall diplomat before entering Parliament.


There are few members of the current Cabinet who can boast such a wealth of experience in terms of both career and non-professional life.


His experience and his expertise in foreign affairs and in the wider field of politics more generally, make this Scottish soldier’s son a formidable candidate for leader of his Party and, indeed, for the premiership.


The Conservative Party wants to be shot of Theresa May, that is without doubt. No senior member of the Cabinet will say it publicly (yet). For the sake of Party unity, Mrs May’s Front Bench team don’t wish to portray a Cabinet divided.


In private, however, most are saying that she should go. She knows this, too. So why hasn’t she stepped down? Why haven’t 15% of the Party’s Parliamentary Party written to the Chair of the 1922 Committee to trigger a leadership contest?


There is not, they claim, a credible alternative. “No alternative waiting in the wings,” as George Parker of the Financial Times put it on the BBC’s Daily Politics show on Friday. Looking around the Cabinet table, one cannot disagree with that statement.


Many, if not all of them, are tired and washed out; yes, that goes for Boris Johnson and David Davis, too.


The image of most of the Cabinet is also very stuffy. “Spreadsheet Phil” doesn’t get his nickname from nowhere for a start.


So, most members of the Tory Party, including the Parliamentary Party, agree that there is no electorally formidable alternative to Mrs May to step up and take the helm. With any of the current Cabinet lot, it just will not work.


But must a likely or possible leadership candidate come from the Cabinet?


The next Tory leader must be young, relatively unknown among the general public (and therefore not associated with times gone by or the status quo), be modern and someone who young people can easily like – that person, therefore, must have charisma and be of down-to-earth character.


I believe Rory Stewart ticks all these boxes. I have followed him very closely, as I have other Members of the House of Commons over recent times and have been saying for some time that he is definitely “one to watch”. In my view, the one to watch.


That said, I believe it is entirely possible that the Conservatives may overlook their man.


Many will immediately dismiss him for being Eton educated. They will discard that as being a sign of a toxic, outdated brand that can only serve to wound the Party at the ballot box.


Of course, such a thing should not matter a damn.


Many will dismiss him for not being in or ever having served in the Cabinet.


The fact is that he is a modern Conservative and a man who, in actual fact, former Chancellor George Osborne supposedly saw as a personal threat to the Tory leadership when he himself was wanting – even expecting – to inherit the crown from David Cameron.


Watching him debate in the Commons is a pleasure that I have witnessed in person from Strangers’ Gallery.


He expresses and puts across to the Chamber his thoughts and views in a way that few politicians do.


Of Scots heritage, he believes passionately in maintaining the Union between England and Scotland and actively campaigned for the “No” cause in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.


In a leadership contest between Rory Stewart on the moderate Centre-right and Jacob Rees-Mogg on the harder and more “traditional” Right, I truly believe that the Party faithful would vote with their heads.


I see the potential:  man who could knock Jeremy Corbyn flat out at the next General Election.


I just hope that the Conservative Party can and will see it, too – before it’s too late.



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