ON Tuesday, Rory Stewart launched his bid to lead the Conservative Party. He opened by saying that he is standing because ‘what people . . . need in this country is leadership.’ I haven’t heard so circular a pitch since Theresa May promised ‘Brexit means Brexit’ in 2016.
He warned against ‘populism’ but did not define it, although he countered, ‘I believe in people.’ He warned against ‘negativism’ but then went negative on his competition. He said he was for ‘realism’ but did not define it, except he made clear he is defeatist on everything from Brexit to conservatism itself.
He exaggerated a no-deal Brexit as isolationism: ‘It is not just no to a deal. It is no to everything. It is no to Europe, it is no to trade, it is no to parliament, it is no to reality. We are not a “no” country. Underlying all these stories that the other candidates are putting forward that masquerade as optimism is a failure — a failure to grasp reality. What they are giving you is fairy stories.’
That statement alone proves that Rory Stewart is a hypocrite.
The way he said it confirms that he’s more style than substance; even the style is an act: the soft delivery, serious face, pained expression, pregnant pauses, and pressed lips are masks for a lack of substance. You can trace the act through Bill Clinton and Tony Blair to Hillary Clinton and David Cameron, and even Theresa May (although she is terrible at it). Rory Stewart isn’t mindful enough to realise the act is tired.
Like them, Rory Stewart is Marmite – you’re either drawn or repelled. Fake earnestness and fake thoughtfulness draw in the inattentive and the shallow, but repel the genuinely earnest and thoughtful.
Some have not yet caught on. A columnist of Rory’s leftward conservatism claimed that ‘He gave a properly impressive speech this week and he has spoken with honesty and clarity about politics and policy.’ Another described the speech as full of ‘intelligence, wit, maturity, and real feeling’, and his answers as ‘discursive, well structured, thought through’. Appropriately, the columnist could not give any examples, except to quote Stewart’s ‘moderation’ and ‘realism’ and ‘prudence’ as making Stewart ‘more of a conservative than anybody in this race’. Another columnist at the Daily Telegraph had already described him as ‘smart, capable, and diplomatic’.
Before you think the Telegraph is blind to Rory’s real politics, be aware that a third columnist at the paper astutely describes him as ‘Blairite’. The Sun described his hustings as ‘bizarre,’ highlighting his insults to his rivals, his choice to speak in a circus tent, and his clowning around while calling Boris Johnson a clown. Robert Preston somewhat admiringly called him ‘reassuringly bonkers’.
ConservativeHome has given Rory his easiest ride, but surely even its partisan readers must realise his empty conservatism. When he was asked in a questionnaire to complete the sentence ‘Conservatism is . . . ’, he replied that he ‘would now define it as realism and love’. In answer to a separate question, he referred to a ‘new conservatism’ but never defined it. He added, as an apparent afterthought: ‘My vision is for a fair, green, and united Britain.’ Well, there he’s just paraphrasing a hymn, badly.
Thankfully, the pages of The Conservative Woman pinned him a long time ago. Michael St George described Stewart as ‘the sycophant’s sycophant’. I called on him to leave government at the same time as I last called on Theresa May to resign. One of his crimes as Prisons Minister (if you’ll pardon the pun) was joining Justice Secretary David Gauke in proposing that sentences of six months or less should be abolished, because prisons are crowded and violent. Neither minister entertained the idea of building more prisons, or finding punishments to deter the repeat offenders who make up most of this population.
Rory Stewart’s biggest pretensions are in the field of international relations – my field, which is perhaps why I was aware of them earlier than most. These go back to his formative experiences.
Like Tony Blair, Rory Stewart was born a privileged, wealthy Scot, and educated at a leading private school (Eton) and university (Oxford). He served in the Army for a few months, but made a career in the Foreign Office, coinciding entirely with Tony Blair’s administration, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. These should have been enlightening, but he was late to repudiate the politics behind them, and his repudiation reeked of rewriting his own history.
Memoirs are his favourite vehicle, but ironically are most revealing. His story about his journey across central Asia, including Afghanistan, in 2002 was entitled The Places in Between. Who could doubt that such an experience should be profound? Unfortunately, he reached a fuzzy political conclusion that if we pay attention between the places that normally catch our attention then we’ll make better societies. Of course, this is the sort of Three Cups of Tea, It Takes a Village and Audacity of Hope nonsense that gets lapped up by reviewers in need of simple alternatives: you can read them for yourself on Amazon.
His memoir of his service with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq is long on recrimination against Blair and company, but short on alternatives except the usual platitudes and defeatism such as: the West cannot impose its values on the Middle East; the intervention was unprepared; the challenges were great. He scratched the surface of the issues and the solutions and thought he was profound.
Rory Stewart’s Marmite was palatable in public policy schools looking to repudiate their own culpability in this unreadiness, although even he could not have believed his luck to be invited to teach temporarily at Harvard – on human rights, of all things, although this is an appropriately pretentious subject for the self-made expert with no legal training beyond an undergrad in PPE.
From what I hear, Rory Stewart’s fake intellectualism was confirmed at Harvard. His third book was the one that really stepped on my professional expertise: entitled Can Intervention Work? He presented this particular book far afield, as far as my own university (California). You will be hard-pressed to find a better exemplar of shallow, well-meaning, superficial summation of the ex post facto and politically correct consensus on international relations. Rory told his readers and listeners that interventions should be carefully prepared, avoid imposing our values, be sensitive to other cultures, put people first, adapt to change, etc.
As ever, Stewart does a balancing act, asserting the ethos of someone who was there, while denying that he was part of the problems that he now recognises.
From such pretension in international relations arises his puzzlingly vacuous opposition to Brexit. In Cabinet, Stewart differentiated himself as most loyal to May’s fake ‘Withdrawal Agreement.’ In public, he posed as enlightened: he posed as someone who understood things that the rest of us did not, yet he has never been able to articulate why he likes her WA, except to parrot her lies that it delivers Brexit. His Remaining is pretentious, not principled.
Even when given a chance by the Oxford Union to debate head-to-head against Nigel Farage, he chose to ignore the WA (the subject of debate) and to defame Farage, but his poorly written and delivered speech bored and disappointed.
He then tried to interrupt Farage’s speech with points of order, but was easily swatted away, so he affected a look of amusement.
He was out of his depth – yet this is the man who rose high in May’s Cabinet: she promoted him to the Department for International Development. Now he considers himself viable as her successor.
Perhaps he has a point. Surprise, surprise: on Tuesday, the day he launched his leadership bid, he said he was ‘supportive’ of Remainers who planned to move a Bill on Wednesday ruling out a no-deal Brexit. Then why doesn’t he lead the Change UK Party? I can only presume that he’s too pretentious to relegate himself from a major party to a small party with which he actually agrees.
Then again, this fake Conservative Party contains a Parliamentary minority that is already closer to Change UK than Conservative traditions.
This explains why the fakest of the ten Conservative candidates won 19 MP votes in Thursday’s vote, enough for him to beat the next three runners (Esther McVey, Andrea Leadsom, Mark Harper) – all of them much more conservative than the other candidates. ConservativeHome presents Stewart as the only candidate other than Boris Johnson with momentum. Save our souls.