Friday, 4 October 2019

Rory Stewart makes a principle move - then wastes it

My immediate response when I read the news on the BBC ticker that Rory Stewart MP had resigned his Conservative party membership and would not seek re-election to the House of Commons at the next general election was that yet another adult had given up on the yobs who had taken over a once-great party. The loss to parliament would be a gain for whoever wanted to take advantage of a unique set of talents and experience, including service in Afghanistan where he engaged with ordinary Afghans and as a reforming minister of the Crown. A range of prestigious international positions would be open to him, perhaps even a UN high commission, following the example of Paddy Ashdown who had a similar rare mix of careers.

Instead, Stewart has set his sights much lower, announcing that he will stand in the London mayoral election of 2020 as an independent conservative candidate. He would overtly split the Conservative vote, especially as the official candidate has had to defend himself against charges of racial prejudice and has not committed himself on an EU policy. One worries, though, that even though the election will be by the supplementary vote method, Stewart would attract soft Conservative votes which would otherwise go to the Liberal Democrat candidate, Siobhan Benita, whose support for EU membership is clear. The obvious beneficiary would be the incumbent Sadkq Khan who has not been a spectacular success and is handicapped by his party's nebulous policy on Europe. London was the area of strongest support for Remain.

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