A politician that has actually seen active combat, set up his own organisation, is a Harvard professor and likes talking to ordinary people is the image that Rory Stewart has carefully constructed (see this great profile by the Guardian as well). He likes to call himself the “walking politician”. He walked some 5,000 miles through Afghanistan, Iran, India….Brad Pitt has apparently bought the movie rights to his life and he is creating a sensation in the various magazines in the US (a profile in the National Geographic, articles in the NYRB and a profile in the or THE New Yorker). Now Stewart is bringing the show home. Standing as a Conservative MP in Bracknell and the Border. Arise “Rory the Tory”.
Almost everyone in Britain (including myself) is gulping it down. I never thought I would want to see an Etonian educated Tory get elected or someone Craig Murray the activist and former British Ambassador has described as: “the crusading neo-Conservative Rory Stewart.”
This however, is where the crux lies for the Tories. Stewart is going to attract a lot of attention for the party and may even win votes from unlikely quarters. But he is no doubt a sword with two very sharp sides and my guess is that “Rory the Tory” may not roll so easily off the tongue for the conservative elite when they get into power.
Stewart is a big intellect there is not doubt about that. His articles on Afghanistan in the London Review of Books and more recently the New York Review of Books have been devastatingly insightful and visionary. I am gutted I cannot see his profile of T E Lawrence which from the reviews was a sensation. His critique of the current strategy in Afghanistan is masterful and his solutions refreshingly sensible sticking closely to common sense and the art of the possible:
The US and its NATO allies would be able to survive withdrawal from Afghanistan but it would be damaging to their reputations. While we cannot write a blank check to Afghans, we would like to prevent their country from falling into civil war, which would probably result in tens of thousands of deaths. It makes sense to stay, if we can maintain a realistic, affordable, and legitimate presence in Afghanistan and do some good.
As others have noticed Stewart is remarkably humble in his foreign policy outlook for one who is so ambitious.
If allowed to have any say in foreign policy issues “Rory the Tory” could drastically change the Britain does this most tricky of dark arts. Imagine a British Foreign Minister that said things like this:”… we should trust Iraqis and Afghans more; that they were much more competent than we acknowledged.”
But Foreign Minister to be William Hague will surely not appreciate the smooth talking Stewart one bit…nor for that matter will Cameron either. “Rory the Tory” will do his upmost to force himself onto the Tory stage and is already subtly showing the sort of pressure he is going to apply:
“I wanted to help change the culture of government. So I put my name forward, after the expenses scandal, when David Cameron said he was prepared to have candidates who, like me, had never been involved in politics before.”
Cameron maybe more fearful of Stewart than he is of Brown. Quotes like that must keep Cameron up at night…especially when none of Stewart’s foreign policy positions line up with the Tories at all! Not even close…the hilarious question on Newsnight when Stewart was asked straight up how he will line up his views with the party he bluntly said he did not know! For a man that likes to walk as much as he does though something tells me he knows where exactly where he is going! Revolution did I hear?
I would describe Stewart as almost a classical realist, with a sprinkle of liberalism, E. H. Carr comes to mind. That should makes Tories shudder. Surely this is an accident waiting to happen for the Tories? A battle between Stewart and Cameron/Hauge is surely an inevitability?
At last Britain has the possibility of having a foreign policy and I for one am going to enjoy the political bloodbath that Stewart will no doubt create trying to achieve it.
Stewart is obviously loving being the centre of attention and is already slipping into the old political paths where reality and rhetoric run alongside each other.
Rhetoric = “I applied for Penrith and the Border in part because I found it the most beautiful place in England.” (especially love the cheeky “in part”)
Reality = Penrith and the Border is one of the safest conservative seats in the country and I am almost guaranteed to get elected.