Rory Stewart is everything that’s gone wrong with the Tories

The Conservatives’ attempts to appease the ‘sensible’, ‘centrist’ types have brought the party to ruin.

Gareth Roberts

Topics Politics UK

Want to read spiked ad-free? Become a spiked supporter.

For somebody who walks away from things a lot – from the Bullingdon Club, from the Conservative Party – Rory Stewart does a lot of hanging about just outside. The former international-development secretary and one-time Tory leadership contender told the i this weekend that he wants to keep one foot in the door of British politics. Apparently, he is ‘ready’ to serve in the next Labour government, perhaps in some sort of ‘cross-party commission on the NHS or on AI’. ‘I’d love to do that’, he said.

Stewart is like one of those people who makes a grand announcement on Twitter that they’re leaving Twitter, in the mistaken belief that anybody gives a toss and that this is the biggest deal since Miss Otis regretted that she was unable to lunch today. They always expect a grand chorus of ‘No, no, you can’t possibly leave us, your tweets make our existence bearable in this slough of mortal despond’. But when this response doesn’t come, they have to pretend to be dragged back to their adoring public against their will.

The analogy falls down a bit when you contemplate that Stewart is co-host of the ineptly titled The Rest Is Politics, one of the most successful podcasts in the UK. Apparently, people really do want to hear what he has to say. Over 200,000 people regularly tune in, which is a lot in podcast terms, though it’s only roughly the population of Bournemouth. Hovering over Stewart in this venture is Alastair Campbell, a man whose record in politics is, let’s just say, somewhat mixed, and whose demeanour is somewhere between the Overlook Hotel and Fawlty Towers.

Campbell is truly a terrible, terrible man. And Rory is his fluffer, a role which makes his regular protestations about his fellow Tories – oh isn’t Boris Johnson just ghastly; oh that awful Suella Braverman, simply dreadful – seem rather laughable. We need to be civil and respectful and sensible, says Rory, all the time sitting next to someone who regularly tweets about ‘Brexshit’.

Stewart has made it his life’s work to do a lot of hanging about. Hanging about in the Middle East, cosplaying as a Bedouin. Hanging about in the Conservative Party, cosplaying as a Conservative. Now he is hanging about politics, cosplaying as a moderate for the masturbatory delight of a quarter of a million ‘sensible’ people. He is the (former) Tory that it’s okay to like among this thin but very disproportionately vocal and powerful slice of British society. He is nice, you see. Almost ‘one of us’. The Tories’ attempts to appease these awful people – an electorally insignificant proportion of the population, who will never, ever vote Conservative anyway – has brought the party to its impending and very well deserved ruin.

The level of delusion runs high. Stewart professes himself appalled by the modern iteration of the Tories. Well, so say all of us. But only a lunatic thinks – like Rory – that the problem with the Conservatives is that they’ve become dangerously right-wing and far too populist. This is a party that has continued to facilitate mass immigration, poured billions into the leaky paper bag of the NHS and, after 14 grinding years, has only reluctantly brought itself to issue some toothless ‘guidance’ to schools about the gender cult. Are the Tories incompetent? Yes. Stupid? Yes. But it is deranged to accuse them of being populists.

Step forward Rory, who says of the Conservative Party’s post-election future in this weekend’s Observer: ‘[Either] it experiences defeat, it recognises it’s got itself on the wrong path and it moves back to the centre… [Or] it experiences defeat as confirmation that it needs to lean ever further to the right – the temptation of the Suella Braverman faction.’ Ever further to the right? Heavens to Betsy! When was that rightward shift? I somehow missed it.

Does it not register with Rory that beyond writing a couple of salty columns in the Telegraph, Suella Braverman achieved nothing as home secretary? That Jeremy Hunt is the tax-raising chancellor of this apparently terrifying ‘right-wing’ party that needs to ‘move back to the centre’? That the Tories, like the rest of the House of Commons, are committed to Net Zero, an insane policy that threatens to black out the country? That’s right-wing populism, is it?

Whatever it is, it’s all a bit too rich for Rory’s blood. As is so often the case in British politics, what is really being reacted to here is not policy and things that are actually done (or not done), but the tone. The Conservative Party has governed pretty much as a continuation of New Labour, but its very occasional attempts to sound tough – though obviously never doing anything to follow through – have made it simply beyond the pale, dontcherknow. Simply too gauche for Stewart and his ilk.

Rory Stewart is the apex of this delusion of manners. He has spent too long in the company of the supposedly ‘sensible’, ‘centrist’ people who are actually lunatics, an occupational hazard when you spend a lot of your working life in a little booth jammed up against Alastair Campbell. He seriously believes that a party that has Grant Shapps and Gillian Keegan front and centre is unacceptably extreme. This has now reached the point that this former Conservative minister is tempted to vote Green – with its ‘sensible’, ‘centrist’ policies like making cocaine available in Boots.

Rory Stewart is a ludicrous little man. It is way past time that he wandered off again into the desert.

Gareth Roberts is a screenwriter and novelist, best known for his work on Doctor Who.

Melanie Phillips and Brendan O’Neill – live and in conversation

Melanie Phillips and Brendan O’Neill – live and in conversation


Wednesday 26 June – 8pm to 9pm BST

This is a free event, exclusively for spiked supporters.

Picture by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics UK


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today