Nick Hopkins finds a strange kind of hope in the emergence of Rory Stewart’s emotional intelligence and virtue modelling in the Tory leadership race, and says he offers signposts to what Labour needs to find in its next leader.

The feeling was so odd as to be almost unrecognisable. Political hope, for the first time in four years? What was even odder was its cause: a very pukka Tory called Rory. Odder still was knowing I was not the only one to feel it.

What was this about? Probably a combination of the gradual seeping away of my political tribalism under Corbyn, an immediate future in which it seems the least worst Tory is the best we can hope for as PM, and the general sense that we are living through a Yeatsian shitshow in which the worst have not just the passionate intensity but the power as well.

But that’s context setting not full explanation. What is it about Rory?

It’s partly policy. 

Yes, we can see his voting record. He’s a loyal taker of the Tory whip. If he is ever prime minister Labour should bash him with that record (though how well those attacks would land is a different question).

But you can see the outlines of something different in his platform. The greening of Britain; mass tree planting and intelligent links drawn to overseas aid and to regional policy. A prioritisation of public spending above tax cuts; a willingness to reach across the aisle on social care. A housing policy focused on borrowing to build 2 million homes, with a rider that that both lifts the promise and captures his appeal – they are to be homes that we can be proud of as a country.

This is a one nation Conservatism. It wouldn’t destroy the country, and it might even make some things better.

The temptation is always to prefer our opponents to be caricatures, but in a country with a record of regularly electing Tory Governments, Stewartism seems to be preferable to Johnsonism (pun intended). Above all, given the need for urgent action on the environment, his empirically driven, green Conservatism is an essential missing element of our politics right now.

But it’s more than policy.

Stewart’s campaign has modelled traditional Tory virtues throughout, in a way that shows up our own party as much as his internal opponents.

There’s been the simple, romantic but rooted, expression of his unionist patriotism, in a context of toxic English nationalism on the right, and the woke left being uncertain about whether expressing pride in your country should get you cancelled. He even risked referencing soil and patriotism together when talking about his tree planting plans – not daft in a nation of garden centres. That expression has also been non-sectarian, with praise for Attlee as well as Churchill, and at ease with our multicultural Britain, more 2012 Olympics than 1950s fantasy.

He talked in his launch speech of the ‘energy of shame’. We do talk about shame on the left; we say the Tories should feel ashamed of the state of our country, we use shaming as a weapon when people step outside the bounds of ‘correctness’. But we see shame as being for others. Stewart’s speech gives the sense that there are times that he personally feels it, and that democracy depends on that being true of all involved.

He’s right, and there should be more shame from us about the crankism and anti-Semitism that has infested our party, and more energy to deal with it. And in a world of bullshitters without shame, whether Brexiteers conveniently forgetting bus slogans or people defending wreath laying, a world dominated by the ultimate unshameable huckster Trump, he’s refreshing.

That launch speech also referred to the ‘energy of action’. I’ve followed Stewart’s career since his books about walking across Afghanistan and acting as a Deputy Governor in Iraq. I read both with a degree of envy; that second book portrayed an almost exact contemporary of mine, in his early 30s at the time, who was out in the world trying to get stuff done. It impressed me to the extent I was genuinely disappointed when I heard he was standing for the Tories.

Nine years of ideologically driven austerity have meant that those of us working in public services often feel we can hope to do no more than mitigate its damage. But policy is about pragmatism and technical competence as well as ideology, and you feel that Stewart, even if constrained by the resources bequeathed by his party’s ideology and by the fools around him, would get some stuff technically right, guided by the experts he values. You could start to hope that some things would change for the better. You can imagine, for example, a Stewart government making at least partly good on May’s ambitions to cut rough sleeping.

Beyond these virtues Stewart seems both authentically clever – though self aware enough that he’s not a dick about it – and personally decent. Intellectually curious, with a clear analysis but one that is flexible and open to development.  Intellectually brave and able to make coherent arguments for humane causes, for international aid, prison reform and greening Britain, and take them to people not usually considered liable to listen.

For the last four years it has felt as if there is an edict against intelligence and decency in our politics. In an age of the not-that-bright (kindly phrased), the Burgons, Corbyns, Steve Bakers and Mark Francoises, of the bright-but-robotic, the Mays and Starmers, and of the bright-but-loathsome, the Johnsons, Milnes and Murrays, he stands out as something different.

But. He’s not going to win. He may even be gone by the time you read this. And from a purely short term, party advantage point of view, both Corbyn and Swinson should breathe a sigh of relief. Johnson is a far easier opponent to define yourself against.

For me, that he will lose is a sadness, not just because he would be a better PM than any of the immediate options, but because he would force us to be much better, and much less lazy, if we wanted to win.

If we are open to them though, he has lessons for Labour in terms of choosing our post-Corbyn leader.

We need a leader (and a PLP) who can cut it intellectually, capable of engaging in argument and directly answering questions, neither retreating into mantras, like May at her worst, nor reacting with barely suppressed anger under a bit of pressure, like Corbyn at his, and who can communicate a clear sense of where things are wrong, where we need to get to, and the map for getting there.

We need a leader who is authentic and at ease with people. ‘Rory Walks’ has taken some courage, and has had its moments of comic awkwardness, but it has paid off, showcasing Stewart’s ability to establish a rapport with people from very different backgrounds. There have been flashes of that with Corbyn, but with a narrower range of the public, and his unfortunate preference for the adoration of rallies and crowds is clear.

We need a leader who can get things done. Last time we chose a man with a lifetime of non-achievement behind him. Unsurprisingly the result has been an ineffective opposition, populated with a number of people who would find running a menodge beyond them, and internal chaos (with a side order of bigotry). The mistake of prioritising ideological purity and forgetting about competence cannot be made again.

We need someone who can speak in terms of conservative (and liberal) as well as labour virtues. Someone who is at ease with patriotism and pragmatism, leavening idealism with realism about the crooked timber of humanity, who understands the importance of evolving institutions and traditions in underpinning our democracy, and is clear about the risk we face of chaos if we let a car crash happen. Displaying those virtues doesn’t preclude real change, it anchors it, and by growing our appeal, makes change possible.

We need shame in politics, and we need honest conflict and anger. But we also need healing. Internally, the next leadership contest must involve an unflinching look at what we have become in the Labour Party, at the mistakes and much worse on all sides. There will be plenty of shame, conflict and anger to go round in that process. It’s possible that the party won’t survive it, and it’s certain and desirable that some people will walk away or be cleared out. If we do survive, the process must end with healing. The new leader must bring everyone with them worth bringing, and will have to show the sort of emotional range that Stewart has communicated in doing so.

And when that leader goes to the country, the conflicts we need to have must be carefully identified, and the anger used sparingly. We can’t just be kinder and gentler in the way we do things (a bit of trying would be nice, mind), but anger alone won’t convince either, and won’t speak to people who are sick of the rush to extremes, the hatred and the constant febrility. Come the election there will be more of them than some of us think, and thankfully they may hold the key to power.  

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41 thoughts on “There’s Something About Rory

  1. [Moderator note: This poster is now banned for attempting to subvert a previous ban using a different username.]

  2. Reminds me of that person who pops up in the audience of Question Time every so often and asks innocently ‘why can’t you all work together for the good of the country’. We are in the Party of Labour and represent the interests of working people. Rory Stewart and his ilk is a Tory and represents the interests of people who benefit from the exploitation of labour. The two are not compatible so you just have to choose which side you’re on.

    1. There is nothing in that comment that bears any relevance to what’s in the piece.

      1. The article criticizes the Labour leadership for ‘prioritizing ideological purity’ and argues that we should anchor our progressive politics in some ensemble of Tory, Liberal and Labour virtues. But progressive and conservative forces are not compatible. They pull in opposite directions. There is nothing ideologically pure about wanting to restructure society in the interests of working people. It is what democratic socialism is all about and it is what Rory and his expensively-educated colleagues in the Tory Party are desperate to stop. As stated earlier, you need to choose which side you’re on, although I suspect you already have.

        1. Can you point out where it is argued that “we should anchor our progressive politics in some ensemble of Tory, Liberal and Labour virtues”?

          Your position seems one very short step away from “Corbynism is the only true Labour path, if you don’t agree you should f*** off and join the Tories”.

          1. “We need someone who can speak in terms of conservative (and liberal) as well as labour virtues”. I wouldn’t tell anyone to” f… off”. It’s not my style. I believe in the force of argument not the argument of force.

          2. You understand that’s not the same thing as anchoring our politics, right?

        2. At one level there are no such things as Labour or Tory virtues, because no one virtue belongs solely to the adherents of one party.

          But there are virtues that we tend to associate predominantly with one or other side.

          Embodying more than just the virtues predominantly associated with the Labour side seems to make sense to me.

          1. It’s a useful reminder that we are not the sole possessor of virtues, something we need to remember on the occasions we need to work together with our opponents, and if our politics is not to become even more toxic than it is.

          2. The voters we already have will be responsive to at least some of those ‘Tory virtues’. Showing those virtues helps keep them on board.

          3. The voters we need to win from the Tories are probably even more likely to be responsive to those virtues. Showing this virtues gives us a chance to win them.

          4. Many of those virtues have an honourable, if frequently forgotten, place in Labour traditions. We get our morality and our history wrong if we forget that, and give our opponents easy opportunities for attack.

          None of that thinking precludes being clear eyed about where Stewart’s successes and failures would be, nor about the need to defeat his Toryism, even in its one nation guise, so the stuff about sides is both lazy and, typically, personal.

          1. [Moderator note: This poster is now banned for attempting to subvert a previous ban using a different username.]

  3. Rory Stewart; the next Labour leader? I’m not sure Nick.
    No offence intended, but would Labour not be better going for someone a bit more pleasing to the eye?
    My vote would go to Julia Hartley Brewer. She’s smart, posh and scrubs up well.
    OMG. I take that back. I’ve just seen her. Holly Willoughby. Proper hot tottie and without a politcal idea in her head. Perfect.

  4. “We need someone who can speak in terms of conservative (and liberal) as well as labour virtues…Displaying those virtues doesn’t preclude real change, it anchors it”. Anyway let’s not to get too pedantic about the exact sentence structure, we all know what Mr Hopkins was trying to say. The point to get across is Conservative politics are about conserving the existing socio-economic order which favours the few, whereas progressive politics seek to progress from the existing structures and build something in the interests of the many. That’s where the unbridgeable political division is and you need to decide which side of it you stand on. We shouldn’t be looking to the likes of Rory Steward for any ‘virtuous’ guidance.

  5. Guys does not matter Rory is a Tory got beat and apparently a former MI6 agent

    1. Exactly, a Tory posh boy with connections to the Deep State. He may be the current poster boy for the Labour First/Progress brigade but I have to say he doesn’t float my boat.

  6. “Simplistic binaries” or class consciousness, Ramsey McDonald/Rory Stewart or Aneurin Bevan/Tony Benn, it depends on the basis of your socialism I suppose.

    1. It’s somewhat eccentric to talk about class consciousness using Tony Benn (Winchester and New College) as an example…..

      I guess there are different ways to view Bevan. Class warrior? Yes. But also the realist genius who understood the need to stuff the consultants’ mouths with gold to ensure the NHS could be created, and the cigar smoking, champagne quaffing friend of Beaverbrook with no time for puritans.

      I suspect that you think that Labour’s 2017 offer was more based on class consciousness than any for a number of years.

      Its success as a strategy isn’t clear; our working class vote in 2017 was 11pp down on 1997, and the middle class has never been as high a proportion of our vote. And aside from that one narrow loss, we’ve had consistently historically bad votes in the locals, and were at a historic low in the Euros. We’re constantly polling around Lib Dem level, sometimes below. Perhaps we should think about the values we communicate after all……

      The other interesting thing is your apparent lack of awareness of the extent to which Labour’s vote is a small ‘c’ conservative vote. Read some of Lisa Nandy’s stuff on towns and the profound sense of loss of local institutions that many experience, or just see the extent to which many of our voters pine for the communalism and industries of the past that they view as preferable to the present. Many of those in our side in politics want to conserve some things as they are, or progressive change which goes back to the best (perhaps sometimes the worst) of the past.

      As for the stuff referencing the original JRM, bless.

  7. Nick – there is a class war going on out there. You talk of one nation toryism with a degree of acceptance and respect that I find baffling. Rory Stewart is a dyed in the heart tory and his soft words mean zilch for what he would do if he had got his hands on power. You excuse him taking the tory whip loyally but what he did by doing that was inflict misery on the poorest in society. I am not a labour supporter but I am certainly more of a socialist than you are. What Labour needs is a political direction with principles and the courage to keep to them rather than following fashion garnished with spin. The reason I cannot vote labour at present is because it stands for nothing. Labour needs to find out what it believes in and I do mean BELIEVE and only then can it start the process of regeneration. The problem the party has is systemic. Sidling up to policies that John Major would have found appealing in order to win power rather than maintain a principled socialism allowed it to attract such a broad church of MPs that it has infiltrated itself. It has no core, no heart. Chukka Umunna? Okay he has been gone a couple of weeks but really – how can you have that in the same part as say Dennis Skinner and retain any credible position on anything. Labour – who are you? Labour – what are you?

    Finally, do you really think any of the Red Clydesiders would have written this article?

    1. Couldn’t give a toss about what the red Clydesiders would have written, impossible to know and not relevant.

      A Stewart premiership would have seen action on housing, social care, climate change and green industrial redevelopment.

      I doubt very much it would have seen enough action, but those would have been good things, and critically, good things for which we would not have had to argue in the same way come a GE.

      I get the type of Tory Rory is. Not my politics, but someone you could respond to positively on cross party issues, and respect for their competence. And competence really matters in Government, as we are about to see.

      There are two further areas in which I think he could have done something positive. Rough sleeping, as I mentioned. And Universal Credit, which is the sort of technical issue that a politician looking to establish himself as a One Nation Tory would want to take on. I think he’d have moved to deal with much of what is wrong with UC. And if he had, that would have made the lives of the people coming to my foodbank easier.

      As for Skinner, other than building his reputation and causing mild amusement, what has he done in over 40 years in parliament? What legislation has he passed or amended? What impact has he had?

      As for what I am? A social democrat/ democratic socialist. And someone too bored by internet randoms to spend much time willy waving about who is more to the left.

      1. Hi Nick – first of all thanks for the reply – I do appreciate that – but surely you must see that you are kidding yourself? The key words you use in your response are “I think”.

        Stewart and the rest of the conservatives in his government would never take the action you suggest – there is always a reason not to follow through. This is like believing in the Big Society. Have a look at IDS and his epiphany after visiting Glasgow’s East end and how he was going to make a new form of conservatism – there isn’t one. Even his ‘plans’ for a more compassionate change to the benefit system to”.help people into work” became so undermined by George Osbourne that he resigned. Tories will never be the champions of the poor nor reduce in-equality. Inequality is what conservatism requires for it to work.

        You miss my point on Skinner and Umuna (perhaps my fault) but what I meant was that the two (and the others like them) are incompatible in the one party – its far too broad. It became the ‘whatever you want us to be so we can get into power’ party – it has no substance. I totally agree with you about Skinner – a total waste of time – but you prefer the Tory Stewart to him? Can you hear what you are saying? This is exactly why I as a socialist cannot vote for the Labour party.

        Perhaps I misunderstand the present situation in the party. I thought they were trying to find out why people like myself who are natural Labour voters do not vote for them, If the party is not interested in why socialists don’t vote Labour then fair enough – but not much chance of a recovery there.

        1. I don’t think the Tories will ever be the champions of those who are poorest, I don’t think they will ever be their priority. That’s why I’m not a Tory.

          That doesn’t mean that I think everything the Tories do is bad. In amongst the dreadful stuff there will be stuff that is good but doesn’t go far enough. I think May was a dreadful PM and lacked compassion, but she still made a commitment to tackling rough sleeping backed with cash. Nowhere near a strong enough commitment, and doomed to failure in the context of other cuts, but a commitment.

          If you were a one nation Tory looking to establish a different type of conservatism, you’d be keen to take action on the issues that most hurt that image, that most offend people, including yourself. Rough sleeping is one of those, UC is another. I would reckon Stewart would make some progress on both. Not enough, he wouldn’t raise the money to do more, but some progress, and progress enough to make it of importance to those with least that he won rather than Johnson.

          He lost. That’s a shame for our politics, and a shame for those with least who will now wait longer for change, until a Labour Government that may be some time coming, not least because of thinking like David E’s on this thread.

  8. Reading your article and subsequent comments reminds me of a quote from Marx (Groucho not Karl): ‘Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them I have others’. The need for more conviction in our politics was evident in the recent Euro elections. We need to get back to what we stand for and why a Party of Labour was and still is needed. There is an opportunity for that now that the neoliberal policies of Thatcherism and New Labour have been discredited. But people won’t vote for us if our message becomes too diluted and they don’t see any difference between us and the other Parties. Right, I think I’ve spent enough time on this; I’m off to wave my willy somewhere else.

  9. I remember when Iain Duncan-Smith was talked about as the caring face of Toryism. The mask fell fairly quickly. Rory Stewart may have donned that mask for now …. but he is still a Tory and therefore cannot be trusted to have the best interests of “the lower orders” at heart. If he did, he wouldn’t be a Tory.

    1. Bungo
      IDS has been brought in to steady the ship for Boris.
      And Ruth is now backing Jeremy Hunt 3rd time lucky .
      That’s him done then haha.

  10. Exactly Bungo
    At 64 I remember Maggie I watched the recent tv series my memories of what she did and got away with still make me angry .
    Recently I was speaking about her to a mate former sheet metal worker .
    She destroyed his trade we agreed if during the miners strike the SNP had been viable we might have voted Indy .
    Today Saturday 22nd June I met another pal not seen him in years he did 14 years in the navy should me a photy of him and his Falklands medals after how you doing I said I am in the Labour party he said he was SNP Trump and Boris War all over it .
    Nothing I could say.

  11. Nick
    I am in the Labour Party
    Here in Scotland we did not vote for leave in the EU Ref .
    What does Rory although now out of the race have to say about that or EU Citizens living and working here in Scotland especially in the NHS still not knowing if they can stay after Brexit .
    Universal Credit which is a disaster people in work having to use foodbanks .Reform of the DWP etc .
    Boris through inattention to detail while foreign secretary giving the Irainians cause to detain a woman as a spy she and her husband are currently on hunger strike.
    And if Nicola askes for section 30 powers for Indy 2 what is Rory and your position on that as I think Rory is still in the cabinet .
    I say do it .

  12. Another thing the Maggie documentaries big mention of poll tax demos in England saw nothing for Scotland

  13. Sunday Times here is the plan for what will happen according to sources if Boris becomes PM
    1 motion of no confidence Tory MPS write to PM May saying they will not vote for Boris So she will not be able to recommend Boris to the Queen as someone who can form a government .that will command a majority .
    Dominic Grieve has confirmed that a sizeable group of Tory a MPS will vote with Labour to bring down the government .
    A cross party group of MPS is planning to make another attempt to get control of the parliamentary timetable .
    A group 26 Labour MPS in Labour leave seats have held secret talks about bringing forward there own version of Pm Mays deal .
    Tory Brexiteers say if Boris does not hold to his Oct 31 promise they will force their own no confidence motion .
    They say we made him and we can brake him .
    If Boris reneges he will be out quicker than May was .

  14. In todays Tuesday paper
    India and Pakistan are at the London high court over 1 million stashed there since partition in1947 now worth 35 million .
    In 1947 before the partition of India the Nizam of Hyderabad scared there would be a power grab after partition gave the million to the Pakistan Ambassador for safekeeping .
    From there to the Nat West bank in London where now worth 35 million it still is .
    Now the Nizams grandsons supported by India want the money .
    So does Pakistan haha

  15. [Moderator note: This poster is now banned for attempting to subvert a previous ban using a different username.]

  16. Watched the Scotland Tonight debate last night .
    Jackson Carlaw did not know how many children are living in poverty in his constituency or how many food banks are in use .
    Keith Brown appeared unable to confirm that an Indy ref will be held in the second half of next year

  17. The Devolution programme when they were campaigning for devolution .
    Donald Dewar turned up early for a meeting .
    I did not know him knew who he was .
    So we had a good chinwag him with a cup of tea he told me of his hopes asked and listened to what I thought and why he took the time to listen to a nobody like me .
    What a nice man just the 2 of us until everyone turned up.

  18. Its Nov 1rst We are still in the EU
    PM Boris cant get his Brexit no deal through Parliament
    He shouts Nigel get Arrons car we are going to the Palace .
    When he gets there Its ok Lizzie no need to bow .
    I need to get you to sign this paper .I need you to suspend parliament for a few years .
    All that voting business and MPS not doing what I tell them bit of a bore .
    Suspend and I can get us out of the EU by teatime .
    And that Scottish lot suspend them permanently they can go look for the loch Ness Monster do them good .
    And I can get back to painting buses.
    Eh what do you mean bow call you mam and the answer is no.

  19. Well Boris has been a busy man Fridays Times reports and none of it denied last weekend Boris by phone offered Javid the chancellors job .If he turns it down Liz Truss is being considered .
    He is expected to sack Amber Rudd David Lidington David Gauke and Rory Stewart because they do not support a potential no deal Brexit .
    He is also considering a September Budget .That will remove a lot of regulations post Brexit .
    I fear that means changes to employment and benefit rules .
    To Ruth Davidson and Jackson Carlaw if Boris wins with all the things you have both said of him. And remembering all constituencies in Scotland voted remain in the EU ref .
    Will you remind your MPS of that .
    And if its Boris resign your positions anyway .

  20. Kenny MacAsKill
    Has said Iran shooting down the USA Drone was arguably correct Giant War plane in Iran airspace

  21. I have a few questions regarding the Tory horror beauty leadership contest .The finalists are now busy presenting their vote for me bribes to the Tory members .
    All those extra billions they are promising .Where did they find it and what budgets will be cut to finance their plans .
    The chancellor has warned the money is not there .
    Also both have outside advisors who is paying for them .We the public need answers and before the result is announced

  22. Just watched CH4 News the 2 Lib Dem Leadership contenders have just said they would use nuclear weapons

  23. Well The USA might impose tariffs on whisky and the Chancellor has warned again today Boris and Tory Jeremys spending plans don’t add up . Quite a warning .

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