Before this leadership contest few members of the public had heard of their people’s champion- in fact, most still have not. Stewart, despite the fact that he is the least popular of the seven MPs remaining with his parliamentary colleagues, as well as having little public support, has been championed by the ‘centre-ground’ mainstream media (MSM). That a little-known candidate, with virtually no chance of winning has received so much attention from the MSM is a curiosity worth examining, as is Stewart himself.
Stewart has lived an incredibly privileged life. Born in Hong Kong, he was educated at the exclusive Dragon School and Eton College, schools that are gateways into positions of power, with Eton having produced 19 prime ministers. At university, Stewart studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford, a degree which is commonly seen as preparation for life in politics. While at university, Stewart tutored Prince William and Prince Harry, a role that is demonstrative of the connections he was born into. After graduating, Stewart worked for the Foreign Office which led to senior appointments in Iraq. During this period, Stewart no doubt gained valuable knowledge on foreign policy and governance, while also adding several languages to his repertoire. That he is qualified for the role of Prime Minister in the traditional sense is of little doubt.
Why then is the media’s pushing of Stewart so bizarre? It is because aside from his credentials, traditional qualifications that numerous candidates possess, he has little support. Stewart is backed by just 19 MPs. While this is likely more than he was expecting and enough to get past the first round of voting, it would be surprising if he could gain the 14 votes needed to progress further. Furthermore, while Stewart’s campaign has been boosted by him polling second behind Boris Johnson in a survey of Tory members, he is still only on 12%, with Johnson 42 points ahead on 54%. Given that Stewart has arguably been covered by the media more than any other candidate except Johnson, this is hardly popular support for his platform. On top of this, the conservativism of the Tory grassroots means that it is inconceivable that a large enough number will back Stewart. It is almost impossible for him to win.
Despite the doomed nature of Stewart’s campaign, this has not stopped him from receiving praise from noted centrists, such as James O’Brian, Gary Lineker and Eddie Marsan. He has been praised for his honesty, and some remainers on twitter have begun to view him as an ally to their cause. He is promoted as an opponent of Brexit, a champion of parliamentary democracy, and a man of the people who will bring the Conservative Party back into popularity. He sounds a perfect candidate. Only one question remains- is any of it true?
As Brexit has become the biggest issue of the day it makes sense to start there. Would Stewart try to stop Brexit or at least offer a second referendum? The answer, in short, is no. While Stewart voted remain, he has vowed to respect the result of the referendum and was a key advocate of May’s deal. Stewart’s position on this has not changed, declaring that he is a realist and would only seek to change the political declaration, the only part of the deal he believes it is possible to change. It is difficult to criticise him for this. His party would not accept another referendum and he is instead, in his own eyes, attempting to make the best of a bad situation.
What Stewart can act on however, is the threat of a no deal Brexit. Following the first ballot of MPs, Stewart declared that if Johnson attempted to prorogue (suspend) parliament then he ‘and every other member of parliament will sit across the road in Methodist Central Hall and we will hold our own session of parliament and we will bring him down’. With such stern words a person could be forgiven to think that Stewart was resolutely opposed to a no deal Brexit come what may, yet he is not. What Stewart is opposed to is the by-passing of parliament, the issue of no deal itself is of little concern to him. This was demonstrated by his refusal to back Labour’s attempt to give parliament the opportunity to block no deal. Stewart voted against the motion. While supporting it would have forced him to resign from government, most would agree that one’s country should come before ministerial cars. Instead Stewart chose to make grandiose threats that he knew would be picked up by the media and generate easy headlines to boost his campaign. As will be shown, it is not empty words that have value, it is voting records.
Given that Andrew Sparrow of the Guardian described Stewart as ‘standing in a Tory leadership contest on a non-Tory platform’, it would be a reasonable assumption that Stewart is a Tory with a heart, however, much like unicorns, these do not exist. One only has to examine Stewart’s voting record to see that his liberalism is of the kind that does not involve being truly liberal. He embodies the modern-day centrism that allows one to parade one’s support for causes that should be supported out of decency, like gay marriage or feminism, as virtues worth of praise, ones that are used to disguise his crushing policies towards the most vulnerable in society.
Stewart represents much of the centrist ideology. He mouths liberal words yet his record is distinctly illiberal. He has consistently voted against raising benefits in line with prices, voted for the bedroom tax, voted against higher benefits for the sick and disabled. He has voted 47 times to reduce spending on welfare benefits. Stewart almost always votes for military intervention abroad, for stricter asylum laws and for mass surveillance of British citizens. He has voted to raise tuition fees, against tackling climate change and against landlord regulation. Even when it comes to the EU, he has consistently rejected more integration and against right to remain for EU nationals in the UK. This is a man who regularly votes against the promotion of equality and human rights. Stewart claims he understands ‘prudence’, yet his privilege means that he does not understand the meaning of the word. He speaks of prudence yet for the people it is poverty. Stewart does not have the voting record of a progressive or a liberal. He votes like a right-wing zealot.
The media like Stewart as he guarantees the status quo. He satisfies their basic morals without threatening real change- a less right-wing Johnson. He possesses the same oddities, quirkiness and charming poshness, and much like Johnson he uses these to mask his true character. Stewart demostrates that for the media being polite and posh means you are a political ‘nice guy’ no matter how many disabled people’s benefits you vote to strip, no matter how many you push into destitution. Why should we separate Johnson from Stewart when they are cut from the same cloth? Both are Etonians and both attened Balliol College, Oxford. Both were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. Stewart may not have been in the Bullingdon Club, and may be more capable than Johnson, yet he represents the same privilege. He was born into the idea that he was destined for high office.
Stewart is no underdog in the true sense of the word. Yes, he has little chance of winning, but that is not because of his environment or upbringing, it is in spite of that. Even when he loses, Stewart will be hailed as a centrist hero. He will be booked by political shows as an influential Conservative voice and will tour events giving expensive after dinner speeches. One day he may end up as PM, if not he will land on his feet with a cosy directorship of some bank or business.
Stewart is being promoted as the acceptable face of conservativism. He is a polite man with cruel politics. Yet while the Conservatives may occasionally have an acceptable face for their party, the reality of their rule is never acceptable. For ordinary people it means death, destitution and disaster. The Conservative Party is the nasty party of nasty politics. With his party and voting record Stewart can be a nice guy, or he can be a smart guy, but he cannot be both. When he speaks of rejecting ‘fairy stories’ for ‘realism’ he is arguing that people should be grateful for what they have when he was born into everything he could ever want. Stewart is not a nice guy, he would just be polite as he tears people’s lives apart. He is just a more liberal Boris Johnson.