How Rory Stewart derailed his Cabinet colleagues’ campaigns

16 June 2019

11:40 PM

16 June 2019

11:40 PM

When Rory Stewart first announced his intention to enter the race to be the UK’s next prime minister, he was seen by colleagues as having little to no chance of making it far in the leadership contest. Yet as the Parliamentary contest goes into its second week, Stewart is one of six contenders left standing and has today won a ministerial endorsement in the form of Tobias Ellwood. The Defence Minister had been backing Matt Hancock but after the Health Secretary bowed out on Friday, he will now back Stewart – praising the DfID Secretary’s enthusiasm. This could become a recurring theme – Michael Gove, Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt had all hoped to pick up many of Hancock’s supporters to help them in the next round yet a chunk are now considering backing Stewart instead.

Stewart needs to find another 13 MPs to back him in order to make it through Tuesday’s secret ballot. However, regardless of whether he manages it, it’s safe to say that he has had a significant influence on the leadership race. The first leadership ballot of the contest saw a disappointing result for every Cabinet candidate bar Stewart – with Stewart benefitting from low expectations in part.

In his own way, Stewart has managed to cause every one of his Cabinet leadership rivals bother. For Matt Hancock, it’s the most immediate. The Hancock campaign saw his route to making it to the final rounds as winning the support of MPs like Stewart by pitching as the future candidate who was wary of no deal. In the end, not only did Stewart run, he also managed to win the support of many of the MPs the Hancock campaign believed would be theirs. When Stewart managed to get enough MPs to survive the first round, the game was up for Hancock. The only way the Health Secretary would have made it to the next round was if Stewart’s supporters had moved to him.

For Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt, Stewart has caused them a headache with the style of his campaign. There is a certain way of running an orthodox leadership campaign which involves advisers and a launch video. By throwing out the rulebook and opting for multiple videos, walks in parks and impromptu rallies, Stewart made some of his rival’s campaigns seem flat and staged by comparison. As ConservativeHome’s Paul Goodman said on Coffee House Shots: ‘What Rory Stewart has done is waged a quite brilliant guerrilla war. He has just used Twitter to disrupt and confound anyone who wasn’t expecting him to be a significant presence’.

Finally, Michael Gove has also suffered as a result of the Stewart campaign. Gove had pitched himself as the candidate to take Boris Johnson on. To do this, he has made several swipes against the former Foreign Secretary. Yet if you are an MP for whom these type of comments and attacks hold appeal, Stewart has gone further than Gove. Stewart has repeatedly gone on the attack against Johnson (both over no deal and nuclear codes). He has promised to be an enthusiastic debater against Johnson were he to make the final two.

This is not to suggest that Stewart is on course to make the final two. Unless things change in the coming days, he will be knocked out on Tuesday. Whatever happens, as one member of government said following the first ballot: ‘Rory has messed up nearly everyone’s campaign’.

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