He might be out of the race, but Rory Stewart has shown us what our politics could be.
About a month ago, Rory Stewart, a relatively unknown newly appointed cabinet minister, effectively launched his Conservative Party leadership campaign in a London Costa coffee shop.
Tweeting his location, he asked people to join him for a coffee and a chat about politics.
Despite being widely mocked for it, he carried on. Using little more than social media and a wobbly camera, he encouraged people to join him as he walked through different parts of the UK.
The most striking impact of these videos was Rory’s transparency; his willingness to set out policy ideas to members of the public and tweak them as people gave their feedback. There was no elaborate press briefing trying to control the issues discussed. Instead, Rory was engaging with whatever topic was raised with him.
I decided to see this for myself, so went along to one of Rory’s walks. I wanted to see if these were as open to the public as they appeared to be. My scepticism was short lived. At the public meeting I attended, Rory gave a very short speech and then dedicated the majority of time to questions from those who had come to see him. In his answers, he was refreshingly detailed.
He avoided clichés and didn’t shy away from nuance and complexity. On Brexit, he stressed the practical barriers to thinking that the Withdrawal Agreement could be changed.
On Adult Social Care, he summarised the findings of the Dilnot report and the dangers of party politics hindering the policy changes required. When tackling questions on climate change, he moved the debate from whether our current circumstances were an ‘emergency’ to a discussion of the practical policies we can pursue to improve air quality.
On reflection, some might say that such an approach was doomed to fail. Rory’s approach was not to try to identify his core supporters. Instead, he tried to move discussion to where debate was most useful; that being where it is grounded in pragmatism. A cynic might say that a politician might be more successful if they just try to appeal to a core vote, rather than seek pragmatic compromise and common ground.
But I would have to disagree. Even though Rory is now out of the Conservative Party leadership race, his campaign is proof that our politics can be much more that dogmatic dualism and emotive populism.
He actively engaged the public and didn’t shy away from complexity, whether it be on social care, climate change or Brexit. As the Conservative’s parliamentary candidate for Oxford West and Abingdon, it’s certainly an example to follow.
**This opinion piece by James was published by The Oxford Mail on 8th July 2019**