Image description: Rory Stewart, Secretary of State for International Development.
You and I probably have something in common. Something a bit embarrassing, something we’ve only realised about ourselves recently. Do you want to say it or- yes, OK, I’ll go first. Against my better judgement I…. I quite like Rory Stewart, Minister for International Development, MP for Penrith and the Border, you know, the nerdy looking bloke who’s running to be leader of the Conservative Party. I don’t actually like him, of course- he’s a Tory, isn’t he- and can give you plenty of receipts as to his general Badness, his votes against climate change and investigations into the Iraq War and against raising welfare spending, you know, tory shit. But even as I survey his generally undesirable voting record and time as a minister in one of the worst governments in British history, I can still sneak a guilty, Fleabag style 4th wall break and say, actually- I quite like Rory Stewart.
I’ve thought about why this is a lot in the last few days, sitting in various libraries luxuriating in the knowledge that my dissertation will write itself. In this time, I have managed to break this sneaking fondness down into three distinct sections.
Firstly, there is context. When viewed alongside the motley assemblage of runners and riders hoping to replace Theresa May as changer of the Downing Street kitty litter, Rory Stewart, to soft left-y eyes such as mine own, begins to look positively saintly. Dominic Raab is a hard Brexiteer who looks like he’s wearing someone else’s skin; he’s also the subject of several non-disclosure agreements with female colleagues, and has a charming sideline in the kind of rhetoric more normally aired in men’s rights forums in scrungey parts of the internet. Jeremy Hunt spent a happy 8 years running the NHS into the ground. And Boris Johnson- from his comments about Liverpool’s post Hillsborough victim mentality to his tasteful longings for the days of empire (invariably populated with language about “watermelon smiles” and “picanninies”), is a national disgrace. But Rory Stewart- he governed provinces in Iraq, had a genuinely interesting pre-parliamentary career, speaks other languages, thinks hard Brexit is (whisper it) maybe not such a hot idea! Be still my beating heart, the competence! The internationalism! The terrified, awkward, borderline sinister smile!
When viewed alongside the motley assemblage of runners and riders hoping to replace Theresa May, Rory Stewart, to soft left-y eyes such as mine own, begins to look positively saintly.
Ah, yes, the smile; that takes us to reason number two. A sad fact, Rory, if you are reading this: you are just a bit funny looking, aren’t you. That’s fine, fine- so am I, don’t worry about it, I don’t, hardly think about, really- but I regret to inform you that you have, in fact, become a meme. Rory Stewart’s genesis as a meme is in part due to the fact that he looks like a haunted Aardman animation- Wallace and Gromit’s local MP, maybe, who has some concerns about a new kind of cheese Wallace has invented which has really caught on and is threatening the local cheese industry with its growing monopoly, it’s becoming too powerful, Wallace, he’ll say- and in part due to the rather odd way he’s been running his campaign. He seems, essentially, to be walking around the London commuter belt, asking people to talk to him. He’s been in Borough and Barking and Kew Gardens, beseeching the general public to engage him in earnest chatter. Meme fodder enough in itself, it’s true, but he’s also been 1) getting his campaign staff to video him talking to camera while, 2) holding his arm out as if he is taking a selfie video and then, 3) just shamelessly admitting that this is what he was doing all along, just telling everyone, yes, I was pretending to take a selfie video with my arm in that weird position. I logged on yesterday to find that my entire timeline had been subsumed by wave after wave of memes about Rory Stewart’s strange extra parliamentary walking tour. I hope it never ends.
Internationalism, moderation, embrace of Europe, looking a bit funny, memes; the Conservative party membership does not, historically, go in for these things.
But alas, it will. And so we come to reason three, the last thing to say about my strange liking for Rory Stewart, which is this: Rory Stewart will never be our plaintive, milk faced prime minister. One does not replace Theresa May by being nice to people in public spaces or speaking Dari. One does not win the leadership of the Conservative Party by having people like me (see: people who listen to Riot Grrrl and have strong feelings about abolishing the green belt) think you’re quite endearing. One wins the leadership of the Conservative party by having, you know, Conservative Party MPs and members like you and then vote for you. Internationalism, moderation, embrace of Europe, looking a bit funny, memes ; the Conservative party membership does not, historically, go in for these things. Rory Stewart is currently 6th at the bookies; while stranger things have happened at sea (and who knows, maybe in Penrith), in my heart I know- and I think you do too, Rory, it’s fine, you can admit it here, we’re all friends- that Rory Stewart has about as much of a realistic chance of becoming Tory party leader at this moment in time as I do. And that is why it’s fine, quite fine, for me to like him; he is a charming, somewhat heartening meme, a last spot of inane sunshine before we have to face the cold, unpalatable reality of prime minister Gove, Raab, Johnson, etc.
Image credit: Number Ten.