Rory Stewart to stand for London mayor as independent

Former Tory leadership candidate quits party, citing ‘extremism’ in UK politics

Former Conservative MP Rory Stewart: to run for London mayor. Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

Former Conservative MP Rory Stewart: to run for London mayor. Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

 

Rory Stewart, who ran for the leadership of the Conservatives this summer, has quit the party and announced that he will run as an independent candidate in next year’s London mayoral election.

Mr Stewart, a former diplomat and author, first entered parliament in 2010 and rose through the ranks to become prisons minister and then international development secretary in the final cabinet of Theresa May.

He started the leadership race as an outsider but gained support through a quirky social media campaign in which he posed as the maverick outsider, interviewing random members of the public on his smartphone. In the end he came fifth out of 10 candidates.

However, he has been a vociferous critic of prime minister Boris Johnson and opponent of a no-deal Brexit, describing as “fairy stories” the idea that the UK would prosper if it left the EU without an agreement.

Speaking in a video he posted on Twitter, Mr Stewart warned that London was a city “in real danger . . . above all from British politics, to the kind of extremism that is taking over our country”.

“The reason I’m going to be running to be mayor of London is that I believe that the way to fight back is through this great city, through the traditions of compromise, the energy and diversity of this city,” he said.

Mr Stewart is following in the footsteps of Mr Johnson, who was London mayor from 2008-2016.

The mayoral election is scheduled to be held on May 7th. The incumbent, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, is seeking re-election. Before Mr Stewart’s announcement he was the clear favourite to beat the Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey and the Liberal Democrats’ Siobhan Benita.

Bookmaker Paddy Power offered odds of 5-2 on Mr Stewart winning, making him the second favourite but still a long way behind Mr Khan, whose odds of victory are 4-6. London has had an independent mayor before, when Ken Livingstone – who failed to get the Labour nomination – stood successfully in 2000.

Mr Bailey responded to Mr Stewart’s announcement by tweeting: “I welcome any candidate’s decision to stand and hold Mr Khan to account over his woeful record in London.”

Stripped of whip

Mr Stewart was one of 21 Tory MPs to be stripped of the Conservative whip last month after they voted to support Hilary Benn’s Bill aimed at blocking a no-deal Brexit in the Commons. Those disciplined also included other former cabinet ministers such as Ken Clarke, Justine Greening and Philip Hammond.

Another of the 21, Sam Gyimah, who also stood for the leadership with minimal success, has since left the Tories to join the Lib Dems.

“It’s been a great privilege to serve Penrith and The Border for the last 10 years,” Mr Stewart said on Twitter.

On Thursday night the MP appeared at the Royal Albert Hall for Letters Live, where actors and celebrities read out letters for charity: Mr Stewart read out one from Eton’s headmaster to Stanley Johnson about the behaviour of his son Boris, telling the audience that the reading “constitutes my resignation from the Conservative party”.

Mr Stewart is a former foreign office official who was the deputy governor of two Iraqi provinces before he decided to go into politics. He wrote a successful travel memoir from a walk across wintry war-torn Afghanistan in 2002, called The Places In Between. While a student at Oxford he was a private tutor to Prince William and Prince Harry during the summer.

Last month, speaking at the GQ awards, he wryly observed: “You’ve made me Politician Of The Year and I’m no longer a politician.”

Amber Rudd, who recently quit the cabinet and resigned the Conservative whip, said on Twitter: “What a loss to politics. An outstanding MP & Minister. One of the strongest speakers in Parliament. Principled, patient, thoughtful. I feel certain he’ll be back.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019