The second round of the Conservative Party leadership election has begun, amid acrimony between some candidates and dark horse contender Rory Stewart.
Mr Stewart, who polled lowest among contenders who got through to the second round, has been quietly (and politely) amassing a surprising amount of momentum.
He came second in a survey of candidates by ConservativeHome, behind Boris Johnson.
He was considered the most impressive candidate in the Channel 4 televised debate on Sunday – in which Mr Johnson was “empty-chaired”.
And it seems he is thought to be the most “disruptive” candidate apart from Mr Johnson.
This could make him a danger to Mr Johnson’s own chances if they face each other in the BBC televised debate today (June 18). It seems likely that, if he does get through the current round of voting, he’ll be asking awkward questions about the promises Mr Johnson has been making.
It seems Mr Johnson has persuaded groups that have irreconcilable differences to back him and Mr Stewart is likely to ask whether this means he has been offering different things to different groups, telling them what they want to hear rather than what he intends to do.
Strangely, it seems the other candidates don’t want this to happen and would prefer Mr Johnson to have an easy time of it, as they are doing their level best to gang up on Mr Stewart.
Sajid Javid said Mr Stewart was effectively the candidate for remaining in the European Union: “I think [Stewart’s] effectively telling us that we should remain in the EU and there is a small constituency amongst my colleagues that would rather remain than leave, and I think that is part of the challenge that we have to deal with. And so I think up to a point Rory can attract that support but it’s not going to get us any further.”
It is possible the claim was prompted after Mr Stewart, who is MP for Penrith and the Border in Cumbria, commented that he was concerned about the effect of a no-deal Brexit on sheep farmers in his constituency. He has repudiated Mr Javid’s words:
I’m sure Sajid didn’t mean that. He knows how fiercely and passionately we have both campaigned to get the withdrawal agreement through – and how although I – like he – voted Remain, we have fought together sincerely as fellow Cabinet Ministers for a moderate and pragmatic Brexit https://t.co/r2uKTMW7yi
— Rory Stewart (@RoryStewartUK) June 18, 2019
There have also been rumours that Mr Stewart may have been a spy for MI6 when he worked as the British Representative to Montenegro in the wake of the Kosovo campaign in 1999. If he had been, he certainly would not admit it – and in any case, he said, the press would not be allowed to report it, according to the law.
Will this combined criticism cause Mr Stewart’s support to collapse? We’ll know very soon.
Asked how he was feeling when he cast his own vote, Mr Stewart admitted: “Not that confident.”
Possibly the most interesting comment on it has come from David Gauke, who supports the Stewart campaign. He tweeted:]
A question for my colleagues who:
– want the leadership candidates properly tested
– believe we should leave the EU with a deal
– want a great communicator capable of pulling off a surprise with the membership …
… how would you feel if @RoryStewartUK got 32 votes tonight?
— David Gauke (@DavidGauke) June 18, 2019
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