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In conversation with Rory Stewart

Posted on 14 June 2024

As the countdown to election day narrows to just three weeks, Katy Colton, the Head of our Politics and Law Group, sat down with Rory Stewart, former Cabinet minister and co-presenter of the popular podcast 'The Rest is Politics' to discuss his new book, Politics On the Edge, his views on the imminent election, and the future of the political landscape in Britain.

Motivations and parliamentary frustrations

During the Academy Session, Rory spoke of his initial motivations for becoming an MP, which were rooted in his brief time as a soldier and then a British Diplomat. His experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he witnessed the repercussions of misguided political decisions, fuelled his desire to influence policy from within. He envisioned the role of an MP as akin to a senior civil servant, with the power to engage with the government and bring about change.

However, the reality of parliamentary life did not align with his expectations. Rory candidly expressed his disillusionment with the institution. Quoting W.H Auden that "private faces in public places are wiser than public faces in private places", Rory discussed how politicians, after ten years, become "public faces in private places", losing their nuance, depth, and introspection.

Systemic challenges and potential reforms

Distinguishing between issues with the individuals within Parliament and the system itself, Rory discussed the entrenched problems within the parliamentary system. This included how the parties dominate and control the candidate selection process, the influence of party whips, which reinforce the sense that all that matters is doing what Prime Minister wants and loyalty, and the constraints placed on ministers who have no option but to toe the party line or resign.

To address these challenges, he proposed two reforms:

  1. A shift in our electoral system towards proportional representation or a mixed system akin to New Zealand's voting model.
  2. A mandate for ministers to serve a minimum period in office.

The upcoming election and the state of british politics

Rory likened the electoral process to a job interview, critiquing the superficiality of today's debate formats that simplifies politics to brief 45 second soundbites and personal attacks, offering the public little insight into the party's manifestos, and, ultimately, which candidate is best suited for the job of Prime Minister. Rory and Katy discussed how these issues have only been exacerbated in recent years by the pervasive influence of social media on public discourse that simultaneously polarises public opinion, and the lack of seriousness that has infiltrated Britain's political scene.

With current polls indicating a potential Labour victory, Rory anticipates Labour's predominantly youthful leadership team will end up grappling with the weight of expectations.

You can listen to the full Academy Session here and for more news, analysis, and legal updates in the run up to the general election on 4 July, take a look at our General Election Hub.

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