Do You Think I Should Be Prime Minister?

I’ve always been a fan of Rory Stewart’s writing. His spare prose sits well, and I can appreciate his criticism of internationals parachuted in to fix cultures of which they have neither experience nor knowledge.  I’ve never been overly sympathetic of his critics, who  deride his colonial profile, his precociousness, or his view from the weeds. His style works well as a source of engaging reading material.  As bona fide expertise, though, a lot of it  – his ideas, and his qualifications to offer them  – rubs the wrong way. Emily Stokes’ interview with him, published in the Financial Times at the end of July, doesn’t paint a flattering portrait… and raises some questions as to how connected he his with the realities around him. Or how disconnected he is from them.

Maybe that’s just the way FT decided to portray him. I don’t know the man, except from what he’s written, so difficult to say. You be the judge.  It would be interesting, though, to see how political life in Britain would treat him.

“Do you think I should be a politician, Emily?” he asks. I say why not. “Do you think I should I be prime minister?” I tell him that I think he should try being a politician first. Stewart clearly has some concerns about how he would be received as an MP in Britain. Will people be prejudiced towards him because he went to Eton? Does he come across too earnest in interviews? Should he be more light-hearted? Does an MP need to support a football team? Stewart is better at observing ancient Afghan traditions than modern British ones; he doesn’t know a thing about football. The only advice I can think of seems to come from his own book – to keep acting on his feet, and to bear in mind that no one, not even Rory Stewart, can be an expert on everything.

Read the rest here. H/t Kenneth Payne.

5 comments

  1. I agree. That interview was kind of cringe-making. He might make it in politics though. Michael Ignatieff is a similar sort of guy don’t you think? Intellectual and smart but somehow off-putting. Yet he’s in with a chance of being Canada’s PM.

  2. That’s a good analogy, David. Ignatieff and Stewart are obviously very different people, but both hail from what might be considered cosmopolitan, worldwise diplomatic families. Ignatieff, for all his foibles, is older, more mature. He’s also a fully qualified and accomplished academic. So it could be that the major difference is that Stewart strikes many as a queue-jumping throwback.

    There’s no doubt that he can work, and has made some significant achievements. But he also seems to, well… have had things handed to him. Like being a university professor sans PhD – regardless of how otherwise thorough his educational preparation has been – which can’t sit well with academics who believe in professional standards. His work certainly deserves a less uncritical reception than Tom Ricks affords it.

    Overall, I’m certain that criticism of Stewart is founded on jealousy, of both his accomplishments and of the apparent privileges he enjoys by virtue of family, schooling, or what have you. How will all of that translate to a foray into politics? How will he fare with the kind of popularity contest that underlies political success, and the kind of gladhanding gruntwork needed to build a political base? More importantly, what are Stewart’s politics? To be honest, I can’t see him gaining entry or surviving in any other capacity than as some form of appointee or advisor.

  3. He certainly has had good fortune–no denying that. You’re right though that academically Ignatieff has a great deal more cred than Stewart.

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  5. I think that perhaps Ignatieff is not the right Canadian politician to compare Stewart too, a better analogy would be former Canadian PM Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Like Stewart, he was precocious and arrogant as all get out, but Trudeau could also cash the cheques, something I’m not entirely sure Stewart can do. But both men were young and brash and had some public service on their CV, Trudeau was in his mid-40s when he became Canadian PM in 1968, with background and experience as a public intellectual in his home province of Québec, yet with an eye on the wider world.

    Ignatieff, as Mike notes, is much older, with much more experience than Stewart, and, in my opinion, has much more gravitas than Stewart, who is a pretty boy. But, then again, so was Trudeau, and he went on to be Prime Minister of Canada from 1968-84, except for 6 months in 1979-80, and radically reshaped Canada, for better or worse.

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