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.