Former Conservative MP, Rory Stewart has announced his intention to run as an Independent for London Mayor in 2020.
The Eton educated, Oxford graduate has led an interesting life which has seen him serve the Foreign Office in Indonesia and Montenegro before becoming the Deputy Governor of the Coalition Provisional Authority following the Iraq invasion in 2003 which saw him earn an OBE for his work.
In 2010 he became Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border, going on to serve as a Minister in a number of positions, most notably as Minister for the Department for International Development.
He recently stood to become leader of the Conservative Party, leading an innovative, interactive campaign largely conducted using social media and spontaneous meet ups which eventually saw him finish fifth.
Last month he, along with 20 of his colleagues lost the Conservative whip for voting to prevent a no deal Brexit. A month on from this he announced his intention to stand down as an MP at the next election, followed by his announcement of his candidacy for London Mayor.
In his Twitter announcement video Stewart said he was ‘leaving that Gothic shouting chamber of Westminster’. He then told the BBC ‘the way to make real change in the modern world is intensely local.’
In an open letter to Londoners published in the Evening Standard Stewart set out his main policy areas for the city, writing “too much of our housing is unaffordable… our air is grotesquely polluted.. our streets unsafe.”
Indicative polling conducted by YouGov in October 2018 suggests these are areas of high concern for Londoners with knife crime and housing being the leading concerns among those polled.
Stewart has cited poor leadership for the emergence and continuation of these problems and has pledged to use his experience in Iraq and as head of NGOs to find effective solutions.
Stewart has also promised to learn from Londoners and will spend the next month “not campaigning, but listening” as he has pledged to walk through all 32 of London’s boroughs, much like in the Conservative Leadership contest which saw him go from an unlikely outsider to the final five.
Despite identifying areas of concern for Londoners, Stewart’s Brexit position may hinder him. Having campaigned for Remain in 2016, Stewart went on to support Theresa May’s deal on three occasions writing on his website that “we should respect the democratic result by leaving EU political institutions”.
In 2016 59.9% of Londoners voted to remain. This may be a stumbling block for Stewart who has otherwise identified key areas of concern that resonate with Londoners.
This however, does leave 40.1% of the population in favour of leaving. Sadiq Khan, is committed to a second Brexit referendum and would support Remain. He faces competition from a newly revitalised Liberal Democrats who have attempted to frame themselves as the party of Remain.
Due to the use of the Supplementary Vote system in London, whereby a second preference is listed on the ballot paper, this may hinder Khan from gaining the required 50% in the first round of ballots.
Without the party tag and running as an Independent Stewart may find it hard to break the mould of ‘the suffocating embrace of party politics’ as he described it. However, London has elected an Independent before, with Ken Livingstone in 2000.
Khan’s approval ratings among Londoners dropped to an all-time low of -3 in July 2019. However the incumbent is still the bookies favourite to succeed in gaining re-election after Stewart’s announcement.