Rory Stewart on Love, Brexit and Boris Johnson
Rory Stewart talks to Freddie Sayers about love, Brexit and how Boris Johnson made him feel like an abused wife
I sat down with Rory Stewart for a fascinating discussion about whether politicians should talk about love, whether he got it wrong over Brexit and how Boris Johnson made him feel like an abused wife.
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Some key quotes:
ON THE POLITICS OF LOVE
Fundamentally, it is about showing love for another human being – whoever that human being is. And that means that you need to try to live out your values when you engage with them; and try not to be thrown off balance by the fact that they’re angry with you; try to get beyond your disagreements and try desperately to remember that they are like you. That we’re all an odd bundle of insecurities, vanities, strengths, weaknesses – and that we may do bad things, but that we’re not intrinsically bad people.
It’s not uniquely Christian – you would have it within Islam, you would have it within the Buddhist tradition – but it’s fundamentally predicated on the notion that we are equal in a very profound sense which is that we are all imbued with equal dignity… You could talk about your soul, you could talk about being God-created, in a more contemporary sense you could just talk about being inheritors of this odd thing called consciousness reaching from birth to death, or that we’re fellow sufferers on this funny journey of life…
ON THE HARD BREXITEERS AND CONSERVATISM
You can’t on the one hand be, as Jacob [Rees Mogg] pretends to be, the great romantic traditionalist who loves traditional British institutions, and then be contemptuous of the British parliament, be contemptuous of the supreme court. It’s very worrying that some of the hard Brexiteers start quoting Oliver Cromwell’s response to parliament….
There has obviously been a tension right the way through the Thatcher era, encapsulated in people like John Redwood – is he really a man who is deeply romantic about history, tradition, union, nation, or is he just an extraordinary Vulcan-like free-marketeer? Or is he just somebody he enjoys being a contrarian? He also has peculiar views on Climate Change… obviously my Remainer friends would say its because he’s not bright, but he’s obviously bright, he just seems to be a professional contrarian. I guess the hard Brexiteers must have been professional contrarians for thirty years, that’s what’s kept them going.
ON BEING WRONG ABOUT BORIS SECURING A NEW DEAL
I’ve definitely learned that I was wrong and that my way of analysing that underestimated his ability to do this… I assumed, wrongly, that he would be attached to the DUP. So when people said to me “no no, he’s going to go for an all-Ireland backstop, he’s going to sell out the DUP” I said ‘he can’t do that.”
ON BORIS JOHNSON HIMSELF
He is an extraordinary individual. He’s an individual I find very disturbing. He’s not my type of man. He’s clearly somebody who, more than anyone in the world, has always got away with things. His whole life, basically…
I suppose it’s a form of charm. I saw it myself when I was working for him in the Foreign Office. He would do something that I thought was completely monstrous, and totally undermine everything I was doing as an Africa minister, absentmindedly.. And I would go in to try to be cross with him, but he diffuses it very quickly and talks his way out of it, and you end up outside the door wondering what happened. So you feel like an abused wife, going in to complain about some monstrosity that your partner has done, and being talked out of it and charmed out of it…
It’s the skill of somebody who doesn’t believe in disciplining himself. If we’re talking Greek philosophy, he’s fascinated by this word Akrasia. The reason he’s not in Aristotle’s sense an ethical human being is that he lacks self-control. And he’s organised a whole life around this.
ARE YOU A CHRISTIAN?
I go to church on a Sunday. I think I struggle with my faith – I have since I was thirteen years old – but the language and world view of Christianity I find the most powerful, helpful, wise unlocking guide to the our purpose in life and how we deal with each other as human beings.
ARE YOU GOING TO WIN IN LONDON?
I am an underdog. I have no party, no money, no campaign – I’m having to build it from the grassroots. But I believe we are better than what we currently are and if I can make people see that the Labour Party and the Conservative Party are not really what is going to make London extraordinary – and that together we can make London extraordinary – and that no Mayor of London has done for London what Mayors of London have done for New York – that is going to depend on my ability to communicate that and make and inspire a team.
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