Belfast Telegraph

Alban Maginness: Rory Stewart is sensible, modest and thoughtful... that's why he'll never be leader of the Tory Party

Boris Johnson is odds-on favourite, but his election would be an unmitigated disaster for the country, says Alban Maginness

Rory Stewart
Rory Stewart
Boris Johnson
Nigel Farage
Alban Maginness

By Alban Maginness

Rory Stewart, the current Secretary of State for International Development, should be the new leader of the Conservative Party, but foolishly the Conservatives will not elect him, because he is too sensible, too centrist and too consensual.

Rory Stewart is probably the number one choice of most non-Conservatives, largely because he comes across as a modest but thoughtful person, anxious to do the right thing for the right reason. His approach transcends the narrow confines of party politics.

Stewart is the antithesis of the self-serving, self-interested politician who will sell their granny in order to climb the greasy pole to power and success.

His innate decency stands in sharp contrast to most of the other candidates, who exude ambition and an expedient approach to politics.

Stewart honestly admits that a 'no-deal' on Brexit would be catastrophic. He realistically accepts that Theresa May's existing deal is all that the European Union will allow. His worthy aim is to enlist the support of additional MPs to get that deal through the House of Commons.

As a true parliamentarian, he will robustly defend the right of Parliament to decide the issue of a withdrawal deal and a future trade deal.

His approach is refreshingly honest and realistic, with no attempt to deceive, or misrepresent, the people on what is the most important and vexed issue facing the electorate, that is Brexit.

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Until that issue is finally resolved, Brexit will continue to dominate politics in Britain and Ireland - and that may be for decades to come.

It has dominated all other policy matters in the Tory leadership election and whoever is elected will be judged on their approach to Brexit.

It is, therefore, profoundly depressing that the Conservative Party grassroots membership will, without doubt, elect a new leader who is strongly pro-Brexit.

The Tory Party has long since moved from being the pragmatic centrist party of John Major, or David Cameron, and has adopted an anti-European, right-wing stance. Most of the candidates, save for Rory Stewart, would fit that right-wing bill.

No other issue except Brexit counts and whoever is elected will determine the future of the Conservative Party. As we have seen from the results of the European election and, more importantly, the Peterborough by-election, it is the strength of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party that will decide the future electoral fortunes of the Conservative Party.

Peterborough is no obscure constituency, but is a hugely important barometer of political opinion in England. Like most of East Anglia, it is a marginal constituency that used to swing between the two established parties.

While Labour won the by-election, its vote was sharply down on its general election performance. The Brexit Party were unlucky not to win, but inflicted massive damage to the Conservative Party by coming second and pushing the Conservatives into a humiliating fifth position.

Given the first-past-the-post system in Britain, the Brexit Party is likely to act as a spoiler for the Tories in many other constituencies and allow Labour to win seats by default, thereby making Labour the biggest single party in any future Parliament. So, the leadership contest is vital to the survival of the party.

In the eyes of a deeply worried party membership that see electoral disaster ahead, the front-runner for leader is Boris Johnson, who has huge credibility among the grassroots with his anti-European, pro-Brexit stance. They see him as capable of defeating the imminent threat of Nigel Farage's Brexit Party annihilating them.

He was a successful Mayor of London and is an adept politician, albeit a woeful foreign secretary. He is openly ambitious in becoming Prime Minister and will use any means, fair or foul, to achieve that goal.

He is the darling of many within the Conservative Party's membership and is an impressive media star, appealing to a broad range of the electorate. An intelligent, but calculating, politician, he ticks all the right-wing boxes on Brexit.

His unequivocal commitment to leading Britain out of the EU by October 31 is a winner with the Tory rank and file.

But his election as leader and subsequently Prime Minister will be a disaster for Britain and Ireland and, ultimately, the Conservative Party itself.

Once elected Prime Minister, Boris Johnson will have to deliver to the Tory right-wingers, but will find that he cannot deliver, as the EU will not facilitate his demands.

They are adamant that a good compromise deal was concluded with Theresa May and, bar amending the political declaration, will not entertain a new deal.

For this reason, the danger of a no-deal Brexit lurks ominously on the horizon. For us in Northern Ireland, an unprecedented disaster stares us in the face.

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