Rory Stewart’s Unexpected Success

As part of our regular “Remember their Audience” series, we examine the rise of Rory Stewart who has opposed No Deal Brexit in the Tory Leadership Race.

The background: The Tories need a new leader and the race is largely a competition to “out-brexit” eachother, but Rory Stewart has taken a different path that has earned him plaudits and even a final TV debate place.

The claim: “I began to see the problems of a no-deal Brexit clearly with farmers in Cumbria – but here in Northern Ireland the impact of no tariff agricultural imports and 40-60% tariffs with EU will be even more severe.” (among many other such warnings)

Who he isn’t talking to: (you, or most Tory MPs)

As usual in this series, I now take the opportunity to remind you that most things in politics are misunderstood because most of us think we are the audience when in fact we rarely are.

That said, in this case most people know that the British public have no say in who the next Prime Minister will be.  Instead it is a two-tier electorate made up firstly of Tory MPs, and secondly of paid up Tory Members – which reportedly number between 70,000 and 130,000 depending who you believe.

But if he is talking to Tory MPs and Members, it may seem odd that he is selling a message so at odds with what most Tory MPs and Members appear to want. Indeed this seems to be reinforced by YouGov reporting this week that most members would choose the break up of the UK, and even the destruction of their own party, if that was needed to get Brexit done.

Given that earlier this year more than 50% of Tory members said they preferred “no deal” to either remain or the deal struck with the EU, it seems he isn’t talking to them either.

So who is he talking to: Other Members

Rory Stewart was part of the May government that upset MPs and members by pursuing its deal. He loyally committed to that as the right response to the 2016 referendum, and seems to believe in it. As such it is unlikely that MPs and Members inclined towards “No Deal” would ever trust him sufficiently to out-brexit those who previously denied their past involvement in the deal and now advocate for “No Deal”.

Instead he has looked to the rest of the party and is speaking to them. 

While over half of members said they preferred “No Deal”, 38% said they preferred either the deal on offer or remaining in the EU. 

Rory Stewart is talking to them and they like what he says. There might not be enough of them (MPs or Members) to win him the leadership, but they are his best shot at maximising his vote, and thus his best shot at winning. 

This is a classic electoral motivation. If there are voters you can’t win, focus on other voters. If there are voters that you could win, but doing so would cost you more votes than you’d gain, don’t do it.

Rory Stewart probably won’t win, but his motivation is still to maximising his vote, and he has taken the rational approach to it.  

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