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Tory leadership race: Can Twitter darling Rory Stewart beat Boris to Number 10?

Race for Number 10: Rory Stewart

In a series of in-depth profiles, we take a look at the Tory leadership candidates to replace Theresa May and become Britain’s new Prime Minister.

Rory Stewart, the international development secretary, started out the race for the Tory leadership and Number 10 as an also-ran, but is now tipped to be the only man who can stop Boris Johnson’s seemingly inexorable march to Downing Street.

In one sentence:

The Tory Twitter king, Rory Stewart has gone from an absolute outsider to second favourite (according to the bookies, anyway), off the back of his burgeoning public persona, driven by an intriguing social media campaign and a strong showing in the first TV debate.

Betting odds:

12/1 with Betfair, making him second favourite behind Boris Johnson. He was previously priced as high as 100/1 a month ago. Though quite whether he has enough support from MPs to take him to the final two is debatable.

How did he vote on Brexit, and what does he think now?

Mr Stewart backed Remain in the 2016 EU referendum, but said after the result that “the decision is made, and we should be energetic and optimistic about it”.

He was a prominent supporter of Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement, despite its defeats in the House of Commons.

Mr Stewart is strongly opposed to a no-deal Brexit and has criticised Mr Johnson’s assertion that the UK should leave the EU with or without a deal on October 31.

Rory Stewart at the launch of his campaign to become leader of the Conservative Party (Picture: PA/Getty)

He even went so far to say that he would not take up a post in a Cabinet headed by Mr Johnson.

“I would not serve under a Boris Cabinet,” he said. "I want to change this country and I want to challenge and say there are two completely different visions facing this country: Boris’s vision and mine. His strategy on Europe and mine. His vision on the economics and mine. And the question is, who do you want to represent us?”

Any controversy?

As a teenager, Mr Stewart was a member of the Labour Party, something which hasn’t endeared him to some Conservative Party members.

In 2010, he was forced to apologise to his constituents in Penrith and the Border in Scotland over comments he made about rural poverty.

He had told the Scottish Sun: “Some areas around here are pretty primitive, people holding up their trousers with bits of twine and that sort of thing.”

Rory Stewart pets Larry the cat outside Number 10 Downing Street, but could he be moving in soon? (Picture: Reuters)

He said later: "It was an extremely foolish thing for me to say."

Last month, after filming a selfie video for Twitter inviting people to come and talk to him in Kew Gardens, London, Mr Stewart was accused of pretending to film the clip himself by holding his right arm out. He later tweeted: “It’s all fake”.

During the leadership campaign, he admitted smoking opium at a wedding in Iran 15 years ago, calling it a “very stupid mistake”.

Biggest policy promises?

A former prisons minister, Mr Stewart has vowed to clean up Britain’s jails if he becomes prime minister. He has also pledged to improve the country’s broadband coverage. He says he wants a “fairer, greener and more united Britain”.

Voting history:

Mr Stewart has voted for equal gay rights and same sex marriage. He has almost always voted for the use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.

He has consistently voted against raising welfare benefits. He has consistently supported university tuition fees.

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Career to date:

Born in Hong Kong, Mr Stewart was brought up in Malaysia and Scotland and went to Eton College, before studying philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford University.

He joined the Foreign Office after graduating and worked in Indonesia and Montenegro before being stationed in Iraq after the coalition invasion. He was awarded an OBE for his work there.

Rory Stewart is now second favourite with bookmakers to be prime minister (Picture: PA/Getty)

He was elected MP for Penrith and the Border in 2010 and retained the seat in the 2015 and 2017 general elections.

In 2014, he was elected as chairman of the Defence Select Committee, making him the youngest chair of a select committee in parliamentary history. Later, as an environment minister, he introduced the plastic bag tax.

He was appointed prisons minister in January 2018 and vowed to clean up prisons in England and Wales. In May 2019, he became minister for international development.

What his colleagues say:

Justice secretary David Gauke: “Rory is the only candidate Boris would fear. He’s the David to Boris’s Goliath.”

Dominic Grieve, MP for Beaconsfield: “He is the only candidate who is actually saying anything sensible about how Brexit is going to be carried out. The other candidates are all arguing they are going to eyeball the EU, find a deal or leave on October 31.

“That is a fantasy that is not going to happen. That is the point that Rory has been making throughout. To that extent, he is the only candidate who is talking sense.”

Rory Stewart has pitted himself as "The anti-Boris" in the leadership contest (Picture: PA/Getty)

Public awareness:

Mr Stewart was something of an unknown a month ago, but his meet-and-greet Twitter videos have boosted his public profile and given him the platform from which to make an unlikely bid for Number 10.

He now has more than 160,000 followers and millions more will know who he is if he can make it into a head-to-head showdown with Mr Johnson.

In his own words:

“I’m a Conservative because I believe in prudence. One of the fundamental things that distinguishes my campaign from the other campaigns is that I do not believe in promising what we cannot deliver.”

Did you know?

Mr Stewart was a private tutor to Princes William and Harry while a student at Oxford.

His first book, The Places In Between, an account of his 32-day solo walk across Afghanistan in 2002, was a New York Times bestseller.

It was reported that Brad Pitt bought the rights to make a movie about Stewart.