Jamie Bartlett

What Rory Stewart and Donald Trump have in common

What Rory Stewart and Donald Trump have in common
Text settings

Go Back to Where You Came From: The Backlash Against Immigration and the Fate of Western Democracy

Sasha Polakow-Suransky

Hurst, pp. 288, £

What the hell has got into Rory Stewart? The man’s everywhere, outstretched phone in hand, like an Instagram influencer on the edge, asking people to come and talk to him about Brexit.

He’s at the Lewisham market by the stinky fish! No wait – now he’s on a train to Wigan. Now he’s talking Dari in Barking; now he’s in Kew Gardens searching for a Brexiteer. But wait: he’s on the move again, chatting in a taxi! Then to Borough Market, filling the tiny screen with his distinctive features. He has more energy than the rest of his rivals put together, and is even making arch-careerist Boris Johnson look indifferent about the leadership contest.  

This is all very smart. He seems to be the only one in the whole football team of Tory contenders who has realised the way to win a popularity contest in the age of social media is to get people talking about you.

It doesn’t really matter what it is. We’ve learned he took opium once – who cares? He’s out there doing something marginally different and journalists can’t resist it. There are jokey hashtags – but he shares them, and even Brian Cox has been tweeting about how thoughtful he seems. 

Most politicians sombrely shook their heads when Donald Trump used social media to say outrageous things to drive free publicity – but Rory Stewart clearly had the good sense to learn something from it. You can change the message, but still borrow the techniques.   

Will it propel him far enough? Who knows. Most Tory members are unlikely to be following the latest hashtags on Twitter. But he’s causing chatter, exuding positive energy and filling timelines, which – as Trump realised – can all be translated into mainstream media too: his tour took in BBC Question Time on Thursday night.

It’s all creating a platform for what he’s obviously decided is his pitch: he's Mr Sensible, Mr Talk-it-out-with-opponents, the details man who will be honest about pros and cons.

A live-streamed walk about town matches his message perfectly. Unless Boris Johnson wins – Stewart has already said he won’t serve under him – then high office surely awaits.