Pissed-off Toff reviews the BBC’s televised debate between the aspiring leaders of the Tory party, and is turned off by Rory Stewart.
A small number of people I know do not have televisions. More than most others, I deplore the intrusion of electronic technology into every area of life. Nevertheless, to forgo the benefits bestowed by the TV is not something I would contemplate. I was once again reminded of this on Tuesday night, as I watched the debate on BBC1 in which the contenders for the leadership of the Tory party answered questions from the public and also squabbled among themselves. You can read as many newspaper reports as you wish, I reflected; but you will learn more about someone’s character by watching even a brief TV appearance.
So it was that until Tuesday night I held no particular views about Rory Stewart. Yes, I knew that he had been to Eton and Oxford, as had I some time before him; so my default position was one of goodwill. I had also read that he had served for several years in the Foreign Office, without distinction; and that earlier, while with the Black Watch during his gap year in the early 1990s, he had been in favour of cutting a deal with the Taliban, who were at the time killing British troops. Thus far, however, still no strong feelings on my part.
But when I saw him on the screen, he gave me the creeps. And for that, I have the BBC to thank; in part at least. I say ‘in part’ because even though my viewing of the programme was intermittent, this due to the eruption of a small domestic drama, I was aware that the programme-makers had chosen not a typical cross-section of voters to confront the Tory hopefuls, but a group of angry people with axes to grind … plus a couple of nutcases thrown in.
There was, most notably, a certain ‘Abdullah from Bristol’ who wanted to know what each of the candidates proposed to do about the anti-Muslim prejudice within the Tory party which he thought he detected and about which he was apparently outraged. This ‘Abdullah from Bristol’ looked exactly like Osama bin Laden. If he were to get into a carriage in the London Underground with a rucksack on his back, one might expect a panic-induced exodus. And it now turns out that our friendly bin Laden lookalike is none other than an imam who has issued regular anti-semitic tweets as @AbdullahPatel94 … calling, among other things, for all Israelis to be deported immediately to the USA.
So this was one ‘typical’ voter that the BBC chose. Then there was a housewife from Southampton who was worried that her property-developing husband was going to lose his job because of Brexit. What assurances could they give her? Again, there was nothing typical about this woman, in terms of representing the public at large, or even a section of it; because as the camera showed, she was visibly deranged.
Then – I don’t know if I’ve got the order right, because as I say my viewing of the programme was intermittent – there was a plump schoolgirl who looked too young to vote, but who was there anyway. What she wanted from the panellists was a firm commitment to eliminate all carbon emissions by 2025. In other words, to take the UK back to the pre-industrial age over the next six years. Indoctrinated by left-wing teachers into believing in what is now ramped up as the ‘man-made climate emergency’, this deluded young female was, of course, the BBC’s answer to Greta Thunberg, the priggish Swedish schoolgirl who delights in prophesying universal gloom and doom and to whom the craven politicians of the west offer unquestioned obeisance.
Then, I think, there was someone who wanted yet more money to be poured down the insatiable gullet of the NHS. This despite the fact that it already costs us a fortune, and despite the fact that however much money we spend on ‘free’ healthcare for all, the demand for this ‘free’ service will always outstrip the supply, and the cost of it will never stop rising: a blatantly obvious truth that no politician will ever admit.
There must have been other members of the public whom the BBC produced for our benefit. But by this stage domestic issues demanded my full attention; and in any case, I had got the idea.
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More interesting even than the BBC’s highly politicised choice of members of the ‘public’ were the answers given to them by each of the aspiring leaders of the Tory party. In terms of charisma, Boris Johnson far outstripped the other contenders, all of whom left me more or less bored … except for Rory Stewart, whom I found myself disliking to an extent that surprised me.
First of all, the man looks weird. Who does he remind me of? I can’t quite work it out. Brains from Thunderbirds, perhaps? You know, that funny little wax model with an unnaturally broad mouth and an unnaturally high forehead.
Or perhaps he reminds me of an Egyptian mummy risen from its sarcophagus. Or perhaps, again, of Anthony Perkins in Hitchcock’s Psycho. In any case: the cadaverous, sunken face; the waxen skull-like features; the strange twists and turns of his mouth and body when he speaks; the spindly legs dangling from the high studio chair; the etiolated monkish appearance … it was all a turn-off, contrasting unfavourably with the worldly and cheerful appearance of Boris Johnson, who looks as though he actually gets some fun out of life.
Worse still, at some stage in the debate Stewart started to perform a showy de-stressing exercise which involved rotating his cranium around his body. The act could hardly have been more self-indulgent, more self-centred, or more unattractive. (I read, later in the papers, that he also ripped his tie off, in another show of … whatever. However, I did not witness this.)
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But let us now turn to his responses to the various questions put by the BBC’s utterly unrepresentative ‘public’ to him and the other panellists.
To Abdullah, the imam from Bristol who seemed to be fishing for some sort of ‘apology’ for an imagined ‘islamophobia’, Stewart just grovelled. “I am infinitely proud to belong to the same nation as you,” he said (or words to that effect); and he continued in this vein for a good long while, far longer than was necessary on any account. It was a sickening display of self-abasement; or perhaps of sheer idiocy.
What Stewart did not say – and what none of the others said either – was something rather more direct. “Don’t you lecture me about prejudice, Abdullah mate!” he might have said. “You’re damned lucky to be here, rather than in the godforsaken shit-hole you came from! And if there is a little suspicion here and there with regard to Muslims, might that not have something to do with … um … Islamic terrorism?” But no. Stewart grovelled.
(Was it at this point that he did his silly neck exercises, foolishly attracting the attention of the camera while someone else spoke? I can’t remember. But I do remember the exercises, more perhaps than anything else.)
To the hysterical housewife who was worried about Brexit, he made it clear that he would under no circumstances consider a no-deal Brexit. He pandered to her. Imagine, on the other hand, this same evidently deranged housewife questioning Winston Churchill in 1939. “I’m terribly worried, Mr Churchill, that because you’ve declared war on Germany, my husband might be called up to fight, and that he might not enjoy it.” What would Churchill have said? Would he have said: “How right you are. I’m so frightfully sorry. Let’s call the whole thing off!”? Or would he have said: “It is quite possible, madam, that your husband will be killed. That is what wars are about.”? Anyhow, Stewart grovelled again, further increasing my dislike of him.
In reply to the scared schoolgirl who wanted all industry shut down immediately, he seemed in favour of her demands being implemented forthwith. And to the person worried about the NHS, he said it was an absolute scandal that we spent so little money on it, and that we should spend more more more, all it takes, whether we have the cash or not. Whereas someone less quixotic and less ready to spend other people’s money might have pointed out that the NHS already receives unimaginably vast sums, of which it makes grossly wasteful and inefficient use; or so a surgeon who has worked there for the last twenty years tells me.
Oh, and re spending other people’s money, Rory Stewart seemed strangely unable to grasp Boris Johnson’s point about reducing taxes. Which is not that Boris particularly wants to give more cash to the rich; but that both experience and academic research have shown that if you start taxing income much above 40 or 50 percent, the tax take goes down, not up. A pragmatic point, easy enough to grasp. But Stewart seemed oblivious.
Anyhow, even though he is a fellow-OE, Stewart gives me the creeps; and if he was eliminated from the contest the day after the BBC’s show, the reason is clear. The only mystery is why he is in the Tory party at all. Wouldn’t he be happier back in the desert, within comfortable hailing distance of the Taliban?