Stewart walks on into next round of leadership contest

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Rory Stewart (Isabel Infantes/PA)

A colourful backstory and an enthusiastic campaign have helped drive Rory Stewart’s campaign to be the next prime minister.

For someone who has been forced to deny claims he was a spy, Mr Stewart has put himself firmly in the public eye with a series of campaign walkabouts, engaging with members of the public in exchanges captured on social media.

Mr Stewart only made it into the Cabinet as International Development Secretary in May, but wasted no time in setting out his stall as a leadership candidate from the moderate, soft Brexit wing of the party.

The 46-year-old’s past has been so eventful that the rights to one of his books were bought by Brad Pitt’s production company – although Mr Stewart joked that “the story of my life sounded really, really good and was really attractive to Brad Pitt until I became a Conservative MP, at which point he gave up on the whole thing”.

Before becoming an MP in 2010, he had a career including stints in the army and diplomatic service.

He had a short period as an officer in the Black Watch before going to Oxford University, and his diplomatic work saw a posting in Indonesia, a role as British representative to Montenegro in the wake of the Kosovo crisis, and ‎as the coalition deputy-governor of two provinces in southern Iraq following the 2003 invasion.

He spent 21 months walking across Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal, staying in 500 village houses on the journey.

One event in his past came to the fore during the campaign – the time he smoked opium at a wedding in Iran.

The International Development Secretary said the drug “had no effect” on him “because I was walking 25-30 miles a day”.

He said: “I was invited into the house, the opium pipe was passed around at a wedding. I thought – this is going be a very strange afternoon to walk – but it may be that the family was so poor they put very little opium in the pipe.”

Tory leadership race: Rory Stewart
(PA Graphics)

Mr Stewart’s past – and the fact his late father was a senior Secret Intelligence Service officer – have led to speculation that he too was in MI6.

It is a claim denied by Mr Stewart, although he admitted he would not be allowed to say he had been a spy if it were true.

On the BBC’s Today programme, presenter Nick Robinson asked: “You can’t really answer the question whether you were a spy or not, you can just simply say you served your country?”

Mr Stewart said: “I definitely would say I served my country, and if somebody asked me whether I am a spy, I would say no.”

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