This morning it was announced that former Tory leadership outsider and One Nation rebel Rory Stewart MP is planning on running as an independent in next year’s London mayoral election. This has very much put the cat amongst the Labour and Liberal Democrat pigeons. The team around Sadiq Khan had previously been eying up an easy second term are now facing the prospect of real street fight for City Hall. Likewise the Liberal Democrats who had hoped that London could be the centrepiece of the strange rebirth of Liberal England now face the prospect of a popular, telegenic centrist encroaching on their turf. In Rory’s former party Shaun Bailey may now be considering the recently unconsidered prospect of emerging as the winner with the opposition divided.
For many Rory Stewart became a household name during the recent Tory leadership contest. His willingness to engage with the public and straight answers on Brexit saw him reaching section of the public closed off to his competitors. With his Rory Walks hashtag and evident humour he managed to brush off minor controversies surrounding his admission of smoking opium at a wedding in Iran and his pretending to hold his mobile phone for video. Sadly for Rory, this wasn’t enough to see an Etonian, Baliol man vs Etonian, Baliol man final ballot against Boris Johnson; and he was eliminated in third round of MPs voting.
London’s use of the semi-proportional Supplementary Vote (SV) system raises real questions about what impact at popular, independent can have on the election. Under SV voters express a first preference and a second preference, if no candidate receives a majority all but the two highest candidates are removed and second preferences are redistributed to determine the winner. As it is only the top two which goes forward voters need to have in mind who will make the final two. In ordinary circumstances this should simply be the Labour and Conservative candidates, but taking into account Rory’s candidature and Liberal Democrat confidence this is not set in stone. This uncertainty will make complicate the decision for voters and make for a complex ballot to call for pundits and bookies.
The reality is that Sadiq is still the clear favourite to win. Without a dedicated party machinery behind and in a crowded field of anti-Brexit candidates Rory’s announcement may generate nothing but headlines. But in a tumultuous time for politics there is a chance he could deliver the 57th political surprise since 2015, or is it 58th?