It has been a fascinating few days. Journalists on almost all ‘papers have been behaving like teenagers who have just fallen in love for the first time. But I don’t think it was sex. Many of the besotted scribes are heterosexual men who found themselves having ludicrous crushes on another man. And hardened editors, thought to be immune to this sort of nonsense, have been going weak at the knees whenever that wonderful name has been mentioned.
I will stick with the Telegraph, the ‘paper committed to Brexit at any price. For the last week almost all its journalists have bored for England in telling us how much they love Rory Stewart. The ‘paper’s very talented sketch writer, Michael Deacon, lost all sense of proportion as he contemplated the weird outsider challenger for the leadership of the Conservative Party. As with all the other teenage adorers, Mr Deacon never quite managed to explain what it was about Mr Stewart that led him to conclude that he should become prime minister within days of his joining the cabinet. But there was no doubt that he was wholly convinced that the man who said he didn’t want to change Mrs May’s policy of pushing her discredited withdrawal agreement and who was adamant that reducing taxes would be disastrous should become our new prime minister.
Mr Deacon was not alone. Yesterday there was a vote of Conservative MPs. Five candidates for the leadership of their party were left standing. Mr Johnson came top, by miles. The Foreign Secretary was second. The Environment Secretary was third. Mr Stewart, the boy wonder, was fourth and the Home Secretary fifth. The Daily Telegraph chose to report that result, in an incredibly vulgar front page spread, as Boris and Rory ahead of everyone else. That was, as you have worked out, absolute rubbish. But every other ‘paper (and certainly all the broadcasters) went along with the story. Rory Stewart was on the way to becoming our next prime minister. OK, there were three people ahead of him, but so incredibly sexy was he that he was bound to overtake them all. People like me were thoroughly bemused by this unanimous opinion of the media that the fourth placed man was going to win. But we grinned and bore it.
Today, poor Mr Stewart lost ten votes and, to use an expression he will understand, crashed out of the competition. Laura Kuenssberg gave us the news as it happened on the BBC. She was incredibly professional. She fought back the tears. Anyone who didn’t know how desperately sad she must have been might not even have noticed her distress. Mr Deacon has not been able to disguise his horror at the treachery of the Conservative MPs who failed to support his hero. He has written a heart-rending article for tomorrow’s ‘paper. It will take him some time to get over his depression. But we must hope it will not be too long.
And yet, much as I sympathise with all those tender-hearted young journalists, I do have to say that I don’t quite understand why they all fell for Mr Stewart. I watched him on that rather awful BBC “debate” last night. Maybe it was unfair to judge him on his performance on such a messy programme. But he was given opportunities to speak (rather more than the others were). And he just came across as a thoroughly aggressive adolescent who wanted all the grown ups to pay vastly more tax.
I wonder whether he has a future in the Conservative Party. My own guess is that he will either go back to Labour (where he started) or join Chuck Up in the Lib Dems.