Illustration by Nick Taylor

Brief Encounter, Rory Stewart—in a crisis act immediately and aggressively

His best present was a Playmobil castle, his worst a toy Batmobile
March 31, 2020
What has life taught you about how to deal with a crisis? 

Act immediately and aggressively. People—and governments in particular—are almost always too slow and too mild in their response. Listen to the experts but don’t let them take the decisions. Assume that other countries will be doing many things better than we are, and copy them.  

What single principle would guide you most if you were PM in this hour? 

Better to be blamed for over-reacting than for acting too slowly.  

First news event you can recall? 

My clearest detailed memories of news are all around the Falklands War—I knew the names of all the ships.  

Apart from the virus what is the biggest problem of all? 

Globally: climate change.  

Domestically: providing decent and sustainable care for the frail elderly. 

If you could invite one or more figures from history round to dinner, who would they be? 

Alexander the Great and the Crow chief Plenty Coups. 

What is your favourite quotation? 

“The only wisdom we can hope to acquire / Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.” 

If you were given £1m to spend on other people, what would you spend it on and why? 

Since that is not enough to transform social policy, I would use it to save as many lives as possible, by providing emergency nutrition to babies in Somalia. 

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

My highland dancing. 

What is the book you’re most embarrassed you have never read? 

None. If I felt a book should be read, I would have read it. 

Which person (or sort of person) would you most like to spend a day in the shoes of? 

A prisoner. 

What single idea do you wish you could persuade people of? 

That compromise is strong not weak. And that almost all policy talk is bland evasion and that real change comes from the local and the particular.  

What are the best and worst presents you’ve ever received? 

My best presents were a Playmobil castle and a kilt. My worst was when I had requested a Batmobile—I had assumed it was going to be life-size but it turned out to be a one-inch toy. Which was not much use for fighting supervillains. 

What was the best year of your life?  

The first year of my work regenerating the centre of the Old city of Kabul.