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# Book: Politics on the Edge

📅 Sun, October 15th 2023
topics: #UK Politics #politics
series: #books

Rory Stewart, today of podcasting pseudo-fame, was previously best known for walking across Afghanistan & pretending to take selfies in a London park.

An MP from 2010 to 2019, on the surface he sounds like the kind of Tory destined for power: Eton & Oxford educated, officer in the armed forces, well read. Yet this book highlights exactly why Stewart did not find the heights of success in conventional British politics, and perhaps why we wish he had.

The cover shows Rory stepping over a chasm, but this book describes how it is our political process that is teatering on a precipice.


Our political system doesn’t reward those with a desire to serve, understand problems & make a difference.

It promotes the blindly loyal & the “media performers”. Unfortunately, these qualities rarely align with the public good.

Short-Term Ministerism

The average duration of a minister’s residency in post is a meagre 2 years. This is not enough time to get to grips with the complexities of any portfolio. Consequently:

These points are often used in favour of dictatorship by a growing proportion of Westerners.

Grand Gestures over Incremental, Operational Change

When you mention change to someone in government they hear “reform”. Grand revolution of areas.

Rory bucks this trend with his work in prisons, for example, where his focus on details such as repairing broken windows and collecting litter helps to reduce violence and drug use.

These changes are material & achievable over the short time-horizons ministers work within. They require an attention to detail and seriousness that is lacking.

Who makes the decisions?

When Rory became an MP he attended an MP briefing by his leader, the new Prime Minister David Cameron. Expecting a policy discussion, he heard a media broadcast from Cameron instead.

As an MP, he would usually hear about policy decisions in the newspapers like everyone else, and have as much understanding of the reasoning as any member of the public.

In the House there is little-to-no substantive debate of legislation, and in the voting lobbys there is confusion about what is being voted on.

When he became a minister, he received no direction from Cameron and little more from his Secretary of State, the illustrious Liz Truss.

The Prime Minister has become a President, buoyed by party loyalty (see Ambition) and minimal parliamentary scrutiny.


Though Stewart underlines that an MP has no power in their consituency, this is where he is able to get most traction, organising local efforts to map & fight for improved mobile coverage, for example.


A book that inspires the reader to consider what they might each do for the betterment of our world.

But also a book that destroys any remaining faith in the UK political system. If you want to make a difference, Parliament does not feel like the place to do it.