Bob Stewart (politician)
|Member of Parliament |
|Assumed office |
6 May 2010
|Preceded by||Jacqui Lait|
Robert Alexander Stewart
7 July 1949
|Alma mater||Royal Military Academy Sandhurst|
|Years of service||1967–1996|
|Commands||1st Battalion, Cheshire Regiment|
|Awards||Distinguished Service Order|
Robert Alexander Stewart, Beckenham since 2010. A member of the Conservative Party, he also is a former British Army officer and United Nations commander in Bosnia, commentator, author and public speaker.(born 7 July 1949) is a British politician and Member of Parliament (MP) for
Stewart was born on 7 July 1949 to a father serving in the military. He was privately educated at Chigwell School, followed by the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst near Camberley in Surrey. He spent part of his childhood in Cyprus.
Stewart was selected for officer training at the age of seventeen, and after two years of training, and at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, was commissioned into the Cheshire Regiment as a second lieutenant on 25 July 1969. He was promoted to lieutenant on 25 January 1971. In 1974 he undertook an in-service Bachelor's degree in International Politics at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, graduating with first class honours. He was promoted captain on 25 July 1975. He guarded Rudolf Hess in Spandau Prison, Berlin.
Career in Northern Ireland
From 1977 Stewart served in Northern Ireland both as intelligence officer and, after attending Staff College, Camberley and promotion to major on 30 September 1981, company commander of A Company 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment, with an intermediate period spent at Sandhurst as an instructor. During his time in Northern Ireland he was the Incident Commander at the Droppin Well bombing in Ballykelly which killed seventeen people. Stewart heard the explosion and arrived at the scene two or three minutes later. Six of the dead soldiers were from his company, including his clerk and storeman. He received a personal commendation from the general commanding in Northern Ireland for his actions on the day.
Stewart served in the Ministry of Defence, and was second-in-command of an infantry battalion. He was promoted lieutenant colonel on 31 December 1987, and served as a military attaché to the NATO military committee in Brussels. In March 1991 he assumed command of the 1st Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, and as commanding officer returned to Northern Ireland for a further two operational tours and then became the first British Commander of United Nations forces in Bosnia from September 1992 to May 1993. It was as commanding officer in Bosnia, as part of Operation Grapple, that he earned the nickname "Bosnia Bob" and became something of a media personality.
During his time in Bosnia he discovered the Ahmići massacre in which 103 people had been killed. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order on 12 June 1993 on his return to the United Kingdom. He was promoted colonel on 31 December 1993, and went on to take up the position of Chief of Policy at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, before officially retiring from the army on 1 February 1996.
Career after the army
In 1997 Stewart took three weeks' leave from the public relations company Hill & Knowlton to help his friend Martin Bell who was standing for Parliament in Tatton as an Independent candidate. Stewart was alongside Bell when they were confronted by the sitting Conservative Member of Parliament for the constituency, Neil Hamilton and his wife Christine on Knutsford Heath. Bell, who was opposing Hamilton as a result of accusations that Hamilton had accepted money for promoting causes in Parliament, gave Stewart the credit for defining his criticism of Hamilton as having already admitted to "conduct unbecoming".
Since leaving the army Stewart has become a well-known commentator upon military and political affairs, frequently commenting upon the defence policy of the British Government and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2009 he condemned the system compensating injured soldiers, accusing the MOD of acting with "the speed of a striking sloth". He also accused the government of repeatedly refusing the requests of army commanders for more troops and more helicopters in Afghanistan.
On 28 July 2009, it was revealed that Stewart had been approved to put himself forward for selection to constituency associations as a PPC for the Conservative Party. As the former commander of the Cheshire Regiment he was linked to the safe Conservative East Cheshire seats of Macclesfield and Congleton, however the final shortlists for Macclesfield and for Congleton from Conservative Central Office did not contain his name. In summer 2009 he was shortlisted for Beckenham, one of the safest Conservative seats in the country, and on 6 December it was announced that he had been selected as Conservative candidate there, winning an overall majority on the second ballot.
In 2013, Stewart voted against same-sex marriage and called on the then Prime Minister David Cameron to drop the proposal. Five years later in May 2018 he apologised unreservedly in the House of Commons chamber for voting against same-sex Marriage, after he had seen "the joy" it had brought to the lives of same-sex couples. In 2019, he voted to extend same-sex marriage to couples in Northern Ireland.
Stewart has been vocal in criticising cuts to the defence budget, suggesting in March 2015, that if the Joint Chiefs of Staff were to resign over the issue it would "make a very powerful message". When asked if he would resign as an MP himself, he said that he was considering it.
In 2016, Stewart was criticised after it was revealed he had described Isabel Hardman, The Spectator's assistant editor, as "totty". He later apologised to the journalist, but went on to publicly defend himself against an environment that he described as overly 'politically correct'.
Stewart's seat was a target seat for the Liberal Democrats at both the 2017 and 2019 general election, following his open support of Brexit. At the snap 2017 general election, Stewart held his seat with an increased vote share of two percent. But in 2019, his vote share fell by 5.4% as the Liberal Democrats doubled theirs, although still only achieving third place behind Labour.
Stewart employs his wife as a Senior Parliamentary Assistant. He was listed in an article in The Daily Telegraph criticising the practice of MPs employing family members, on the lines that it promotes nepotism. Although MPs who were first elected in 2017 have been banned from employing family members, the restriction is not retrospective – meaning that Stewart's employment of his wife is lawful.
In March 2020, Stewart was accused[by whom?] of fuelling xenophobia after he described COVID-19 as a "foul Chinese illness" in a Facebook post. Stewart said: "My grandfather died of Spanish flu in 1919 and I used the word Chinese Flu in respect of where the virus originated. As a constituent emailed me and thought I was being rude about the Chinese I deleted the word 'Chinese' because that was not my intention."
In July 2021, Stewart was one of five Conservative MPs found by the Commons Select Committee on Standards to have breached the code of conduct by writing to the Lord Chief Justice to try to influence a judge not to release character statements made by ordinary members of the public - former constituents of the former Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke, who had previously been found guilty of three counts of sexual assault and sentenced to two years in prison. On 22 July 2021, Stewart made a personal statement in the House of Commons apologising. In the Committees report they states that the rules were unclear.
Stewart lives in Beckenham in London. He has six children and is married to Claire Podbielski, whom Stewart met whilst he was commanding British forces in Bosnia in 1993.
|Distinguished Service Order (DSO)||
|General Service Medal||
|United Nations Medal|
|Accumulated Campaign Service Medal||
- He was sworn in as a member of Her Majesty's Most Honourable Privy Council in 2021. This gave Him the Honorific Prefix "The Right Honourable" for Life.
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