More than 2,000 people have signed up for a chance to have the former Conservative minister and London mayoral candidate Rory Stewart as a guest in their home, taking him up on his offer to “see things through their eyes”.
Stewart launched his #ComeKipWithMe campaign earlier this week, proposing to stay on Londoners’ sofas in order to listen to their concerns about life in the capital.
The former Tory leadership candidate, who announced in October he would stand as an independent for mayor in the capital after being kicked out of the parliamentary party for voting to block a no-deal Brexit, likened the scheme to a trip he took across Afghanistan where he stayed with locals.
“The way that mayors get to know their cities is by literally walking through every one of the 31 boroughs, being in other people’s shoes, seeing things through their eyes, staying in their houses,” said the former international development secretary in a video on Twitter.
“I promise to bring a sleeping bag and a box of chocolates,” he added.
The announcement attracted immediate derision on social media, with people accusing him of poverty tourism and others saying the move was “a tad creepy”.
Some likened the scheme to the lyrics of Pulp’s 1995 single Common People. “I wanna live with common people. I wanna do whatever common people do. I wanna kip with common people. I wanna kip with common people, like you,” wrote one Twitter user. “I can’t sleep without having to check under my bed for Rory Stewart,” wrote another.
The former diplomat published a travel memoir, The Places in Between’, about his 6,000-mile solo walk across Afghanistan in 2002, during which he claims to have stayed in more than 500 strangers’ homes.
Stewart embarked on a similar walking tour of his former constituency of Penrith and The Border in preparation for becoming its MP in 2010, and he has said he would continue his #ComeKipWithMe initiative in London if he was elected to City Hall.
The current London mayor, Sadiq Khan, has criticised Stewart for treating Londoners “like natives” and his shaky social media videos walking around London.
Stewart’s team said that 2,083 people had signed up to have the politician stay with them since the scheme was launched on Tuesday. They said many wanted to tell him about their problems with housing in the capital, showing him the overcrowded conditions they were living in.
Earlier this month Stewart stayed with , who runs Lola’s Homeless charity from her flat in Newham. She is currently trying to raise funding to get a permanent space for the charity elsewhere.
Tabone, who had never heard of Stewart before being approached to host him, showed the politician around the borough, telling him about the problems people have with homelessness, knife crime and prostitution.
Stewart slept on the floor of her sitting room with a yoga mat between him and his campaign manager. “He said that was a luxury compared to some of the places he’s had to sleep in Afghanistan,” said Tabone, who asked her friend Ria Chapman to stay with her.
“They brought us flowers and we giggled in bed that night because normally in Canning Town when men bring you flowers it’s because they’ve done something naughty.”
The two women said they were impressed by Stewart. “He was a perfect gentleman,” said Tabone. “He carried his own bags.” They woke up the next day to the sound of him making them coffee.
“It was all natural,” she said. “There was no politics. I just told him how it was. Benefit cuts, old people, single mothers, people in poverty, no youth centres, the homelessness problem. Just give us communities a little bit of the pot and let us run things.”
Polling by YouGov and Queen Mary University of London in November put Khan in the lead on 45%, with the Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey on 23% and Stewart on 13%. The election is on 7 May.
Speaking to LBC radio on Thursday morning, Khan said: “I’m very clear on my record over the last four years and I’m quite clear about the choices Londoners have. If you vote for me, I promise I will not want to come and sleep at your house.”