PM's former rival pulls out of London mayoral race


London (AFP)

Rory Stewart, the former government minister who challenged Boris Johnson in the race to lead Britain's Conservative party last year, on Wednesday withdrew his bid to become mayor of London.

He said the postponement of the mayoral election by a year to May 2021 due to the coronavirus outbreak had posed too much of a challenge for his insurgent campaign.

"It would have been the honour of my life to serve the city as mayor," Stewart said, but "with sadness" he had decided to pull out.

"While the considerable challenges of running as an independent were manageable for a normal race, they were forbidding for an extended and delayed election," he said.

Despite having previously been a Conservative MP, Stewart was running as an independent candidate against Sadiq Khan, the incumbent Labour mayor.

Last year he joined the race to become Conservative leader and prime minister, losing out to Johnson -- who weeks later expelled him from the party because of his views on Britain's exit from the EU.

Stewart adopted original tactics to make up for his lack of party support, walking the streets of London to speak to voters and staying overnight with members of the public to better understand their lives.

He also drew international media attention thanks to his past career as a diplomat working in Indonesia, the Balkans and Iraq, and a best-selling book about his solo walk across Afghanistan.

However, polls conducted before the race was postponed suggested that Khan was on course for re-election.