Monthly Archives: June 2010


explaining cumbria to strangers

I am trying to find the words to describe our part of Cumbria to strangers. When an elegant London journalist arrived last week at my cottage in Bampton in a floral silk dress (which delighted the midges), I subject her to a lecture on Alston. I tried to explain Cumbria again this week in Westminster to the CEO of BT, to broadband celebrity Martha Lane Fox, to American executives and Asian Ambassadors and to two Secretaries of State. I tried it again on Wednesday in what seemed, by accident, to be my sort-of maiden speech. I found myself calling us ‘the largest and most sparsely populated constituency in England’, saying we have ‘more self-employed people than any other constituency in Britain’, and that we are ‘almost the only part of the country to have positive GDP growth last year’. It’s all true, I believe – but such dry numerical proportions hardly convey the sense of a place.

This Thursday I found myself explaining us again to Nick Hurd, the Minister for Civil Society, in Crosby Ravensworth. I had the time to explain a little about how we fund the Air Ambulance, run Mountain Rescue or Hospice at Home. I touched on the way that Tebay parish council laid a disabled access ramp itself late at night and Brampton organised to save its cottage hospital. I was able to explain how Cybermoor have brought high-speed broadband to Alston in part with farmers digging the trenches for the fibre-optic line, sharing lines with the school, setting up radio masts and selling microwave connections to the Northumbrian Fire Service to part finance it. I introduced our co-ops and our mutualised banks that didn’t follow the City of London in risky gambles, touched on the successful buying of the Penrith Auction Mart by farmer collectives and explained that we still have more commons land than anywhere else in Britain. But what he will really remember, I suspect, is hearing how the community will build the affordable housing, purchase the pub or build the anaerobic digester. And hearing it not in the jargon of Big Society or ‘the third sector’ but in the blunt, generous and precise sentences of David Graham and Annie Kindleysides. Nick Hurd asked a lot about the history of community action, which gave me another, tangential way of talking about Cumbria. I described how in the early 1600s the yeoman of Orton bought out their feudal Lord and became the first people of England to appoint their Parish Priest by democratic vote rather than through the discretion of a local aristocrat. Going further back, Oddendale recalls the name of the Viking god Odin whose symbol is the raven in Crosby Ravensworth.

But whether through statistics, or anecdotes, or narratives of the past, the real language to describe what I feel about Cumbria eludes me. Take my Sunday walk for example. I walked out of my front door and reached the top of Knipe Cragg at three in the afternoon. It was very hot. Three days earlier in London I had twenty-one appointments in a day, 35 people came to the constituency surgery, and the previous day I been at Glenridding to canoe with the Ullswater Community college, at Brampton cottage hospital fete and at Crosby Ravensworth where they were abseiling for the tower. But there was nothing in the diary for Sunday afternoon. So I continued on down to Little Strickland. Except for the retired Bishop of Newcastle exercising his neighbour’s dog, I saw no-one on the fells. Turning North, I stopped in Hackthorpe for supper in the Lowther Arms.

A regular told me that he was in the pub to give his wife two hours’ free to watch the soaps. I shared some chips with him; he seemed pleased that I would be walking back to Bampton after supper. He asked what I did and I told him: “No” he said “You’re not, you’re having me on. I follow politics, you’re not an MP” and, taking a final chip, retired to sing to himself in a corner. I walked back, past a great red bull, with a blood red sun falling behind Blencathra and saw beyond the telephone box at Knipe the white path stretching up to my cottage. Crossing my threshold again at ten minutes to midnight I could still see Cross Fell. It seemed hardly possible, on that longest day, that half a year had passed since I walked on the longest night, with all the East Fellside blazing in snow and moonlight, to Castle Carrock. How can I ever fit any of this into the language of a London office?


maiden speech

The following speech was made during a Westminster Hall debate on the Cumbrian Shootings, 23rd June 2010.

I was not intending to make a maiden speech today, but I can think of no better example of what Parliament is about than the issue that Mr Reed has brought us. There is a precision, a compassion and a sense of dialogue and openness in this room that I wish was more present on the Floor of the House, so I am proud to be making my maiden speech. The hon. Gentleman’s contribution was immensely deeply felt and measured. He balanced the kind words of Tony Parsons with the horror of cheque-book journalism. His commitment to the West Cumberland hospital really came across, and I very much hope that our Government will be able to sustain the hospital. As the hon. Gentleman said, the Prime Minister was very impressed by his visit.

As John Woodcock pointed out, Cumbria is a dense and complex web, which stretches across the artificial boundaries created by the Boundary Commission. Grandchildren of constituents in Brampton were in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency when the shots were fired. In all that we do, I hope that we reflect that dense web of Cumbrian culture in two specific ways. I hope that we look at the lessons of the tragedy in terms, first of distance and secondly of the way in which we conduct the inquiry. Both should reflect Cumbrian approaches.

In terms of distance, we need to understand the sad but powerful lesson that we represent a county defined by its sparse population and long distances. That is why the West Cumberland hospital matters and why we in Penrith and The Border think all the time about what would have happened had some terrible tragedy occurred in Kirkby Stephen, which is an hour and a half from the Carlisle hospital.

In this time of potential budgetary cuts, we need to fight hard to make sure that the police services that got 47 armed officers on the ground within an hour continue to be able to do that. We should also remember that recent events are an argument against hasty amalgamations, against closing our cottage hospitals and turning them into big hospitals, and against amalgamating the Cumbrian police with the Lancashire police. As we have seen, local services are much more responsive and flexible, and they can draw on services available in other parts of the country and make them operate more effectively.

We need to fight for such things. That is partly because although Cumbria is one-although we are a dense web-the needs of people in Copeland are very different from those of people in Penrith and The Border. Although we are one, we are also divided in very sad ways. The life expectancy figures on the west coast are nearly 20 years shorter than those in the east of Cumbria. Those are the kinds of things that we need to work together to overcome. They are also the reason why all our specific services-the police, the fire service and social services-need to be local, adept, flexible and focused on specific communities and to be pragmatic in responding to them.

That brings us to the inquiry. The hon. Member for Copeland talked about Cumbrian virtues. As he said, the fundamental element of Cumbria and of the whole border is people who are slow to react and slow to anger, but who, when they are determined, are resolute and focused. Let us hope that the inquiry reflects those values. As the hon. Gentleman said, we should not rush into anything, but once a decision is made we should stick with it and push it through.

We should not have some grand commission based in London, with people who know nothing about Cumbria, guns or mental health pontificating in an abstract fashion. We need the very virtues that the hon. Gentleman saw in the local newspapers to be part of a local inquiry and a local commission. Those involved should include mental health professionals, the police and, above all, Cumbrians. Too often, our farmers and our teachers are ignored in favour of distant bureaucrats. Let the commission and the inquiry reflect Cumbrian values; let those involved be slow to anger and resolute, but also precise, pragmatic and focused on the exact events of the day of the shootings.

On that point, let me end my maiden speech by saying that it is a great honour to stand in this room with the hon. Gentleman, who is an impressive leader. It is also a great honour to participate in a debate that shows the precision, level of inquiry and openness that I hope can characterise the House as a whole.


You can watch the video of this speech on YouTube.
You can read the entire debate on


discussing afghanistan on newsnight


Discussing Afghanistan on Newsnight yesterday evening, I argued for a light long term footprint rather than a black & white withdrawl /surge solution.

Click here to watch on BBC iPlayer (available until 28th June).

Click here to watch on YouTube.


Community Action

rory attends morland parish fete

Rory joined recently appointed Rector of Morland, the Reverend Stewart Fyfe, for the opening of Morland Parish Fete on Saturday June 12th 2010. The fete, which has been a Morland tradition since 2006 when the annual church garden party and the village school fete were combined, attracted a few hundred visitors.

Organised by a joint committee of the PTA and the church, the event raised over £4,000, which will go towards projects at the church and village school. Impressed by the commitment and enthusiasm shown at the event, Rory congratulated the village on their hard work and fundraising efforts, and emphasised the importance of the existence of local schools. He expressed his pleasure at being part of the event and said: “This wonderful and well-organised fete is a great example of the cohesion that exists in our vibrant rural communities, and showcases the very best of village life.”

Rory also judged the Circus-themed fancy dress competition and was faced with the difficult task of picking out winners from a dazzling array of clowns, lion-tamers, fairies and even an England footballer. The prize went to Harriet Ewin, dressed as a Circus Tent and commended by Mr Stewart for her innovative costume.

Committee member Rosemary Irvin commented: “It was Rory’s interest in people that made such a tremendous impression on us, and his ability to communicate with everyone, from the tiniest tot to some of our eldest parishioners. His interest is in people, not just constituents. We would love to invite him back again next year.”



rory calls for greater recognition for the UK’s six million carers

Rory has teamed up with ITV’s This Morning celebrity GP Dr Chris Steele MBE to support this year’s Carers Week (14 – 20 June) and celebrate the contribution made by people in Penrith and the Border, and throughout the UK, who provide unpaid care for someone who is ill, frail or disabled.

The theme of Carers Week is ‘A Life of My Own’ with calls for greater understanding and support for the army of carers who provide vital care for their families, friends and communities. In doing so, many sacrifice much in their own lives, unable to do the little things that most of us take for granted. All too often, these unsung heroes also suffer ill health.

Rory met up with Dr Chris at the House of Commons to pay tribute to carers, and to urge that they receive more support in their caring roles. Mr Stewart said:

“A trip to the cinema, or even a full night’s sleep – these are luxuries for many of the thousands of carers in Penrith and the Border. I am supporting Carers Week and all those helping to raise awareness of carers, and their priceless contribution they make to our local community. I hope that as a result of Carers Week, many more carers will find out about services and support that exist to help them. I am very much looking forward in the coming weeks and months to visiting and seeing at first hand the good work of out local community care organisations.”

Dr Chris, who has long been a champion for the health and wellbeing of the country’s millions of carers, said:

“I am delighted to give my continuing support for Carers Week and its focus on a carer’s right to ‘A life of my own’. Many non-carers take their free-time for granted, whether it’s going to the cinema or meeting with family and friends. As a GP I have met many carers who have never received any help or respite.

I know how carers’ own health and well-being has suffered as a consequence and just how isolated they can feel. Who is caring for the carers? Change is needed at grassroots level and Carers Week is vital in raising awareness and promoting carers’ issues.”

Other celebrities supporting Carers Week, all of whom have had experience of caring, include:  Lynda Bellingham, Cilla Black, Jonathan Dimbleby, Gloria Hunniford, Sir David Jason, Claire King, Phyllida Law, Miriam Margolyes, Esther Rantzen, Angela Rippon and Tony Robinson.

Carers Week is organised by a partnership of 7 national charities: Carers UK, Counsel and Care, Crossroads Care, Help the Hospices, Macmillan Cancer Support, Parkinson’s UK and The Princess Royal Trust for Carers.

For information about Carers Week, including local events and activities, and where carers can find information and assistance, visit or call 0845 241 2582.


cruse bereavement lunch

Rory attended the Cruse Bereavement Care Lunch in Lazonby on Saturday 12 June.  The well attended event was hosted by Miriam Scott and guests gathered in the house and garden to enjoy lunch together. Rory is a strong supporter of the voluntary sector and recognizes the hugely important role it plays in the community and commented that “organisations such as Cruse play a vital part in supporting families and individuals through very difficult times”.

After chatting with councillors and supporters Rory drew the raffle and hoped the funds raised from the day would go some way to ensuring the volunteers can continue to use their knowledge, experience and compassion to carry on the good work of the Charity.

Rory on the Fells

rory attends appleby horse fair

Rory attended Appleby Horse Fair for the first time on Saturday 5th June, at the invitation of Eden District Council’s Chief Executive Kevin Douglas and Cumbria Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Jerry Graham.

Following lunch at Appleby Bowling Club, where Mr Stewart met and chatted with police officers, he was taken on a tour of the Fair’s highlights by Kevin Douglas.

“In Kevin I had an excellent guide, with unparalleled insider knowledge of the Fair’s organisation and operations. Appleby Fair is a historic event, and to see Appleby today – with its usual population of around 2,500 swelled by tens of thousands and transformed into such a colourful scene of horse-trading and festivities – was an extraordinary experience for me.”

“Kevin took me first to the crowded Sands area to watch the horse-washing in the River Eden and then on to the Education on the Hoof cultural programme at Centre 67, where I met and chatted with Romani journalist and broadcaster Jake Bowers of the Travellers’ Times. It was fascinating to hear Jake’s views on the future for Britain’s gypsy and traveller communities and their hopes to establish a network of what Jake termed ‘culturally-appropriate housing’, modelled in part on a number of successful schemes already functioning on the continent.”

“We walked on to Fair Hill, the site transformed into a sea of both traditional round-top and modern caravans, where I met Billy Welch. Billy, like his father and grandfather before him, has been organising Appleby Horse Fair for eleven years. He spoke eloquently of his community’s sense of belonging and of ancestry, and of the very important historical and cultural significance of Appleby. I personally found it to be one of the most unique events I have ever had the pleasure to attend, and I very much look forward to coming back next year.”

Chief Executive of Eden District Council, Kevin Douglas, said: “We are delighted to welcome our new MP to Appleby Horse Fair. It is very important that key figures representing the Eden area understand the unique nature of this event and the special set of circumstances that it brings for the local residents, the gypsy and traveller communities, and visitors. Now that Rory has experienced the special atmosphere of the Appleby Horse Fair for himself, I know he fully appreciates the hard work that gypsies and travellers, local residents and the public agencies are jointly making to ensure the event is as safe and enjoyable for everyone as possible.”

Rory was impressed by the calm and harmonious atmosphere of the Fair, and commented:

“An awful lot of hard work goes into this fair; from policing to clean-up operations, to the deployment of the Northwest Ambulance and emergency services, to the strong presence of the RSPCA. The co-ordination of these different organisations is an impressive feat, ably managed by Eden District Council and its partners. I was very, very impressed at the smooth running of their operations.”

river eden flood 2005

rory casts his vote for council’s flood response award nomination

Rory has given his support to Allerdale Borough Council’s national award nomination for its emergency response to the floods in Allerdale last November.

Rory has joined hundreds of others in voting for the Council’s entry in the finals, competing against teams from Birmingham, Plymouth and Oldham for the coveted title of “Team of the Year” in the Local Government Association’s Council Worker of the Year Awards.

Mr Stewart, who helped raise funds for the Penrith Lions’ efforts to aid families affected by the recent floods and is shown here presenting a cheque for £600 to President Ian Edgar, said that it was extremely important to show support for the work of the emergency response team, and encouraged Cumbrians to vote. He commented: “At a time when recent tragic events in the county have highlighted the crucial role of our emergency services we must remember how incredibly valuable they are to our communities in times of crisis. We would be lost without their dedication and bravery, and I applaud their professionalism and compassion.”

In the immediate response to the floods, Allerdale Borough Council set up an emergency helpline and contact centre staffed by 20 people; some of whom carried our 26-hour shifts. Council staff operated reception centres at Cockermouth and Workington, re-homed those affected by flooding and worked around the clock to help prevent the spread of disease. The distribution of 8,000 sandbags in increasingly worsening conditions was arranged, and once the floodwaters had subsided cleaning staff worked throughout the night at short notice to ensure streets were cleaned of mud, silt and debris by daylight.

Duncan Fairbairn, Cumbria County and Allerdale Borough Councillor, said: “We’re delighted that our award-nominated staff have been given this official endorsement by Rory Stewart for their dedication to serving the people of Allerdale. Not many people realise that Rory’s constituency includes the Warnell ward and the greater part of Wigton ward of Allerdale, and his support is gratefully received.”

People can show their support for the Allerdale Borough Council’s response to the emergency flooding by voting via the website: or by texting “LGATV 2 Allerdale” to 80039.

Rory on the Fells

what farming offers is why farming matters: rory meets with NFU president at house of commons

The first meeting between the NFU and newly elected MPs took place at a packed reception in the House of Commons on Wednesday 19th May in an event that highlighted the vital doctrine ‘what farming offers is why farming matters’.

NFU President Peter Kendall met with Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart during the event to discuss where parliamentary support will be vital if it is to deliver.

Mr Stewart said: “The NFU is an incredible organisation with compelling views. We need to work our hardest to give it more force and weight within Westminster. I am committed to helping farmers and intend to travel to Brussels within the next couple of months to discuss with EU representatives what is happening in relation to the next generation Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), to be implemented in 2013. There are many, many issues in farming but perhaps the more important is the long-term strategic question of the future of the CAP. It is particularly important for upland hill farmers in Cumbria. I am concerned that French and Spanish negotiating teams are already far more advanced in discussions that their British counterparts in laying out the next stage of the CAP. We need to get our skates on to get the best possible deal for Cumbrian farmers.”

Mr Kendall said: “I hope this gathering of the NFU and new MPs is the first of many opportunities for us to forge ahead with solutions to the challenges facing us in the future. In the short term we need to work with MPs from across the House on a range of issues including the Common Agricultural Policy and Bovine TB.”

“Farmers and growers are rightly proud of their industry and are keen to be part of the solutions to the issues that are facing us all. Producing more food to feed a growing global population while impacting less on the environment, and in the face of dwindling natural resources, will be no easy task. However, I firmly believe that British agriculture is ready for that challenge.

“Being at Parliament today I have felt the change in the air. I would urge MPs to embrace this approach where many recognise that productive agriculture is an industry of critical importance to the nation; for its food security, its health and for its economic recovery.

“I believe that there is appetite for this government to remove the barriers which have, at times, restricted the success of UK agriculture and stifled its competitiveness. Whether it’s the tax regime or over burdensome regulation, I hope this new government will ensure that productive agriculture is at the heart of Defra’s new agenda.”


rory supports fundraising efforts in aid of st lawrence’s church appleby

During his tour of Appleby Horse Fair on Saturday 5th June 2010 Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart found time to visit Appleby residents and members of St Lawrence’s Church at a fundraising event timed to coincide with the Fair. The church was open for refreshments from Friday through to Monday.

Mr Stewart enjoyed a cup of tea and home-baking and chatted to the team of hard-working volunteers, raising money for essential electrical rewiring work at St Lawrence’s.

He commented: “It’s marvellous to see the church open its doors on this very busy weekend, and to welcome visitors from all over Britain. The volunteers have worked extremely hard to prepare and run this fundraising effort, and I am very happy to be supporting it. Funds raised will go towards essential upgrading of St Lawrence’s electrical system, and I shall be delighted to show my support at future fundraising events.”

Pat Shuttleworth, Appleby resident and volunteer, said: “This is absolutely essential electrical work, and we have only just begun to raise money. We aim to raise £80,000 for this work to take place, and welcome all support. We chose to run this event during the weekend of Appleby Horse Fair and open the church to gypsy and traveller visitors. We very much want them to feel welcome during the Fair, the atmosphere of which has improved tremendously since it has been supported by the various agencies including, of course, representatives from the traveller communities themselves.”

The weekend’s fundraising event raised £1,500 for the rewiring work – still some way off the target of £80,000. Anyone wishing to donate, or know more about St Lawrence’s fundraising efforts, should contact the Reverend Sarah Lunn at Long Marton Rectory, Back Lane, Long Marton,  Appleby-in-Westmorland.