Monthly Archives: November 2011

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wigton cycle path

Rory visited Wigton on Saturday 26th November to open the much-awaited £95,000 cycle route. After more than three years of planning and development the first phase of the Wigton cycle network is now operational. Rory commemorated the occasion by cutting the ribbon of the new path and meeting and chatting with students of both Thomlinson Junior School and Nelson Thomlinson School, teachers and staff, local councillors, officers from Cumbria County Council, and local supporters.

 

Rory said: “Wigton is such a brilliant example of a community where great ideas are turned into reality. We’ve seen it with such great local charities as Chrysalis, and the various groups who work tirelessly for the advantage of the town. A ‘safe cycling’ network was the brainchild of a former house captain, Jordan Tweddle, and it is already being used by both cyclists and pedestrians, transforming the way people in Wigton get about. They are now able to take a route from Greenacres and West Road, via Phoenix Park, to the junior or infant schools. I’d like to congratulate everyone involved on their admirable achievements. These improvements are a real boost to Wigton, which it sorely deserves.”

The project has been delivered by Cumbria County Council’s highways and transport team, using funding from a Department for Transport grant and cycling charity Sustrans. It has been part of a joint project between Sustrans and local authorities to connect communities to their schools, colleges and wider networks of routes, including the National Cycle Network. Local cycling organisations have also added their support.

Cllr Tony Markley, Cumbria County Council’s Cabinet member for highways, said: “It’s great that the County Council has delivered the first part of the Wigton cycle and walking network after all the hard work from the pupils at Thomlinson Junior School to get this project started. It’s a valuable project that contributes towards improving opportunities in the Wigton and Allerdale area.”

Peter Foster, Sustrans’ Regional Director in the North West, said: “It’s great news that this new link is to be opened, providing a new safe and direct link between communities and local schools in Wigton. We know that children are keen to cycle to school, and providing these routes avoiding main roads means parents can feel comfortable allowing their children to get to school under the own steam and helping them become Free Range Kids.”

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santas in penrith

Rory was  “absolutely delighted and honoured” to support and present the trophies at Sunday’s Hospice at Home ‘It’s A Knockout’ fundraising event in Penrith’s centre, which brought together six teams of local businesspeople who took part in the Christmas-themed tournament to help raise over £3,000 for the Penrith-based charity.

 

Rory said: “After dancing along to Lady Gaga at last year’s warm-up, I thought I would stay on the sidelines this time and cheer on all the incredible local businesses who braved the cold and the rain to take part in this event, which was great, great fun. A fabulous amount was raised for Hospice at Home, an excellent charity that does an incredible job in providing palliative care across a large portion of the county. Events like this really knit the community closer together, showing that even when times are tough nationally, we can pull together and show that we care very much for charities like Hospice at Home who do such important work in our communities. Many congratulations to all who made this such a success, especially the very hard-working fundraising team at Hospice at Home, who deserve a special mention.”

 

On behalf of the Trustees of Hospice at Home Carlisle and North Lakeland, fundraiser Julie Allen said: “I would like to thank Rory for supporting the Charity so well at the Santa ‘It’s A Knockout” event. It was so appreciated that he kindly give us his valuable time to support our cause. The day went very well, all a little hectic at some points when you have sixty Santas to co-ordinate, but all the local businesses who took part seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed their day. The switch-on f the Christmas lights is an important community event for Penrith and as a local charity we were pleased to share this occasion. The Charity aims to raise awareness of the work of Hospice at Home which cares for those at the end stages of life in their own homes, and also raise much-needed funds. The Christmas event raised a fantastic amount, and we want to thank everyone who took part.”

 

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the chancellor’s autumn statement

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, set out details this morning of further action the Government will take to protect the UK from global instability and the Euro area crisis and build a stronger, more balanced economy for the future. In the context of a worsening economic situation on the European continent, the Chancellor said that economic growth will be lower, and borrowing and unemployment higher, than forecast in his Budget in March. The Chancellor unveiled a number of measures to spur economic growth and rebalance the UK economy including an additional £6.3bn of infrastructure spending on roads, railways, broadband, schools and housing, and up to £21bn towards credit easing for small and medium sized enterprises.
Rory said: “The Chancellor has brought a bold series of measures to remove red-tape and restrictions in our economy. This is vitally important. We learnt this morning that our debt challenge is even greater than we thought because the boom was even bigger, the bust even deeper, and the effects will last even longer than anyone had thought.
I was particularly pleased to hear him announce his support for the measures we have been championing and piloting in Cumbria. In particular, I welcome his confirmation that 90% of homes will get superfast broadband and 99% will get mobile coverage as well as his excellent credit easing scheme, which will reduce borrowing costs for SMEs – which employ 92 per cent of the private sector employees in Penrith and the Border. And I was particularly pleased that in response to our campaign and the debate last week, the Chancellor has cancelled the fuel duty increase planned for January. This will save British families more than £144 on filling up the average family car by the end of next year. But it will save Cumbrian families much more due to our sparse population, rural isolation and our dependence on the car.”

 

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alston action committee

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Rory met with a large group of Alston residents on Friday 25th November in an event to introduce the Alston Action Committee to the MP, who has been a tireless champion of community-led plans and decentralisation since his election in May 2010. The meeting followed the group’s submission of their expression of interest to Government to be a Community Budgets pilot, with the local MP’s strong endorsement.

Led by local resident Alix Martin, the meeting was attended by, amongst others, parish councillor Tony Pennell, Tom Bell of the Alston Moor Partnership, former chair of Solway Border and Eden Leader Programme (RDPE) Peter Kempsey, local head-teacher Pat Cuthbertson, Eden Youth Work Partnership’s Sarah Bisson and local district councillors Chris Harrison and Pat Godwin. The group presented Rory Stewart with a vision for Alston encompassing the improvement of local services and the economy, the preservation of Alston as a heritage area, the great need for improvements in transport and services for younger people, and the support of residents for a local community plan.

Rory said: “Alston Moor is one of the most incredible and resilient of Eden’s communities. It is unbelievable how much they have achieved to date, and now the Alston philosophy of ‘local knows best’ is at the very heart of what the current government is all about. I wholeheartedly support all that the Alston Action Committee would like to achieve, but these projects do require an enormous amount of investment in terms not only of finances, but of time, energy and effort. I feel sure that if this can succeed, it will do so in Alston.”

 

 

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100 top global thinkers

 

In its annual roll-call of the ‘100 Top Global Thinkers’, the world’s leading foreign affairs publication “Foreign Policy” has named Rory as one of its top 100 ‘thinkers…who make up the global marketplace of ideas’ in a list published today. The annual list reflects on those who have contributed to foreign policy thought in the past year, and places Rory on a list alongside Barack Obama, Bill and Hilary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Nicolas Sarkozy, Bill Gates, facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Chinese dissident Ai Wei Wei. The feature highlights Rory Stewart’s long-running campaign for a drastic draw-down of troops in Afghanistan, and for his “humility about the ability of foreign powers to transform war-torn societies. Only then, he says, will we learn, ‘If we can often do much less than we pretend, we can do much more than we fear’.” These themes are the substance of his latest book, “Can Intervention Work?”.

Rory said: “It’s very flattering but my priority is now to work for and represent Cumbria. I find local constituency work much more satisfying than the years I spent fighting unsuccessfully against sending more troops to Afghanistan. Here in Cumbria I feel we can make real, concrete progress by working with local communities. That sadly isn’t true in many parts of Afghanistan and many areas around the world.”

Rory spoke yesterday evening in the House of Commons debate on political developments and security in the Middle East, North Africa, the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. He argued for a greater depth of expertise in our diplomatic missions abroad and an acknowledgment of our limited capacities and power to realise many of the country’s foreign policy ambitions abroad.

In the debate, Rory said: “As our relative economic powers decline, our ambitions become ever greater and our rhetoric ever inflated. We become involved in obscure countries, and at the same time we have hollowed out the institutions on which we depend for the carrying out of our policies. We are now looking at countries like Syria – a country of astonishing complexity; Egypt – set to become a modern Pakistan on the edge of Europe; and Iran, split between its urban and rural populations, and producing nuclear weapons; what powers do we have to pit our team from the Second Division against the Premier League? We are in a bad situation. Our diplomats have declined due to duty of care regulations, their ignorance of languages and the limits of their bureaucracy.”

Rory will be speaking on his experiences in Afghanistan this coming weekend at Bampton Village Hall, on Saturday 3rd December at 7pm.

You can read the Foreign Policy article here

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the first world war

When I came back to London this week I found, in my cupboard, four jackets, each with a poppy in their lapel. On the day of the Penrith Remembrance service, the international football association banned the English football team from wearing poppies, on the grounds that they were ‘a nationalist symbol’. They are not. They are a response to the First World War: a war that we do not remember as a national victory, a war that in some ways we do not quite know how to remember. We all agree on the horror: the suppurating, machine-gun-riddled holocaust of the trenches; but not exactly on why we fought, or what we gained, or whether, to use the dangerous mantra, “soldiers died in vain”. Trafalgar Day or VE day are victory celebrations. But a poppy is a symbol of something still unbearable and incomprehensible.

We were not attacked in the First World War, and we were not defending British soil. And although we claimed we were fighting for human rights (against German “bestiality”) or for the honour of our alliances, or for the neutrality of Belgium, these were not fundamental reasons. In truth, many of the German atrocities were propaganda inventions, our alliances were recent and not authorised by parliament, and we had considered breaking the neutrality of Belgium ourselves. We crossed the channel and joined the French in their trenches simply because we wanted to preserve the ‘balance of power’ in Europe – a dream from the time of Napoleon. We were driven by a nightmare in which if we failed to act, Germany would occupy France, and then pose an existential threat to Britain and its Empire. Everything, it seemed, must be sacrificed to stop this.

Did Germany pose an existential threat to Britain? Would we have suffered as much as we feared from a German attack on France? I suspect not. What is indisputable, however, is that our attempt to fight them almost finished us as a civilization and a power. Germany had forty divisions in its army at the beginning of the war. We had six, so we were never strong enough, even with the French, to do more than tip the balance towards stale-mate. And that stale-mate continued until we had lost a million lives, bankrupted Europe, destroyed the prosperity and society of a continent, and introduced a suicidal peace settlement. We were at war again within twenty years.

Were we simply naïve, entering the war in a patriotic fervour, drunk on the poetry of Rupert Brooke, and believing it would be over by Christmas? Was it not until the Somme and 1916 that we realised what we had done? That was roughly what I learnt at school. But in fact many in Britain, and Cumbria, predicted what would happen from the beginning. The Carlisle Journal wrote on the 4th of August 1914: “The worst has happened…[there is] little doubt the majority of Englishmen regard being dragged into this war with feelings of amazement and horror.” Further south, the Manchester Guardian wrote, “It will be a war in which we risk everything of which we are proud, and in which we stand to gain nothing…Some day we will regret it.” Even the Times (which was the only major paper in Europe that argued for war) was writing in 1914: “Trenches and always trenches..day after day the butchery of the unknown by the unseen…” It was not only ‘neurasthenic’ war poets who grasped that our plan had not succeeded, was not succeeding, and would not succeed.

Yet, every season, a General produced a new plan, demanded more resources and promised victory. Every season, they were given their resources, and failed to deliver what they had promised. Critics decried the barrages that failed to destroy the German positions, or failed to cut the wire. But the real problem was more fundamental: it began with our decision to enter war. Once it began, no-one seemed to feel they could stop it.  Not a single senior General or cabinet minister exposed its folly at the time. Their memoirs imply that impersonal forces – arms manufacturing, technology, public opinion, finance – had left them with no option other than to sink ever deeper. And even when they could no longer believe that all this killing could be justified in the name of ‘the balance of power’, they found a deeper reason to continue: the fear that any withdrawal, after so much death, was impossible because it would mean the soldiers had died in vain. Thus hundreds of thousands more were sacrificed to justify those who had already died.

Since then war has often seemed less bad; the evil of Hitler and our eventual victory justified the Second World War; and the crisp casualty-free successes from Bosnia to Libya have made war appear – at times – as a moral and a prudent act. But the eleventh of November remembers a different phenomenon. It reminds us how a war can become so swollen with fear and guilt, and horror, that it develops – even when no-one believes in it anymore – a momentum of its own. And the reason we should be so reluctant to go to war, however attractive the cause, or promising the odds, lies in this irrational momentum. Because, in war, once you have begun, and begun to fail, we find it almost impossible to turn back.

Cumbria Village

could your village host vodafone’s mobile trial?

Rory has secured a pledge from the mobile phone company, Vodafone, to locate one of its femto cell trials in Penrith and the Border. Rory has said that “if your village has no mobile phone coverage, this could be the answer to your problems” and is encouraging all constituent villages lacking mobile coverage to get in touch with him to register their interest. Vodafone will install its innovative ‘open femto’ technology in the winning village, providing the community with a clear mobile voice and internet signal. He will be writing to all parish councils in his constituency to solicit expressions of interest from Penrith and the Border’s villages.

Rory said: “Vodafone’s trial is extremely relevant to our area. I’m delighted to have secured their commitment to trial a village right here in Penrith and the Border, which I know has many more mobile signal ‘not-spots’ than ‘hot-spots’. It is great that industry are finally showing that they are taking rural obstacles seriously, responding with imagination and flexibility to our problems, and I am very excited indeed about this opportunity. I encourage all interested villages to contact me through their local parish council clerk, or another village representative, to indicate their interest in taking part in this trial.”

Rory is looking for a village which meets the following criteria:

• A population of no more than 1,000 residents
• Local fixed broadband speeds of not less than 1.5meg
• No existing mobile signal

The topography of the village could also be a factor. Villages that are arranged around a village green or square in shape will be preferred to those that stretch along a street.

If your village has no mobile signal and you think it might meet the criteria outlined above, please get in touch with Rory at [email protected] or in writing at the House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA.

Good luck!

digital hero – libby bateman

Libby Bateman of Mallerstang, who was nominated by Rory for the TalkTalk Digital Heroes Award, has won the award for the North West. The award recognised for her role in the Cumbria broadband campaign in which she has used digital technology to help others. Libby wins £5,000 for the East Cumbria Community Broadband Forum (ECCBF) and is now in with a chance of winning the £10,000 grand prize. She received the most votes in the North West region and has joined 11 other regional winners hoping to be crowned TalkTalk’s national Digital Heroes Awards 2011 winner at an event held on 24th November at the House of Lords.

 

Local charity worker and community organiser Libby Bateman set up the East Cumbrian Broadband Forum in response to the local community’s high levels of rural broadband activism and selection as a rural pilot of the government’s BDUK spending on broadband infrastructure. The Forum represents fifteen local community broadband groups (and counting), all of whom are volunteers that Libby has united to make sure their communities survive in the digital age. As well as taking home a technology grant of £5,000 to enhance her digital project, Libby and the ECCBF are now in with a chance of winning the grand prize of £10,000, which is judged by a panel that includes dotcom entrepreneur and UK Digital Champion, Martha Lane Fox, and TalkTalk Chairman Charles Dunstone. Such is the forum’s expertise and impact on the community that the government is now relying on Libby, and her colleagues, to pilot rural broadband solutions that will eventually be rolled out throughout the UK.

 

Rory said: “Libby and the East Cumbria Community Broadband Forum exemplify the real powers that communities have to drive ahead with programmes that literally inform and shape government policy. The pilots that Libby and the ECCBF are working on are being closely followed by government and industry alike. We look to people like Libby and her colleagues to tell us how to get things done in rural areas. I cannot think of a better way of recognising her dedication and expertise as through this award, and I congratulate her and wish her all the very best of luck for the grand prize.”

 

Dido Harding, TalkTalk CEO, said: “We would like to congratulate Libby, as well as our other 11 regional winners. The Digital Heroes Awards were designed to recognise and reward those who use digital technology to make a difference in their communities. Over the course of the shortlisting and voting phases we’ve seen some incredibly worthy causes and we are delighted that these projects are getting the recognition they fully deserve.”

 

The TalkTalk Digital Heroes Awards, run in conjunction with Citizens Online, are the only awards of their kind to celebrate inspirational people who are using digital technology to bring about positive social change. The Twitter hashtag for the awards is #digitalheroes.

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support for a ‘supermarket ombudsman’

Following the success of the recent Fairtrade conference at Rheged earlier this month – in which Rory committed to sponsoring events in Parliament to raise awareness of the need for fairer deals for farmers in the retail supply chain – Rory has announced a parliamentary event to support a grocery adjudicator. Also know as a ‘supermarket ombudsman’, the grocery adjudicator would have powers to settle disputes between retailers and suppliers, and has been recommended by the House of Commons’ Business, Innovation and Skills Committee as the Grocery Code Adjudicator Bill passes through Parliament.

Rory will sponsor an event in Parliament in the New Year that it is hoped will involve organisations as diverse as Fairtrade, the National Farmers Union, ActionAid, Friends of the Earth and Traidcraft.  The event will highlight the importance of this new legislation, and will include speeches from Cumbrian farming representatives, as well as Fairtrade producers.

Rory said: “Cumbrian farmers are subject, too, to the whims of an unforgiving global commodity market, where ruthless retailers dominate. We have a duty now to protect and grow our small farms, which are also our lifeblood – created through centuries of effort, sustained through a tough, intelligent approach to the soil. They sustain families, pay for the rural economy, manage the environment, and support tourism. And as the world population soars past seven billion, there is an ever-growing demand for food – and in particular milk and meat, in which Cumbria specialises. Saving our farms is, therefore, also a long-term commercial investment. A major part of this is ensuring that suppliers are not bullied by retailers. I absolutely support the committee’s recommendation for a ‘grocery adjudicator’, or supermarket ombudsman, and there is a real chance – if we work hard to promote this idea – that the supermarket ombudsman will become a reality. I’m delighted to be sponsoring this event in Parliament to raise awareness.”

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rory calls for rural fuel discount

Rory yesterday in Parliament raised the concerns of many constituents about the impact that rising fuel prices are having on the cost of living and working in Penrith and the Border.

In a speech in yesterday’s Backbench Committee debate in the House of Commons, Rory made a plea for the 5p rural fuel discount to be applied immediately to Cumbria – extended from the Highlands and Islands, where it is already being piloted. Rory’s speech in yesterday’s debate follows his support for the Fair Fuel UK campaign when in June 2011 he spoke on behalf of constituents requesting a halt in fuel increase and attended the backbench business committee to push for a full debate in the chamber .

Rory also called for a re-think of the government’s policy on smart meters, devices which record domestic energy consumption in real time. Smart meters could give consumers much greater control of their energy use, helping them to cope better with rising fuel prices.

Yesterday Rory spoke once again on behalf of Cumbrians, and said: “Rural isolation is not just an issue of sparse population; it is about a hollowing-out of communities…. the loss of schools, clinics, and police stations. The loss of petrol pumps and other key services is incredibly important too. Our schoolchildren travel further and further to school, and we are required to travel ever further to access our most basic services. The solution to rural problems is not to move away; rural communities are our lifeblood. Please extend the 5p fuel rebate to Cumbria as quickly as possible.”

The House of Commons back-bench motion calling on the government to address fuel prices was carried unanimously.

Rory added: “High fuel prices have a disproportionate impact on rural areas. Poor access to key services defines Cumbria – and particularly Eden – as having high incidences of rural deprivation. The average distance to travel to a local GP surgery is 3km in Cumbria, as opposed to an English average of 1.4km. In Eden, the distance is even greater, with residents travelling an average of 5.5km to visit their doctor. Cumbrians are expected to drive on average 11km to their nearest Job Centre, or 17km in Eden.”