Monthly Archives: November 2012

rory to host signing of historic rural broadband contract

Rory is proud to announce that his constituency will play host on Thursday 29th November to the historic signing of the multi-million pound broadband contract between Cumbria County Council and BT.

The location of Glenridding in Rory’s constituency has been chosen to underline the fact that the contract will herald the installation of super-fast broadband to some of the most remote communities in Cumbria. Guests will join signatories in the morning at the Inn on the Lake, followed by a photo and media opportunity at the Ullswater Steamers jetty at 1245pm.

Rory said: “Following last week’s breakthrough on state aid, I am delighted that the Cumbrian contract will be signed so swiftly, cementing the great commitment felt by both the private and the public sector that we can deliver this exciting advance in super-fast broadband connection. This is a real testament to the hard work of so many who have been involved in this process, right from the launch of our broadband conference in September 2010. What we need now is to follow through immediately with identifying communities, villages, residences and businesses who have particular needs, to ensure that we are successful in getting to those especially hard-to-reach places. We all want to know what is going to happen, where, and when: we need communities and businesses to begin registering their demand, and I look forward to hearing how BT and CCC propose achieving this.”

affordable housing

In many Cumbrian villages, residents cannot afford to buy or rent homes, so they leave, taking their families and their businesses with them. As a result, shops, pubs, and primary schools close.  And villages become increasingly reserves for the elderly, whose children and grandchildren live in distant towns. We talk about this all the time. But what do we do about it? How do we produce houses which the young can afford to rent or buy? The answer can’t be simply to allow developers to swamp villages by building a hundred full-price houses to subsidise a dozen affordable homes, nor to build new estates of social houses in which locals are reluctant to live. Is it possible instead to build affordable houses without making villages uglier and bigger, and without alienating the residents?

Crosby Ravensworth suggests it may be. Crosby Ravensworth is, of course, a very beautiful village, with its dry-stone walls, its Norman church, and gentle stream. But two years ago the average house price was £315,000  – eleven times the average household income. The last pub was closing (the Sun was already a home). Eight in ten residents had not been born in Crosby. And a dozen families, who worked in, lived in, or had connections to the village, couldn’t afford to rent there. So, instead of fighting against development and affordable housing, the village decided to build themselves. They didn’t want a developer building a hundred homes on a greenfield site. They identified a good place – on the site of an old stone business – in the village centre. They wanted to build 22 houses, rather than trying to squeeze in the 34 which the planners insisted should fit. And they wanted the affordable houses to be larger, more attractive, and better designed than the standard.

There must have been many occasions when they wondered why they had ever begun. Their work had all the intensity, risk, and personal responsibility of setting up a small company. People such as David worked unpaid for two years, putting all their spare time after work into the project. They did it not for themselves, but because most of them had had families, and understood how important it was to keep young people in their community. They learned acronyms they never wanted to hear, encountered agencies they never suspected existed, and were shuffled from architects to code assessors, from engineering designers to surveyors and builders. They were drawn into the strange world of grant proposal writing, agreed to be a Big Society vanguard, and struggled with the sustainable building code. They received a grant from Eden District Council, and one from the Homes and Communities Agency, and borrowed over a million from a charity bank. They were nearly stopped by the discovery of rare bats, and it seemed for a moment as though the money would never come and the entire project would collapse. And by the end, one wondered how they had the energy to continue.

But they succeeded, quickly. And because they did it themselves, there were none of the objections which you find when development is imposed from outside. A year and a half ago there was nothing to be seen in the centre of the village except cracked concrete paving-stones and the bat-haunted quarry sheds. Three weeks ago, we buried a time-capsule (containing a copy of the Herald) in the grass of a new village green. Around us were 12 new homes – all affordable –and available to be rented, or part-owned. They were arranged in a square, with projecting wings and slate roofs – some rendered, some faced in limestone, and some in sandstone: a very Cumbrian family sitting comfortably in the heart of the village, without any two houses quite alike. Between them you could glimpse (it was a sunny Autumn morning) sheep and fells, the community hall, the church. The houses were owned by the village, in a community land trust. Behind them was the pub, also saved by the village, also owned in common.

The houses are not twee. All those individual designs are made from just two standard kits – one for a two bedroom and one for a three bedroom house – arranged in different combinations and facings.  They are affordable to build as well as rent. There are broadband ducts ready in every property. The houses are heated by air source heat pumps, with no oil or gas. The residents pay only an electricity bill of 7 or 8 pounds a week (their neighbours pay ninety pounds for the same services). The land trust has ensured the houses are limited to locals in need. There are now tenants in all ten of the rented affordable houses, with 8 people under 18. And a brand new addition was born this Monday.

Now a dozen other villages  – Culgaith or Lazonby, Barton or King’s Meaburn, perhaps – could, I think, do the same. Some things will be easier second time round –the pain of Crosby Ravensworth may save some pain for others. Extraordinary figures like Andy Lloyd of the Cumbria Rural Housing Trust can help establish community land trusts. And Crosby Ravensworth has offered to share its experience. Some things will be more difficult – there will be fewer grants available, and communities will need help securing  larger loans. A community must still put immense time and effort into developing the kind and number of houses it wants, for the people they want, in the place they want. The government and charitable foundations need to be more flexible, and imaginative, in supporting such schemes. We all have a lot to learn before we can spread this model across rural Britain. But Cumbria, and in particular Crosby, has proved – magnificently – what can be done.

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rory helps launch town’s new annual ‘winter droving’ event

Rory had the great pleasure of taking part in Penrith’s inaugural Winter Droving event, organised and coordinated by Eden Arts, Penrith Chamber of Commerce and Eden District Council.

The local MP joined hundreds of participants parading through the town centre wielding flame-lit torches, sporting an array of masks and costumes, and “droving” five enormous animal-shaped lanterns. The idea behind the event was to recognise the culture, tradition and heritage of the droving area which spectators were told stretches back over 1000 years. The parade weaved its way through the streets of Penrith before culminating at Great Dockray, where no expense had been spared in providing a spectacular light display and showcasing some fine local music acts.

As the local MP, Rory was invited to deliver a brief speech where he took to the stage to thank “the incredible efforts of all the event organisers and event sponsors”, as well as “everyone who took part to make it such a special and enjoyable occasion”. The MP urged everyone to not only celebrate on the evening, but to make sure they shopped in Penrith throughout the festive season.

Speaking afterwards, Rory said: “Tonight really was a fantastic event. It’s great to see such an impressive turnout, where young families in particular could come to learn and celebrate what it means to live and grow up in this area. Given its success, I sincerely hope it is able to embed itself as a firm fixture in Penrith’s calendar, and I have no doubt it will be able to draw in increasing numbers from throughout the region with each successive year.”

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rory celebrates ‘parliament week’ with penruddock primary school

Rory  was delighted to accept an invitation from the pupils of Penruddock Primary School to visit them on Friday and celebrate ‘Parliament Week’ in their school.

Running this year from 19 – 25 November, Parliament Week is a national initiative coordinated by the House of Commons and the House of Lords with the aim of raising awareness about democracy and democratic institutions in the UK. Pupils from Penruddock’s School Council used the event to put together a list of questions to ask Rory, in order to better understand the life and work of an MP. Questions were wide-ranging – from “What is the best/worst thing about being an MP?” to “What is the food like in the Houses of Parliament?” – often putting their MP on the spot in a way that a more typical interview perhaps would not!

Speaking afterwards, Rory said: “I had a great time celebrating Parliament Week at Penruddock School today. I was hugely impressed by the students’ understanding of democracy and our democratic institutions, and I am always thrilled to see young people engaged in political issues. Opportunities that encourage young people to engage with the political process, whatever their age, should always be encouraged. I hope that this event has heightened their interest, and will help encourage them to stay in touch with politics as they get older, and to continue challenging their Member of Parliament of course!”

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rory promotes cumbrian broadband at cross-party MPs’ conference

Rory updated delegates on advances in Cumbrian broadband, joining five of Cumbria’s six MPs at the DODS conference “Cumbria 2012 and Beyond” at Carlisle Racecourse on Friday. The Westminster representatives met alongside Cumbria’s local authorities and businesses, the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, and various other local organisations in a wide-ranging event that sought to address how to support and boost the Cumbrian economy in the coming years.

The conference was organised by DODS – the UK’s leading provider of political information and public affairs communications – and was opened by Carlisle MP John Stevenson. West Cumbrian MPs Jamie Reed and Sir Tony Cunningham, and Barrow MP John Woodcock, also participated. Conference sessions looked variously at Cumbria’s manufacturing industry, the central role Cumbria has played in the nation’s energy generation, and the role it can play in the future, and how best to facilitate the growth of the rural economy, with particular emphasis on infrastructure and tourism income.

Rory closed the event with a talk updating the conference on the successes of his Cumbria-wide campaign to improve broadband and mobile infrastructure. He argued it could be the single biggest short-term contribution to the growth of Cumbrian services and its economy. Drawing on the Fell End community broadband model, the Penrith and the Border MP stressed that the success of future broadband projects would also depend on the co-operation and collaboration between the three pillars of ‘community, government and business’. He called for a much closer focus on the needs and demands of particular communities and businesses, to make the roll-out as flexible and targeted as possible.

Rory said: “Today’s conference has undoubtedly made positive strides in addressing the many issues that are fundamental to the future success of the Cumbrian economy. Every representative was able to bring their knowledge and experience to the table to shed light on solutions which, importantly, will be cross-party in nature. As always however, what we now need is action. This event will only be judged a success if it helps to bring about some of the key ideas put forward in its breakout sessions. We need to build on the impetus and momentum of this event quickly, to ensure we witness genuine positive change to the Cumbrian economy. I’m delighted that Cumbria’s MPs are all working together on this important subject.”

Kofi Annan

kofi annan’s interventions: rory examines the former head of the UN’s record in office

Published in The Guardian 14.11.12

Kofi Annan has published a memoir, four years after stepping down as secretary general of the UN. It is difficult to think of anyone in public policy who has been more celebrated. He has already been given awards for “courage” (the  JFK Memorial Museum), for “freedom” (the University of St Gallen), and for “international justice” (the MacArthur Foundation); prizes for “security, and development”, for “culture, science and education”, and even for the “protection of human rights, the defence of pluralist democracy and north-south partnership and solidarity”. The governments of Germany, Britain, Portugal, Austria, the Netherlands, Romania and Ghana have pinned medals on his chest. And he has won the Nobel peace prize.

This brings the temptation to be snide. Does his assiduous attendance at more than 70 award and honorary doctorate ceremonies not imply a certain vanity? His membership of so many grand international boards a measure of self-importance? Are there not things even more troubling in his career: the scandal of his son’s involvement in the UN’s oil-for-food programme? Or the catastrophes that happened on his various watches at the UN: Srebenica, Somalia, Darfur – and above all, Rwanda?

General Dallaire, the UN commander in Rwanda, asked permission to seize a Hutu arms cache in January 1994, and thus pre-empt plans for mass killing in the capital. Dallaire and many others believe that such early action might have prevented a genocide. Annan’s office ordered Dallaire not to act; and Annan, then in charge of peacekeeping operations at the UN, decided not to pass on his request to the security council. To his credit, Annan does not duck this issue in his memoir. He carefully prints Dallaire’s call for assistance. He does not try to discredit Dallaire, but instead praises his moral courage and his decision to stay behind when his troops had been withdrawn. He admits that the UN “had no genuine, deep expertise on the country”. And he accepts responsibility for not contacting the security council. But having made the case against himself, Annan does not apologise. Nor does he blame a lack of international will to intervene.

Instead, he argues that there was no reason for the UN to share Dallaire’s fears. “In our analysis [Rwanda] seemed to exhibit none of the risks that caused the disaster in Somalia or the continuing problems in Bosnia … We were not alone in our optimism … right up to March 1994″ – a month before the genocide began – “reports were still being written by international development agencies, praising Rwanda as an unusual success story.” Dallaire’s proposal, he argues, was irresponsible, risking a confrontation that could have cost the lives of the entire UN force. He implies that the genocide was unpredictable, going far beyond anything Dallaire forecast, “at a rate and intensity none of us had ever heard of before”. This is not a comfortable series of claims. It questions the consensus that in Rwanda there was warning, the capacity to act, and the clear opportunity to act justly, potentially saving hundreds of thousands of lives. Annan’s views on this and other interventions reflect a distinctive worldview.

He is not uncomfortable with western foreign policy or the idea of intervention. Indeed, he presents himself as a champion of the “legitimacy and necessity of intervention in the case of gross violations of human rights”. He shares in the fears and preoccupations of the post-9/11 leaders. He supports interventions, such as that in Kosovo, that occur without UN security council sanction. He worked comfortably alongside the US-led coalition in Afghanistan and – less comfortably – in Iraq.

Annan may doubt the competence of western powers, but he does not generally attack their intentions. Even his criticisms of the Iraq war focus largely on the lack of due process and post-war planning. He does not emphasise the senseless, unstoppable, irrational momentum of such interventions or the bankrupting scale of our human and financial investments in both places (in each case more than 250,000 soldiers and civilians, and over $100bn a year).

His ease with western foreign policy, however, is matched by a pessimism about countries in conflict. Take his attitude to the success in Bosnia. Eighteen years have now passed since the siege of Sarajevo was ended. All the major war criminals have died or been prosecuted; not only is there no war, but the crime rate in Bosnia is lower than in Sweden. This was made possible because the US armed and trained the Croat army, put the responsibility for the atrocities on Milosevic, and then bombed the Bosnian Serbs. But Annan cannot resist reminding us that “the Croatian … brutality matched many of the atrocities committed across the border in Bosnia.” In so doing he risks associating himself with the many other senior figures who argue that there was fault on all sides and that the violence was the result of “centuries of ethnic hatred”. He is reluctant to do the one thing needed for success in Bosnia: to pick sides.

Curiously for the head of an institution that is condemned to operate with half-measures, he does not emphasise the many options that lie between inaction and over-involvement. In Rwanda, as in Afghanistan and indeed in Bosnia, the near impossibility of a foreign power building a state in the face of an armed insurgency did not mean there was nothing to be done. The best chance may have lain in a more moderate approach. Thus in Afghanistan the best policy was not surge or withdrawal but a lighter and longer-term engagement. In Rwanda, something might have been achieved by small measures such as jamming radio signals: research shows an astonishing amount of the genocide was coordinated through the radio, and implies that without radio, it would have been difficult to kill so completely and rapidly. Annan does not dwell on such things.

Such ease with western intentions, pessimism about countries in conflict, and lack of focus on partial measures, reflects his professional formation, as much as his character. As with many of the most successful heroes of the international stage (Richard Holbrooke is another) less than four of his 40 years in the UN was spent actually working and living in the developing world. He began as a budget officer in Geneva, and rose in the administration to become head of human resources and then head of finance in New York. He was never given the opportunity to serve long years as a field officer, or to develop a deep, engaged knowledge of the culture, history or politics of a particular place. Instead, he was rapidly drawn into the thin atmosphere of multilateral plans.

The idea of Annan as a heroic world-changer continues to be very useful to many institutions. He is now one of the “Elders”: an elite of 10, financed by Richard Branson, to resolve the conflicts in Israel-Palestine, Cyprus, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, and North Korea. He is president of the Global Humanitarian Forum. And he is founder of the Kofi Annan Foundation. He provides what universities want their public policy students to hear; what committees are looking for in prize-recipients; and most recently what the international community thought it needed in Syria. But in fact, Annan and the other “global leaders” at his level are unlikely to deliver the kinds of change our institutions require. Truly transformational change relies on exactly the reverse of Annan’s worldview. It requires optimism about local capacity, and scepticism about the role of the international community. It is more likely to emerge from immersion in the history, the desires, the strengths, and the imagination of a particular culture. In short, change, like politics, is local. Gandhi or Mandela did not forge their reputation and legacy by moving between four continents, a dozen conflicts and fifty conferences, but by staying home.

Annan has been an impressive UN secretary-general: considerate, charming and prudent. He has produced a book which, like its author, is well-organised, unaggressive and elegant, with glimpses of an attractive hinterland. But his life could have been different. In November 1974 he returned to Ghana to work as a civil servant, but faced with “a debilitating combination of stultifying corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency” he resigned. “I realised that for me, working with the UN was the best way to serve my country and my continent.” Most of us would have been tempted to feel the same. But was he right?

• Rory Stewart is co-author of Can Intervention Work? published by WW Norton.

Ash

press statement on ash dieback (chalara fraxinea) in cumbria

“I am extremely saddened to hear that the first case of ash dieback has been found here in Cumbria, in Aspatria. Given our county’s woodland cover – and the great importance of our ash trees culturally, environmentally and of course economically – I shall be convening an emergency meeting of our constituency forestry and woodlands think-tank as soon as possible to discuss the developing situation in Britain, and in particular the potential impact of endemic disease on Cumbria. The importance of this cannot be underestimated. I very much support the government’s proposed strategy of intense surveillance, awareness-raising, and focussing action on newly-planted trees; of course, moving forward, we need to identify how we can protect our trees in the future. We are facing a real tragedy for our native woodlands, and we need to prepare ourselves as best we can.

I’d also like to pay tribute to the many hundreds of people from government agencies and other associated groups who have urgently surveyed over 2,500 sections of UK land in the last days – the biggest operation of its kind ever undertaken.”

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rory officially opens new building at the glenmore trust’s heathlands project

Rory has officially opened the Glenmore Trust’s newest building, describing himself as “incredibly touched” by the decision to name one of the rooms in his honour.

The Glenmore Trust is a charitable organisation working with adults and older children with a learning disability in North Cumbria. The organisation, running now since 1988, looks to provide residential and domiciliary support to allow those with learning disabilities the opportunity to live as independently as possible. The event, attended by many of the Trust’s beneficiaries and volunteers, was a great success, and highlighted the real value that the Glenmore Trust brings to the local community. Rory was invited to officially open the building in light of his on-going support for the organisation and the work that it does.

Speaking at the event, Rory said: “It’s great to see a project which is so genuinely valued by those that use it and I feel incredibly honoured to open the Glenmore Trust’s newest building. The real champions  though are all those who have dedicated their time to making this fantastic organisation work. These are the people who are shaping our local communities and these are the people to whom we owe our thanks today.”

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patron rory hosts fundraising talk for friends of the lake district

A fundraising talk supported by the charity’s Patron Rory for Friends of the Lake District has been a complete sell-out, helping to raise over £3,500 for the charity’s conservation projects.

Entitled ‘From Afghanistan to Eden’, Rory used the talk to share his experiences of both his now famous walk across Afghanistan back in 2002, and his more recent endeavours this summer, walking over 400 miles across Cumbria and into Scotland. Presenting to a packed room at Penrith’s George Hotel Rory said: “I’ve delivered talks about my journey across Afghanistan a number of times now, and so it’s great to be able to talk about my walk across Cumbria this summer too – this is perhaps a rare occasion when those present will actually know where and what I am talking about!”

Friends of the Lake District have described the event as a great success, following very positive feedback from all those who attended. Speaking afterwards, Rory said of the event: “I am delighted to be able to support Friends of the Lake District’s vital work helping to conserve the landscape of the Lake District and Eden areas. I am a passionate believer in the importance of local communities, and their role in shaping a landscape. It was the first time I have had the opportunity to discuss the very different environments and communities from Afghanistan to Eden, and it is nice to reflect on where the similarities lie, despite such differences.”

 

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rory talks rural crime at the workington ladies lunch

Rory was last weekend invited to attend the Workington Ladies Lunch at the Greenhill Hotel in Wigton where he had the opportunity to talk with those present about the issues they are currently most concerned about.

Perhaps the biggest talking point of the lunch was the upcoming elections for Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner. Rory offered his opinion on why these elections were important and helped eliminate some of the confusion surrounding the issue, in particular the voting system. He also took the chance to reaffirm his support for Conservative candidate, Richard Rhodes, and explained why he felt Richard remains the best choice for Cumbria.

Speaking afterwards, Rory said: “The Workington Ladies continue to commit a tremendous amount of time and effort into raising money for charitable causes, and we as a community should be incredibly grateful for that. My thanks in particular go out to Judith Pattinson, who co-ordinates many of these events, and continues to shepherd me through constituency politics. It is always a pleasure to attend these events, and to gain an insight into what many in Cumbria actually think about local and national politics.”