Monthly Archives: November 2014

Russia

Should we be worried about Putin’s Russia?

Should we be worried about Putin’s Russia? For fifteen years, the establishment answer has been ‘no.’ Despite a Russian-backed cyber-attack on Estonia in 2007, despite the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008, despite the assassination of Litvinenko with radioactive plutonium in a Chelsea hotel by the Russian secret service in 2006, Russia has often been treated as a promising ally.  Three days before Russia annexed Crimea, the British parliament was assured that it would never happen.

Then Russia took Crimea, and Russian backed separatists shot down a passenger plane and killed hundreds. Again the West predicted that Russia would apologise and pull back. Instead Russian television, and the websites under Kremlin control, insisted that a Russian minority was under threat from ‘‘Nazis’, convinced anti-Americans in Europe that Russia was only defending itself against America, while telling Euro-sceptics that they were defending themselves against the European Union. Meanwhile, Moscow-based Special Forces and intelligence officers ultimately backed by conventional Russian forces seized Eastern Ukraine. And Putin’s popularity ratings climbed over 80 per cent.

Britain and the United States had convinced Ukraine to give up its nuclear weapons, and promised to defend it from attack. We did nothing. Instead, some of us defended Putin, arguing that even Ukraine was ‘really part of Russia’. Really? Almost every one of the 15 independent states of the former Soviet Union could be described as ‘really’ part of the old Russian Empire. Our NATO allies, Estonia and Latvia, contain significant Russian populations. And Russia is not the only European country that has a ‘historical’ or ‘ethnic’ claim to part of its neighbours. Would we allow the same claims from Prussians in the Baltic, Hungarians in Romania, Romanians in Moldova, and Germans in Czechoslovakia?

Putin has now committed to spending a further $720 billion on upgrading his military equipment – particularly his nuclear arsenal. He is paranoid about being ‘encircled’. What will Putin do next if he feels his position is under threat in Moscow, and he or a successor need to appeal to nationalists to bolster their position? Putin has insisted that Estonia – like Crimea – is ‘not a real country’; and that the Baltic governments, are fascist sympathisers who oppress their ‘Russian minorities’. What conclusions will other regimes draw when they see Putin violently annex neighbouring territory, and ‘get away with it’?

Britain can help to minimise these dangers. But we must begin by acknowledging the threat, instead of hoping it goes away. The Advanced Research and Assessment group which tracked Russia for our Ministry of Defence was shut down in 2010.  The Ukraine desk officer post was chopped in 2012, and by early 2014, defence intelligence had only two individuals studying Russian military policy. Our policy will only ever be good as our understanding. We should bring back the people who understand Russia. And among them should be a team, continually prepared to challenge us and present the Russian point of view and the Russian tactics: however uncomfortable and unwelcome they may seem.

Putin has relied on cyber attacks, and propaganda. So Britain must invest much more heavily in NATO centres of excellence for cyber defence (where we currently have only one member) and in strategic communications (where we have none). We need to provide high quality, entertaining and objective BBC World Service programming, as an alternative to Russian propaganda in the Baltic. And we must show – sensibly and clearly – that although we have no aggressive intentions towards Russia, we are entirely committed to defending NATO members on Russian borders. NATO troops need to be brought to a higher state of readiness, they must undertake much larger scale exercises, and develop better contingency plans for defence against planes, submarines, and tanks (none of which were owned by our enemies in Afghanistan or Iraq).

Above all, the time has come for Britain and its NATO allies to demonstrate that we are serious. Russia – which is currently defining the narrative in Syria, holding cards in Iran, manipulating Armenia, intimidating the Baltics, and destabilising Ukraine – is a country with an economy smaller than Britain’s. But it spends more than twice what Britain does on Defence. We may not want to match Russian spending, but we should at the very least commit to not cutting our spending below our current level of 2 per cent of GDP.

Until Putin’s actions, Ukraine – for all its complex history and tensions – had at least been peaceful for sixty years.  Then Russian Special Forces intervened, seized military bases, and armed separatists. Now we have civil war – rockets plunging into cities, volunteer militia groups sprouting up, thousands killed and maimed, a shattered economy, and hatreds that will not be quelled for decades. In the process, Russia has created a ‘safe-haven’ for a new breed of insurgents with Russian military training and equipment. These men did what no Taliban or ISIL fighter has been able to do – shot down a civilian passenger plane, flying at 30,000 feet. They killed more foreign civilians in a single attack than in any ‘failed state’, since 9/11. And they did so in a European country, directly bordering NATO, and the European Union. If you want to understand why Britain helped to create the UN and NATO, why we have a defence budget, and why we must defend international borders, then just look at the horror in Ukraine, today.

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RORY STEWART MP MARKS ANNUAL PANCREATIC CANCER AWARENESS MONTH

Rory Stewart MP has joined the worldwide movement marking November as annual Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month (PCAM). It is a major awareness-raising tool about the disease, which is the fifth most common cause of all cancer deaths in the UK with only around 4% of people diagnosed surviving five years or more – a figure which has hardly changed in 40 years. Worryingly, it is predicted that by 2030 pancreatic cancer will overtake breast cancer as the 4th most common cancer killer. This important campaign provides an opportunity for people to raise awareness and funds for pancreatic cancer charities across the UK whilst remembering loved ones who have suffered from the disease.

Rory said: “I am very proud to support this campaign in honour of those who have been affected, and indeed to support all those currently living with pancreatic cancer, and want to thank the UK’s pancreatic cancer charities for all they are doing in the field of advocacy and campaigning. So much needs to be done to increase funding to awareness and research for this deadly cancer. It has the lowest survival rate of all among the twenty most common cancers, and we need to act on the recent Inquiry into research – spearheaded in parliament by the APPG on Pancreatic Cancer – which has recommended serious increases to funding and enhancing the ways in which scientific research is carried out. We also need to encourage our doctors’ surgeries to advertise more about the early symptoms of pancreatic cancer, and ensure that the public is aware of the risk factors and just how difficult it is to diagnose this disease, given that the symptoms do not manifest until it is far too late to operate and cure. This is a major battle but I’m really thrilled that public awareness is steadily growing.”

Alex Ford, Chief Executive of Pancreatic Cancer UK said: “In keeping with the spirit of this annual, national campaign we really want all our activity – whether working with the media, MPs or our supporters in the community –  to bring a feeling of hope to all those affected by pancreatic cancer. Whilst we always put a special emphasis on November in our charity’s calendar, we are working hard every month and every day of the year to raise awareness of the key issues and impact of pancreatic cancer. We want to ensure that the voices of all the key stakeholders and researchers who are striving to dramatically improve outcomes for pancreatic cancer patients are being heard.”

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wind turbines

Wind Turbines (Minimum Distances from Residential Premises) Petition

As part of his ongoing campaign to ensure that north Cumbria remains free of inappropriate wind-turbines, Rory has written to Cumbrian District Councils, pressing them to adopt the essential features of the Wind Turbines (Minimum Distance from Residential Premises) Bill which was formerly being carried through the House of Lords by sponsor Lord Reay, until his unexpected death in 2013. This Bill seeks to establish separation distances which increase as the height of turbines increases.

To add your name to a petition that would see Eden District Council incorporate a minimum distance clause into its own Local Plan, please click here.

STR

RORY WORKS WITH SECRETARY OF STATE TO SECURE FUTURE OF SOUTH TYNEDALE RAILWAY

The future of the South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society project looks to have been secured, after local MP Rory Stewart, and patron of the STRPS group, Lord Inglewood, met with the Secretary of State, Elizabeth Truss, to ask that Defra review the way in which state-aid rules have so far been applied to the project. The Secretary of State agreed that the charitable aims and objectives of STRPS should not be subject to state-aid rules and confirmed Defra would revise its stance on the matter, so as to allow the group to again raise funds from public sector grant-awarding organisations.

The STRPS group has already successfully raised over £5 million to fund a self-supporting community railway that will eventually serve Haltwhistle, South Tynedale, Alston Moor and the wider North Pennines region. The creation of a seasonal heritage steam railway would hope to attract substantial numbers of visitors to the area, in a major boost to the local economy, as well as providing an important form of public transport for one of the most isolated and rural areas in Britain.

Speaking after the meeting with the Secretary of State, Rory Stewart said:

“The South Tynedale Railway group have invested an incredible amount of time and energy into a project which offers real scope and potential for the local area and its economy. Confusion over state-aid rules threatened the viability of the whole scheme, and it is fantastic news for everyone involved that the Secretary of State has revised Defra’s stance on this issue. Local volunteers can again turn their attention back to making this fantastic project a reality, and I remain keen to offer them any further support I can.”

Dodd & Co

RORY STEWART MP INTRODUCES HELP TO RENOVATE BUSINESS PREMISES IN CUMBRIA

Rory Stewart MP launched a scheme last week to support the renovation of Business premises in the most deprived parts of his constituency. The government scheme will give full tax exemption to people who are prepared to renovate disused business space, and bring it back into use. The tax breaks provide a major financial incentive to businesspeople and developers to build new businesses in areas from Rockcliffe and Longtown to Wigton.

Rory Stewart worked with Cumbrian accountancy firm Dodd and Co, to bring together fifty key Cumbrian leaders and explain and promote the benefits of the new scheme. ‎The scheme has become possible since the government secured “Assisted Area” status for the wards of Longtown, Stanwix Rural, Longtown & Rockcliffe and Wigton in Penrith and the Border constituency. The seminar was the first of its kind in Cumbria, and through a series of presentations – introduced by Rory – gave concrete examples to businesspeople of how to structure the renovations, and benefit from the financial assistance.  ‎

The BPRA (Business Premises Renovation Scheme) will give an initial capital allowance of 100% for expenditure on converting or renovated unused business premises within the Assisted Area. Another incentive to be offered to the areas is the ECA (Enhanced Capital Allowance scheme) which is a key part of the government’s climate change policy, providing businesses with enhanced tax relief for investments in equipment that meets published energy-saving criteria.

Speaking at the event, Rory Stewart thanked Dodd and Co for its hosting of the evenbt, and said: “This is an absolutely incredible opportunity for places like Longtown or Wigton: a chance to upgrade all those empty buildings, marking a significant advance on the general regeneration of high streets and industrial areas, whilst benefiting private Cumbrian investors at the same time. The basic idea behind this is precisely why I am a Conservative, which is to say that we create incentives and tax structures that enable to local private sector to invest in initiatives that make sense both commercially, but also to the community at large. The continuing regeneration of Cumbria – particularly in some of our more neglected towns, such as Wigton and Longtown – is absolutely vital, and this is a pivotal piece of legislation which we should be taking advantage of. I want to encourage anyone operating in one of these areas to think about how this initiative can benefit both their business and their community: it’s a win-win.”

Cllr Val Tarbitt (County Council, Longtown Division) said : “This was a very informative event, and it is encouraging to see these new incentives being made available to the Longtown area for the first time. With the impending commercialisation of part of the MoD property at DM Longtown, and the potential of the related Solway 45 initiative to encourage further regeneration in the area, the BPRA provides a very useful tool to developers as they look at new projects.’

Cllr Marilyn Bowman (Carlisle City Council, Stanwix Rural ward) also commented : “I am very pleased that Rory has taken the initiative to highlight the potential local applications of the BPRA, and hope that it can have a positive role to play in my own area. It may also be that the BPRA can help with the completion of the City Council’s asset disposal programme, which was initiated under the last Conservative administration and has helped to put the Council’s finances on to a
much sounder footing.”

Anyone interested in understanding more about how the BPRA might help their own redevelopment project is encouraged to contact Kathryn Brown of Dodd & Co, one of the speakers at the seminar.

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RORY STEWART SIGNPOSTS YOUNG CONSTITUENTS IN NEED TO CARLISLE KEY

Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and The Border, is encouraging young people in need to be aware of the important services provided by Carlisle Key, a local charity whose work Rory supports. Rory met with Trustee Peter Ryan, Project Manager Julie Spence and apprentice Sophie Edwards, who introduced Rory to young Penrith resident Catherine Harper who has benefited from the charity’s work, which provides assistance and support to 16-25 year olds who are offered accommodation and vocational support if they find themselves in distress due to homelessness, housing troubles, financial difficulties or other problems. Rory was able to spend time chatting with Catherine about how Carlisle Key has helped her to find accommodation and work, and to support her as she raises her twin
daughters alone.

Rory said: “We should all applaud Carlisle Key, its Trustees and its very hard-working staff, for all they are doing to support young people who for one reason or another find themselves in severe difficulties. It is a safety net which catches young people who need a hand, temporarily, when times are tough; and, speaking to Catherine today, I can see how very, very crucial this sort of intervention is. It is of course a source of real sadness that some young people need to use such services, and of course we need to address the root causes of why young people find themselves without a home or income, but meanwhile Carlisle Key and charities like it fulfil a hugely important function, and I am very grateful indeed for all the work they do. If you know of anyone in need, who might be able to use the services of Carlisle Key, please do get in touch with them.”

Trustee Peter Ryan said: “The representatives of Carlisle Key were pleased to have the opportunity, to put before Rory the work of Carlisle Key, and the need of this work for an increasing number of young people. To this end I feel it was a very satisfactory meeting.”

Anyone wishing to get in touch with Carlisle Key should call 01228 595566 or visit their website: www.carlislekey.org
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