Monthly Archives: October 2016

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RORY HIGHLIGHTS FLOOD RESILIENCE GRANTS IN TEBAY PUB VISIT

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On a visit to the Cross Keys ​16th Century coaching inn at Tebay, which was flooded and left partially-closed following the devastating Storm Desmond almost one year ago, local MP and Cumbria Floods Envoy Rory Stewart highlighted the extended deadline for businesses and properties affected on 3-11 and 24-28 December 2015 to access the Floods Resilience Grants of up to £5,000. The deadline has been extended to 31st March 2017.
Speaking to publican Tony Gerrard and ​Regional Manager of Enterprise Inns plcMark Price, Rory discussed the tough year that local businesses have had; but praised the positive and proactive work of Enterprise Inns in supporting on insurance claims and in accessing financial support, such as the Flood Resilience Grant. Tony Gerrard explained to Rory that tourism had seen an upsurge this summer, but that flooding remained a deep worry.
Rory said: “Tony and Mark show that the Cross Keys is​ one of the success stories to come out of Storm Desmond, ​where effort and good communication have highlighted how ​businesses and small entrepreneurs can be supported to access the tools and funds available to them to get back on their feet. Storm Desmond was a truly horrific time for ​this county, but the resilience and determination to ​get going again has been inspirational. It is great to see that Tony has been able to come back stronger after the floods, and I hope very much that constituents who have not yet been able to access the Floods Resilience Grants available to them, will do so before March 2017.”

For more information about the £5,000 Property Flood Resilience Grant visit www.eden.gov.uk/environment/floods/household-flood-resilience-grant-scheme/ or call Eden District Council on 01768 817817.

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RORY SUPPORTS CLA ‘NEW OPPORTUNITIES’ CAMPAIGN FOR RURAL COMMUNITIES

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Rory Stewart MP is supporting the CLA’s ‘New Opportunities’

​r​oadshow events, and its campaign to encourage debate around the opportunities and challenges for land management and rural business in the wake of June’s Brexit vote.
The local MP is the latest to support the CLA’s work, which includes a series of seminars, roundtables and meetings held from Cornwall to Northumberland, where CLA

​policy ​experts have outlined to CLA members, MPs and others the areas of most significant change for the countryside.
Rory Stewart MP said: “The CLA is showing the importance of debate, and of not shutting ourselves off to the ways in which we will need to do things differently post-Brexit. We have to see this as an opportunity to try and do things better. I think that the most vital thing is to remain positive about what is going to be a significant change to the way that rural businesses and residents operate, following the complex work of assessing EU legislation.​ It is key that organisations like the CLA help to hold government to account on crucial issues such as CAP successors, trade policies that support farmers at home, and ensuring that the rural workforce remains stable. Therefore I very much welcome this campaign.”
Discussion at the CLA New Opportunities Roadshow events will feed into the next phase of the CLA campaign to ensure that farming, the rural economy and the environment are treated as priorities by Government as the UK prepares to leave the EU. The collection of New Opportunities briefing papers published by the CLA along with Scottish Land & Estates on

the core Brexit issues for the countryside and the rural economy can be found at:​

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​RORY URGES YOUNG CUMBRIANS TO CONSIDER VOLUNTEERING ABROAD​

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Rory Stewart ​MP ​has urged young people in his constituency to consider applying to the UK Government funded International Citizen Service (ICS) programme, after meeting four local young people from his constituency ​who took the plunge and volunteered overseas through the scheme.

Rory met with ​Bryony Crosby, Steven Lumsden, Nicola Hullock and Laura Cole ​on Friday to talk about their 12 week placements through the ICS programme in Cambodia, Tanzania, South Africa and Uganda respectively. After discussing their ICS experiences, ​he is now calling on other young people to take advantage of the life-changing opportunity offered through the programme​, and is offering to help establish a constituency-wide group for returned volunteers​.

Rory said: “It was truly inspiring to meet these four brilliant young volunteers and to hear about their experiences on the ICS programme. Bryony, Nicola, Steven and Laura are inspiring and energetic advocates for the amazing work that British aid money is making possible in some of the poorest communities around the world. ”

All UK ICS volunteers live and work alongside young people from the countries where they are placed and contribute to programmes and projects that last longer than just the 12 weeks that they are in the country. ICS support means that a diverse range of UK young people can take the opportunity to fight poverty overseas, while also gaining indispensable skills as well as making a contribution to their own communities once they return. ICS volunteers are passionate about making positive change, and I urge young people to look it up and seriously consider applying”.​

Bryony, 20, and Steven, 19, worked in partnership with local volunteers in Cambodia and Tanzania on education projects run by international development organisation VSO, as part of their ICS placements. Both Bryony and Steven worked in teams of volunteers from the UK alongside national volunteers from those countries, to enable young people in the host communities to gain essential skills and knowledge on topics ranging from using ICT systems to improving their awareness of HIV and AIDS.

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Laura, 22, worked with budding entrepreneurs in Uganda on her ICS placement, volunteering in early 2016 through partner organisation Balloon Ventures. Nicola meanwhile volunteered with the Coaching for Hope programme in South Africa, enabling young people to make healthy decisions about their future by training and passing on information about HIV/AIDS risks to local football coaches and youth workers.

ICS volunteers, aged 18-25, work on long-term projects that seek to help bring about an end to poverty in some of the poorest communities in the world. The scheme offers young people the chance to gain valuable new skills while working on projects that make a genuine difference to the people they work with and their communities. Those aged 23-35 can also apply to be ICS team leaders.

The ICS scheme is funded by the UK Government, so young people don’t need cash, qualifications or work experience to take part, just the desire to make a difference to the lives of some of the world’s poorest communities.  If accepted onto a placement, volunteers also commit to take part in an ‘Action at Home’ where they take part in or organise an event or activity where they directly contribute to their local communities.

Felicity Morgan, Director of ICS, said:

“ICS is all about encouraging young people to become more active in their communities when they return to the UK, so it’s great to see that Bryony, Steven, Nicola and Laura are already using their ICS experiences to make an impact at home. Young people have the passion and the energy to change the world – well done for getting stuck in!”

To find out more about ICS or to apply, visit www.volunteerics.org.

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RORY PRAISES PENRITH AGE UK HUB FOR SERVICES TO HEALTH AND WELLBEING

Rory Stewart MP on Friday paid a visit to the Carlisle and Eden branch of Age UK’s new Hub service, following its official opening last month.

​There he met with local staff – including ​Hub Coordinator Hazel Laithwaite, and Alison Ambrose, CEO of Carlisle and Eden Ague UK – and volunteers, and chatted about the importance of the service to Eden’s elderly residents.

​The Hub is a ‘one stop shop’ that aims to promote illness prevention services to help keep people healthy and living independently at home, whilst reducing visits to GPs and hospitals, and offers a range of ways for people in Eden to access help and support. Rory saw how the information and drop-in services work at the Sandgate Resource Centre, staffed from Monday to Friday between 10am and 4.00pm.

Rory said: “The Hub is truly outstanding, in terms of the services on offer, and the ethos behind it. It is run by a dedicated staff and team of volunteers, and clearly they give one hundred per cent in effort to ensuring that the elderly in Eden know about the ways in which the Hub can benefit them. It was a great pleasure to meet everyone today, and I will look forward to spreading the word about the Hub to my constituents.”

​Eden residents wishing to find out about services that will help them stay healthy can drop in to the Hub or they can call the Helpline on 08443 9671885. When they make contact they will be able to find out about a wide range of services including: h​andyman/gardeningservices; ​sign language support for the deaf community​; l​earning how to stay well (healthy eating, exercise, money management)​; ​’Listening Ear​’​ (a chance to talk, be listened to and supported to find solutions to problems​; a​ helping hand on return home from a hospital stay (cleaning, shopping, collecting medications, etc.)​; a​dvice about aids and adaptations to make life easier; ​Benefits Advice​; h​earing aid maintenance​; access to l​eisure groups/social networks.

​For more information please v​isit the Hub at​: ​Resource Centre, Sandgate, Penrith, Cumbria CA11 7TP o​r call the​ir​ Helpline on 08443 9671885​.

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Rory speaks on the Humanitarian situation in Yemen

I begin by paying huge tribute to the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). For as long as I have been in the House and long before I entered the House, he has been a great champion of the interests of Yemen. He understands Yemen, as he pointed out, from his early childhood and brings to the issue a level of knowledge and passion that is important in the House. Everyone on both sides of House has emphasised that the situation is a horrible tragedy—nearly 80% of the population currently face a humanitarian crisis. More than 1 million children face food shortages and almost 400,000 literally struggle to know where the next meal will come from.

I will take a couple of moments to talk about the causes and origins of the conflict, because it is important to consider them when addressing it. When I last visited Yemen in the spring of 2014, despite all the underlying fragility—the considerable south-north divides, the sectarian splits between the Houthis and other members of Yemeni society, and the extreme poverty—we were looking at a situation in which the national dialogue seemed to be working. There was a remarkable period of relative stability between 2011 and 2014. I pay tribute to Benomar, who was the UN special envoy at the time, and to the extraordinary work of the ambassadors from the Gulf Co-operation Council, the EU ambassador, who had served in Afghanistan and spoke fluent Arabic, the US ambassador, who was a fluent Arabist, and the French ambassador, who also spoke fluent Arabic. Unfortunately, however, despite all the work done in 2014, the situation deteriorated rapidly so that by the beginning of 2015 we found ourselves facing the horror that we see today. There are certain lessons that we need to draw from that to understand how we went wrong and to solve future conflicts.

The first and central thing is to apportion blame. We cannot shy away from the fact that the actions of ex-President Saleh and the Houthis are at the core of the conflict. They attacked the legitimate Government in Sana’a and propagated this conflict. There is also a broader context that the international community must recognise and take responsibility for. The national dialogue that I saw in 2014 did not do what it was supposed to do. In retrospect, it focused too much on an elite in Sana’a and did not reach out enough to the rural populations. It was not genuinely inclusive and left a situation in which the Houthis in particular felt that the federal deal offered to them was unfair and that the area that they had been allocated was too small and without access to the sea.

Partly through pressure on President Hadi to reduce fuel subsidies, international development actors helped to create a situation in which instability was encouraged by the cutting of those fuel subsidies—although much of the responsibility must lie with President Hadi and how he implemented the cuts. Corruption in Sana’a and Yemen was also a huge mobiliser of popular resentment against the Government and that was not adequately addressed.                        

Keith Vaz                                 

I thank the Minister for his kind comments. He is giving an impressive exposition of what went wrong. We, like the Americans, are great supporters of Yemen, so should we have done more at the time to monitor the situation and to move the dialogue in the right direction? Did we withdraw far too early?   

Rory Stewart                         

I pay tribute to Jane Marriott, our ambassador at the time, to the work done by her predecessor, John Wilkes, and to the DFID work that took place behind the scenes. Such things are difficult and I am not in the business of second guessing officials, but the lesson we should draw from all these conflicts is the one that I pointed to earlier: the international community must be cautious not to become over-optimistic and to be aware of the ways in which talking to an elite in the capital and engaging with the civil society in Sana’a misled us about the real resentment that existed in the countryside.

How do we address the situation now? Central to that is understanding that decades of ex-President Saleh’s policies lie underneath the problems we face today. He deliberately exacerbated those tribal divisions, and deliberately created that culture of corruption and impunity, which he is now so expertly exploiting in order to maintain instability in that country. But we cannot be naive here: simply removing ex-President Saleh is not going to solve this problem on its own. The problems in Yemen go much deeper than that and need to be addressed systematically, from politics through to the humanitarian dimension.

Let me touch on those two things. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, politics is at the centre of this—politics, politics, politics. Characteristically, he asked 10 questions, which I have to deal with in less than 10 minutes, but I will try to deal with them quickly before moving on. Hon. Members will notice that his 10 questions have largely focused on what I would call the high politics and diplomacy, and I will try to address them one by one and then take this into the bigger issue of the solution to the Yemeni conflict. First, he asked what the UK’s position is in relation to the Kuwait talks. The answer is that those talks were held between the parties in the conflict—the regional players and the Yemenis themselves. The UK ambassador to Yemen was present and was in the room, but in a diplomatic capacity and not as a party to the conflict.

Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman asked what support we are providing to Saudi Arabia. The current operations are, of course, Saudi-led, and the United Kingdom is not embedded in the Saudi military operations. As the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood) pointed out in his statement today, we are very clear that the investigation needs to be led, in the first instance, by the Saudi Government, just as similar investigations of the United States or the United Kingdom Governments for actions taking place in Afghanistan and Iraq were led first and foremost by those Governments. He has said, however, that if that investigation is not adequate, he will look at this again.          

Stephen Doughty

The Saudi Foreign Minister told us yesterday that the UK had provided both technical and personnel support to investigations for the past six to eight months, and that advice had been provided on targeting. As one of the guardians of the humanitarian principle, will the Minister be clear about what support has been provided by the Department for International Development specifically in relation to investigating violations of humanitarian law?

Rory Stewart

I am happy to provide more detail, but, in essence, we currently provide two forms of support and I will elaborate on this in a written answer. We provide training and capacity support, which includes statements about international humanitarian law, but that is not about this military operation—that is in general for the royal Saudi air force. Secondly, my Department and the Foreign Office have worked together through the UN process on international humanitarian law, particularly in a meeting in Geneva last month—this is partly in response to the question raised by the right hon. Member for Leicester East—where we are pushing for more staffing for the independent UN investigation on human rights through the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and, in particular, its Yemen office.

The right hon. Gentleman asked a question about arms sales. We take those sales very seriously. As Members from both sides of the House are aware, the report by the Committees on Arms Export Controls was divided,but we continue to monitor carefully all actions of international humanitarian law, although this is not a prime responsibility of my Department. He asked whether we would be in the room for peace talks, and we absolutely will. Our current ambassador, Edmund Fitton-Brown, is very close to the UN representative, and so long as these are not talks taking place between the parties to the conflict, the UK is present in a diplomatic capacity.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether the Prime Minister would be prepared to call King Salman of Saudi Arabia and President Hadi. Of course, as the right hon. Gentleman is aware, on Sunday the Foreign Secretary met the Saudi Foreign Minister, but more than that the Saudi Foreign Minister came to this House of Commons yesterday to be directly accountable to this Parliament. Indeed, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth East spoke to President Hadi in a visit to Saudi Arabia last week. The right hon. Gentleman asked about sanctions. Of course we will continue to put pressure on all parties to this conflict to support the current peace. He asked whether we are providing support for the special envoy, and the answer is that the UK Government are providing more than £1 million of direct support for the staff of Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN special envoy to Yemen.

In the remaining minutes, I hope to talk about the broader context, in addition to all the good 10 points the right hon. Gentleman raised. We need to look at politics at local and regional level.          

Keith Vaz

This must be a first—a Minister is given a set of questions and he replies to every one of them. I do not think that I have ever come across that in my 29 years in this House—well done. Will the hon. Gentleman address the issue of the ceasefire? We know that we have 72 hours. Can we please try to ensure that it is longer, because 72 hours is not enough? I know that there are many other things to talk about, but that ceasefire is critical.              

Rory Stewart

We absolutely agree that the ceasefire is critical and that 72 hours in and of itself is not enough, but as the right hon. Gentleman is so aware the only way in which we can do any kind of peace or conflict resolution all the way from sub-Saharan Africa right the way through to the peace and the conflict in Cambodia is to start with small steps. It is vital to begin with those 72-hour moves. That is why the UN special envoy has done it and why we and the United States are strongly supportive of it. We will of course do all we can to extend that ceasefire, because we do need longer. Indeed, what we want is a permanent political settlement in place, which brings me to the broader question of politics. There are two dimensions to that: we need to acknowledge that this is taking place in a broader peninsula context, and that lasting peace will come only if we address the local-level conflicts taking place on the ground in Yemen. Our humanitarian response—this is a debate about the humanitarian crisis—needs to take that into account.

I wish to make some brief observations on the nature of DFID’s humanitarian response. First, we need to approach this with some degree of humility. The right hon. Gentleman has quite rightly pointed to the important role that the United Kingdom plays. We do indeed hold the pen at the Security Council. We have put £100 million into this, and it is true that we play an important role in the Quad, but we are not the only people here and we cannot act as though we are. We have to make sure that we acknowledge the role of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and other states such as Oman, but above all we must acknowledge the role of the Yemeni people themselves. The only real solution here will come from the Yemeni people. We need to acknowledge again that, although the United Kingdom has put in £100 million, the current UN appeal is only 47% met. We were very pleased at the UN General Assembly to raise another £50 million from other partners, but we still need to do much more.

We cannot at the moment, as an international community, adequately address all the 21 million people who are currently at risk, so we need to prioritise. We need to make sure that we focus on the most vulnerable people. First, we need to protect civilians; secondly, we need to make absolutely sure that we focus on food security—it is an absolute tragedy that we are seeing extremes of malnutrition and we must make sure that that does not turn into a famine—and thirdly, we need to make it absolutely certain that, whenever we are dealing with anyone in Yemen, we look at preventable disease. It is a tragedy that cholera is now breaking out in Sana’a.

Commerce and shipping will be absolutely central. We need to get the markets working, get the ships into Yemen, and understand that this is not just a development and a humanitarian response.

I will finish by paying tribute to the right hon. Gentleman, to the very strong work both of the UK Government and of the UN special envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, and to the extraordinary work of the humanitarian organisations, which work in very difficult circumstances. I am talking about the suffering that has been experienced by Mercy Corps, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Médecins Sans Frontières. Above all, it is the Yemenis—not just internationals—who are bearing the burden of this, who are out in those field offices, and who are delivering aid in some of the most testing conditions on earth. If we can plan now for the medium to long term, think hard about the stabilisation and the politics that are at the root of this, and ensure that we get the economic framework in place so that if we are lucky enough to have a ceasefire, we are really able to move to a situation in which we have a sustainable economy in Yemen for the future. If we can sometimes do less than we pretend, we can do much more than we fear.

 

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FLORENCE OF ARABIA TAMED BY A TODDLER

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Article first published in The Times by Oliver Thring on 9 October 2016.

In November 2014 Rory Stewart delivered his son on his bathroom floor after his wife went into labour unexpectedly. Nine months later the Tory MP, author and former adventurer held his 93-year-old father as he died. Guided by paramedics on the phone, Rory had tried and failed to resuscitate Brian, a D-Day veteran who was wounded at Normandy and who became one of the most gifted British spies of the past century.

“Two accidents occurred together,” says Stewart, shoeless and beltless in the cold sitting room of his constituency cottage in Cumbria. “Within that brief period I engaged with family in a way that isn’t expected in the modern world. Normally people are born in hospital and die in hospital — they aren’t born and don’t die in a family member’s arms.”

In his new book, The Marches, Stewart describes cracking the older man’s ribs as he tried to save him. “We had been having a typical, lively conversation only 10 minutes before he died,” he writes. “I had felt good about myself for delivering the baby [Alexander Wolf] efficiently, and imagined I was good at medical emergencies. Not this time. My chest compressions had not saved my father.”

Today, sitting on an armchair with one foot pulled up in front of him, Stewart says: “That was a very odd thing for me — to have been able to deliver my son, but to have failed to save my father.”

The Marches is a meditation on Brian’s remarkable life, on Scottish and English nationalism and history and identity in the Borders. In 2011 the two men set out on a walk along the length of Hadrian’s Wall. “I had a series of grand ideas that it would be an opportunity to discuss Rome and borders and empire and nationalism,” says Stewart, who speaks for the first 20 minutes of our interview without opening his eyes. “Whereas he just wanted to spend time with his son. It was almost a comedy of endless misunderstanding, the disappointment of realising our differences.”

The 43-year-old divides opinion. To his detractors he is an insufferably pretentious and grandiose throwback to a vanished imperial Britain. Cruelly they nickname him “Florence of Arabia”. Others acknowledge his extraordinary achievements, charisma and diplomatic skill. In an era of professional politicians who say nothing controversial, the exotic, reflective and candid Stewart is an anomaly.

Until recently Stewart had been living one of the most remarkable lives of his generation, consciously mythologising himself, modelling his existence on ancient heroes and Victorian adventurers. “My father wasn’t really bringing me up for the modern world,” he admits. Does he wish he had been born in another century? “I used to.”

Born in Hong Kong, by his early thirties he was the deputy governor of two provinces in Iraq. “An American colleague became furious with me,” he says. “She said she hated watching me. I was wombling around as if it was completely natural to be the governor, holding meetings with tribal chiefs, sorting out civil wars, going out on the roof when people were shooting at us, feeling completely confident and at ease.”

By that stage Stewart had been to Eton and Oxford, joined the Black Watch (his father’s regiment) and then the Foreign Office. He is thought by some to have spied in Indonesia and Montenegro in the late 1990s: he tends to dodge questions about that period, but has admitted his CV “might give that appearance”.

Most memorably, between 2000 and 2002 he walked 6,000 miles across Asia, including a month in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, where he was briefly captured. Hardened mercenaries had informed him he was certain to die but, swathed in traditional costume and carrying his iron-tipped bamboo dang — he poses with it, steely-eyed, for the photographer — he was gripped by the Arabic notion of kismet, or fate.

His books about the walk and his time in Iraq became bestsellers, feted by Hillary Clinton, among others. Soon afterwards Prince Charles asked Stewart to found a charity in Afghanistan, which he did, raising more than $25m to regenerate the country’s traditional crafts. (He met his wife, Shoshana, now the charity’s chief executive, when she was married to another of Stewart’s employees.)

And then he became a Harvard professor. In 2008 Brad Pitt bought the rights to make a film of Stewart’s life. You can see why some people despise him.

But something has changed in Stewart since he entered parliament in 2010. “When I was a single young man I was interested in my grand legacy. But I have found that you can sustain a desire for heroic action for only so long.

“If you look at all the Romantic poets, or all world-historical figures, really, they’re dead by their mid-thirties. It’s probably a combination of experience, world-weariness and some biochemical change in your body. One senses that poor Alexander the Great, had he lived beyond 32, would have found himself in a very perplexing situation.”

What has perplexed Stewart, meanwhile, is closer to home. As we talk, Wolf, who is now nearly two, totters in. “Having a little person has made me take myself less seriously,” he says. Without pausing, he lifts the boy onto his lap and starts stroking his hair. “He’s the one who makes me think those things were ridiculous. I’ve come to realise that whatever I am is just that.” The toddler suddenly shifts, banging his skull against Stewart’s mouth. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” he whispers. “Did I put my tooth in your head?”

Is he disappointed to see his younger self as ridiculous? “The question you’re asking is unanswerable,” he replies. “What on earth is the purpose and meaning to any of our lives? The problem with my earlier self is that I was trying to create grand events, whereas I think almost certainly the value of life, insofar as there is one, is located in the present.

“What stops me sleeping at night is if I think I’ve been vain, bad-tempered, insecure, unfair to someone at work, not entirely honest. That matters more than how someone is going to see me after I’m dead.”

I am not sure I quite believe him. His comprehensive and diligently maintained Wikipedia page says, with a sense of obligation, “Stewart’s policy focus in his constituency has been on broadband, mobile coverage, rural services and agriculture.” And his book is, in part, a love letter to the good voters of Penrith and the Border. But it is clear he still maintains far more ambitious plans, and much grander visions, than 4G provision and sheep-dips. He conceptualises the Britain he wants to create — possibly single-handedly — “1,500 years from now”.

“In Afghanistan it was easy to ask what people needed — water, electricity, a clinic, a school, paved roads — and deliver those things. The question of what Britain needs, as a country at the prow of history, is much more interesting and difficult. My gut instinct is that we need to rediscover certain things that politicians are understandably reluctant to talk about.” He numbers them on his fingers. “History, tradition, beauty, landscape, a sense of adventure in individual lives, a sense of a nation, a positive pride.”

At Eton, Stewart would annoy the other boys by speaking in perfect paragraphs; he forced himself to insert ums and ahs into his speech. “What worries me,” he says, “is the growing sense of isolation, despair, dislocation, loneliness in the British people. And these problems are getting worse.” It is an argument that his new boss, Theresa May, might prefer him not to make.

He had voted Labour all his life and been a party member in his teens, before he joined the Tories. Stewart was a passionate “remainer”, just as he argued strongly for Scotland to stay within the UK. “The ‘remain’ campaign was run on the assumption that the only thing the public cared about was economics,” he says. “The ‘leave’ side knew the public cared about identity and patriotism much more. It gives the lie to Bill Clinton’s old slogan, ‘It’s the economy, stupid’.”

Stewart used to advise Hillary on Afghanistan, but says they have not spoken “substantively” for three years. Is he worried about the prospect of President Trump? “No. One of the great things about mature democracies is that checks exist on power. President Trump may find it no easier to get things done than Jim Hacker does in Yes, Prime Minister.”

How does he explain Trump’s success? “The American public, like the British, is fed up with people who are too careful in what they say. A lot of Trump’s supporters probably feel they don’t agree with everything he says, but they have a sense of who he is.” Does Hillary have a problem in that respect? “Evidently.”

Part of the reason he misses his father so much is that the older man had guided him through his career. “If I had an anxiety at work or wasn’t getting somewhere with a bureaucratic thing, here was an immensely wise person who always had the answers.”

Many sons idolise their fathers, although perhaps few do well into adolescence. Stewart is unabashed discussing his love for “Daddy”. “I projected on him everything that I thought a man should be,” he says. “Normally fathers think their sons are just like them. They find it difficult to give them space to be an individual. In our relationship it was the other way round. Because of everything he had achieved, I retained for a long time an almost childlike vision of this perfect image of a man.”

When Stewart was a boy Brian would wake him at 6am to practise fencing in Hyde Park. They built rafts together in Malaysia. In his last years, Brian called Rory his “only friend”.

“Being with my father when he died was immensely helpful,” says Stewart. I would have felt a real sense of loss had I not been with him at his end. Losing a father is a terrible thing. But from my point of view it couldn’t have been better.”

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The Public Point of View

My father died just over a year ago. I dreamt about him last night. Thinking about him, I’m reminded of two things today: first, that he loved me; and second, that he was – to put it mildly – puzzled by my choice of profession. He never saw the point of parliament, which he thought a ‘giant talking shop.’ Nor of passing laws (‘There are too many already.) And he felt politicians were ‘out of touch, ignorant, idle, self-interested, and ‘wet’.’

‘What,’ he would ask, ‘is the point of politicians?’ I never had a good answer. But now I’d be tempted to say, one point of us is to try to represent a different – public – point of view. Even if it runs against expert opinion. A medical expert might feel, for example, that if only community hospitals were closed, ‘more money could be reinvested in improving district hospitals'; an environmental scientist might press to rewild a fellside ‘in order to protect bio-diversity against sheep grazing'; an energy expert might argue that climate change can be addressed through more wind turbines; and an economist might encourage more housing and industrial parks in market towns.

But the expert may be focusing only on what can be quantified – the cost of a hospital; the measured impact of grazing; the carbon-savings; or the jobs created. They may ignore other types of values which matter to a community: a deep historical attachment to a community health-care centre; nostalgia for a small family sheep farm; the meaning of a landscape; or the beauty of a market-town. In which case an MP’s task is to challenge the experts’ views; to lead a march in favour of the cottage hospital, support the small farmer, or demonstrate against the wind turbine and the new development. This will bewilder the experts, who can always justify their views on the basis of thousands of scholarly papers. They will feel that the political opposition is purely ‘subjective’, ‘populist’ or ‘sentimental’. And certainly not to be preferred to ‘real’ medical benefits, ‘real’ environmental benefits, ‘real’ jobs and economic growth. And they will suspect the MP is simply ignorant, or dishonest, or afraid of voters, or incapable of showing leadership and ‘doing the right thing’. (I can imagine my father at this point adding ‘hear, hear’). 

But the reason I find being an MP satisfying is that public opinion can have its own wisdom, its own rights, and an uncanny reliability over time. And this is because it captures what we value most in human attachments, in traditions, or in a sense of beauty, landscape, and nationhood. Such views reflect our past, features of our soil, shards of national myths, and our own experiences at home and abroad – a mixture muddled in all of us, and fiercely disputed by people with different tastes, beliefs, and from different generations. Being difficult to measure, such things are too often overlooked (which is in part why the experts still struggle to come to terms with the Brexit vote) but they are no less important for being unquantifiable.

The role of a democratic politician is to listen as generously and imaginatively as possible to all these views and voices, and then to articulate them clearly. Not simply to get re-elected, but because listening to the public is what we are obliged and intended to do. But now that I write this down, I’m not sure this point about representation would have convinced my father. I can hear him saying “Yes darling, but really the key is ‘to get on with it’.” I suspect my father was a little suspicious of community movements and popular protests – he might have classed them with negativity, ‘back-seat driving’, and ‘second-guessing.’ And he tended to feel our greatest problem lay not in the actions of vigorous experts, but in endless consultations, and committees, with everyone vaguely talking round issues, passing the buck, and getting nothing done.

His vision of a Member of Parliament was not so much about listening, as about being directly responsible for a small patch of territory, on the ground, and ‘sorting things out’. Instead of relying on ‘idle’ civil servants, he felt MPs should recruit and rely on a band of volunteers – ranging from boys scouts, to energetic retired people. If there was a problem with crime, my father’s ideal MP would go out with the police to catch the criminals. If there was a shortage of schools or affordable housing, he would build some – immediately, and without too much fuss.  My father was a public servant for thirty-five years. When I asked him who ‘the people’ were, who he was serving, he replied: “I haven’t the slightest idea – I prefer to feel I am serving the Queen.” But I wonder if, after all, he wouldn’t have been a very effective Member of Parliament.