Monthly Archives: November 2016

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RORY SPEAKS ON THE COMMONWEALTH DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION BILL

Rory:

I want to say a great thank you to all the hon. and right hon. Members who have taken part in the debate. I particularly praise the tone set by the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) and the way in which he picked up on the good atmosphere in the Chamber. I also pay tribute to the tone set by the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Edmonton (Kate Osamor) and by the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Bradford East (Imran Hussain), and to the constructive way in which they have approached this short but quite technical piece of legislation.

Four major types of concern seem to have been raised today, and I will try to deal with them briefly, with the aim of stopping at exactly 5.20 pm. Those questions were as follows. Why are we focusing on private sector-led economic development? How do we balance the private and public inclusion in that development? Why are we using development finance institutions and, in particular, what quantity of money are we putting into them? Why are we specifically putting money into the CDC? That last question relates to concerns that have been expressed about the governance and transparency of the CDC. I shall try to deal with those four types of challenge in turn.

The first is a general concern about the weight that we place on the private sector’s role in economic development in general. That concern was expressed by a number of people today, particularly Members on the Opposition Benches. The shadow Secretary of State used the word “profiteering”, and the hon. Member for Edinburgh East talked about international capitalism. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) spoke of distracting our attention away from humanitarian concerns, and the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) was worried that some of the investments might be made at the cost of other potential investments. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) emphasised the fact that aid is needed as well, and the hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) emphasised the importance of health and education.

The way in which to deal with these generic concerns about the role played by the private sector in economic development—and with all the matters in the general portfolio of the Department for International Development —is to state that what we are talking about today is just a part, not the whole, of what DFID does. Economic development is absolutely vital—I will come on to that—but it is currently less than 20% of the Department’s overall portfolio. The shadow Secretary of State quite rightly raised water and sanitation as important elements of our Department’s strategy—they are—but they are not primarily delivered through development finance institutions. The £204 million that we spent in 2015-16 came from other parts of the Department’s budget. As for the humanitarian concerns mentioned by the right hon. Member for Leicester East, the £2 billion that we are spending over this period on Syria alone comes from other parts of the departmental budget.

However, as pointed out by the hon. Member for Yeovil (Marcus Fysh), poverty alleviation cannot happen without economic growth, and that relies on the private sector. It relies on the private sector for jobs, for Government revenues and for the services that the sector provides. It is not a zero-sum game. The hon. Member for Glasgow North issued a challenge when he talked about investments coming at the cost of others, but it is not that kind of zero-sum game. To take a specific example, we were criticised by one Member for some of our investments in electricity, as opposed to other forms of infrastructure, as though that was somehow at the expense of other developmental objectives. However, that electricity not only delivers jobs through the business side, but allows us to deliver our objectives in health and education. We cannot have a decent education service and get children into school if there is no electricity and they have to go 10 miles to pick up firewood. We cannot deliver decent healthcare in Africa unless there is refrigeration for immunisation drugs and unless we have the electric lighting that allows doctors to perform surgery in the clinics.

We are delivering on the STGs, particularly goals 7 and 8 on energy and economic growth. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is both a distinguished international civil servant and a President of an African state, has said that poverty in Africa cannot be eliminated without private sector growth. That also reflects the demands of Africans themselves. I was taken by the statements of my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) about mutual respect. Recent surveys conducted in sub-Saharan Africa show that sub-Saharan Africans identify energy and jobs as two of their top three priorities at a level of 80% or 90%. We should respect their wisdom and desires when we talk about the kind of development investments that we make.

The next question is how to balance the roles of the public and private sectors in delivering development. I do not want to talk about this too much, but it is clear that there are serious constraints on the public sector’s ability to deliver all forms of commercial activity, partly because it often lacks the skills to ensure that those things happen. It lacks the skills to understand the market dynamics, the logistics, the productivity and the efficiency. We have all seen well-intentioned charitable and Government development projects attempt to set up businesses that have not worked. However, as Opposition Members have pointed out, the private sector cannot do it on its own—there are clear market failures. Returning to electricity in Africa as a good example, the private sector has clearly failed. If the private sector had been able to do things on its own, we would not be in a position where only 6 GW of power generating capacity has been built in Africa over the past decade. In China, 8 GW of capacity is built every one to two months.

That brings us to the question why we are putting money into DFIs, which was the particular challenge of the shadow Minister. The shadow Minister and the hon. Members for Glasgow North, for Cardiff South and Penarth and for Edinburgh East focused on the quantity of investment. The response is that I am afraid that some people still confuse stock and flow—in other words, the annual overseas development spend and the creation of a capital fund. The second response is that it is an option, not a commitment. What we are doing is raising the ceiling for what CDC, through rigorous business cases, can request; we are not imposing this on CDC. Over a five-year period, even if the maximum were drawn down, we would be talking about 8% of the total anticipated ODA spend, which is smaller than the amount I calculate the Scottish Government appear to be putting into a similar instrument in proportional terms.

There have been challenges on strategy. The strategy will be produced in line with departmental practice at the end of this year, but this Bill is enabling legislation, so we are putting the horse before the cart. We need the enabling legislation in place—we need the ceilings to be lifted—before we can look at individual business cases that wish to draw down on that money.

That brings us to the overall question why use DFIs at all, and I wish to pay a huge tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), who provided perhaps the most powerful explanation of why we go into these mechanisms in the first place. The answer of course is that they bring together the very best of the private sector and the very best of the public sector. They provide the discipline of the private sector in insisting on returns that produce sustainable enterprises and sustainable revenues; and they provide freedom from political interference and they provide leverage. To respond to my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford, let me say that they also allow us, as my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond) pointed out, to draw in other forms of capital behind. Some £4 billion of investment from the CDC has drawn an extra £26 billion into our investments in Asia and Africa. In addition, this approach provides good value for money for the taxpayer.

Stephen Doughty

The Minister is talking about the capital that this approach has brought in, but that has not always been in areas where capital has not been available—I think of places such as India. Given that he is about to publish the bilateral aid strategy, will he consider forcing the CDC to look more closely at the lower-income countries in Africa and elsewhere that need the investment the most?

Rory:

I am trying to move towards my 5.20 pm conclusion, but let me deal with that quickly. As I was saying—and this partly answers the point—we are combining the best of the private sector incentives with the best of the public sector, because we are exactly able to prioritise maximising development impact. That is where our development impact grid, which, with respect, the hon. Gentleman is not providing enough focus on, answers his question. Members on both sides of the House should be aware that that grid targets explicitly countries with the lowest GDP per capita, countries where investment capital is not available and countries where the business environment is worse—that is the Y axis of the grid. On the X axis of the grid, we have sectors in which the maximum employment is generated. Every business case since 2012 has been assessed exactly against those criteria, which is why, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield has pointed out, many of the criticisms made today—the idea that somehow the CDC has lost its way—are not appropriate for the CDC of 2106; they are appropriate for the CDC of 2012 or 2010. Let me deal with a few of the objections. An investment in Guatemala was mentioned, but all investments in Latin America stopped in 2012. An investment in Xiabu Xiabu in China was mentioned, but all investments in China were stopped in 2012. The issue of pay was raised, but, as has been pointed out again and again, the pay of the chief executive has been reduced by two thirds, to a third of its predecessor. Tax havens were mentioned, but we no longer, in any way, ever invest for reasons of tax or secrecy; we invest only to find secure bases for investment and to pool other forms of capital. All our investment goes simply into locations that meet the highest OECD transparency standards. On development impact, our DFID chief economist, Stefan Dercon, has worked with some of the most distinguished academics in the world, from Harvard and elsewhere, to create exactly the kind of impact that people are pushing for.

That is why right hon. and hon. Members should support this Bill. It is not only because of the history of the CDC, to which the shadow Secretary of State paid such good tribute to in her opening remarks: its experience of 70 years; the culture it has developed; the extraordinary brand that the institution has in Africa and south Asia; and the focus that my right hon. Friend has brought to this institution since 2010—its rigour and its narrowness of focus, which makes it very unusual among DFIs. It is one of the only DFIs in the world to be spending so much in conflict-affected states. It is accountable directly to DFID, which owns 100% of its shares. The examples of its performance today can be seen in the DRC; in places such as Burundi, where off-grid power would not be built without the CDC; and in its investment in energy through Global in Africa.

In conclusion, we should take pride in this institution; it is a very great British institution. In its historic evolution it has gone from a past where it was dominated in the 1950s by ex-military officers interested in building rafts and going into jungles to its current leadership under Diana Noble, a chief executive who exemplifies much of the best in development thinking and some of most progressive intuition in the British Government. She ensures that we are delivering in Pakistan gender-based programming that affects workers’ rights and that we have an institution that is today highly relevant and that faces and solves some of the greatest development challenges in this century.

Question put and agreed.

29 November 2016.

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RORY VISITS ST CATHERINE’S SCHOOL

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Rory Stewart MP has visited St Catherine’s Catholic School in Penrith, and met with Headteacher, Angela Hill.

During his visit Rory learned that one of the school’s teachers, Rebecca Davis, has been selected to represent the North West on a specialist maths programme which will see her, for this academic year, attend training led by the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics (NCETM). Rebecca will then be able to apply the training to her personal teaching and also train another member of staff.

Headteacher Angela Hill said “We are very proud of the fact Rebecca is part of this Maths training. This approach to maths is very practical and builds on the children’s knowledge and ability to apply their learning. Next year, this will be extended to more members of staff in our school and the wider Penrith Hub.”

Rory Stewart said “St Catherine’s is a wonderful school with a lovely atmosphere and great facilities, and I am thrilled to hear that they are adding to these assets by engaging with the NCETM scheme. A good understanding of numeracy is important for everyday life, and St Catherine’s is really investing in its teachers and ensuring that its children have every possible opportunity to reach their potential.”

Image attached (Rory Stewart MP and Headteacher Angela Hill)

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Rural Public Transport Request

Kirkby Stephen and all other small rural towns where there is insufficient population to be economically viable enough to run public transport privately require local authority funding to supplement and support a decent public transport infrastructure for the following reasons:

1. To sustain and support local economies – less people visit towns that have no transport and even less when they see the town in economic decline.
2. To promote the quality of life and well being of citizens. Many in rural communities are literally devastated to have no means of transportation. No public transport effects families, elderly, young people and the vulnerable who cannot access a car.

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Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown holds his bri

“AN OPTIMISTIC AUTUMN STATEMENT FOR RURAL COMMUNITIES”

Rory Stewart MP has commented on the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement today, welcoming in particular the initiatives that will boost productivity and connectivity for Cumbria’s rural communities and for the homes and businesses in Penrith and The Border.

Speaking today, Rory said:

“This is a sensible but optimistic Statement, and it will bring many benefits to Penrith and The Border and to other rural communities who look to places like Cumbria to lead the way in initiatives particularly to do with telecommunications and infrastructure development. Not only has the Chancellor continued to recognise the value of mobile and superfast broadband – and in particular, the need to invest heavily in the development of 5G mobile technology – but he has also responded to years of lobbying by communities from Penrith to Scotch Corner who have long advocated for the dualling of the road, confirming today that many stretches of this road will be developed.”

“I particularly welcome the news that the Great North Air Ambulance is to benefit significantly, highlighting the importance of the role our emergency services play in getting to our most remote communities, and a new Headquarters and Centre of Medical Excellence in the north is to be welcomed. Similarly, the figure mentioned for the Local Growth Fund sounds very positive and creates a framework in which infrastructure projects can be developed with economic certainty.”

“Many are concerned about the future of our economy post Brexit. Other announcements today, such as on rural rates relief and the confirmation of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, show that we are forging ahead and making the most of the opportunities that we have, and the strong economy that the final six years of government have helped to stabilise.”

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GOLD-STANDARD BROADBAND AND MOBILE BOOST FOR CUMBRIA – AUTUMN STATEMENT

p1000226Rory Stewart MP has welcomed the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, and in particular the over £1 billion of new investment in ‘gold-standard broadband’ and 5G mobile coverage,  both of which Rory believes will result in significant improvements to Cumbria’s hardest-to-reach homes and businesses. The investment will provide the world-class digital infrastructure that rural Britain needs, delivering improved connectivity across the county as well as in other rural areas, and cementing the UK’s position as a leading digital economy.

Rory, whose broadband and mobile campaign began before his election to Member of Parliament in 2010, has consistently advocated for the improvement of broadband and mobile coverage in Cumbria, and has applauded this significant contribution of resources.

He said: “The Chancellor’s commitment to investing in the need to connect the final percentage of households and businesses is highly commendable and a huge testament to all those broadband activists who have never given up on calling for the widest possible coverage. I have been fighting for many years now to improve our county’s broadband and mobile telecomms infrastructure and I am thrilled that government has increased the resources available. It is especially vital here in Penrith and The Border, where many communities still await broadband, and even more are lacking a basic mobile service. This is really important progress and I am grateful to the Chancellor for recognising the urgency of this investment.”

The UK is already a world leader in superfast broadband, however coverage in rural communities has long lagged behind urban areas. The improvements to broadband and mobile infrastructure will help overcome the primary obstacle to economic growth in rural areas –­­ isolation – which has an enormous impact on businesses’ access to service provisions, and their access to markets.

 

 

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WHAT DOES HOME MEAN TO A NOMADIC TRAVEL WRITER?

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Article first published in Outside by Andrew Fedorov on 22 November 2016.

When Rory Stewart was 15 and visiting his parents in China, he bought a cheap bicycle in a Guangzhou department store and decided to bike more than 100 miles back to the family apartment in Hong Kong. This worried his mother, though perhaps not as much as when he decided to spend two and a half weeks on a school break from Oxford walking the Afghanistan-Pakistan border into the Wakhan corridor, or later when he went scrabbling up and down sharp ridges across the jungle of Indonesian Papua.

After a little less than five years in the British foreign service in Montenegro and Indonesia in his twenties, which Stewart has admitted gives “the appearance of” spycraft, he decided to walk around the world. He got through about 6,000 miles across Asia and entered the bestseller lists with The Places in Between, an account of the 2002 Afghan portion of the walk. In 2003, at age 30, Stewart found himself part of the occupation government of Iraq, briefly in charge of a region that’s a bit smaller than New Jersey (he writes about this in The Prince of the Marshes). Later still, in Kabul, he headed up the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, a charity Stewart founded with Prince Charles.

On the heels of this globe-trotting era, after a brief stint teaching at Harvard, Stewart moved to Britain in 2009 to run for a seat in Parliament (he succeeded). In the years since, he has tried to grapple with this damp little island that he has never really known as his own. His new book, The Marches ($27; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), is about that inner conflict, his relationship with his recently deceased father, and trying to establish a home by parsing the elements of history and identity.

In most of Stewart’s books, there’s the sense of stories and trips unshared. Here he seems to unveil most of it, examining the scope of his life in an attempt to establish himself in place.

Stewart was born in Hong Kong, and though he spent some of his childhood in Britain, he moved around a lot because his father was a Malaysian colonial administrator and the second-most senior man in the British Secret Service. “It’s very eccentric, being brought up as I was by my father,” Stewart tells me with a carefully enunciated upper-class accent over the phone from London. “Our Sunday afternoon walk would be in the jungle in Malaya, making rafts and floating down rivers.” He says that his father, a World War II Scottish Highland regiment veteran who was “more playful and more over the top than most people,” tried in his own way to instill Britishness in his son. He made Stewart dance Scottish traditional dances to music played on a cassette player and laid out historic British military battles on their apartment floor. “It would be a little bit like an American father bringing someone up in Hong Kong and constantly talking about crossing the Potomac or the Gettysburg address.”

But until 2009, when he joined Parliament, Stewart had little direct knowledge of Britain. When he finally moved into a cottage in Britain’s Lake District, he began trying to understand this place in the same way he had tried to understand much of the rest of the world: on foot. In 2011, Stewart walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall, the Roman ruin dotted on an east–west axis across England, with his father following along in a car part of the way. The next year, he walked 400 miles along the English and Scottish border from his cottage to his parents’ Scottish estate. These are the book’s titular marches. “Walks are miracles,” Stewart writes, “which can let me learn, like nothing else, about a nation, or myself.”

Someone who has grown up like Stewart, tossed around the earth, at first involuntarily, then with mounting enthusiasm, will question how one place could hold this special designation of home and how a nation could be integral to one’s identity. The question that seems to reverberate as background noise of The Marches: If one grew up everywhere, would one be at home everywhere—or nowhere?

After World War I, it was claimed that the newly introduced British passport could take you all around the world without seeing a sunset. For postwar travel writers like Peter Fleming, Robert Byron, and Wilfred Thesiger, home wasn’t where their passports indicated. It was wherever those passports carried them. At one point in his life, Stewart saw himself as a successor to this tradition. But he now realizes that tradition was, to a great extent, a function of the British Empire. For Stewart’s generation of British citizens born abroad, in a world without empire, abroad was no longer an extension of home. Stewart acknowledges that, in this light, the position of the travel writer has also become shaky.

“The problem with these imperialist travel writers is not only all the very disturbing elements of colonial history, of racism, of arrogance,” Stewart tells me, “but it’s also that their own sense of British identity is actually very fragile. It’s not very sensitive or inventive.” The working travel writers he admires today don’t fit in that genre in the classical sense. They’re more properly described as journalists, like John McPhee and Peter Hessler, both of whom frequently write for the New Yorker. They analyze and report with a wealth of information that comes from beyond just personal experience. For The Marches, Stewart acted as much as a reporter as he did a pure travel writer, recording countless interviews and doing years of research for the book. “The other books took me only a year to write,” he says. “This one took me nearly four.”

Stewart brings up an affinity for V.S. Naipaul and an aversion to Paul Theroux. When I mention his introduction to Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, Stewart allows a startled “Oh” to escape. “You’re right,” he concedes. “I did love him as a younger guy, but as an older guy, I’ve become really angry with him.”

Chatwin, who more than anyone embodied the image of the travel writer in the second half of the previous century, built a career pinballing around the world, chasing larger-than-life stories and extraordinary objects. In The Songlines, the culmination of a lifetime of thought on nomadism, Chatwin concludes that home is just the territory we move through. Stewart seems to be one of the few travel writers who hasn’t fully accepted this concept of a yo-yo humanity, swinging out across the earth and back, as the basis of a happy modernity.

“I’m afraid that sometimes I think he’s a fraud,” he says. “I think he found it very difficult to write about the modern world because he’s always trying to make it seem more romantic, more exotic, and more carefully turned than it actually is. I wish Chatwin were capable of acknowledging that a lot of the experience of travel can be boredom, can be familiarity, can be frustration. Whereas he writes books that turn travel into a sort of fairy tale. I’m really keen to fight that. I’m really keen to do all I can to capture just how weird and strangely formed the modern world is.”

Finally, Stewart admits, “I think I’m always struggling as a person between my own sort of romantic Bruce Chatwin side and my desire to be more realistic about the modern world.” In this book, he says, “my romance and absorption with the past of the British landscape is rubbing up against the reality of modern Britain.”

And what is that reality? In Afghanistan and Iraq, Stewart met people who had stayed put on a piece of land for generations. They had “distinct identities and oral histories” that secured them to the land. He believed that home was not a quandary for them; it was a given. In contemporary Britain, however, Stewart finds that few linger and home is not so obvious. In the face of these split geographical loyalties and the accompanying detachment, he realizes that modern ideas of home and identity must be fundamentally different from inherited ones. He comes to understand that, today, a homeland—be it Syria, Scotland, or the British Empire—is at its heart an invented tradition, a web of stories.

After his father died, Stewart did a lot of hard thinking. “What my father represents is that identity is an activity,” he concludes. And with the younger Stewart, to some extent, it’s not what he thinks and knows about a place that make it home, it’s how he experiences and acts in it. That’s why the Lake District, one of the world’s most-walked landscapes, is what he chose to call home. “I become a very different person, even on a short walk,” Stewart says. “A seven- or eight-hour walk in Cumbria in the hills and I immediately feel this is the best thing I’ve done all month. I just feel happier.”

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A walk with the FT: London’s Hyde Park with Rory Stewart

Article first published in The Financial Times by Alec Marsh on 18 November 2016.

Rory Stewart’s stride is long and distinctive. Not Ministry of Silly Walks distinctive, more of a purposeful lope – like a greyhound in the moments before determined acceleration. I hurry to keep up as he tells me his desired speed is just over 3mph.

“Let me give you a sense of pace,” says the politician and author as we head towards London’s Hyde Park. “I have quite a long pace for my height – I’m just over 5ft 8in inches. My pace is almost exactly a metre long so I can count on doing 96 paces and knowing I’ve travelled 100m.”

After passing the tourists and evading the taxis, Stewart’s lurcher-like progress mercifully slows. “I have a romantic belief that walking solves things,” says the 43-year-old international development minister. “It solves my views on politics, my views on health, my views on life.”

A former soldier and diplomat, Stewart famously completed a 21-month walk through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Nepal between 2000 and 2002, while on leave from the Foreign Office. The 30-day Afghan section in January 2002 inspired his first book, The Places in Between. “The Afghan walk changed my life,” he says. “It took me from what I was and changed my whole political philosophy. The next 10 years of my life were dedicated to challenging these interventions in Afghanistan and, later, Iraq – and almost all of the confidence I had to do that came from that 30 days of walking and the gap I saw between the rhetoric and the reality.”

Walking has continued to shape his outlook since his election to Parliament in 2010. “There is a Nigerian proverb: ‘You listen with your feet,’” he explains. “What I hope I take from walking is the idea that it is vital to get out there, that not much can be done from an office in the capital, and, in the end, politics isn’t a question of technical expertise or models, it’s a question of walking into different people’s lives and trying to elicit from them their descriptions of their priorities.”

Stewart’s new book, The Marches, is an exploration of the Anglo-Scottish border and includes a 380-mile journey from his cottage in his Cumbrian constituency to his family home in Crieff, in Perth and Kinross in central Scotland. The book covers geography, ecology and identity from before the Romans to the present day. It also explores his close relationship with his late father, Brian, a veteran of the Normandy landings and colonial administrator in the twilight of the British Empire.
He credits his father with instilling this passion for walking: “It’s ironic because he was 50 when I was born so he was already beginning to slow down but he had a real belief in walking and the outdoors and started me on these trips through jungles in Malaysia.”

This included a formative three-week stay in Borneo, when the young Stewart was about nine. “A lot of people associate the jungle with suffering because you’re always wet and sweating and there’s lots of creepy-crawlies everywhere. But, as a child, my impression of that huge primary forest was so positive – seeing a tiger floating down the river, imitating calls of white-handed gibbons, trying to walk quietly and completely incompetently through the jungle.”

At 16, Stewart hiked with his father in Thailand, finding hillside villages a world away from Bangkok. “Walking then became an idea of how I could reach a reality that you can’t in cities and you can’t find on roads,” he says.

As we stroll through Hyde Park, he notes how his father used to take him rowing on the Serpentine when he was aged two or three and shows me the spot where his father used to give him fencing lessons.

Stewart’s work in the Foreign Office also provided an interesting parallel between the generations. After the Iraq invasion in 2003, Stewart was deputy-governor of two Marsh Arab regions in southern Iraq. As the civilian agent of an occupying power, his role was similar to his father’s job as colonial official in 1950s Malaysia – though they had different approaches. At one point in Iraq, Stewart’s official compound was besieged by a mob. In The Marches, he recounts asking his father for advice while inside the compound with the protesters outside. The suggestion? Round up the ringleaders, shoot them and then impose a curfew. Stewart assures the reader that he had no intention of doing the former and no one had a clue about how to do the latter. He adds dryly that, as his father predicted, the building was stormed and ransacked.

His experiences and travels in the region led him to specialise in human rights policy as an academic at Harvard. In 2006, he founded a development NGO in Afghanistan and relocated to Kabul. Throughout his career he has kept on walking – chalking up some 6,000 miles across Asia and about 1,000 across Britain.

Stewart says he normally finds the first 10 miles of each day’s walk a pleasure. “Crossing 20 miles, it ceases to be fun. Past 25 miles, it’s actually becoming more of an act of willpower. And then if you get on to the silly distances, it becomes an endurance activity.”

What about walking tips? “My tricks are two pairs of socks on at any one time to stop blisters,” he says. “I try to rest on the fourth day; so three days walk, one day off, three days walk…”

He cannot overstate the importance of hydration. “If I’m in a serious place like Afghanistan, I carry chlorine tablets and take water from a river,” he says. “In each village, I drink prodigious quantities of tea, which is boiled. Never, ever, ever, ever drink unboiled water or unboiled milk.” He did the latter in Pakistan and ended up in hospital for three weeks.

Closer to home, he says you should “never underestimate how much English rural towns shut down” so know where your next meal is coming from. He advises beginners to avoid East Anglia: “That’s black-belt walking,” he says. “Flatter landscapes require a connoisseur’s taste.” I ask him about the ideal group size: “Three’s a disaster. Two’s good.”

As we come to an end, Stewart reflects on the meditative element of walking. In a typical eight-hour day, he says, “for about an hour or two you get a level of tranquillity and calm that’s very difficult to achieve in any other way. Your mind settles.”

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RORY BACKS SOUTH AFRICA RUGBY UNION EXCHANGE PROGRAM

Rory Stewart MP last week dropped in on a rugby coaching session at St Catherine’s Primary School in Penrith. The session was led by John Cooper from Kirkby Stephen’s Upper Eden Rugby Club, and Aubrey Mkhize, Upper Eden player and coach, and participant in the South African Rugby Union exchange program.

Aubrey is a former professional player from South Africa who is now pursuing a career in coaching through the exchange program, which sees talented rugby players and coaches from the traditionally disadvantaged areas of South Africa given the opportunity to spend between three and six months in the UK. They are hosted locally, coach rugby and share their culture within the community. Missing from the days session to sit an exam was Acwenga Gova, known as Sam, who is also participating in the programme and playing for Upper Eden.

John Cooper, Upper Eden Rugby Club Chairman, said: “It was a pleasure to have Rory Stewart meet this year’s South African visitors, his interest is most welcome. Since 2002 the Eden Community has welcomed and hosted over 30 SA visitors on this exchange programme, made possible  because of the support and generosity of Eden individuals, companies and schools. Upper Eden Rugby club and The Eden Valley Sports Partnership have worked together to benefit both the community and youth sporting opportunities, hoping this programme will allow us to continue to do so.​”​

The program launched in the UK in 2002, with Upper Eden being one of the original participating clubs, and operates alongside Eden Valley Sports Partnership to deliver first class rugby coaching into local schools; promoting health and fitness, increasing confidence, nurturing young talent, providing exit routes into local clubs, and offering the children a unique cultural experience.

Becky Wolstenholme, Development Manager for Eden Valley Sports Partnership said: “​We are delighted to work with local sports clubs and partners to enhance the offer of p.e. and sport to all young people in our partnership.  It is extremely important to provide a wide range of sports and activities for all young people to encourage and enable them to lead healthy active lifestyles.”​

The exchange program is supported by the British High Commission in Pretoria, the South Africa High Commission in London and the South Africa Chamber of Commerce, as well as Prince Harry, and Rory Stewart is due to meet with the Exchange Program Coordinator, Richard De Jager, in London in January.

Aubrey Mkhize said: “I’m loving my experience in Cumbria, and enjoy the challenge of coaching young kids who often have no experience, as well as the established teams like Upper Eden and the Lancaster Uni team. Some of the kids I work with have never seen or spoken to a person from a different continent, so it’s great to be able to share my culture with them, and I have taught them all how to greet in my home language.”​

Rory Stewart said: “I am very grateful to Aubrey and Sam, and the South African Rugby Union exchange programme for providing this opportunity for Cumbrians, which goes well beyond sport. The positive and lasting impact that participation in sports has on our young people cannot be underestimated, but this is much more than that. The rich cultural experience that this program provides, prepares our children for life in an increasingly diverse, globalised society, and I hope that the program will continue in Cumbria for many years to come”.15002493_10154035110485737_1898731526743821788_o

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RORY PRAISES WORK OF CUMBRIA CONSTABULARY

img_2768Penrith and The Border MP, Rory Stewart, on Friday met with Cumbria Constabulary’s Chief Constable, Jerry Graham, for an update on national and local Policing issues. High on the agenda were matters relating to mental health and the Police Funding Formula.

Following the meeting Rory Stewart said: “Dealing with and supporting those with mental health issues now forms the biggest proportion of work carried out by Cumbria Police. The Government is aware of the scale of the mental health crisis faced by UK Police forces, and tackling mental health issues must be a priority. I am pleased that Cumbria Police are working to improve the system for vulnerable people and would reject any budgetary change that would make this more difficult, and result in additional strain on our hard-working force. Cumbria is a rural area which faces unique challenges, and I will continue to work alongside Cumbria Police, and Police and Crime Commissioner, Peter McCall, to ensure rural policing is recognised and supported. I am very proud of our Police officers and Police staff, and am grateful to them for their hard work, and commitment to keeping our community safe.”

 

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RORY CALLS ON SCHOOLS, CHURCHES AND CHOIRS TO ‘SING FOR SYRIANS’ THIS CHRISTMAS

Rory Stewart MP is joining other MPs nationally in calling upon local schools, churches, and choir groups to host a ‘Singing for Syrians’ event in December.

‘Singing for Syrians’, part of the Hands Up Foundation which raises funds for charities working in war-torn Syria, is an upbeat nationwide campaign to encourage the whole of the UK to sing and raise money for Syrians this December. And Rory would like local people to get on board.

Speaking about the campaign Rory said: ‘It’s not too late to organise an event in time for Christmas. Singing for Syrians is a wonderful opportunity for local signing groups to help some of the most vulnerable people in Syrian society. Time and time again I have seen at first-hand the warm fundraising spirit in our community and I look forward to seeing this campaign take off in Penrith and The Border through the power of song.’

Interested groups are asked to contact Rory to obtain a fundraising pack, which explains how to hold a ‘Singing for Syrians’ event locally, with branding for collection buckets, and other ideas for how to make your event a success. All the money raised from the event will go to doctors and medical teams in the besieged areas of Aleppo.

For more information, or to request a pack, please email Rory Stewart at r[email protected]singingforsyrians1