Monthly Archives: May 2019

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‘I WILL PUT CUMBRIA BEFORE MY CABINET CAREER’

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Article first published in the News & Star on 30 May 2019 by Emily Parsons.

Rory Stewart says he can solve the biggest threats to the county – by being elected Prime Minister.

Rory Stewart is one of 11 declared candidates in the running for the UK’s top role, and said he believes it is in the best interests for Cumbria for him to win the leadership race.

The Penrith and the Border MP said: “If I were lucky enough to be Prime Minister, I would be spending much more time in my constituency and have much more power to deal with the big issues which underlie the county and its stability.

“I would be able to have the resources to fly up to the new Carlisle airport, because I would want to be the type of Prime Minister that proved they are learning and listening to people. I would want to be spending very clearly time in the constituency to show I’m listening and talking to people.

“The connection between Prime Minister and constituency is vital: if you’re stuck in the Westminster bubble you don’t know what’s truly going on.

“The way to solve the biggest risks to Cumbria is by being Prime Minister.”

Mr Stewart made the comments as he outlined why he believes he should be in Number 10 – and why his rivals need to start recognising his threat.

“I believe that I can get Brexit done, beat Jeremy Corbyn and reunify the country,” he said.

One of 11 currently declared candidates for the UK’s top role – and the closing date not until the week starting June 10 – Mr Stewart was initially viewed as an outsider.

However, in the past week he has begun a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #Rorywalks, which has seen him head onto the streets of Britain armed with an iPhone to speak to the general public.

Mr Stewart explained: “The way I’ve changed this campaign is by getting out on the streets. Those other guys [Boris Johnson etc] are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on their campaigns, and I’m getting 10 to 15 times the views and reach.

“People who would not traditionally vote Conservative are engaging with me, young voters are getting on side.

“I need other MPs to believe that I can win a General Election. They care about changing the country and to create the kind of Britain they believe in depends on being able to win an election.”

Of the rival candidates, the Secretary of State for International Development believes only two pose a real threat: Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.

“The real question is would you rather have me, Boris or Michael as Prime Minister?” Mr Stewart asked.

“If I had to guess, I would say the biggest competition in terms of reach and our style of Government and ability to get things done… I think Michael Gove is very effective.

“The question is, would he win an election in the way I can? I don’t know.

“Alternatively, you have Boris who is the only genuine celebrity in the race. I think that’s something that’s an asset but could also be a bit intrusive.

“He’s got huge supporters and is a great speaker, but there are some people who don’t think he’s quite right for Prime Minister.”

Mr Stewart is on the opposite side of the Brexit argument to Mr Johnson. The latter is arguing for a no deal Brexit, something the Cumbrian MP believes would be the worst possible outcome for his constituents – and for Cumbria as a whole.

“What we really do not need for farming is a no deal Brexit,” insisted Mr Stewart. “We need to be able to sell our sheep into the EU.”

It is this passion for farming that is among his reasons for being vocally opposed to Mr Johnson and his no deal Brexit pledge – a position he is determined to stand by.

“I’m very honoured to be in Government,” Mr Stewart admitted. “I love that job; it’s been one of the greatest privileges of my life, but I cannot continue to serve in the cabinet if I don’t agree with the policies I’m advocating for.

“I’d be happy to sacrifice my career in cabinet on a point of principle.”

Mr Stewart is instead proposing a completely alternative approach to resolving Brexit, taking inspiration from the Irish Citizens’ Jury which was held to discuss the potential change in abortion laws. This would involve 99 completely random UK residents being put in a room for three weeks to debate Brexit – and it would be televised.

“You find eventually they move on from ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to thinking about the issues beyond that,” the MP explained. “In Brexit you move on to saying do I want to sell cars into Europe? Do I want to protect agriculture in Cumbria?

“By getting through these issues, they come up with recommendations which can be taken back to Parliament. Then you have 40 to 50 Labour MPs on board who didn’t support it before, because you have a national consensus.

“I believe strongly that no deal is actually the slower route, and what people want is to get it done quickly. The faster route is to unstick Parliament, by taking three weeks out and going back to a Citizens’ Jury.”

Resolving Brexit, avoiding a snap General Election and unifying the nation again are key goals for Mr Stewart – and he believes he is the only man for the job.

“I’m very very worried that if we are not careful we are going to end up with a world in which unfortunately, we are split – the party and the country – and [the Conservatives] would lose an election and bring in Jeremy Corbyn.”

Mr Stewart continued: “Then there wouldn’t be very much for me to be Prime Minister of afterwards.

“When do you need a leader? We need a leader in a time of crisis. I need to step up in a time of crisis.

“I wouldn’t want to have a leader who thinks ‘this is a poison chalice, we’ll wait it out’. That would imply they are in it for the appearance, not for the job.”

Mr Stewart’s other pledges include doubling foreign aid spent on climate change, reorganising the intelligence services and getting superfast broadband in every home in the UK. “I know how to do it, but I need control of Treasury to do it,” he said.

He is gathering support from unlikely corners however, with author India Knight and footballer Gary Lineker tweeting their backing, while even Andy Wigmore, communications director for Leave.eu said Mr Stewart is “growing on him”.

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Rory Stewart: I’ve negotiated in Iraq – I can handle the Tories

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Rory Stewart has just arrived at KFC in Barking. It’s day four of “campaigning proper”, as he puts it, for the Tory leadership. The International Development Secretary has chosen Barking because it is a no-deal Brexit enclave and he wants “to talk to Leave voters.”

Margaret Thatcher did this, he says, hammering on doors with Labour stickers in the window to convince them their economic analysis was wrong.

Stewart believes this shows “sincerity”. “What I will find in Barking is people who’ll disagree with me strongly. If my campaign is about being unifying and inclusive I have to have the confidence to go out and … talk to them. ” His argument is for a managed deal. He describes himself as “radical centre”.

Later he posts a film of himself doing a selfie piece-to-mobile-phone-camera while walking down the street, and another speaking Dari to a constituent (Stewart lived on-and-off in Afghanistan for three years from 2005). The response is he’s indeed “barking” but charming. Earlier in the day he met Remainers in Borough. Among them, a woman who’d seen his documentary on Afghanistan and a man who’d heard one of his podcasts. Another guy “clearly had no idea who I was.” Another told him “You’re the only Tory I’d vote for.” Unfortunately, sighs Stewart, “he was a Lib Dem.”

Stewart is certainly the outsider — he’s polling last in the race — but it’s instructive that he has hired Lizzie Loudon, a press secretary with experience of Number 10 under Theresa May, and is happy to admit he has the “vanity and ego” befitting a contender. He believes his time as a diplomat and adventurer (whose account of a month-long walk through Afghanistan The Places In Between became a bestseller) was the perfect apprenticeship for the job.

He’s an unusual character, 5ft 9in, wire-thin in his tailored suit and knitted green tie. Even with a new hair cut, his style is artfully dishevelled. He wears thistle cufflinks, a nod to his Scottish roots, and a gold signet ring, and he looks like a cross between Mick Jagger, Eddie Redmayne and the puppet from Interpol’s Evil video.

What kind of Tory is Stewart? On the one hand he is the Eton-Balliol kind, like Boris Johnson. On the other, he’d never voted Tory before 2001 — and only then, to his chagrin, because his father and mother – a former deputy head of MI6 and a “true blue Tory, Brexiteer and cornerstone of the Perth and Kinross Conservative Association” — cast his proxy vote while he was away in India. Between the ages of 18 and 21, he was a fully-paid up member of the Labour Party while helping Princes William and Harry with their Maths and English. Royal tutor and Labour member? “Yes,” he laughs. “That’s the kind of Tory I am.”

In today’s political landscape, your position on the EU is as important as party colours. Stewart wants both no-deal and a second referendum “off the table”. His proposed method of finding “compromise in the middle ground” is, “painful though this sounds, locking the MPs up and bashing a deal through.” He would do this with “a Macron-style Citizen’s Assembly” with the Archbishop of Canterbury in the role of “mediator”.

He means to include “literally everyone” in talks, citing ERG hardliner Mark Francois, Unite boss Len McCluskey and, “if necessary”, Nigel Farage. The important thing is to “lift our heads up from the day-to-day Brexit squabble to what the long-term objective is here,” he says. He’s already collared McCluskey in the street after they appeared on a BBC politics show together.

Today, he appears to make the decision to talk to Farage mid-sentence after relating that they had dinner six weeks ago at the Oxford Union. “I am going to get my office to reach out straight to him,” he says. “I am the last person he will expect to hear from and that is a powerful position to come from.”

Stewart may have the same pedigree as Johnson in terms of schooling but in this contest he’s the anti-Boris candidate. When we first meet (over tea in Portcullis House last Thursday) he says he would consider serving in a Johnson Cabinet for the good of the country. At some point over the weekend he rules this out. Asked if Johnson is across the detail of his brief, Stewart (who worked with Johnson at the Foreign Office) doesn’t say yes, he says he won’t be drawn into “insulting my opponents.”

But he swings from high-chivalry to waspish, saying, when asked if as leader he would rein in Johnson’s inflammatory commentary, such as comparing women in “burqas” to letterboxes, “I don’t think there’s any leader who would be foolish enough to think they could control a poet of the legendary quality of Boris Johnson. Many have tried. I don’t think he’s a racist. I think he’s an incredibly talented, very engaging journalist.” If this is supposed to be damning, it’s a shame he is talking to journalists. He describes the “point of Boris” as not dissimilar to that of Jeremy Clarkson.

Later, when drawing on his heroes, he says the thing that is greatest about Winston Churchill was his “eye for detail”: “Because real leadership is not broad-brush poetical nonsense,” he says.

In policy terms, Stewart is much closer to Michael Gove. Both are radical, both embrace tech, both are extreme green — Stewart’s stated first policy would be to plant 120 million native trees in four months. He wants to issue “green bonds” and have the Government buy land and build houses, “not nudging property developers.” He cites Edinburgh’s new town and says he wants people “in 200 years’” time to look back at the work of his government and say “‘My goodness, what an incredible civilisation.’”

But he is not convincing when asked, as a slightly Victorian character, how he will appeal to young people. “Because I care,” he says. “Because I’m sincere.”

And although claiming that it is “completely vital” to attract more BAME members and voters he is flummoxed by the question of Islamophobia in the Tories. “I may be missing it,” he admits.

His is an unusual turn of phrase —  “I am going to green DFID,” he says at one point. Things are often “a miracle.” The British car industry is “a miracle”, as are our security services, London too.

He’s at once terribly posh (“issues” is pronounced iz-use) with the odd Americanism like “gotta” (Stewart’s wife Shoshana Clark is from New York) with a manner that at times appears superior. When telling the story of how he met his wife in Afghanistan, he relates it through her eyes. “I was standing on the top of the turret of the mud castle about 25ft in the air in a suit trying to discourse with an Afghan engineer. She saw this strange person and a white dog.”

His speaking rhythm sometimes beats to iambic pentameter, perhaps because he likes to commit verse to heart. He learnt Eliot’s The Wasteland aged 14, and the Four Quartets while walking from India to Nepal in 2001, which he later recited through a megaphone in Penrith on the day he was elected in 2010.

Always simmering under the surface is the desire to talk about his experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. “The thing I’ve learnt negotiating, whether with warring factions in Iraq or with mini-wars in Afghanistan,” he tells us, “is that you have to be nimble. This is not a game of red lines or rigidity, you gotta keep trying and be imaginative, and you have to reach out.” He says there are “similarities” with post-war Iraq and post-Brexit voting Britain. “The most fundamental similarity is that there is a completely surreal gap between the way that the Government talks about this and what is actually going on on the ground.”

Actually, his discomfort with arms sales to Saudi Arabia (“if we talk about democracy and human rights, we need to follow through on that”) mean that he has revolutionary ideas on foreign policy too. “If I were lucky enough to be Prime Minister, I would actually rebalance our foreign policy away from the Middle East towards Asia and Africa.”

He is keen to be honest. Then again, he’s occasionally nettled. On the subject of Eton, he says: “When you are choosing a leader, you’re also choosing someone who spent 550 nights sleeping on the floor of village houses across Afghanistan, Nepal and India — seeing things that many other people who went to Eton haven’t seen in their lives”.

What about rumours that he was — like his father — in the secret intelligence service? He emits a “ha”, then allows a pause. “Well, so… I mean… no.”

He didn’t know what his father did as a child but he adored him. The last time he cried “properly” was when his father died in his arms in 2015. “I was trying to resuscitate him. It was a strange moment for me because in very quick succession within nine months I’d had to deliver my first son with 999 on my telephone in my ear and I was trying to do artificial resuscitation with 999 in my ear.” He now has two boys, four and two. Yes, he changes nappies.

Asked if he has a “fields of wheat” moment of naughtiness, he says: “All these things are relative.” To illustrate he tells how he once sat with a KGB officer over a drink. He puts on a Russian accent. “‘Rory’ he said at about 3am, ‘I have broken every one of the Ten Commandments’ and he started crying. And I said, ‘My God, every one?’ And he said, ‘Yes, every one. Even I have not respected my father and mother.’ So that’s the naughtiness that I am used to.”

Is he tough enough to be PM? A toothy grin spreads across his face. “The reason I have been proud to be in Iraq, in Afghanistan, serving my country is because I believe in a Britain that is understated in its answers to those kind of questions. I don’t believe tough guys are people who say they are tough.”

Later he tells an anecdote from Afghanistan. He was in a blizzard following 9/11, “completely lost.” “Suddenly I saw bumping towards me two big Toyota Land Cruisers. The electric window came down, and there was an SAS guy who served with me in the Balkans. He stuck his head out and said: ‘You are a f**king nutter.’ And then wound up the window and drove off.”

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WATCH RORY’S LATEST INTERVIEWS

Rory has been interviewed about Brexit and his bid to be Britain’s next Prime Minister on many different programmes recently, which you can watch here:

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My vision for a fair Britain, by Rory Stewart: Number 10 hopeful says he’d ban NHS parking fees… and take on Amazon

13888122-0-image-a-12_1558657543138Cabinet minister Rory Stewart last night vowed to tackle Britain’s ‘everyday injustices’ as he launched his bid for No10.

The International Development Secretary pledged to save the high street by tackling the ‘grossly unfair’ business rates that online firms such as Amazon pay.

He also said one of his first acts would be to axe car parking charges at hospitals, blasting them as ‘offensive’.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Stewart said ‘community’ was central to what he believed in as a Conservative.

Outlining his vision for the future of the country post-Brexit, Mr Stewart, 46, said: ‘A great Conservative government isn’t just big flashy ideas that hit the headlines.

‘It’s about sweating a thousand small details and addressing the things that really matter in people’s lives.’

The father-of-two, who was previously prisons minister, said he was the ideal candidate to replace Theresa May and deliver Brexit if she failed to get her new deal through.

Speaking ahead of the European election results, he said he would unite the Conservative Party, get a Brexit deal through the Commons, and save the country from Jeremy Corbyn in power. His blueprint – should he become leader – would include:

  • Saving Britain’s local post offices by keeping government subsidies going and making them more ‘entrepreneurial’;
  • Abolishing ‘offensive’ hospital parking charges;
  • Taking on firms such as Amazon in a bid to save the high streets.
  • Stripping honours from people like Sir Philip Green;
  • Improving sluggish broadband speeds for rural areas.
  • Mr Stewart, the son of an MI6 intelligence officer, said he believed the Conservative Party was about having ‘community and values at its heart’ and a ‘sense of fairness’.

    He said: ‘I’m a shareholder in far more local community pubs than I would like to be because I’m trying to keep them all going.’

    He also said he was ‘very worried’ about the effect of business rates on the high street as he blasted online giant Amazon, which last year paid UK business rates of only £63.4million, amounting to less than one per cent of its sales.

    ‘I want to do something very radical on business rates. I think it is grossly unfair that Amazon is not on a level playing field with our local shops and we’ve got to solve that. They are making a colossal amount of money in this country, they are paying very little tax compared with their underlying profits and they are not paying business rates basically,’ he said.

    He said his ‘radical’ plan to save the high street would be unveiled at a later date.

    Mr Stewart also pledged to axe ‘offensive’ hospital parking charges, saying: ‘I would abolish them.’ He said one of his constituents had gone to hospital to see their mother who was dying of cancer, only to come out to some ‘crazy car parking charge’.

    ‘That is absolutely offensive, I mean these everyday injustices that people are experiencing all the time, summed up for me in that hospital car parking charge.

    ‘Summed up for me in us giving honours to someone like Philip Green. I would take that knighthood away tomorrow. This is not fair.’ He also pledged to introduce measures to ensure faster broadband speeds, saying the UK had worse speeds than ‘Madagascar and Romania’.

    He said: ‘If you are looking for one thing that can transform the GDP of rural areas almost overnight, it is super-fast broadband.

    ‘If you are looking for one thing that can transform healthcare for people living in remote areas, it is super-fast broadband.’ Mr Stewart said that as a backbencher he led the first big debate on transforming rural mobile coverage.

    He added: ‘I pushed Cumbria to become one of the first four pilots on rural broadband.

    ‘I worked so closely with community broadband networks, with British Telecom to try to revolutionise that.

    ‘And I am so frustrated that nine years on we aren’t there. It is an absolute no-brainer.’

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    RORY SPEAKS ON EBOLA

    Rory, in his capacity as Secretary of State for International Development, updated the House of Commons on the Department’s work to eradicate Ebola in the DRC. Watch it here:

    He then spoke to Mark Austin on Sky News’ ‘The News Hour’.

    Rory Stewart MP at Penruddock Primary School

    RORY TALKS CLIMATE CRISIS WITH PENRUDDOCK PRIMARY SCHOOL

    Rory Stewart MP at Penruddock Primary School

    Rory visited Penruddock Primary School to discuss climate change and the environment with its pupils.

    Penruddock Primary School’s Year 5/6 Class had been working on the theme of ‘Our Precious Planet’ and, as part of this, had studied what Cumbrians can do to protect the environment and reduce their carbon footprints. They agreed that this involved reducing the amount of plastic used, and the threat of climate change. The children then wrote letters about their project, their concerns and their solutions to Mr Stewart.

    Rory and the children discussed the challenges that the planet faces, particularly those of plastic pollution and deforestation. The children expressed their concerns with the decimation of animals and plantlife, which Rory shared, while explaining both what the Government had done to meet this challenge and what it was planning to do. Rory has a longstanding interest in environmental matters and has discussed these issues with students of all ages on many occasions, most recently meeting with climate strikers from Ullswater Community College in March.

    Rory said “It was a very great pleasure to meet with the children and to discuss the most pressing issue of our day with them. Their knowledge and passion were impressive and a real credit to them, their teachers and their parents. The climate crisis and accompanying destruction of the natural world concern me hugely and it is encouraging to known that the young are engaged with it, and willing to work together to solve it”.

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    RORY APPEARS BEFORE THE INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEE

    Rory, in his capacity as Secretary of State for International Development, appeared before the International Aid Committee this afternoon to update MPs on the Department for International Development’s efforts to follow up on sexual abuse and exploitation in the Aid Sector. Watch it here: