Monthly Archives: February 2010




Dufton                                                                                                                 Greystoke

Today, canvassing in Longtown, there were two (Chihuahuas, I think) in long coats. Last weekend, in Appleby a red Labrador and an English sheep-dog. A two thousand year old statue of a lurcher was found near Kirkby Thore, just four miles from Dufton, possibly (see below) associated with Syrian archers.

kirkby_houndKirkby Thore was the Roman Fort of Bravoniacum. And along with the hound was (according to the astonishing website a now-lost altar, saying FORTVNAE BALN N M S S G CALEDIVS FRONTINVS NOIV which could mean either:

“To The Fortune of the Baths,¹ and the Spirit of the Soldiers, in order that you take him into your protection Gaius Caledius Frontinus Noius has fulfilled his vow.”

Or:”To The Fortune of the Baths the Company of Archers from Syria (commanded by) Gaius Caledius Frontinus Noius (set this up).”

(That’s a fair amount resting on the letters M S S)

Child1 Leaping

letter to herald on newton rigg


I am delighted to see that all the main parties in Penrith and the Border, the Herald, and a very impressive range of non-political groups are now joined in our campaign to save Newton Rigg. This is far too important for party politics. There has never been more need for land-based education and the loss of Newton Rigg would be devastating to Penrith and Cumbria. But we must work even more closely together if we are to ensure that Newton Rigg’s farms are not sold and that 14-19 year old education is protected. We need more information on the current financial mess and we need to help define how to fund and manage Newton Rigg in the future. (Lord Baker is coming in March, for example, to see whether Newton Rigg might fit into the new Conservative proposal of University Technical colleges). Meanwhile, we must hold the University to its promise not to take any hasty decisions. I will be bringing together a more detailed statement to submit to the Vice-Chancellor over the next three weeks and would welcome input from anyone. This is a fight that we can win but only if we all work together.

informal gathering with supper, george hotel, penrith

Tickets are now on sale for an informal gathering – to include buffet supper – at the George Hotel , Penrith on Friday 12th March.  The evening begins at 7.30pm and will provide an excellent opportunity to meet Rory Stewart and his team.

For further details please contact the Conservative Office, 31 Chiswick St, Carlisle CA1 1HJ.  Tel 01228 521192.  or e-mail [email protected].  Tickets are £15 each.  The event is promoted by Penrith & the Border Conservative Association.


bbc question time review


I joined the BBC Question Time panel on Thursday 11th February, with Lord Hattersley, Lynne Featherstone MP, Ruth Lea and Tom Conti. The program was in Middlesbrough on the day of the ‘moth-balling’ of the Corus plant. Middlesbrough was once the fastest growing city on earth and Corus was the last legacy of its dominant position in iron and steel manufacturing. Corus was connected to two Penrith and the Border businesses – Steadmans and the Shap plant  – and its closure is a tragedy for the region but particularly for its 1700 highly skilled employees. The government suggests there may still be interested buyers. If so, it seems very disappointing that more attempts were not made to contact those buyers well before the ‘moth-balling’.

The program was defined largely by a discussion of different moral issues. In particular in the pre-screened segment, hunting and then later, Gordon Brown’s Morgan interview, press freedom and euthanasia. Curiously I found myself allied with Hattersley on Brown, press freedom and euthanasia (but not on economics). I found the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement at the General Synod helfpul:

“The freedom of one person to utilise in full consciousness a legal provision for assisted suicide brings with it a risk to the freedom of others not to be manipulated or harassed or simply demoralised when in a weakened condition. Once the possibility is there, it will not only be utilised by the smallish number of high-profile hard cases but will also create an ethical framework in which the worthwhileness of some lives is undermined by the legal expression of what feels like public impatience with protracted dying and ‘unproductive’ lives.

“But most of us here, I suspect, would say that the balance of liberties still comes out against a new legal framework, and in favour of holding to the principle – not that life should be prolonged at all costs, but that the legal initiating of a process whose sole or main purpose is to end life is again to cross a moral boundary, and to enter some very dangerous territory in practical terms. Most of us would still hold that the current state of the law, with all its discretionary powers and nuances about degrees of culpability in extreme cases, serves us better than an opening of the door into provision for the legal ending of lives.”

Politicshome, quotes, me – accurately I believe – in response to Dimbleby on Afghanistan:

“The solution is not going to come just through fighting. How do we create long-term stability? That’s a twenty, thirty year project I’m afraid.” Stressing that it was his “personal view”, Stewart said: “I think we need to start thinking about the medium and long term and look at reducing troop numbers.”Clarifying later in the programme he said, “I don’t believe we should run for the hills and withdraw. I think it is perfectly possible to have a pragmatic position. “We need a light, smart solution where the focus is political… We should not be traipsing around every rural area doing what we cannot do.”

A review:

wigton, nelson thomlinson and warnell

Wigton and Warnell

First shop-keeper: Where do you stay?

Rory:  Near Appleby

Shop-keeper: What are you doing in Wigton then?

I have been staying for the last three nights near Wigton, rather than returning home and I will be travelling around Caldbeck and Warnell this coming Tuesday (16th February), before moving onto Alston. The shop-keeper made coming from my cottage by Knock to Wigton sound like entering another country. And, of course, there are incredible differences between different parts of Cumbria. In Wigton, under a pale open blue sky with light clouds, looking over the Solway plain, I almost felt I was at the sea. Everything in the air and the colours is a reminder that Silloth is just over ten miles away. On Wednesday, I will be back in Alston – moving from sea-level to the highest market town in England, from the coastal plain to the central mountain spine of England – the light and the temperature and the agriculture and the culture will all be different – and yet it is all within the same unique constituency.

Wigton was at its most beautiful on this sunny winter Saturday. I stopped twice in the church – in the morning and the afternoon. The bell-ringer greeted me as he walked out. I noticed that one of the plaques referred to the ‘last of the Ismays’ and wondered whether this was a relative of Mr.Ismay who keeps the café at the end of town.  The organ was playing and the sunlight was streaming in through the new stained glass windows, donated by Melvyn Bragg. I spent a lot of time looking at the first window and its kaleidoscope of Wigton scenes from the auction mart ring up. It struck me, walking out, what a history of philanthropy there has been in the town which is more than just the beauty of the bronzes on the George Moore Memorial fountain but includes the Banks’ buildings and the Innovia Factory’s contribution to the town and to Nelson Thomlinson.

My Thursday visit, last month to Nelson Thomlinson was one of the best days I’ve had this year. Mrs.Downs, the headteacher, is a modest person and I don’t want to embarrass her by praising her too much in a blog but I learned a great deal from her about school management, and about how much it is still possible to get done within the current structures. Nelson Thomlinson is an example of a genuinely comprehensive school which delivers impressive results for its students. I am certainly not an inspector – and I am sure there are many things that I missed completely in walking round the school- but those students and teachers whom I met seemed genuinely committed, motivated and friendly. I’m looking forward to going back to the school soon.

local voices

Parking charges (and parking provision more generally) and the building of super-markets – are explosive issues across Cumbria. There is an overwhelming demand from Penrith shop-keepers, for example, to turn the current abandoned supermarket site into free temporary parking.  Most shops are finding that trade is down.  Across Britain, from Perth to Devon, independent high streets are being replaced with chain stores and threatened by the super-markets. We need to find a solution to the decline in trade in town centers, which is more than simply importing festivals, hanging baskets or supermarkets. But the even more fundamentally we need to find a sensible way of including communities in the developments of their own towns.  This is not a question of phony  consultations; nor of promising to satisfy desires which are impractical or unaffordable. But it is at least about allowing communities to provide a serious reality check to projects – pointing out when schemes do not make sense. Almost every day, I meet Cumbrians with knowledgeable, creative solutions to local problems, which are not being taken up by government.

wigton – 13 feb and 14th jan

Saturday, 13 February – Wigton

No shopper or businessman, whom I met was in favour of the parking charges in Wigton. Most shop-keepers – and I stopped in almost every shop  – felt that the charges were reducing their trade. I had talked with many of the same shop-keepers in Wigton on 14th January and attitudes seemed to have hardened further in the intervening three weeks.  One shopkeeper said, ‘I can see it clearly even in a matter of months – tourists are no longer stopping by – no-one is browsing anymore, nor moving from shop to shop.’’ Many emphasized that parking was cheaper in Carlisle or even free in Aspatria and Silloth and customers would simply go to those places. When I said that the parking charges were generating very significant revenue for the council and that the council felt it would be difficult to finance services without the parking charges, a shop-keeper replied ‘they are being short-sighted – the council will end by killing the businesses through parking charges and will then get no revenue from business rates.’

Most shopkeepers were also opposed to the proposal to build a Tesco’s. General stores in particular predicted that Tesco’s would simply wipe them out. Some suggested the impact might depend on the size of the Tesco’s – if it was very large it would swamp almost every commercial operation in Wigton – if small enough it might leave most shops able to compete. A number of customers – who already shop at Tesco’s elsewhere were in favour of the store and believed it would bring more life into Wigton – and that the customers who visited Tesco’s would also move on down the street. I witnessed three heated disagreements over the issue with one side accused of being ‘opposed to change’ and the other of ‘not caring about the future of the town’. There was, however, real agreement that Wigton town center is suffering.

Wigton’s unique history, size and location make these threats particularly painful. The residents and shop-keepers of Wigton have a far better idea than anyone else of the options available. They have lived with these issues, know them intimately, love the town and have a direct stake in its future. Our current consultation mechanisms and planning regulations do not seem to make Wigton residents feel fully engaged in the future of their town. This not only causes anger with government, it also deprives government of fresh ideas from well-informed, motivated and energetic people. We must work together to change this – nationally and locally – and give communities more control of their environments and lives.