Monthly Archives: June 2010

rory supports fundraising efforts in aid of st lawrence’s church appleby

During his tour of Appleby Horse Fair on Saturday 5th June 2010 Penrith and the Border MP Rory Stewart found time to visit Appleby residents and members of St Lawrence’s Church at a fundraising event timed to coincide with the Fair. The church was open for refreshments from Friday through to Monday.

Mr Stewart enjoyed a cup of tea and home-baking and chatted to the team of hard-working volunteers, raising money for essential electrical rewiring work at St Lawrence’s.

He commented: “It’s marvellous to see the church open its doors on this very busy weekend, and to welcome visitors from all over Britain. The volunteers have worked extremely hard to prepare and run this fundraising effort, and I am very happy to be supporting it. Funds raised will go towards essential upgrading of St Lawrence’s electrical system, and I shall be delighted to show my support at future fundraising events.”

Pat Shuttleworth, Appleby resident and volunteer, said: “This is absolutely essential electrical work, and we have only just begun to raise money. We aim to raise £80,000 for this work to take place, and welcome all support. We chose to run this event during the weekend of Appleby Horse Fair and open the church to gypsy and traveller visitors. We very much want them to feel welcome during the Fair, the atmosphere of which has improved tremendously since it has been supported by the various agencies including, of course, representatives from the traveller communities themselves.”

The weekend’s fundraising event raised £1,500 for the rewiring work – still some way off the target of £80,000. Anyone wishing to donate, or know more about St Lawrence’s fundraising efforts, should contact the Reverend Sarah Lunn at Long Marton Rectory, Back Lane, Long Marton,  Appleby-in-Westmorland.

the different roles of an MP

I saw three versions of an MP’s life this week. Last Sunday evening, I drew the broadband Minister into discussing better broadband access for Cumbria. I really want to make this happen. We have more self-employed people in Penrith and the Border than any other constituency and we will jeopardise all rural services from village schools to post offices if we don’t get this right. I described the success in Alston and problems in Dufton; produced statistics on why we need and want it more than anywhere else; and reminded him that we are the very heart and epicentre of Britain. I did this for three hours until the Minister eventually agreed to chair a broadband conference in Penrith this September. He probably wanted me to shut up.

On Tuesday morning I was asked to a meeting on foreign policy. I was intimidated to be addressing the Prime Minister, but I was more intimidated by the fact that among the soldiers and civil servants in the room were no less than four of my previous bosses. It felt a little bit like an episode of ‘This Is Your Life’. The afternoon was spent on letters and e-mails from Penrith and the Border: five people sent press clippings; eleven had ideas for government policy; three sent books, two a DVD and one a hand-painted postcard; two families were being threatened with eviction; and there were another six developments in the ongoing fight to save Newton Rigg.

The next day, we heard the terrible news from West Cumbria and on Thursday I found myself speaking for the first time in the House, not in a Maiden Speech, but because Copeland MP Jamie Reed was in his constituency, to express some of our sorrow on behalf of Cumbria.

On Saturday I found myself sat with Billy Welch, the gypsy leader at the Appleby Horse Fair, by a camp-fire in the centre of a circle of caravans, on Fair Hill. Billy spoke in great bursts of furious eloquence, scattering his speech with Roma words and invoking 650 years of gypsy history. Young, shaven-headed men, who would have looked like football fans had their bare shoulders not been almost touching the withers of white horses, galloped past to the Eden.

“This earth”, shouted Billy, “is sacred to us – this is our Mecca.” Behind him, doves flew past the great mysterious mounds at Knock and Dufton pike.

His rhetoric was driven by his sense that the police were being too aggressive towards gypsies. It was a particularly difficult time for the police: the Assistant Chief Constable had been the Gold Firearm Commander for the Derek Bird shootings only two days earlier, and he and his team had obviously gone through a very tough two days. Kevin Douglas, the Chief Executive of Eden District Council, who was also listening to Billy beside me, had been working for eleven months with a large multi-agency team on preparing the Fair. Despite Billy’s complaints – the atmosphere in town had seemed to me friendly and orderly – at the St Lawrence’s coffee morning many residents told me they were pleased. The horse-fair was already going before Pitt the Younger became the MP for Appleby in 1781. But I doubt even he could have crafted a perfect balance between two such different communities.

This isn’t an issue for a single year. It demands a continual series of experiments, small lessons-learned, and endless flexibility: more order this year, perhaps a little more freedom next.

I am no nearer to untangling this web of roles or finding a simple core to an MP’s life. Yesterday, I saw some soldiers who had recently returned from Afghanistan and was reminded how, through their basic training, the parade ground, and the daily routines in regiments, they absorb a whole culture, a sense of their profession as a calling. Neither a Corporal nor a Colonel need ever really wonder what their job is. Each person has a superior officer and comrades and people for whom they are responsible, a mission, and orders. And, even when those things are missing, there exists a clear code to guide them.

But a Member of Parliament has none of this. As every other part of government has become more formal and more trained, Members of Parliament remain an anomaly. We can seem at our worst a little like my Highland Cows which I continue to keep for the sake of tradition but who never seem to bring me much gain at Market.

I am still learning about the opportunities, the uncertainties, the small moments of influence and power which might allow me to encourage the roll-out of broadband, help a constituent, suggest an alternative in Afghanistan, or just play a small part for Cumbria. Yet I’m embarrassed to say that although I cannot pin down this job in the way a soldier could, I’ve never had a more interesting week.


Article first published on by Rebecca Burns on 14 June 2010.

The new Penrith and the Borders MP is about as far from being a ‘career politician’ as you get, having packed in more than most before entering the Commons. His enormous walk, which took two years, was sandwiched by a stint in the Black Watch and an illustrious career in the Foreign Office on one side, and an OBE and a few publishing successes on the other. Yet rather than the towering superman you would expect of a formidable figure, he is a slim, demure presence with eyebrows that wiggle when he’s deep in thought.

I meet up with him at his parliamentary office and we head off to grab a coffee and talk politics. Halfway down the corridor Stewart doubles back to his office for his forgotten parliamentary pass. I suspect it’s just an excuse for more walking. He has company though, so we get the lift rather than trotting joyously down the five flights of stairs.

“I think you learn about a place by walking through it,” says Stewart. He’s talking about how his love of walking shaped his election campaign, although presumably this also applies to his technique for finding his way around parliament. Rather than navigate the country’s geographically largest constituency by motor, he went on a two-month boundary-to-boundary walking tour. “I didn’t get in a car during December and January – I was walking,” he says as he discusses his unorthodox campaign methods. Constituents sometimes walked with him on his hike, discussing as they went. “I don’t think you should whizz to a village, jump out, stuff leaflets through doors and then whizz off to the next place. That isn’t my sense of how the politicians should talk to the public.”

For him, politics is “a conversation, a debate and a dialogue about [people’s] identities their imaginations and their communities”. This all sounds rather like Cameron’s ‘new politics’ and ‘big society’ talk. But with Stewart’s unconventional approach, when his views coincide with the Tories it seems more happy coincidence than anything else.

I ask him whether he has held a surgery yet, and he tells me that the next day he has 14 meetings in his constituency. “I’m not sure of the distinction between a surgery and a meeting” he says uncertainly before adding “I’ve got two hours which is a sort of drop in.” I confirm that, traditionally, this is his surgery.

Even if he is not familiar with the modus operandi of his new job, he is more than capable of coping with the bigger tasks. Time spent in the rural villages of Afghanistan and Iraq, as both villager and governor, informs his outlook of the rolling green fields of his Cumbrian constituency. In both places people “sense what differentiates their village”, says Stewart, and he understands the accompanying local mentality. The focal constituency campaign for rural broadband is also familiar territory as “it is something like setting up an NGO or a charity”. Stewart established Turquoise Mountain, a development NGO in Afghanistan. He has transferred that dynamism and organisation to his constituency campaigns, where he recognises “it’s not good enough to just say this is really important, you have to prove that to people”.

His experiences in Iraq (as a provincial governor for an area the size of Northern Ireland after the coalition invasion) and other turbulent countries give him a wealth of international diplomatic expertise. But Stewart says he’s “trying to focus on Cumbria”. He sounds slightly weary of large-scale diplomacy or policy-making. “I think we’re in too much of a rush – it’s almost impossible, I suspect, to say anything sensible or serious unless one has quite a lot of time to explain, to think, to ponder.”

I sense the appeal of being a local MP lies, for him, in the mandate to go at his own thoughtful pace, have more control and institute what he feels to be more effective change. According to Stewart, policy making is “an art not a science”. I ask what he hopes for in his career and, appropriately, the answer I get (with a wiggle of the eyebrows) is almost poetic. “To try to begin again and again, to say again and again, to shape again and again a common vision for Britain and to try though one life in a small way to shape us and nudge us and push us in the direction of which one might be proud.”

Stewart is certainly not short on vision, ambition or ability. An eccentric, his head does appear to be slightly in the clouds (despite his love of walking) but even this works to his advantage, giving him a valuable overview of situations.

The modern day Lawrence of Arabia (as he has been called in the past) commented a couple of years ago that he was moving back to the UK from Afghanistan to try and ‘normalise’. When I ask what he meant by that, the inevitable eyebrow-wiggling is followed by some poetry. It’s an extract from Wallace Stevens’ The Poem That Took the Place of a Mountain about being “complete in an unexplained completion” and recognising “his unique and solitary home”. Does the adventurer finally want to settle? I doubt it. But the business of Westminster will be a satisfactory enterprise until itchy feet seize Stewart once more.

first weekend back to cumbria

I am sitting on a low stool, upstairs in the Penrith Conservative Club, a week after my election. There are more than twenty people, seated in front of me and between them they’ve travelled almost a thousand miles to be there. I last sat beside Ray, on a hay bale in Rockcliffe; Joe and Ducan, had been with me as we backed a trailer, decked with banners, out of a cul de sac, on a Wigton estate; Martin had last heard me speaking through a megaphone, standing on a landrover roof in the center of Appleby; I had shared fish and chips with Isa, Gordon and David Cameron in the Border Cod in Longtown, just before the vote. Now, I am trying to explain what I found in parliament.

I didn’t want to talk about the trivia; that none of us have offices, that we sat through two days of power point presentations which left most people bewildered. I didn’t feel it was my place to describe the strange smell of parliament, the press of bodies, in the airless chamber, the hands beating on oak desks and bellowing voices, the circling herds of five hundred men in suits with mobile phones attached to their ears looking at times like a group of city traders on the stock exchange floor. (Almost half the members of parliament are new). I certainly wasn’t going to dwell on the fact that I was sleeping in my aunt’s basement and trying to run my office from a coffee shop because no offices had been allocated and wouldn’t be for five weeks. Instead I tried to describe my two brief meetings with Cameron in which he had sketched out what he knew of the negotiations between Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown. I was beginning to realize how much the proof of the coalition pudding would be in the eating.  The big challenge would not be so much the differences in policies as the differences in personality. All parties are coalitions. The question is will this Cabinet be able to work together as a team? How quick will they be at making decisions, how determined will they be in pushing programmes through, how quick will they be to admit when they are wrong?

Many of the people in that room in Penrith had worked as councilors in coalitions, had decades of experience of communicating policies on doorsteps, had specialized knowledge of schools, on health care and the daily struggle of creating and sustaining a business. They raised questions which had been missed in the national media and left me with a dozen new problems to think about and raise when I was back in Westminster.

We also discussed a long meeting which I had held on Newton Rigg earlier that afternoon. We were yet to get the kind of detail we needed on the finances and I am afraid – perhaps as a cynical ex-civil servant – I did not believe the Consultants’ report was giving the full picture. I stood to be a Member of Parliament to focus on detail not just to make statements or wave banners. But again and again – whether dealing with Newton Rigg, New Squares, Post Office closures or threats to cottage hospitals – I was coming to realize the central problem was lack of information. Officials, consultants and companies were able to produce plans and proposals on the basis of figures which the public could rarely access.  Defending Cumbrian universities, market towns, post offices and hospitals is going to become even more important and difficult in the financial crisis. We need better access to information, to defend them and marshall the most powerful arguments against policy, too often driven from cities.

There were many wonderful moments in returning home that first weekend from judging the fancy dress at the Langwathby May Day to giving the prizes at the Young Farmers’ field day. But what I remember most is that conversation in the room. It was not just that that I had spent months with these men and women, in local community centers or turning up a hill, to call on someone, who might not be in but ‘would appreciate a visit if they were’. It is not only that they have all been in different ways Cumbrian teachers, guides, and examples. Nor, that the tone and pace of the conversation was slower, more measured than in parliament. Rather, I felt as I walked out in the warm afternoon light, noticing again the traces of hawthorn blossom, the shadows around the beacon, that they were talking about things, that they understood, directly and  – in a way that seemed quite rare in my week in Westminster – they were interested in talking, in acting and in listening.



Please CLICK HERE to make a donation to the Conservative Association.


Please CLICK HERE to donate to Rory’s ‘Source to Sea’ walk along the Eden Valley to raise money for the Eden River’s Trust.



mike parr breakfast show

Before news of the tragic shootings in West Cumbria emerged I did a brief radio interview with the Mike Parr Breakfast Show on Radio Cumbria. Audio clip taken from the programme on 2nd June 2010.


shootings in west cumbria

I would like to express my profound shock and sadness at yesterday’s events in West Cumbria. I am sure all my constituents will join me in grieving for the victims of this terrible crime. I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to them, their families and their friends. This is a difficult time for the communities of West Cumbria and the nation as a whole. I will do my very best to ensure that all those touched by these events are given all the help and support that they will need in the difficult weeks and months to come.

Rory Stewart made the following statement on the events in Cumbria in the House of Commons today (it was the first time he spoke in the House):

The honourable member for Copeland, with whom I’ve been in touch – is in his constituency.  Speaking for mine, nearby, can I tell my right honourable friend that everybody, here and elsewhere, quite rightly expresses shock, but in Cumbria we feel it in a way that touches every life.  Can I thank her [the Home Secretary] for the urgent attention she’s giving this. She speaks and acts for all of us.


Rory StewartArticle first published in BBC News on 1 June 2010.


WEEK ONE: Last night was the most dramatic event I think I’ve ever witnessed.

It was in the 1922 committee room, incredible, as you can imagine, panelled oaked room with pictures of Gladstone at the back and so many Conservative MPs gathered in that room that I ended up sitting on the floor cross-legged in the middle of the aisle with all these people sitting around.

When Cameron came into the room there was this incredible clattering and thumping as people banged the tables really, really hard.

David Cameron then sat there for about an hour, talking through the options available for a coalition with the Liberal Democrats and you could see the faces of the young MPs, myself and over 100 people who have just arrived adjusting to this; trying to get a sense of how much they could say.

Was there going to be a vote at the end? There turned out not to be. Were we going to really engage in the debate? To what extent was this theatre? Were we watching history unfolding in front of us? Were we influencing it or were we just, in the end, part of the furniture?

Or, in my case, obviously not sitting on the furniture at all – just part of the carpet.

WEEK TWO: One of the things that was very striking as we came out of our first big meeting in the chamber was getting to know the new members of Parliament.

Not so much on the Conservative side but particularly on the Labour side because, of course, all the Lib Dems are sitting on the same side of us.

So across the aisle are these young Labour people. I’ve got a friend called Tristram Hunt (MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central), who I like very much, who is sitting over there.

He was sitting next to a very glamorous looking person called Gloria De Piero (MP for Ashfield), who’s a celebrity TV journalist, and I went over to talk to them afterwards. They seem to be quite young, quite informal – quite a fun group.

I actually had a very good conversation with some of them though I must confess there was a moment I thought, when I was talking to Luciana Berger (MP for Liverpool Wavertree), that when I told her I was a Tory she didn’t seem so keen on talking to me anymore.

It felt a little bit like I had turned up at a dance and somehow was wearing the wrong kind of shoes.