Monthly Archives: December 2010


petition to charge for single use carrier bags



Rory received a petition, on Friday 17th December, calling for the introduction of a compulsory charge on the issuing of single use carrier bags.

The petition, which was prepared  by the Transition Town group; Penrith Action for Community Transition (PACT) urges Government to exercise  the power it has under section 77 (and Schedule 6) of the Climate Change Act to make shoppers pay retailers  for their carrier bags.

Six hundred signatures were collected in support of the petition, most of which were obtained at PACT’s Bag Swap in Penrith town centre in October, when reusable cotton bags were given away in exchange for shoppers’ plastic carriers (which were later recycled).

Around 8 billion lightweight single-use plastic carrier bags are issued annually in the UK, working out at 166 bags per adult per year. On average, they are in use for only 12-20 minutes before being discarded. Chris Cant, of PACT’s Resources & Waste Action Group said: ‘discarded plastic carrier bags are not only an unsightly blight on the appearance of towns and the countryside, they pose a real threat to animals which can ingest them and die as a result.’

Wales is to introduce a 5p compulsory charge on single-use carrier bags in October 2011. A compulsory charge on carrier bags introduced in Ireland of 15 euro-cents per bag in 2002 resulted in a reduction in the issuing of single use carrier bags of 90% .‘The onus is largely on shoppers to remember to take their own bags with them’ continued Chris Cant. ‘It was common practice just 30 years ago in this country. If we managed it then, I’m sure we can learn to do it again.’

Anybody wanting further information on the ‘Plastic-Bag-Free Penrith’ campaign should Email:

[email protected] or go to the PACT website:

cumbria constabulary


Praise for Cumbria Constabulary’s Budget Measures

Rory  met with Chief Constable of Cumbria Constabulary, Craig Mackey, on Friday December 17th at the constabulary’s Carleton headquarters in Penrith to discuss the forthcoming reductions to the county force’s budget. Rory was very impressed by the professionalism with which Craig Mackey and the Cumbrian police have approached the budget reduction. The police budget is being frozen over the next four years, and because of inflation this will mean a real terms reduction of three or four percent a year. This would be challenging for any organisation. However, it is absolutely necessary, given the state of the public finances, and Rory is delighted with the responsible and creative solutions that the Cumbria Constabulary have developed in this challenging time.

In particular, they have come up with some very creative ideas on how to use new technology so that policeman would no longer need to return to a police station in order to write an electronic report. They have protected both community police officers and firearms police officers in their entirety. There will be no redundancies of police (though there will be reductions in support staff). And they have managed to ensure that  these reductions will not affect the level of service which Cumbrians receive. It is very impressive that they have used these reductions to improve efficiency and introduce new policing methods without affecting service delivery. It is a real sign of their commitment and professionalism.

if i were to edit the today programme for a day

The Independent newspaper asked me what I would include if I were able to edit the Today Programme for a day. Here is what I chose…


The historian Jonathan Spence would describe how a seventeenth century Jesuit, built a ‘memory palace’ in his mind, which allowed him to learn thousand Chinese characters in a few weeks. We’d interview performers, neuroscientists, and philosophers on the art of memory. Officials, inspectors, journalists and lawyers have made Britain one of the world’s most risk-averse societies. What are the downsides? Evolutionary biologists would describe how early human risk-takers flourished; General Lamb would discuss risk in warfare; entrepreneurs would describe the risks they took. How can we embrace risk again?

We’d look at the Scottish border, the history of border raiding and customs and discuss modern life on a cultural frontier. Scottish nationalists want independence, few English argue against. We would interview citizens and Gordon Brown and ask ‘Why are so few fighting for the Union?’

The new Localism bill gives unprecedented power to local communities. We’d profile community organizers such as Libby Bateman who are changing service-delivery and planning policy. Communities are now building superfast broadband networks, which transform access to health and education, help businesses and allow rural villages to thrive. Miles Mandelson would describe building his own village network. How far can local activists go? Across rural Britain, passionate, well-informed groups fight wind turbines, arguing that the technology is inadequate, the subsidies excessive and the turbines are damaging to both landscape and residents. We’d interview activists such as Duncan Griggs and explore the history. What do environmentalists make of it? How is government responding? Do these campaigns herald a localist revolution?

Finally, Paddy Ashdown and others would reflect on the life of American diplomat, Richard Holbrooke, who served in all the major interventions since Vietnam and ask what we can learn from these adventures and whether the West will ever intervene again.

christmas in penrith and the border

It has been a tough winter already and it is difficult not to think we are entering many years of harsh winters. Government must radically improve its response to everything from fuel poverty to the condition of our roads. The snows cancelled some of the fairs, which I was looking forward to seeing, from Bampton to Brampton, and the Sunbeams group had to cancel their performance in Tirril. But, through all the cold and problems, it has still been a very musical Christmas, charged with different traditions. A mother and daughter singing ‘Once in Royal’ purely and beautifully in an ancient hall in Orton, (with the father on the piano), could have been singing anytime in the last hundred years. In Wigton, there were Bob Dylan solos in the Methodist Chapel, a parade with a steel band, a rock group and a performance of a Joseph from a Carlisle pantomime star before the carols began. In Penrith, the gentle light of the paper lanterns and the hundreds of voices from every corner of the square, carried very ancient shadows and echoes.

The carol service in St.Margaret’s Westminster was also beautiful but the end of parliament was tumultuous. While I was making a speech in support of Cumbrian Community pubs, a thousand students could be heard chanting outside and missiles (which seemed to be snooker balls) were bouncing noisily off the roof of the chamber. I enjoyed the Any Questions’ radio show in Kendal. But two minutes before I went live on air, I slammed a finger in a heavy door, and my attention wavered a little between universities, criminal justice reform and guessing when my fingernail would drop off. When I was asked what book I would give a child for Christmas, my mind went blank. I finally suggested a book about the young King Arthur that I enjoyed as a seven year old. But the more experienced politicians, who followed me, apparently had much more advanced ideas for modern children. One recommended “Schindler’s List” and Andy Burnham suggested the ideal stocking would include the Socialist parable “The Ragged Trousered philanthropists” and Conrad’s account of the African slave trade, “Heart of Darkness”. Since Andy Burnham had been Health Secretary, I showed him my finger off stage and he replied, ‘I was a spin-doctor, I’m afraid, not a doctor.’ When I showed the finger to Catherine, she cried, ‘You’ve done it on purpose,’ she cried, ‘haven’t you? To get out of signing the Christmas cards…’ But Penrith community hospital did a wonderful repair job on the Saturday morning and we have been able send out a Christmas card, designed by Ellie Morton, who is 6 from Plumpton school. The angels are set against a dark blue sky.

Cumbria at Christmas, powerfully reminds of so much good in the world. My favourite event was the fair at Brough. More than 500 out of a total Brough population of 900 are involved in putting on the fair. There were men wobbling on penny farthings, a youth committee raising money for a kick-wall, children in Victorian fancy-dress, a long tail competition for dogs and a church room with sticky toddlers making Christmas decorations. The parade featured vintage tractors, a large steel band, (led by a man in orange with an electric guitar and a cowboy hat), a very smart detachment of air cadets with their colours (one of them has just been selected for pilot training), dancing girls in leopard skin hoods, mobility scooters, the scouts and a Shetland pony, pulling Santa. A vintage bus ran services back and forth to Kirkby Stephen. The archdeacon of Carlisle, the chair of the District Council and the mayor led the procession. The fair was opened by the High Sherrif of Cumbria, in knickerbockers and sword, reading the medieval charter of Brough, issued by King Edward. And in case anyone though it was too serious, Queen Victoria appeared in full black bombazine to take the salute.

Nor will I forget hobbling through the hall, in stiff plastic boots and too much clothing, the Sunday morning of the Penrith Christmas lights, with skis on my shoulder and sticks in my hand. The sky was so dark, the sun so bright and the snow so crisp that I felt I was at six thousand feet. Only the great ash trees, the low white-washed farm-houses and the Swaledale ewes reminded me that I was outside my front door. Soon, instead of splashing through soft uneven ground, I was gliding over snow. The hoof-tracks of fell-ponies and the bleached moss on the boulders were all hidden. The sunlight gleamed off the ice-crystals. And with each pole plant, each thrust from one ski to another, each breath, the world grew simpler and more silent. When on Loadpot hill, I stripped off the skins and ski-ed down again, I could see russet tips of grass were visible through the powder. I half-recognised limestone ridges as I crossed them and had to hop flowing becks. Close to home, I lifted my head and absorb the changing shapes of the white valley fields as they rushed towards me. The dark blue sky, was the same sky that Ellie painted behind her angels.

Tribute to Richard Holbrooke

Article first published in The Huffington Post on 20 December 2010.

Last January, Richard Holbrooke called my cell phone at midnight, although we were both in DC. He had been Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan for a week and he wanted to quiz me on Afghanistan. After each reply he paused and then — just as I suspected he was texting someone else — growled “okay so what do we do?” “How can you prove that?” “What do we do about Pakistan? Iran? Russia? Karzai?” An hour later, he said “You’ve lost your argument against the 17,000 troop increase. But Petraeus is asking for another 40,000 in September and if you think that’s wrong you should say so.” He encouraged me to model myself on a general who had spoken against Vietnam in the Pentagon. He concluded, “I am sitting you next to Secretary Clinton at dinner. Say exactly what you think. If you don’t, I never — ever — want to hear you criticize the policy again.” And then he hung up, I guessed to call someone else.

I was left, standing half-to-attention in my boxer shorts at the end of the bed unsure what had just happened but prepared to do almost anything he asked. The energy of this man, thirty years older than me, at one in the morning shook me. But it was not his alertness, nor the charm of his sustained attention, nor his flattering comparisons, which captivated me. Nor was it even his revelations (I had thought that a decision on 17,000 troops was a month away and had no idea a further 40,000 was remotely likely). I was suspicious of his encouragement. But I was conquered by his contradictions. He was listening intently to someone with whom he disagreed and giving a platform to someone who argued against his own position. He wanted to transform the Pakistan, the Afghan and the US government — while I argued that it was impossible. He felt Afghanistan was vitally important and that we had a moral obligation to continue: I, that we had no moral obligation to do what we couldn’t do. But he poured his energy into me and gave me, I felt, a charter to fight against the Afghan policy.

Leaders are often detached from policy. They are hesitant to invest as much, emotionally or intellectually, particularly in this costly bewildering war, as it demands. Perhaps because they feel stuck with it, they have little desire to examine its foundations. They prefer writing objectives to rubbing their faces in the intractable stuff of Afghanistan.

Europeans and Afghans imply it is someone else’s responsibility. American politicians can bend to military advice; generals can radiate optimism and blame politics. But Holbrooke seemed to want to both expose the truth and take full responsibility for the policy. He wasn’t interested in tinsel triumphs. He had a real historical imagination, displayed in his surprisingly modest and scrupulous account of his role in the Balkans. I had heard him assess the weaknesses of early twentieth century Arabists with the insight, the fondness and sparks of envy that one might apply to a childhood friend. And he was aware of history’s questions — the kind of questions he posed of Vietnam — How important was it really? Did it make sense? Could it be done? And believing that it did and it could, he wanted to give space to those that disagreed.

I was unsettled by him, as much as charmed. And yet, when I try to understand what it might mean for a man to have a “destiny”, it’s Holbrooke, I think of: taking responsibility for a position and the truth of that position. And I think of his final line to a young foreigner, with whom he disagreed, “Say exactly what you think. If you don’t, I never — ever — want to hear you criticize the policy again.

rory’s round-up


A number of broadband related blogs I have enjoyed reading recently:


To read Barry Forde on  the unforseen consequences of Broadband, click here


Click here to learn about the importance of Rural Broadband from Charles Paxton


To scroll through John Popham’s account of the Great Asby Big Society and Broadband days, click here 


Or click here  for Rob Hindle’s take on the day in Great Asby.





cumbrian community pub model

In a two and a half hour debate in the House of Commons, Rory praised Cumbrian pubs and recommended the Cumbrian approach as a model for the country. Praising the importance of pubs in village life, Rory said “we have 280 pubs in the Eden district alone for 50,000 people-a density of pubs that is more than six times higher than the national average. That reflects the nature of our communities and the nature of our identity. Pubs are essential to the broader economy, but they also have a value which cannot be quantified -a value that spreads into the deepest recesses of English civilisation.”

A great example is the Crown at Hesket Newmarket, Britain’s first co-operatively owned pub, which is an inspiration for communities seeking to preserve their pubs. Rory also spoke about the challenges communities face in pursuing community ownership, saying “The problems that communities face in buying out pubs are the same problems that they face with everything: problems with financing; problems with organisation; problems with regulation, and problems with landlords who refuse to sell. As Members of Parliament, we have a unique role to play on behalf of communities, convincing landlords to sell and convincing communities to come together and find financing, through the Plunkett Foundation or the Big Society Bank.”

Rory has been an active participant in the campaign to save the Butchers Arms at Crosby Ravensworth, launching their bid, making it a key part of the Big Society vanguard project, helping to find £21,000 from Central Government for a feasibility study for the community buyout and even pledging to buy a £1000 share in the pub himself. He has supported the community at Garrigill in their bid to buy the George and Dragon (which he mentioned in the House of Commons debate) and is working with the community at Warcop in their bid to buy the Chamley Arms. Rory is also involved in the Government’s upcoming Localism Bill, which will give communities greater power to buy out local pubs, as well as libraries and village shops.


Christmas Card

Christmas Card from Plumpton School

I am delighted to announce a Plumpton School pupil as the winning designer of my first constituency Christmas card, to be sent all over Cumbria and the UK.

Six-year-old Ellie Morton was chosen as the winner of a local competition, and will enjoy a trip to London to visit the Houses of Parliament accompanied by her parents and a friend. I am also going to treat Plumpton School to a party.

Ellie’s striking design of crayon and watercolour angels will be printed at local Penrith company, Reeds. I would like to thank all of the local schools who took part in my competition. I was delighted to receive some really wonderful entries, from collages to watercolours to crayon and chalk designs. It was difficult to choose just one winner, but Ellie’s painting of smiling angels against a blue night sky was my outright favourite. She is a very talented young artist, and I shall look forward to showing her some of the incredible works of art on display in the Houses of Parliament when she comes to visit.



hyper-connected healthcare network


Rory  has launched a new campaign to ensure Cumbrian healthcare gets the full benefit of new technology and superfast broadband.

During the last month Rory has held separate meetings with executives at NHS Cumbria, the Cumberland Infirmary, the Joint Leagues of Friends of north Cumbria’s community hospitals, and the out-of-hours service Cumbria Health On-Call (CHOC) to appeal for the introduction of pilot tele-health and tele-medicine initiatives in Penrith and the Border. He has also met with local charities, such as Eden Community Alarms, who are actively promoting tele-care advances to help increase the independence at home of the elderly and ill, and broadband providers such as Alston’s Cybermoor which, in collaboration with the Alston Community Hospital’s League of Friends, is exploring how video-link technology can improve the delivery of healthcare in rural Cumbria.

Rory sees faster broadband as key to overcoming obstacles of distance and isolation, all of which hamper access to effective clinical, nursing and residential care.

Mr Stewart commented: “I am working hard to ensure that our local healthcare providers make the most of new technology to improve delivery in rural areas to each and every person who is vulnerable or isolated due to location, age or ill-health. Our population is ageing. Our services are stretched. I have been delighted to find that our community hospitals recognise the urgent need for tele-health services in Penrith and the Border, and are doing an amazing job of highlighting the importance of keeping clinical services close to people in rural areas. Out-of-hours providers such as CHOC are open to piloting new techniques. A huge number and variety of services, such as stroke monitoring and neurology services, can be delivered with better internet bandwidth. Eventually, we should be able to see constituents accessing high-speed advice and care through this method – and even conduct doctor’s appointments in this way. This will be a vitally important step in overcoming isolation and the problems associated with living in our very rural part of England, and I want Penrith and the Border to be a hyper-connected healthcare pilot.”

Representatives of Alston Community Hospital’s League of Friends said: “There could be immeasurable benefits in our remote county. Doctors can access patients remotely, reducing time and travelling costs; there will be the reduced costs of unnecessarily transporting patients to hospital; whatever the time, weather, or circumstances, patients in places like Alston or Mallerstang or Caldbeck will be guaranteed access to care that suits them and at the same time reduces the burden on an over-stretched NHS. It’s a win-win situation, and we are so grateful for all that Rory is doing to push for this not only for his constituency, but for Cumbria and the rest of rural Britain. It is so important that we move with the times and do not get left behind.”

Rory intends to push for the immediate establishment of a video-link pilot at Alston Community Hospital, and hopes to replicate the technology in pilots across the rest of his constituency, establishing links between communities, care homes and community hospitals, and specialist care and advice at larger hospitals and clinics.