Monthly Archives: March 2011


appleby grammar school

Rory visited Appleby Grammar School to meet Head Teacher Andrew Lund, school governors, staff and of course students. Rory discussed a variety of issues connected with the Grammar School – which has an ‘A’ level pass rate of 95% and a GCSE 5+ A*-C rate of 81.4% – and was given an overview of the wide academic and extra-curricular programmes. He admired the school’s strong focus on student participation and its international links with, amongst other countries, South Africa and the Netherlands. He committed to working to build a website for students.

Rory said: “I was enormously impressed by all that the staff and students of AGS are achieving. There was a great atmosphere in the school, whose heritage – it received its Charter from Queen Elizabeth in 1574 – sits so comfortably with its very modern goals. I’m particularly pleased to learn of its strong links with the other Eden secondary schools, and with the Appleby Heritage Centre. Offering vocational subjects is equally important as academic ones, and its status as a technology college enhances its position in a community that will benefit from graduates with real technical expertise. As a major local employer it is integral to Appleby, and I’m looking forward to visiting again soon.”



eden fairtrade network

Rory joined the Eden Fairtrade Network outside the Bluebell Bookshop in Penrith last Saturday, where children and adults were being asked to decorate fabrics in a national challenge to break the world record for the longest piece of bunting. Rory’s colourful floral design sat alongside illustrations of fruit, jars of honey and jam, sub-Saharan farmers and many other items, including flowers and clothes, most of which can be purchased with the Fairtrade logo.

Rory said: “Penrith’s town centre is always a vibrant place to be, but it’s looking especially colourful today, with this beautiful bunting stretching alongside the Bluebell bookshop. You don’t have to be particularly talented at art to participate – as my offering proves – but the taking part is the thing, and it’s great to see so many amazing, unique designs. The ethos behind Fairtrade is in many ways an ethos shared by us here in this busy market town: support local producers, and support local people. We should be proud of our Fairtrade connections and I think the Eden network have done a wonderful job today in promoting it.”

The Penrith event coincided with the UK’s 2011 Fairtrade Fortnight campaign, promoting Fairtrade products to consumers. This year’s theme concentrates on Fairtrade cotton, which is being increasingly used by many of the UK’s larger manufacturers and retailers to support workers in the cotton-growing areas of the world, improving their living conditions by securing better purchase prices.  It is estimated that the Fairtrade label offers 7.5 million people in the developing world a more secure future.





‘events, dear boy, events’

Last Monday demonstrated Macmillan’s theory that politics is all about ‘Events, dear boy, events.’ My priorities were to finally get the senior agriculture Ministers to travel up to Cumbria to focus on the uplands and to press the Chancellor to reduce fuel duty. I felt I was making progress. The day’s parliamentary debates were on local government. But at 3:25, while I was in the chamber arguing that small Cumbrian charities should be able to compete with larger national charities, the Prime Minister walked in – leading a crocodile of Cabinet Ministers – and, almost as soon as I sat down, launched into a statement on Libya.

By the time the day ended, I had spoken five times in the house, twice on radio, once in a school and once on TV. The Newsnight make-up lady told me off because I’d bruised my face falling down a hill, caked me with make-up, sprayed my hair and insisted the cameras didn’t close up on my face. (All the texts I received from people after the show urged me to have a haircut).  The day lurched between Afghanistan, Cumbrian charities, Libya and the Big Society. Six hundred and fifty MPs were trying – like me – to understand an issue we had hardly considered a week earlier.

Foreign affairs test the limits of a politician’s knowledge. Since we’ve all heard enough about Libya, let’s take Brazil.  If you’d asked me yesterday about Brazil, I might have begun: “very large place, couple of hundred million people, speaks Portuguese.” I would perhaps have got as far as the rainforest, a couple of politician’s names. And football. I might have assumed various problems: corruption, dodgy judges, dodgier MPs, tens of millions of unemployed men under 25. I might have assumed disputed frontiers, tensions with neighbours, ethno-sectarian conflict: a kind of Latin American Indonesia, Egypt, or Pakistan. And, of course, I would have been mostly wrong.

Brazil may have corruption and inequality. But it has been a state since 1750, has not warred with its neighbours and has no ethnic or sectarian tensions. Its democracy is pressing ahead with gay rights. Brazil does more manufacturing for German companies than almost any German city. It has a civil service modelled on France. Over twenty million Brazilians are entitled to Italian passports. Its economy is twice the size of Indonesia’s and will be larger than France’s or Britain’s by the end of the decade.

As MPs we are encouraged to disguise our ignorance. In Brazil’s case, you could almost sound knowledgeable by saying things like: “Brazil was once an island because of the Amazon.” Or to make vague claims such as “the supreme court is better than the rest of the judiciary.” But I still would be confused about Simon Bolivar. A Brazilian listening would have the sense of hearing a child reciting by rote and getting it almost, but not quite right. I feel this when I hear American senators hold forth on the difference between North Waziristan and South Waziristan, only to betray that they think South Waziristan is north of North Waziristan.  It makes me wonder how well politicians understand the difference between Afghanistan and Pakistan or between Libya and Tunisia. What would it feel like for a citizen of that country to sense our ignorance?

To return to Libya, politicians on both sides of the Atlantic were pushed to respond immediately.  They didn’t want to be “on the wrong side of history”, they were worried that they had propped up Mubarak, and they were told to ‘win the support of the Arab street.”  Because Mubarak fell, we assumed Gaddafi would follow.  David Owen was praised for demanding a no-fly zone.  Few had time to recollect how ineffectual no-fly zones had been in the Balkans, or how long Mugabe or the Burmese Junta survived foreign sanctions. Or that Gaddafi, unlike Mubarak, may thrive on being a pariah, as he did in the eighties.  A generation ago, politicians would have been given time to reflect and watch events unfold.  It was months before politicians decided to intervene in Bosnia, and years before they deployed air power.  Now all Western governments seem to lack time and the opportunity for reflection.

One help would be to invest in the Foreign Office.  Just as we have fewer civil servants today who come from farming backgrounds and really understand agriculture, so too we’ve entered a world where very few British ambassadors in the Middle East speak good Arabic.  A more confident, better-informed Foreign Office won’t be able to predict the future, but it will have a much better sense of what is likely. Good policy comes when politicians acknowledge what they don’t know and create and use a confident, well-informed civil service.  The politician can then challenge the conventional wisdom and make difficult decisions, but he or she should not pretend to be an expert on everything. We need to listen more, and we need to make sure we have the right people to listen to.

sustainable energy eden

Heart of Eden Development Trust

Last Friday Rory met with the Heart of Eden Development Trust and learnt how they are engaging local people in order to enable communities to decide which type of renewable energy resources suit their own neighbourhoods. Rory was very impressed by the initiative  and wanted to share some information from the trust that details upcoming workshops where communities can seek answers to their renewable energy questions:



Sustainable Energy Eden

Interested in reducing your electricity bills? Reducing your carbon footprint? Making money from renewable energy? If any of the these questions interests you, then come along to a series of meetings, organised by the Heart of Eden Development Trust, in conjunction with Eden District Council and Cumbria County Council.


The events are free of charge and there will be a prize draw for a smart meter -a simple to install device that instantly encourages better energy efficiency behaviour to drive down electricity bills! Please book your place on any of the workshops by calling Simon on 01768 352291, or by sending an email to [email protected]  Heart of Eden Development Trust also invite you to complete an online questionnaire (, which gives you a chance to let them know your views on renewable energy opportunities in the Heart of Eden.



Workshop 1:

 16th March, The Supper Rooms, Appleby, 6pm – 8pm (coffee from 5:30pm).


To give a broad overview of the different renewable energy technologies, what they cost, how and why they contribute towards reducing carbon emissions, how much electricity they could produce and therefore reduce energy bills and generating cash for the community.  Information packs will be given to all attendees and it is hoped you will share the knowledge with friends and family, helping to complete the online questionnaire.


Workshop 2:

 20th April, The Supper Room, Appleby, 6pm – 8pm (coffee from 5:30pm).


We anticipate that this will give some early feedback the questionnaires, addressing some of the questions raised and also go into more depth of developing community renewable energy schemes.


Workshop 3:

3rd May, The Supper Room, Appleby, 6pm – 8pm (coffee from 5:30pm).


We would like to share details of a report being written about this project, and then have an interactive session allowing participants to ask questions and propose practical actions .

Nine non-violent options for action in libya

Nine non-violent options for international action in Libya by my friend Carne Ross:


1.  Establishment of an escrow account for Libyan oil revenues: this would require further UNSC chapter VII authorisation.  At present, it appears that all oil revenues, including from oil produced from rebel-held areas, flows to the Libyan government.  All payments should instead be paid into a UN-run escrow account, the proceeds of which would be released as soon as a representative government is established in Libya.  While the account is in operation, proceeds might in the interim be used for humanitarian purposes in rebel-held areas or to aid refugees.  This would be a short-term measure to exert maximum pressure on the regime.  My suspicion is that govts are not discussing this for fear of the effect on oil prices (this is uppermost in US debate in particular).  To deal with this problem, Saudi Arabia should be asked to make very public commitments to increase its daily production to cover any shortfall of Libyan production.

2.  Listing all Libyan personnel involved in repression for sanction under SCR 1970. Paras 22-23 of this resolution encourage states to nominate individuals to whom the asset freeze and travel ban would apply.  At the moment, the list is very short and comprises only prominent regime members.  The UN or Security Council members should make public this encouragement to Libyans on the ground to nominate members of the security forces.  Why not publish an email address for such nominations or set up a wiki for Libyans to compile evidence?  I realise the potential downsides of this, but the point would primarily be to act as a deterrent.  There is also nothing to stop individual states declaring that those named under paras 22-23 will be subject to these measures in perpetuity.  For a start, why not nominate all Libyan diplomats who have not defected for these sanctions?  Why not take the names of all senior Libyan army officers and stick them on the list too?

3.  Seek public declarations from all commercial companies that they will not do business with the Gadhaffi regime.  The admirable folks in the Genocide Intervention Network have already begun campaigning for this and have secured several such commitments.  I see no reason why governments, such as the US and UK, should not demand such commitments of companies based in their respective countries.  Naming and shaming has considerable effect on the recalcitrant.

4.  Immediately position monitoring units on all borders and a naval blockade to ensure that the military embargo under UNSCR 1970 is enforced, and that regime members under ICC investigation or subject to paras 22-23 of UNSCR 1970 do not escape.  This could be implemented now, and does not in my view require further Security Council authority.

5.  An air blockade to the same effect might also be considered.  This should of course exclude all evacuation and humanitarian flights, but the aim is to increase the isolation of the regime.  Flights should by contrast be permitted to rebel-held areas.  Such measures were imposed on Gadhaffi under the earlier sanctions regime over Lockerbie.  He didn’t like it.

6.  Electronic jamming of all regime communications; interference with internet communications, stuxnet-like attacks on regime IT infrastructure.  I hope that US etc are already trying to do this.  If not, they should be.

7. Provide immediate and substantial humanitarian assistance in rebel-held areas.

8.  Set up publicly accessible websites using satellite and other reconnaissance data to inform anti-Gadhaffi forces of the disposition of regime military and irregular units.  Or, get the data to them more covertly using encrypted satphones etc.. (thanks @racionalisimo for that one)

9.  Consider making the Libyan currency non-convertible (thanks to @stream47 for this idea).  I’m no expert on this so list this for consideration only.  Another idea is to impose Swift banking sanctions to freeze all financial transactions beyond the assets freeze imposed in SCR1970.  The problem with assets freezes is that it’s too easy these days for individuals/regimes to hide money.  Tracking these monies is a major forensic effort, and can take time.

championing the voluntary sector

Rory was hailed by the Minister for Decentralisation,  Greg Clark MP, as “a great champion of the voluntary sector”. Rory was pressing the Minister in the House of Commons earlier this week to find out what steps he was taking to allow small local charities to compete fairly in government procurement processes.

Rory said that “local charities are finding it very hard to compete with big national charities for council contracts despite the fact that they know more and can often do more within their locality. It is essential we help them to compete by enabling more flexible local procurement processes.”

As part of his commitment to the voluntary sector Rory has launched a new initiative to host a ‘Charity of the Month’ on this own website in order to promote and raise awareness for local charities within Penrith and the Border. The first to be featured is a local Cumbrian Charity, Sunbeams, which brings music to people of all ages with special needs. Rory,  who is a patron of Sunbeams, added: “Many great Cumbrian charities have complained to me that they find government controls and regulations too complex and burdensome and that they find it difficult to compete with national giants. This is a tragedy. Local charities have often what matters most – common sense, local knowledge and compassion.”


comet the harris hawk

Meet my new friend Comet, one of a team of Harris Hawks on ‘Pigeon watch’ in the House of Commons.



red squirrels

Rory has shown his support for red squirrels by climbing a 30ft beech tree and fitting a squirrel nesting box in his garden. The box itself was an amazing example of volunteers working together. The materials for the weatherproof, birch-ply box  were donated by local Penrith timber merchants Joseph Richardson & Son Ltd. Butterwick resident Keith Gowling has made the first two of four boxes; Gillhead farmer Jim Hodgson has provided meadow hay for the bedding, with added fleece from Wendy Martin’s Herdwick yows; and local residents Pete Toaig and Sarah Maddicott are putting up the second box in their woodland at Butterwick Cragg, where they regularly spot red squirrels from the windows of Pete’s furniture workshop

Rory said: “It’s been such a pleasure to do something that will, we hope, directly foster the survival of the red squirrel population in this area. Volunteers such as Wendy and Pete show an unbelievable dedication to this cause. Their research tells us that red squirrels can cut themselves by trying to force their way into twig dreys with no obvious openings, and so the boxes should allow them to feed and breed safely without the danger of cuts and grazes that can lead to infection. The boxes are beautifully made by local craftsmen, too, and blend into the trees. I’ve had a wonderful time helping out.”

Designed by retired vet and licensed Red Squirrel breeder Bob Bradley of Witherslack, the boxes have been successfully trialled in the South Lakes and in Melkinthorpe Woods. Bob himself currently has a pair of breeding Red Squirrels in the large enclosure in his orchard, where squirrel kittens will hopefully be raised this spring. ‘Eddie’ the orphaned Red Kitten reared by Wendy Martin last year and released from the garth cage on August 11th last year used a nest box hung in a nearby larch, and other wild Reds have since been seen using the same box.


local alzheimers society


Rory  met with volunteers and managers at the Alzheimers Society’s base in Penrith to discuss the charity’s vital ongoing work in the community. He met with volunteers Mike Godridge and Jean Bradshaw, local manager Rebecca Colpus, locality manager Fiona Moncur and campaigns manager Amy Martinez over tea and learned about current developments at the charity and its strategy to continue improving the lives of those suffering dementia in Cumbria. Rory learned about the charity’s registered Homecare and Day Care services, and the importance of peer group support and activities in centres such as the Brampton Community Centre, which highlights the importance of low-level intervention in a community setting.


Rory said: “We live in a time where home care is increasingly advocated, and the burden of care falls on the spouse or child of the person suffering dementia. Not only do we need to continue to invest both resources and energy into this vitally important service, but at the same time work to reducing the stigma attached to dementia. Our GPs also have a duty to advise patients on spotting early signs, and we should be spending more time looking at ways to make early diagnoses, so that the illness can be treated and controlled more effectively. The charity’s befriending service, as well as its day and home care support, is invaluable. With an ageing population in a remote area I can only hope that the charity will be able to expand its services and continue to improve even more on the work that it currently does, and it will be a pleasure to support in any way I can. In particular I’d like to help set up a website to connect the charity to local volunteers”

rory meets hamid karzai in house of commons

Rory met the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, at the House of Commons yesterday, 1st March 2011. Mr Stewart and MPs from the Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committees met with Mr Karzai in the House of Commons to discuss the current issues facing Afghanistan and to debate the wider repercussions of instability in Northern Africa.

Rory’s meeting with Mr Karzai came a day after Rory questioned the Prime Minister in the House about the UK’s role in Afghanistan in relation to the current uprising in Libya. Mr Stewart said “Libya is a wake-up call that Afghanistan is not the only country that matters in the world. It shows that we have not had a balanced, moderate foreign policy”. Rory pressed the Prime Minister on “whether he agreed that this is a reason to accelerate the draw-down of resources from Afghanistan, so that we can meet the many crises in the world, of which Libya is one, that will confront us over the next decade?” In his response Prime Minister David Cameron paid tribute to Mr Stewart’s ‘considerable experience in Afghanistan’.

The Foreign Affairs Committee report on Afghanistan, written by Rory Stewart and the other members of the committee, is published today. It is a sobre description of the many failures in international policy in Afghanistan since 2001. It suggests that success in counter-insurgency is unlikely and that there is an urgent need for a political strategy and negotiation with the Taliban before our 2015 departure. Rory said “I am delighted the committee has produced such a strong critical report, and that the Prime Minister has set a firm deadline for withdrawal. We should do all we can to get our troops out of harm’s way as soon as possible.”