Monthly Archives: October 2011

digital heroes award

Rory, who nominated Libby Bateman and the East Cumbria Community Broadband Forum for a TalkTalk Digital Heroes award, has called on constituents to vote in the national competition to find a local ‘digital hero’ for Cumbria.

TalkTalk’s search for the nation’s Digital Heroes has discovered three worthy local candidates, who will now go head to head to win a £5,000 technology grant to help further their cause. All over Cumbria, people
are being urged to vote for their favourite local Digital Hero at, where they can click on a digital map of Cumbria to register their vote.

Rory said: “Volunteers across Cumbria are making a real difference to their communities with their dedication, hard work and unrelenting belief in the real advantages that superfast broadband can bring to
our neighbourhoods. Rarely is the work of our volunteers recognised, and this is an excellent endorsement of what so many are trying to achieve. Please take a moment to visit the site and vote for our north-west digital heroes. Libby and the ECCBF are special because the forum has united volunteer groups from across Cumbria under a common aim, and they have given thousands of hours of their time to achieve this. The spotlight continues to be shone on Cumbria, and it would be absolutely fantastic to recognise how important ECCBF’s work has been in bringing this campaign to the nation’s attention.”

Rory nominated Libby and the forum for their incredible hard work in driving forward community-led broadband initiatives, and has applauded the work of the ECCBY, which represents fifteen local community broadband groups, all of whom are volunteers. Libby, a community organiser with the Upper Eden Community Plan, has been instrumental in mobilising communities to make sure that they are active voices in the Cumbria-wide campaign to bring better rural broadband to the county.

The TalkTalk Digital Heroes Awards, in conjunction with Citizens Online, is the only award of its kind to celebrate outstanding people who are using digital technology to bring about positive social change. After calling for entries over the last eight weeks, TalkTalk has shortlisted the most deserving candidates from each of the UK’s twelve main regions and are opening up the final vote online to the public.  The individuals with the most votes from each of the twelve regions will be honoured at a ceremony at the House of Lords judged by a panel that includes UK Digital Champion and dotcom entrepreneur Martha Lane Fox. Eleven of the Digital Heroes winners will win £5,000 to put towards enhancing their digital project while one overall winner, determined by the expert judging panel, will receive a grandprize of £10,000. A special Race Online 2012 prize will also be awarded by Martha Lane Fox. All 12 winners also get free broadband
from TalkTalk for 18 months.

The Twitter hashtag for the awards is #digitalheroes.


poems for the blind at party conference

Rory spent an enjoyable half hour taking part in the Conservative Party’s social action project at
Conference this year.

Rory was delighted to attend the Conference’s specially designed, world-class ‘Social Action Zone’ within its Conference venue and recorded a poem for Calibre Audio Library, a self-funded charity that operates an audio library for visually impaired people, free of charge. The chosen poem was Lord Byron’s “Lament on the Death of his Dog”.

Rory joined a number of Ministers, Members of Parliament, Party Staff, journalists and delegates who also made recordings – as well as members of the Cabinet, who read a selection of children’s stories – and said: “I was delighted to be able to take part in this year’s Social Action project at the Conservative Party Conference.  Calibre Audio Library is an admirable organisation and an indispensable service for those who are visually impaired. I really enjoyed recording the poem about a dog at the Social Action Zone and I hope it will be listened to again and again. It is an immensely moving poem and should appeal to any dog-lover.”



the challenges of logic and emotion

How difficult it is to defend the things which we value and take for granted in Britain and the constitution. When I stop colleagues in the long carpeted corridors that seem to define the House of Commons and ask for their support – for the Union with Scotland, or the House of Lords, or upland farming, or small local charities – I often find myself dragged into an argument. Many find British practices illogical. I try to answer that these things work: that the House of Lords, for example, may be eccentrically selected but that it has good people and does a good job; that Union with Scotland may be frustrating – particularly when Salmond is using English money to provide freebies – but we would all miss the Union, desperately, if it disappeared. But these are arguments based on practice, not theory, on prudence, on tradition and identity. And many modern political arguments rely instead on clear waves of emotion and logic, which are hard to overcome.

I feel, for example, that we should not change our position on euthanasia, but it is a difficult point to argue. We all feel strongly for terminal patients, who are struggling to secure a humane and dignified end. Compassion for those who make the long journeys to clinics in Switzerland, and the risk their families face of prosecution, makes us want to act. And there is a philosophical problem with our current system. At the moment doctors can, if a suffering patient requests it, stop their treatment or turn off a life-support machine. This is legal because the doctor is not ‘directly causing death’ and because death is not the ‘intended effect’.  Doctors are not allowed to kill through lethal injection. Yet my colleagues point out that there is a logical problem here. If a patient is in such permanent pain that they no longer experience the gifts of life, and if they are requesting help with death, then killing them seems just as merciful and moral, perhaps even more so, than the current system of allowing patients to die. Thus both emotions and logic make them feel euthanasia should be legal in Britain (just as it is in Belgium, the Netherlands or Luxembourg).

The best counter-argument is based on the way humans behave and respond to each other.  You need to show how in practice a terminally-ill patient is often seen as a burden – a cost to the state, a financial and an emotional weight on their family – and is often aware of being so; how doctors, relatives, or patients can be easily influenced by this, even sub-consciously, so that the elderly or disabled patient feels pressured to ‘move on’. (This is why even today, in Holland, about two-thirds of requests for euthanasia are refused by doctors). Making euthanasia any easier will put those people at risk. But it is very difficult to counter the emotional claim that ‘something must be done’, and that the current system is illogical.

The same problem applies in intervention. Both emotions and rational logic convince many of my colleagues that we should be doing more. They feel very strongly for the Syrians who have lost their lives in peaceful protest. They criticise the logic of the current system, which allows intervention in Libya but not in Syria, when there is no moral difference between the regimes. They feel that citizens are the victims of mass atrocities, and if they are requesting help, then intervening should be justified – even without a UN resolution – as it was in Kosovo. I instead feel that we should not intervene unless there is a UN resolution and strong regional support; that we should very rarely put ‘boots on the ground;’ and that we should be very cautious about being dragged into Syria. This is not based on abstract moral principles, but on of the risks of invasion. From Vietnam to Iraq we have seen the temptations of power, of ambition, of pride, of fear, of humiliation. These factors entrap us. We should limit our risk. But such arguments for caution and humility seem cold-hearted and pessimistic beside the idealistic demands for more action.

Similar problems occur not only when you try to argue against the abolition of the House of Lords or the Union with Scotland, but in support for small hill-farmers or small charities. In every case, some abstract philosophical principle is quoted: ‘democracy’, ‘self-determination’, ‘efficiency and environmental protection’, ‘best value’. In every case, emotion and logic seem to demand a more radical, disruptive approach. In every case it is difficult to convince politicians of the dangers of change, because it is difficult to convince them of how much value there is in what currently exists, and how much will be lost when it is gone. It is difficult to explain that whatever the financial challenges, upland farms remain a central part of our communities, our services, and what we love about our country. It is difficult to explain that although a local charity may not appear as good on paper as a big national, it has the knowledge, experience and relationships to do a much better job.

Modern governments often praise tolerance, cultural understanding and consultation. They emphasise the fragility of complex systems in nature and the dangers of reckless progress. But their actions too often have a brutal simplicity. The clear, loud arguments of emotion and logic seem to be crushing so much that is sensible and valuable. It seems more and more difficult to remember the value of what we have done, what we already possess, instead of what – in the abstract – we would like to be.



gas safety measures

Rory has helped to launch the Gas Safety Trust’s awareness campaign at the House of Commons, Westminster, following the publication of a report that makes a number of recommendations to help reduce the number of fatalities from gas-related incidents. The report comes at a time when campers in Cumbria have been issued with warnings after a series of carbon monoxide poisonings in the UK. The Camping and Caravanning Club has also issued advice on the the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning in tents and camper vans, and Rory hopes to highlight this danger to the many who visit Cumbria on camping and caravanning holidays.

Rory  said: “I am delighted to support this incredibly important safety initiative. A man tragically lost his life recently in Barrow when he used a gas cooker to keep his camper van warm; he never woke up. This report highlights that members of the public are at risk from CO poisoning whether at home or on recreation activities, and this is obviously of huge concern to me. It’s imperative that consumers are made aware of best practice, to get their gas appliances serviced regularly, to get an audible CO alarm, and for those with chimneys to make sure they have them swept regularly. These things do not have to cost a fortune, but you cannot put a price on the safety of you and your family”. In the 12-month period between 1st July 2010 and 30th June 2011 there were 50-recorded incidents involving CO poisoning. Of the 105 people involved in these incidents, there were 25 fatalities and 80 injuries without fatal consequences – over three times as many fatalities as were reported in 2010.

Nigel Dumbrell, Head of Charitable Operations at the Gas Safety Trust says: “While deaths and serious injuries from CO exposure are relatively straightforward to record, the data does not reveal the extent of what might be termed ‘near misses’. The records do not capture information about the number of people who are unwittingly exposed to low levels of CO poisoning; levels that may cause long-term ill health, but go undetected.”

For a copy of the full report, please go to

Picture: Rory Stewart MP with Nigel Dumbrell of the Gas Safety Trust


directly elected mayors

At a packed reception at the Conservative Party Conference last week, Rory hailed the work of communities in his constituency and called more powers to be devolved to local levels. He was joined by Nick Hurd MP, Minister for Civil Society, and Greg Clark MP, Minister for Decentralisation.

In the audience were a number of prominent Cumbrians including Libby Bateman, Project Officer of the Upper Eden Community Plan, Duncan Fairbairn, County Councillor and Portfolio Holder and Alick Grieve, agent for the Penrith and the Border Conservative Association.

Rory said: “Communities prove again and again that there are certain kinds of projects where communities know more, care more and can do more than distant experts.

Whether it’s working out how to organise the community pub buy-out, designing the neighbourhood plan, thinking through affordable housing or where to lay fibre-optic cable, what communities want is the ability to get on with it, to use their common sense, to be trusted rather than micro-managed.”

He added: “I would like to see this government devolve even more power to parish councils. Market towns, like Appleby and Kirkby Stephen, should also be given the right to directly elect mayors with meaningful powers.

This should be the aim of the government in the second-half of this parliament. The Localism Bill is a great start, but it doesn’t go far enough.”

Nick Hurd MP said: “I know parish councils are keen to do more and I’ve seen and heard some brilliant examples of your innovation, but I know there are issues about capacity and support.

We are keen to address this and look at how we can help, be it with principal authorities who don’t get it and are blocking and getting in the way, or to help you take on new powers and opportunities.

Make no mistake, this government is absolutely serious about doing something Governments aren’t good at, and that’s giving up power.”

Local government minister, Grant Shapps MP, added his support in a pamphlet launched at the event: “Parish councils are living proof that small is beautiful. The practice of neighbours coming together to decide how to administer local services and improve their area remains vital to the future of our democracy.

As we look to the future, Government is committed to helping parishes – and other forms of neighbourhood democracy – thrive. I see every prospect of parish councils continuing to grow in importance and prominence in the years to come, matching a long and rich heritage with a bright and busy future.”

What can afghanistan and bosnia teach us about libya?

I have spent most of my adult life working on, and in, interventions. I began as a junior diplomat with East Timor, served in the Balkans and inIraq, then spent a few years in Afghanistan. But none of this made me feel I could predict the future of Libya as I entered Tripoli in August. There were echoes of Baghdad in the masked men holding on to truck-mounted anti-aircraft guns and shouting Allahu Akbar at an angry crowd outside the bank. Was this the prelude to a sudden flurry of looting, then, after a few months, sullen resentment, riots, roadside bombs and rockets falling into the foreign compounds? Would Libya, like the Iraq or Afghan interventions, eventually suck in billions of dollars, thousands of lives, and achieve little more than trauma, corruption and insecurity?

Or could it be, like the Balkans, a success? After all, in 1995 there was a civil war in Bosnia in which 100,000 people were killed; there were three ethnic armies and 419,000 men under arms. Then the west intervened. Today it has a single army of fewer than 15,000. A million refugees have returned and more than 200,000 homes have been given back to their owners. KaradzicMilosevic and Mladic have been caught and tried as war criminals. You can drive from one end of Bosnia to the other: the checkpoints are gone. The war has completely ended. And all this was achieved at a cost of zero American and Nato lives. Are there lessons from the last two decades that could guide us to success in Libya?

Two dominant theories of intervention have been studied by those responsible for “post-conflict strategy” in Libya. The first – championed by one of the world’s most influential thinktanks, the Rand Corporation – emphasises resources and planning. It holds that the Balkans succeeded because of sufficient troops, money and good management. Iraq failed because there was “no postwar plan”; Afghanistan because of insufficient resources (“We were distracted by Iraq”). The implication for Libya is to plan better and, if necessary, to “surge”. The new US theory of counterinsurgency, of General Petraeus, is this view on steroids. He and countless American politicians, from the president down, emphasise strategy, leadership and above all resources.

The second – equally influential – lesson stresses the need for heroic nation-builders. For former high representative in Bosnia Paddy Ashdown, the key is to “go in hard”, establish the rule of law rapidly, through bold and charismatic international leadership, then “avoid setting deadlines and settle in for the long haul. Peacekeeping needs to be measured not in months but decades.” In 2003, Ashdown wrote to secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld, suggesting the postponement of elections in Iraq until the rule of law was established. In 2008, he warned that in Afghanistan there was a need to find “a single person to head up the international effort, with the authority to bash international heads together”.

Both theories place the emphasis on foreigners. They are not optimistic about local capacities – local people and leaders are usually portrayed negatively, as criminals or victims – but are highly optimistic about the “international community”, which is assumed to be likely to succeed anywhere in the world, provided it has the right strategy, resources and confidence. As the Rand Corporation wrote in its revealingly titled Beginner’s Guide To Nation-Building: “Iraq was not the first but the seventh society in a little more than a decade that the United States had entered to liberate and rebuild… Six of these seven societies were Muslim. Thus, by the time US troops entered Iraq, no country in the world had more modern experience in nation-building than the United States.”

The fundamental flaw in these theories is that they do not reflect how little foreigners know, can do, or have the legitimacy to do, in someone else’s country. In my experience, foreigners are far more isolated and limited than they like to acknowledge. When I was in Afghanistan, you could begin at dawn running in formation inside the perimeter of a military base; you could spend afternoons gazing at a video-conference screen, linked to your country’s capital. You could sleep on a Chinese foam mattress on the floor of a house in the 70s suburb of Kartai-e-se, or in a shipping container on the gravel flats near the Jalalabad Road. But whatever the rhythm of your day, as a foreigner you were inevitably isolated from Afghan life: by your tour length, security restrictions, career structures, education, and simply through being a foreigner. Even the most determined foreigners had far less contact with the reality of daily life than the most junior policymaker working at home on domestic affairs. I knew this because I had been one of these isolated foreigners myself.

Home civil servants have usually been born in the country and have spent their whole life within its governmental and social institutions. They speak the language fluently (because it is their own), travel on the buses, inhabit the nuances of national manners and social expectations. In short, home civil servants have a kinship with the culture that surrounds them. The officials in Iraq or Afghanistan from 2001 to 2011 had none of these advantages. They were on very short tours. Even members of the US military did not stay for longer than 15 months. Civilians were locked within guarded embassy compounds. And in the rare cases when diplomats were able to spend extended time with locals, they were often unable to speak to them. In 2009, according to the British Foreign Office’s own assessment, the British required no Pashto speakers to work effectively in Afghanistan, even though it was the language of Helmand, where Britain was fighting. The Foreign Office reckoned it required six “operational” Dari speakers, but only three of its diplomats in Kabul were proficient at this level. This was out of an embassy of more than 300 staff, in a country where very few people spoke English.

International civilians in general had little knowledge of Iraqi or Afghan anthropology, geography, history, language, literature or theology. They were not expected to know, for example, the exact content of the Sunni prejudices against the Ismailis, nor to take an interest in the honour codes of gangsters in old Kabul. Instead most international civilians were experts in fields that barely existed as recently as the 50s and which are hardly household names today: governance, gender, conflict resolution, civil society and public administration. They were not experts in gender or governance in Iraq or Afghanistan: they were experts on gender and governance in the abstract.

This did not mean foreigners could do nothing. Even in Afghanistan, there were dramatic improvements in finance, health, public works, education and telecommunications in the first two years after the intervention of 2001. But these were areas in which foreign or Afghan experts in capital cities had particular advantages. Creating a central bank and stabilising the currency was roughly the same all over the world, and not dependent on the exact social structure of an Afghan village. Highly trained foreign doctors improved healthcare, and foreign engineers and architects contributed to bridge design, generator construction and the restoration of historic monuments. Simply changing the Taliban law that prohibited female education brought one and a half million more children to school. Under the Taliban there was essentially no mobile phone coverage. Opening the radio spectrum meant the number of subscribers leapt to one million, then five million. The service is now better in Kabul than Cumbria. The international community even met its initial counter-terrorism goals by driving Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida out of Afghanistan and into Pakistan in 2001; then, over the next nine years, killing or capturing almost every senior member of the leadership, including Bin Laden himself.

But the isolation of foreign lives and their highly abstract ideas meant foreigners performed much worse, the closer they came to the real structures of Afghan rural life. They did well at stabilising the currency, but very poorly at establishing honest local policemen, weaning farmers off opium poppy production, creating “good governance”, rule of law and the other elements of “nation-building”. And, tragically, that was the core of their self-imposed mission. They were committed to fix the “root causes” of the conflict and the fundamental structures of the Afghan state, because they believed if the state remained weak, or the Taliban re-emerged, all their work would be in vain and al-Qaida would return and pose an “existential threat” to the US and its allies. Thus President Obama, in unveiling his Afghan strategy of 2009, wanted to “promote a more capable and accountable Afghan government… advance security, opportunity and justice… develop an economy”.

The international community spent hundreds of millions, for example, attempting to create the rule of law in Afghanistan. An American friend who was employed as a rule-of-law consultant calculated that the total cost of him, his single colleague, their accommodation, support and security team was $1.5m a year. The hundreds of millions of dollars spent over a decade allowed the west to lecture Afghan lawyers; take Afghan judges to meet state judges in the midwest; hold seminars; republish Afghan laws; introduce new codes and administrative regulations; build prisons; train policemen. At the end of the period, however, the justice delivered by young Taliban commanders under trees was consistently rated as fairer and more efficient than that of the infrastructure of the state to which the international community had devoted so much time and money. The Afghan judiciary was still astonishingly corrupt. A senior judge in Helmand conceded in 2009 that the only reason anyone came to his court was to get a passport application form. More and more Afghans said, “At least there was security and justice under the Taliban.” Across the country, 85% of Afghans continued to focus on informal systems. Similar stories can be told of the failure of the west to create “good governance” or disarm and demobilise the armed groups.

Ultimately the more ambitious international programmes, which sought to transform the state, were not simply futile: they were damaging. The international community had exaggerated its fears of Afghan terrorism and regional instability to the point that failure was not an option. Guilt at lost lives and promises dragged them ever deeper into the religion of “nation-building” and encouraged Nato to deploy more and more troops to Helmand and the south. Similar fears and dreams drove the counterinsurgency doctrine and the surge of 2009, sucking up hundreds of billions of dollars and 150,000 troops. This in turn fed corruption in the Afghan government, discouraged Afghan leaders from taking responsibility, distorted Afghan society and government structures, and exacerbated instability. Thousands were killed. And insurgents were able to present themselves as fighting for Islam and Afghanistan against a foreign military occupation.

The same foreign isolation from Afghan lives, which led us to fail, made it very difficult to acknowledge failure. Nowhere was this tendency clearer than with the military. Each new general in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2011 suggested that the situation he had inherited was dismal, implied that this was because his predecessor had had the wrong resources or strategy, but asserted that he now had the resources, strategy and leadership to deliver a decisive year. In 2004, the new International Security Assistance Force commander, General Barno, said that “without question” 2004 would be a “decisive year”. General Abuzaid thought 2005 would be a “decisive year”, General Richards that 2006 would be the “crunch year” for the Taliban. Major General Champoux predicted that 2008 would be a “decisive year”. In 2009, General McChrystalstated: “The Taliban… no longer has the initiative… We are knee-deep in the decisive year.” Both the Nato secretary-general and the UK foreign secretary, David Miliband, predicted 2010 would be a “decisive year”. At the end of 2010, President Obama concluded: “For the first time in years, we’ve put in place the strategy and the resources.” German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle predicted that 2011 would be a “decisive year”.

Given, then, the propensities of western governments – given that their staff are so isolated from local society, hypnotised by abstract ideas of state-building, prone to guilt at lost lives, inclined to ignore failure and dig themselves ever deeper – how could we ever succeed in Libya or anywhere? Perhaps by learning from the Balkans. The foreigners were no different in the Balkans – often it was the very same individuals (I was one of tens of thousands of people who served in the Balkans as well as Iraq and Afghanistan). In postwar Kosovo, just as in Afghanistan, foreigners were often hardly aware of the local forms of security, administration and justice that predated the crisis and which continued to support communities. In Bosnia, too, foreigners tended to focus on long-term structural problems – such as unemployment, poor education, gender discrimination or weak service delivery – without acknowledging that these were not the prime cause of the conflict. In every intervention, foreigners attempted to impose solutions through overwhelming force – or ever more absolute legal powers.

But the secret in Bosnia may have been that these dangerous traits in the psyche of the international community were not given full rein. The US population and Congress were very reluctant to become involved in Bosnia – they were still haunted by the humiliation of Black Hawk Down in Somalia, and even by ghosts of Vietnam. When they intervened, they did so tentatively. Their mission was humanitarian: to end a war. The Balkans were not considered an “existential threat”. So there was neither the will nor the mandate to force through a radical programme of “nation-building” in the face of local opposition. It is true that very large numbers of troops were deployed in the Balkans – far more per head of the population than in Afghanistan, for example – and Rand has interpreted this as a sign of great international power. But in fact the Balkan troops were under orders to take few risks: the biggest challenges for US army doctors in Bosnia looking after 20,000 soldiers were sports injuries.

In the first year, the international soldiers did not disarm special police forces, intelligence services or even the rented mobs made up of nationalist war veterans. Croat and Serb hardliners kept control of paramilitary police. There was no move to ban the leading Serb party (SDS), founded by Karadzic, seen as responsible for Srebrenica, or even to stop it participating in elections. Until the end of 1995, the war crimes tribunal had only one indicted criminal in jail, and there was little effort on refugee return. The international administration in Bosnia never had any police or prisons, still less an Abu Ghraib. When Paddy Ashdown talked about “going in hard”, he did not mean physical arrests. By the time he arrived in Sarajevo, there were only 12,000 international soldiers left in Bosnia. This lack of resolve and mandate, rather than undermining the intervention, in fact provided the space for Bosnians to take the lead in key areas, and allowed time for changes to take place in politics and the region, without which reform would have been impossible.

It was Bosnians who pushed through the refugee returns at a time when many senior international migration experts still thought it risky. It was political fractures within the Bosnian Serb entity, between the leaders Karadzic and Plavsic, that weakened the special police forces in the Bosnian Serb territory and allowed the international troops – two years after the intervention – to gradually assert control. And it was CroatianPresident Tudjman‘s death and the collapse of his regime in 1999, then the overthrow of President Milosevic in Serbia, that finally brought stability, because it was those Yugoslav leaders who had planned and driven the ethnic cleansing. Their fall crippled their Bosnian proxies and opened the door to a flood of arrests and trials.

None of these events or developments could have been confidently predicted, even by Bosnians themselves. None of them could be replicated in Iraq or Afghanistan. A different reaction to the foreign troops from the armed groups in the Balkans could have led to an insurgency. If the international community had been forced to protect its soldiers and civilians from years of roadside bombs and assassinations, and justify thousands of deaths and a bloody counter-insurgency campaign alongside its mission, it might have achieved next to nothing in Bosnia.

The central lesson for Libya is that success is dependent far less on the plans or genius of the foreigners, and far more on local context – a context that is intrinsically chaotic and unpredictable. Intervention is far more uncertain than any conceivable domestic policy. You are charging into a dark room, unsure whether there is even a floor beneath your feet. There is no magic plan, nor quantity of resources, that can guarantee success. There could never be (pace the Rand Corporation) a universal formula for intervention, specifying the exact approach or quantity of international resources required for each hypothetical country. But one strength of Bosnia seems to have been that the initial foreign assistance was limited, cautious and incremental, whereas in Iraq, and after 2005 in Afghanistan, the occupation was insistent and overpowering.

The best thing I saw in Libya was the celebration in Tripoli, because it was such a Libyan affair. No foreign Humvees blocked the streets, no foreign bodyguards surrounded the minister of the interior, no UN staff bustled back and forth to check the microphones on the podium. Instead speech after speech was spoken in Arabic. Apart from half a dozen journalists, there were no foreigners to be seen and almost no reference to foreign governments. The speeches suggested that Libyans and no one else had got rid of Gaddafi. In Iraq, large angry crowds of poor Shia screamed their rage against Saddam and the Ba’ath party. Here hundreds of young men, seated on great cranes, stretched over the square (once built to hold a world record-sized photograph of Gaddafi), had painted faces and flags, and chanted good-humoured anthems of celebration.

Off the square, not everything was positive: I wondered if the hotel, which a militia group had occupied, was only the first of many assets that would be seized from “Gaddafi sympathisers”; whether the anti-foreign instinct of the Islamist commanders would prove dangerous; how the complacency of the new government, or tribal rivalries or corruption, would affect the future. But the members of the new Libyan government, unlike their Iraqi or Afghan equivalents, neither denied these problems nor pretended to be able to eliminate them. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the international community created a dependency on foreign assistance and fostered an obsession with nation-building. The US tended to frustrate compromises with opposition groups – whether the Sadrists or the Taliban. There was little sign of such phenomena in Libya, presumably in part because there was so little international presence on the ground. The members of the transitional council I met – working in health, in finance – talked modestly about working with what they had: making compromises, negotiating, forgiving.

None of this should suggest that either Bosnia or Libya provide a universal template for intervention. We must remain cautious about the tempting abstractions of “the responsibility to protect”. We must ignore those who are already suggesting that perhaps the secret in Libya was a smaller population than Iraq and no ethnic or sectarian divisions. (They should be asked to explain the horrors of neighbouring Algeria which has no Shia population and has experienced decades of civil war.) We must restrain the military planners already using Libya as an argument for more investment in targeted air-power.

If there is a lesson from all these countries, it is that there is no substitute for detailed experience in a particular place. The best the west can do is to rely on more people who are focused on the specific history and culture of Libya, more attentive to the realities of rural life. A massive influx of international money and staff could make this group of specialists a tiny minority, drowned by vast, rapidly expanding organisations with eye-watering budgets. The international community must bring such learned outsiders, who have worked for years on the ground, back into the policy centre to minimise the abstraction and isolation of our elites. These advisers’ role in Libya should not be to predict whether there will be anarchy after the fall of the regime – that would be almost impossible even for a Libyan – but instead to sense the direction in which politics is moving. Could it be corruption, rather than pumping technology, that is impeding the petrol supplies? What signs might there be that the transitional government is losing legitimacy? Is it worth taking the risk of an early election? When is there nothing more that foreign support can do – when is it in fact making the situation worse?

If the only common theme in intervention is radical uncertainty, then the only rule must be humility and restraint. The Libyan no-fly zone strayed towards targeting Gaddafi but it was not pulled into a ground intervention. No Nato lives were lost, so there was none of the guilt that often prolongs a doomed mission reluctant to concede a soldier died “in vain”. The investment was significant – $200m – but it was one 20th of our annual investment in Afghanistan. Because our involvement was limited, the option – just – remained of reassessing the situation, spotting the dangers, even privately acknowledging failure, and having the confidence, if necessary, to pull back. It has certainly allowed more space for Libyan leadership, Libyan pride and Libyan imaginations. And it may have kept us sufficiently involved to usefully support local initiatives and opportunities when they arise. If the Libyan intervention works, however, and is justified, it may be precisely because, compared with Iraq or Afghanistan, it is hardly an intervention at all.


Rory has voiced his unconditional support for BBC Radio Cumbria following last week’s announcement of major cuts to the local news service. Despite lobbying the Director General of the BBC Mark Thompson throughout the year both in writing and in person, Rory has said that he is “shocked and saddened” to hear of the potential extent of the cuts to Cumbria’s local BBC station, a “much-valued and needed news service”.

BBC Cumbria is to lose a potential third of its workforce as part of the BBC Trust’s review into local radio. In addition to job losses, all weekday programmes between seven in the evening and six in the morning are likely to become regional or national, with coverage substantially reduced at weekends also.

Rory said: “This is a potential disaster for Cumbria. Our local BBC reporters work tirelessly to cover a vast geographical area, and are at the very heart of the most important local news stories as they happen. They have been amongst the first at the scenes of recent emergencies, from the Cockermouth floods to the Keswick bus tragedy to the Derrick Bird shootings. As ever, Cumbria is a very special case: with the issues of sparsity that we face, coupled with active and innovative communities that are driving so many parts of national policy, I personally – and many others – simply cannot conceive of going on without a dedicated local news service. As the most listened-to local station in the country, I urge everyone who values this service to contact the BBC Trust and voice their strong support. I have written to the Trust and the Director General to call on them to reconsider this decision, and I know that my fellow Cumbrian MPs will be doing the same.”

Representatives of BBC Radio Cumbria have reacted with disbelief to the news. Julie Clayton, union representative, said: “Local issues will not be highlighted, questions will go unasked, communities will be ignored or forgotten: please contact the BBC Trust if you want to object to these cuts.”

mobile broadband campaign receives government backing

Broadband campaigners have hailed the Chancellor George Osborne’s conference speech pledge to extend mobile coverage for six million more people in rural areas and thanked Rory, for drawing attention to the issue with his unrelenting campaign.

Rory has played a critical role in alerting Ministers to the problem of inadequate or non-existent mobile coverage. His persistence in highlighting the issue, which culminated in a debate in the House of Commons in May, has drawn support from people up and down the country, with more than one hundred and twenty MPs supporting his motion – which attracted more signatures than any other motion debated on the floor of the House of Commons in living memory. The vote was carried.

The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Jeremy Hunt, said: ‘I was particularly impressed by Rory’s approach and advocacy of broadband for Cumbria. He and the Cumbrian communities should be very proud of what they have achieved.”

Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Broadband also added his praise for Rory’s efforts, joking that Rory’s “relentless focus on mobile broadband is also severely disrupting my life.”

Since then, Rory has been working closely with the regulator, OFCOM, and mobile phone companies to ensure that universal mobile coverage can become a reality. The Chancellor used his conference speech to promise £150m of government money to get mobile coverage to 99% of the UK. The money will be used to pay for new masts, with procurement expected to begin next year. He also promised that councils and local communities would have a role to play in ensuring that new masts were sensitively located and designed to blend into their surroundings. He is expected to flesh out plans in the coming weeks.

The Chancellor said: “In consultation with local communities we will install new mobile phone masts, which will improve coverage for 6 million people. This will improve connectivity and productivity across the country.”

Rory said: “The Chancellor’s announcement is a brilliant start, and a triumph for our many campaigners. I want to pay tribute to the hard work of so many backbench MPs, who have joined me in lobbying Ministers for just such a measure on behalf of their rural constituents for so long. Improving mobile coverage and broadband is the single most effective thing this government can do encourage economic growth in rural areas. It will mean a step change in rural productivity. More resources will almost certainly be needed to ensure that the whole UK gets decent mobile broadband coverage, so my campaign will not stop. The mobile phone companies have a big job ahead of them and I look forward to hearing what coverage targets Ofcom sets for 800mhz licences.”

Local Glenridding resident and mobile phone coverage campaigner Veronica McGloin said: “It has been tremendous to have Rory Stewart behind this. There has been an incredible change in the government’s attitude since the beginning of his campaign and, because of that, a lot more isolated rural areas should now get the mobile coverage they so desperately need.”

Rory began his campaign last year in response to anger from his constituents about the lack of coverage and his own shock at discovering – when he walked across the constituency – that mobile connectivity was better in Afghanistan than in rural Cumbria.

Research shows that in 2009 the internet contributed an estimate £100bn, or 7.2% of GDP, to the UK economy. The UK internet economy is expected to grow by 10% a year, reaching 10% of GDP by 2015. SMEs benefit especially from improved connectivity and access to e-business applications, and businesses in rural areas – exemplified by Rory’s constituency, Penrith and the Border – tend to be small, with a high proportion of micro-businesses and one-person businesses. Rural areas will also be starting from scratch: the improvement in mobile reception will not be incremental but a step-change.

defra consultation

Rory has offered his support to local landscape charity Friends of the Lake District’s campaign to protect green spaces, adding his voice to those of concern that proposals to change the current Town and Village Green registration system could mean that local communities lose the right to register green spaces that they value for sport and recreation.

Registering a green space gives it legal protection so that it cannot be developed and must remain for use for sports and pastimes. At present, communities can apply to register green spaces they have used for 20 years for sports and recreation as town and village greens which will give them full protection. These spaces are often at the heart of community life and are valuable not only for recreation but as open green spaces for wildlife, informal meetings, and areas for children to play.

Rory said: “Cumbria currently has the highest number of town and village greens of any county in England, and they are very diverse in character, ranging from traditional village greens in the centre of a group of houses, to open grazing land in the countryside or land on the edge of the village with free access for local people. These spaces are at the heart of our communities, and they are invaluable to communities. Their importance cannot be overestimated, and we need to be making it easier for communities to register and use these spaces for the good of the neighbourhood, rather than making it more difficult.”

Defra’s consultation on the registration of new town and village greens ends on October 17th 2011. Constituents are encouraged to respond to the Government’s proposals by then. The consultation is available online at: