Monthly Archives: March 2012


Article first published in The Financial Times on 30 March 2012.

When Hollywood film director James Cameron surfaced this week from the deepest place on earth, he was admired for his scientific achievement. We were told about his experience as a diver and the unique data collected on his expedition; about how his latest 3D cameras recorded new scales and distances, and his human eye discovered new details among the waters of the Mariana trench.

If, however, the 11 tonne craft had become trapped, seven miles below the surface, killing Mr Cameron, professional standards would have been applied more strictly. Divers and scientists would have analysed the details of his training and experience. They would have argued that he should have sent a professional oceanographer; or an unmanned craft, which would have been cheaper, safer and (because it could have remained down there for longer and collected more data) more effective. He would have been criticised for recklessness, extravagance and amateurism. And yet these things are exactly what made his journey so magnificent.

It was an adventure: a man separating from his kind, undertaking a terrifying journey, returning as a hero. The scientific data that he acquired may be of minor significance. His adventure is not. Adventurers matter. It was the desire to be a hero that drew Alexander to march his tiny army across the desert and attack the massed forces of the Persian king at Babylon – and, by so doing, to bring Greek civilisation to India. It was a quieter but equal sense of chivalry, patriotism and sacrifice that kept Meriwether Lewis and William Clark moving on to the Pacific north-west, thus making possible the modern United States. And if Mohammed was able to persist, in penury and peril, and keep his faith and that of his followers long enough to lay the foundations of a religion that lives on 1,400 years later in one and a half billion souls, it was because he too had the virtues of a hero.

All these men felt that some things were more important than their lives; that their work, their god, their country, or even less immediately attractive things such as their personal honour and fame, could be worth dying for. This was true of the Tudor politicians who knew their last speech might be on the scaffold. Even politicians in more recent, safer ages were driven by grand commitments and sacrifice. British prime ministers such as Robert Peel or William Gladstone and US presidents such as George Washington – despite their privileged education and their inherited millions – brought a seriousness, diligence and ambition to their politics, and produced policies that grew ever more radical as they grew older.

Art, too, draws on sacrifice and struggle. Leo Tolstoy’s life of unpredictable rejections – his battle against his class, his service in Sevastopol, his refusal to make money from his books, his homespun clothes and hand-cobbled shoes, his morning ritual of drawing water – reinforced the care, energy and precision that he, as an old man, still invested in his last novel, Haji Murat. The commitment of the hero matters, however, not only for what it does for the world, but also for what it can mean in every individual’s life: the capacity that the poet Robert Lowell called “man’s lovely, peculiar power to choose life and die”.

Today, our culture finds little comfortable in a heroic worldview and works to prevent it. Death is now to be pitied and discouraged, not admired. Gladstone or Tolstoy’s lives are belittled as hypocrisy or selfish eccentricity. Honour and pride, which philosophers once praised, now to us are nothing but vanity; “greatness of soul” appears to be simply arrogance. The central classical heroic creed – “ever to be the best and stand above all others” – seems like a megalomaniac disorder. The martyrdoms of obscure booksellers in 1540s London, their dignity and truthfulness, which touched the imaginations of millions over 10 generations, no longer interest us today.

Hence we prefer to evaluate Mr Cameron’s journey – and others like it – for its scientific “usefulness”. If he had been killed, and we were forced to confront the real risk and irrationality of the dive, we would have pitied him, patronised his corpse and wondered how we might have prevented him from doing it. (Those limited heroes that we still allow, who are not celebrities, must be accidental; unconscious of their heroism and not initiators but victims).

No good can come from trying to restore a lost heroic age. Heroic virtues are not single actions but part of an entire texture of society – of structures, of education, of opportunities, of vocabulary – which we have lost and now mistrust. Nor should such virtues always be mourned: they have been a source of bad faith, warfare, inequality and oppression: part of the energy not just of great thought, or bold politics, but also of empire and slavery, exclusion and the workhouse.

But to try to regain energy, sacrifice and a delight in risk is not a futile shuffle backwards in time. The chance, at some point in our mundane lives, to test the limits of the human remains a possibility for all of us. If we forget this, and no longer believe that our projects and commitments matter more than our comfort or our lives, we will struggle to leave much in our learning, politics or action that will ever challenge or interest our descendants. We will also lose the capacity to surprise ourselves.

Of course, this is all a bit much to lay on the broad blue shoulders of the director of Avatar. But I would be tempted to praise Mr Cameron not for the pixels and numbers he acquired, but for his fears as he closed the hatch, cramming his tall frame into the tiny cabin, and for the moment when he stepped away from his cameras and was conscious of himself, gazing into the cold silent darkness of the deep.

On Restoring National Confidence

The Financial Times yesterday suggested that the recent success of Asian economies could be the result of a young population, and as average age rose, growth would fall. Behind this, and a hundred similar theories, is the belief that a nation’s future is determined by statistics. We peer at the world through a cage of bar-charts – on productivity, literacy, trade, and per capita GDP. And when we measure ourselves against the Norwegian oil fund, Finnish numeracy, the Chinese urban population, or Indian engineering, Britain seems always to be in the lower-middle, and falling steadily. The bars of the bar-chart seem unbreakable. And although we are exhorted in endless articles – like sleepless hamsters – to run faster to catch up with China, our numbers seem to define our destiny. Of course, this is not the way that anyone’s history works, still less Britain’s.  A nation’s fortune can be altered, in defiance of all the numbers, within a generation.  Who would have bought English bonds in 1560? The Exchequer was bankrupt on a more than Greek scale. We had the sectarian divisions of modern Iraq, and had less prospect of a strong, legitimate ruler than Afghanistan. England’s last continental territory – Calais – had just been lost. Compared with the rising splendour of France, the civilisation of Italy, and the power of Spain, we were a pitiful, obscure Northern island managing decline.

And yet within the next twenty-five years we had taken the cultural lead in Europe, broken the Spanish super-power, and opened English-speaking America. Or take Scotland, which in the eighteenth century was the second poorest country in Europe, and by the nineteenth century had become the second richest. How did this happen? Marxists imply that national wealth is driven by impersonal factors of raw materials, class structures, and markets. But in fact it was politics and culture which created our success. Politics, which today can seem inert and disappointing, was then vibrantly, destructively inventive. English statesmen had just torn apart the Catholic church, plundered the monasteries, and broken the Bishops and nobles (and in a different way, the Monarchy itself). The House of Commons was beginning to accumulate power in a constitutional battle which would last a century. Economists may see Elizabethans simply as “opening new markets”, but Sir Walter Raleigh was only in a very partial sense a tobacco merchant. He, and the others who navigated the Atlantic, challenged the great Empires, and secured concessions in Bengal were not MBAs but worshippers of medieval chivalry, Greek learning, and the Bible. They had the grandest possible conception of themselves, strove to be more than merely human, and often behaved as though many things – their God, their honour, their pride – were more important than their lives. (Raleigh’s best sonnet is a reflection, on theatre, written in the tower on the eve of his execution). Even the Victorian era, which we like to view through statistics on the cotton trade, or railway miles, was driven as much by dreamers, fantasists, and unruly adventurers taking irrational risks: the deserted rock of Hong Kong island was acquired more as a whim than a policy.

These past worlds are not our world: such people – their politics, their culture – are alien, and in their attitudes to Empire or Ireland bigoted, narrow and cruel. But they remind us that national power is not an unrolling mathematical formula. Today, our growth is crippled above all by lack of confidence. Banks will only lend, companies will borrow, hire and invest, when they have confidence. And although reforming tax, and regulations, negotiating deals on bank-lending, and digging broadband may help, it will not be sufficient. For confidence includes character, energy, focus, imagination, and an attitude to risk – things which are not simply the product of economic levers, but of faith, creative art, political engagement and our personal, human and national identity. It is easy to feel that we are an exhausted country that gave its best and last in the Second World War, and having stretched ourselves beyond our limits, has no energy to continue. We can describe ourselves as an ageing, diminishing, indigenous population, which can hardly support itself. We fantasise about reducing our concerns to a tiny circle around our home, and forgetting about the costs or opportunities of a wider world, wondering whether we mightn’t model ourselves on some country with an economy, a population, and a history a tenth of our size – Norway, perhaps, or Denmark.

But Britain’s history is in the vanguard, and so should its future be. Let me finish with something which makes me hopeful about Britain. The British men and women who volunteered for our charity in Afghanistan took great responsibilities, studied languages hard, travelled adventurously, were courteous to staff, attentive to local culture, and bold in completing projects. Take Will, 26, from the Welsh borders, who created a national TB centre for Afghanistan in two years. They showed characteristics, and potential, which our politics, and culture, today too often neglects – and which should make us careful of what we try to forge with our industrial or education policy. And in Cairo, last month, I talked to someone of great judgement, discretion and common-sense who could quote eighteenth-century poetry, had won a scholarship to Vienna, and has just completed a report on Somali piracy, and discovered she had studied in a state school in Penrith and comes from near Gamblesby.


Rory and Fellsider ladies raise funds for Eden Valley Children’s Hospice

Rory gave a talk to the Hilton and Murton Fellsiders Ladies’ Group at the Hilton Institute last Friday 9 March, raising £300 for the Eden Valley Children’s Hospice. He spoke to an audience of approximately 70 parishioners on his experiences walking across Afghanistan, and took questions from the floor before being presented with a painting of Murton Pike.

He said: “It’s wonderful to be able to support the Fellsiders in this way, and it has been an excellently organised evening with a brilliant turnout. We had a good discussion afterwards around our foreign policy and the current state of affairs in Afghanistan. Obviously things are extremely fragile there at the moment, and so it was good to be able to talk about matters with such a well-informed local group. I’m delighted that we managed to raise some funds for both the Children’s Hospice in Carlisle, and for the necessary renovation work to the Institute, and it has been a great pleasure to be involved.”

The Fellsiders Ladies’ Group was formed by women who had previously been members of the Murton-cum-Hilton WI, which closed in 2006.  The group is open to women of any age who reside in the fellside parish.  The annual subscription of £10 is used to subsidise the cost of coach travel on days out, and meetings are held on a monthly basis, with open meetings where partners and husbands can attend, along with trips to the theatre, walks during the summer months and visits to places of interest.  Guests are welcome at a fee of £2.  Whilst the WI struggled with membership numbers, the Fellsiders regularly have 25+, and a light supper is always provided.

Annual fundraising events takes place to support local charities such as Hospice at Home, Macmillan Nurses, the Mountain Rescue and the Children’s Hospice in Carlisle.  The Fellsiders, along with other people in the parish, are currently fundraising to restore and repair the village Institute.  In April the Ladies’ Dinner, open to members and any other ladies in the parish, is held at the Golf Club.

Eileen Ormrod of the Fellsiders group said: “We are very grateful to Rory for his talk.  Everyone has spoken most enthusiastically about the evening: there are times when everybody wonders when the speaker is going to stop, but we were sorry when he finished!  There was also positive comment about his answers: straight to the point and no waffle.”


Picture attached: Left to right: Tina Wragg, Alan Ormrod, Eileen Ormrod, Rory Stewart MP and Marilyn Evans, who has also travelled in Afghanistan.

Rory’s think-tank manifesto for Penrith and the Border’s Woodlands

A local think-tank, formed by Rory, has submitted an ambitious proposal for Penrith and the Border’s woodlands to the Independent Forestry Panel (IFP) on the occasion of its visit to Cumbria. The think-tank’s ambitious “fifty-year vision” for Penrith and the Border, includes ensuring an increase in commercial wood supply; that investment in apprenticeships and education opportunities in forestry is made, ensuring a growing workforce and utilising the School of Forestry at Newton Rigg agricultural college; that any increased woodland cover be planned with full engagement of farming communities, commoners’ associations and landowners, and that any such planting be ecologically resilient and recognise Cumbria’s unique cultural and farming uplands landscape; and that more schemes enhancing social benefits to communities be introduced.

Rory’s  think-tank was formed in 2011 in response to the high level of public interest in this policy area. It consists of representatives from industry, heritage organisations, charities, education, the public sector, and charitable and scientific groups. It has had numerous in-depth discussions around the Government’s changing forestry policy. The group now aims to draft a comprehensive constituency position statement ahead of the IFP’s report to DEFRA Ministers.

Rory said: “Penrith and the Border is a record-breaker in terms of the size of our wood processing and timber harvesting industries and their contribution to the UK’s economy. We believe that our woodlands can and should deliver economic, environmental, and social benefits; a long-term policy vision is needed in order to safeguard the future sustainability of our forests: short-term policies of 10-15 years do not protect the growing cycle of woodlands of 30-50 years, which is something that I have emphasised to the IFP.”

The visit by the IFP to Cumbria on was expected to focus on economic development and tourism, looking also at projects in which private woodland management has diversified to increase public access; at public forest attractions and leisure opportunities; and an industry lunch with AW Jenkinsons and colleagues, to hear the opinions of the county’s processors.

rory opens Eden Tourism Week

Rory launches English Tourism week in Eden


Rory launched Eden’s English Tourism Week 2012 celebrations as a guest of honour at Lowther Castle and Gardens near Penrith, one of the region’s newest tourist attractions. The Castle and Gardens, currently closed to the public but opening for two special “Daffodil Weekends“ at the end of March prior to full opening later in the year, is expected to add significantly to Penrith’s tourism income.


During his time at the attraction Rory was given a guided tour of the site by Andrew Mercer, Lowther Castle and Gardens’ Commercial Director, and assisted some of those working in the grounds. He also met with senior representatives from Eden and Cumbria’s business and tourism community including ACTion for Cumbria, Cumbria Tourism, Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, Eden District Council, Lake District Estates, Lake and The National Trust, discussing the huge range of opportunities that tourism creates in the region.


Rory said: “Tourism is vitally important to the Eden economy, and today’s event has given me greater insight into the ways in which tourism benefits Penrith and the Border. Eden receives an incredible 4 million plus visitors each year, who contribute approximately £217 million to the local economy.  The job opportunities it creates – and the more abstract investment into the long-term sustainability of our rural communities – is immensely valuable, and I am extremely proud of all those who work so hard to make Penrith and the Border such a welcoming destination that people want to return to year after year.”


The Eden launch was one of many happening all over the country, kicking off English Tourism Week from 10th – 19th March.  The week is organised by the country’s national tourism agency VisitEngland, which aims to raise the profile of tourism, estimated to be worth £97 billion nationally.


“We are delighted that Rory Stewart MP was able to show his support for English Tourism Week“ said Charles Thornton, TIC Network Manager for Eden District Council.  “The week’s national profile gives tourism destinations like ours a unique opportunity to showcase what the industry has to offer to key decision makers in both business and government circles.  Not only that, it allows businesses to showcase their products to the public and demonstrate visibly what a great tourism industry we have in the area.”


To find out more about English Tourism Week please visit:

rory opens Eden Tourism Week

Picture attached: Left to right – Bryan Gray, Charlie Thornton (EDC), Rory Stewart MP and Gordon Nicolson (EDC)






Rory steps up support for rural pubs, calls to scrap beer duty escalator

Rory Stewart is renewing efforts to support rural pubs in Penrith and the Border by supporting the British Beer and Pub Association’s calls to the Chancellor George Osborne to scrap the beer duty escalator as a sign of support for country publicans. The move follows research by Oxford Economics on the brewing and pub sector, which shows that 1,363 jobs in Penrith and the Border are supported by the industry, including 454 for 16-24 year olds, adding a value of £22.7m to the local economy.

Rory is known for his unstinting support of rural pubs in Penrith and the Border, and is a share-holder of the community-owned Butcher’s Arms in Crosby Ravensworth, where he also hopes to help local Councillor Joan Raine pilot a lunch-club for community members later this month on March 15th.

Rory said: “This is an industry that is of huge importance to our constituency, its communities, and indeed to the national economy. With 5 breweries and 174 pubs, this is a significant economic and social driver that we need to do more to support. I will be lobbying the Chancellor to reconsider the suggested 5% duty rise, which will further squeeze the sector, at a time when we are losing our village pubs at a worrying rate. As we can see with the Butcher’s Arms, pubs are not just businesses, but social hubs that generate enormous social benefit. We are looking at ways, for example, in which local pubs can host lunch clubs for the elderly. Brewing and pubs need our backing more than ever.”

Brigid Simmonds, Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “Our industry is asking for a Budget that recognises the beer and pub industry’s ability to twin the two objectives of jobs-based growth, and the creation of a responsible drinking culture by incentivising people to choose lower-strength pub-based drinks. The current duty system does not do this.”

For more information please contact

Rory promotes financial inclusion with Barclays Community Fund


Rory  is reminding constituency community groups of the availability of funding for projects from the Barclays Community Finance Fund, which earmarks £250,000 for projects that support the delivery of affordable credit to those who may otherwise be restricted to high cost credit or illegal loans.

The fund forms part of Barclays’ ongoing commitment to addressing financial exclusion, and its delivery is facilitated by Transact, the national forum for financial inclusion, and will be divided into grants of £50,000 and distributed to organisations that best demonstrate how its use will help meet one or more of its objectives in terms of improving access to credit; increasing community finance capacity; and providing ongoing financial support.

Rory said: “Here is east Cumbria, we face certain challenges that are not necessarily visible on poverty indices and in statistical reports. We may be seen as an affluent area, but this of course is not always the case. Many residents do have problems with accessing credit in order to help make ends meet, and I believe community credit unions are an excellent way of helping to overcome such difficulties. I would gladly promote any community finance initiatives and support them in any way I can, as these are great examples of how we can find local solutions to local problems.”

More information about the initiative can be found at, and interested community groups are asked to contact Rory Stewart MP at [email protected] or by telephone on 01768 484 114.

Marie Colvin, 1956-2012

Last Summer, the Corinthia hotel in Tripoli was filled with reporters and photographers. They had propped their laptops on tiny marble tables in the lobby. Waiters brought Turkish coffees but the reporters’ eyes flicked only from their screens to their phones, checking for messages about Gaddafi’s whereabouts, a recently discovered palace, prison, or press conference. Only one person seemed to look around the room: Marie Colvin.

A tall, elderly Libyan man had driven me to the hotel in a battered Japanese car, so small that he seemed barely to fit under the steering wheel. In the hotel, he studied the chaos politely. The new Minister of the Interior had just entered, flanked by recently promoted policeman, and the Minister of Finance had apparently just left, grinning, in a phalanx of eager, American-educated advisors.  Some of the reporters thought they should interview the Ministers but no-one was interested in my friend, the elderly water engineer. But Marie immediately asked us to join her. Since she was the journalist who knew Libya best – the only one who had known Gaddafi – she might have felt she didn’t need to bother with my friend. Instead, she took a patient, courteous interest – just as I had seen her do in other countries, when everyone else was too busy.  In our hotel in Iraq, in 2003, she had been the only person to talk to the hotel pianist. She discovered he had been in the national orchestra. “I used to play with the greatest musicians in the world,” he would tell her, “now I am in a hotel bar, and all I get to play is ‘Feelings….Feelings….'” Eight years later no-one could remember his name, except Marie. On this occasion, my friend in Tripoli said nothing remarkable: he repeated that his country was a peaceful place, and that now Gaddafi had gone, everything would be fine. Piqued by Marie’s interest, other younger journalists shuffled over. A couple asked questions, but they could get little from him, and they moved on. Only Marie sat patiently, took notes, thanked him warmly, took his number and promised to be in touch.

The other correspondents seemed worn down by weeks of reporting. Most didn’t speak Arabic, so they needed a translator; colleagues were being kidnapped, so they needed a sensible driver; and the only place where they could get internet (to file their stories), or indeed basic security, or a few hours of running water was this five-star hotel – which might have reduced its sewerage, but not its prices. Everyone was short of money. And everyone was being chased by editors to beat each other to the same stories.  People were not going out of their way to help each other.

Marie, however, had an adopted family: a Libyan woman, who was staying in her room, a Libyan man who was borrowing her laptop, and two young English stringers – from the Telegraph and the Independent – who she had offered to take along with her to share her interview with a Minister. She wondered whether I needed a shower, and lent me her satellite phone to me to call home. Satellite calls are very expensive, so I made a quick call and handed it back. She told me not to be ridiculous and to take my time. She wondered whether we should all try to find supper in the old city – it was Ramadan and since the city had only fallen two days earlier, most places were shut  – but there was a chance. She met me there a few hours later with some young Libyan activists. She persuaded a café to put a plastic table in the street, right next to the arch of Marcus Aurelius, bluffed her way past a Zintani militia group who had appropriated a courtyard house and, by taking great interest in the boss of an American television company, acquired us some extra food and Coca-Cola. It was almost one in the morning when she wandered into Green Square. We followed. Her blonde hair was tied back in a pony-tail, her sleeves were rolled up, revealing golden hairs on her brown arms. On her feet, under a pair of skinny jeans, were some soft slippers, and over her shoulder a backpack which contained her notebooks, water, camera, and satellite phone.

People were firing heavy machine-guns into the air. A pick-up truck raced towards us. The radiator grill was missing, and there were bullet holes in the olive paint. Everything, including the windscreen, had been stripped off to give an unrestricted field of fire to the anti-aircraft gun pointing straight at us. The passenger in combat fatigues had a long black beard. They braked hard in front of us, leapt out, grinned, and greeted Marie. “It’s some of the Misrata boys”,  she said, “I think they’ve confused me with Portia.” Portia is 27 and does not have an eye-patch.

When I heard she had been killed in Syria, what I first remembered most was her generosity, the lack of pomposity or competitiveness, the kindness she showed to younger journalists, to Libyan activists – even to travelling politicians. But what was great in both her character and her journalism was her ability to listen. When I returned to Tripoli this week I found that the quiet, tall elderly engineer, in his battered car, who the others ignored, was now the Prime Minister. I’m sure she knew. But, still, I would have liked to have called and praised her.

Rory welcomes extra train capacity for Penrith and the Border



Rory today Thursday (1 March 2012) welcomed the announcement by the Department for Transport of 40 new carriages for the TransPennineExpress from 2013.

TransPennine Express’s  40 new carriages will be used on the Manchester to Scotland route following the electrification of the line between Manchester and the West Coast Main Line south of Wigan.  The new carriages will enable existing diesel rolling stock to be redeployed across the franchise to increase capacity into Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Newcastle.

Commenting, Rory said: “This very welcome announcement is excellent news for commuters and rail users in Penrith and the Border. This Government investment in new carriages will boost capacity and reduce crowding. As people all over Cumbria know, the TransPennine Express is one of the busiest lines in the country, so this will provide real benefit to passengers. So far, 2012 is proving to be a great year for our train infrastructure, and I continue to meet with franchise bidders for the West Coast main line to discuss the upgrading of Penrith station.”

Rail Minister, Theresa Villiers said: “This is great news for passengers who will get faster, longer trains and more seats. Increasing capacity on some of the busiest routes in the country is a key part of the major programme of rail capacity expansion we have promised to deliver. It is a vital way of responding to passenger concerns about crowding and providing an important stimulus to economic growth. As rail travel becomes more popular operators must be able to meet growing demand and these new carriages will enable existing trains to be lengthened. These new trains will also run faster, which means extra train slots will come free, so that London Midland can fit more services into the timetable.”



Rory congratulates Crosby Ravensworth and Milburn Countryside Alliance Award winners

Rory will be celebrating the success of community-owned pub the Butcher’s Arms of Crosby Ravensworth and Milburn butchers NB Taylor and Sons in Parliament on  Wednesday (March 7th), where both rural businesses will be accepting their prizes as north-west regional winners of the Enterprise and Butchers categories of the annual Countryside Alliance Awards 2011. Both will find out at the Westminster reception whether they have been selected as overall winners in their category.

Rory said: “This recognition is absolutely marvellous, as it shows how we in Cumbria are really blazing a trail in showing how enterprise can keep our rural communities alive. These awards are testament to the incredible hard work that has been put in – and continues to be put in, each day – in maintaining local businesses, which are the backbone of our economy and our constituency. I am very proud to be celebrating two wins from Penrith and the Border in the north-west region, and really believe that they deserve to be national winners also. I wish them both the very best of luck, and am looking forward to celebrating with them in Parliament next week.”

The annual awards – nicknamed the ‘Rural Oscars’ – were devised by the Countryside Alliance seven years ago as a means of celebrating rural communities, skills and enterprise, recognising the incredible hard work that is invested in keeping rural villages alive. For more information, please visit