Monthly Archives: February 2018


prison1-914156Article first published in The Daily Express by Camilla Tominey on 4 February 2018.

In his first interview after just three weeks in the job, Mr Stewart said he was also considering installing airport-style scanners in the worst 30 prisons and recruiting more ex-military personnel to improve discipline.

Speaking after an inmate was stabbed to death in Wormwood Scrubs on Wednesday, the old Etonian Tory MP said he would be focusing on “straightforward security” rather than “abstract policy”, saying his priority was “windows, searches and walls”.

He insisted suggestions that prisons were “holiday camps” were wide of the mark and said he was “very comfortable with prisons that are run in a very old-fashioned military way”.

A damning report on Liverpool prison earlier this month revealed a filthy jail with broken windows and piles of rubbish. There has also been a surge in prison riots in recent months, with the Prison Officers Association complaining about a lack of staff and budgets cut by up to 25 per cent.

“When you have broken windows, discipline goes and violence rises,” said Mr Stewart.

“In Liverpool, the prisoners have smashed all the windows. They claim it’s because they want fresh air but when you get smashed windows you get drug use going up.

“There are a lot of people interested in technology, doing a lot of wonderful work on what you can do to jam a drone, to fire a light at a drone to disable its optical system.

“I’m going to start by trying to fix the windows because the drone’s no good if you can’t stick your hand out of the window. Really it’s about getting back to basics. Cleanliness also means so much. You suddenly see that prison officers are more confident and prisoners have a better attitude.

“If there’s rubbish on the floor and nobody’s picking it up, I’m worried because that’s an indication of many other things that are going on.”

Speaking during a tour of a young offenders’ institution in Woolwich, south-east London, Mr Stewart expressed concern that searches are not thorough enough at some prisons.

“I think we can do more right on the gate, on entry,” he said.

“If it was easy to keep drugs out of prison we wouldn’t have so many drugs in prison but some prisons do better than others.

“I want to learn from the high security sector. At Belmarsh they have new types of technology so I’m interested in the type of scanners which you get in an airport which can see if somebody’s put drugs inside their body.

“We’ve got to be searching every human coming in – the prisoner, the family visitor, the staff.”

Mr Stewart, former chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, served as a second lieutenant in the Black Watch and was posted to Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

He said he was looking to recruit more military veterans into the prison service. The Ministry of Justice has already pledged to recruit an extra 2,500 prison officers.

“I support encouraging more ex-Army personnel to join the prison service,” he said.

“I think they’ve got fantastic ethos and self-discipline.”

Having already visited five jails since he was moved from the Department for International Development in the recent reshuffle, the 45-year-old father-of-two admitted he was facing some “very significant” challenges.

“Nearly half the people coming into prisons are functionally illiterate. Seventy per cent have some sort of drug habit. Almost nine out of 10 have some form of mental health issue. Now these people are criminals and we need to protect the public.

“But in order to protect the public we also have to run decent, clean prisons. We need to make sure these people are educated and as few of them as possible are reoffending.”

Denying jails are cushy, he said: “There’s nobody writing inspection reports saying prisons are holiday camps. Prisoners are locked up for most of the day. They can be in here for many years. I don’t know anybody who finds it an easy experience. Winston Churchill said one of the things you judge a society on is its prisons and I think he was right.”


Last Saturday – Burns night – trews, kilts, tartan sashes, a haggis, an ode, two pipers struggling to drink their quaichs. 300 heads nodded wisely as someone sung – “Robin Shure in hairst” – and perhaps 10 heads knew what those words meant. Why were we ritually remembering Rabbie Burns?

After all, the poet would have seemed to his contemporaries not so much ahead of his time, as centuries behind it. He had never seen a city when he first stepped foot in Edinburgh, aged 27 in 1786. The world around him was in motion – Scotland was changing from the poorest country in Europe to almost the richest; everyone was on the move  – fifty per cent of the people of Central Scotland would soon be living in places where they had not been born; an ‘epidemic’ of emigration was already driving Scots to America. But Burns had remained resolutely fixed in rural Ayrshire, ploughing his father’s seven acre farm. (He left school at 12). Small farming was, for all his reputation with the ladies, his most enduring and dangerous love. He dressed like a farmer, in rough clothes, and boots, with an unruly mop of dark hair. And he spoke and wrote in an Ayrshire dialect, sprinkled with words which had barely been written down since the sixteenth century, if at all.

He was entering a city which was the Silicon Valley of its day. Edinburgh had the best university on the planet. It was where you went if you wanted to study at the greatest medical school, or work with the men who were reinventing religion, and inventing economics. The celebrities of Edinburgh had left the dark, dangerous, narrow streets of the old town on the castle hill, and had built a utopia out of open fields – square upon square of the very latest, and most opulent architecture, filled with light and air – and called it simply ‘the New Town’. The land for the shops, selling the latest French fashion, went at 120,000 pounds an acre (tens of millions today).

The ‘New Town’ seemed to reject every aspect of Burns: from his old-fashioned provincial dialect, to his rough clothes, medieval verse forms and bawdy humour. Edinburgh’s intellectuals saw themselves as citizens of the modern world. And it was their ideas from their universities, which they expected to define the century ahead. Burns – who cared little for much of this – and retained an embarrassing romantic loyalty to the drunken exiled pretender Bonnie Prince Charlie – reminded them of a past that they liked to forget.

Little wonder that Burns did not stay in Edinburgh, nor take the offer of going to London. And although, his poetry hums with the rhythms that defined the French revolution –  ‘a man’s a man’s for a that’– he never visited Paris. Instead, he took his book royalties, and invested them in a few more acres of sour upland soil, which he ploughed with his brother. The Edinburgh professors could have explained in their economic textbooks, and treatises on the agricultural revolution why Burns’ small farm was doomed to failure, and why he was eventually forced to sell and take a job as a minor civil servant in Dumfries. Their medical textbooks might also have predicted that he would die young (with too many children, by too many women) sick and deeply in debt.

And yet, it was Burns’ style – from his simple clothes, the open-necked shirt, and natural hair, to his plain assertion of love –  romantic love – which defined the next two centuries. It was his ‘radical’ views on slavery and women’s rights that became the basic assumptions of our age. And it was his simple background, his arrival in town, his informality, his sex, his rough language, his celebrity, and his early death, which made him the earliest image of a Rock Star.

How quickly the tortuous hundred-word sentences of the Edinburgh elite became unreadable. How rapidly, their plum coloured knee-britches, their white silk stockings, and vast buckled shoes, their peacock blue morning coats, and Chinese brocade waistcoats, became out-dated. Within a decade their entire culture seemed the relic of a surreal dream: a dream in which a white powdered whig on a shaven pate, could seem the most attractive way of treating a young man’s head. (When Burns put on a hat he looked like a cowboy).

Burns is not so much a fading echo of Auld Lang Syne, but a warning to every ancient Athens and contemporary Silicon Valley. A warning that just as you have convinced yourself that your concerns – Platonic forms or robotics, rhetoric or AI, your diet, your dress, your companies – will take over the world, you are on the precipice of history.  While, the very people you imagine have failed to break free from the past, have in fact defined the future.


27604465_10156067254993770_838153731_oPenrith and The Border MP Rory Stewart has joined forces with local Member of Youth Parliament (MYP) for Carlisle and Eden, Jacob Reid, to raise awareness of mental heath issues for young people in Cumbria, as part of Time to Talk Day on Thursday 1 February 2018.

‘Time to Talk’ is an initiative led by Time to Change, the campaign to change how we all think and act about mental health problems, led by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. Time to Talk Day aims to get as many people as possible talking about mental health and this year, for the first time, the event is UK wide.

People can struggle to find the right time or place to talk about mental health, so this year, Time to Change is asking people to have a conversation wherever they are – at home, at school, or even at the top of a ​Cumbrian fell. Since its launch in 2014, Time to Talk Day has sparked millions of conversations in schools, homes, workplaces, in the media and online, and attracted support from celebrities such as Freddie Flintoff, Stephen Fry and Frankie Bridge.

Rory Stewart and Jacob Reid now hope to take this initiative forward​ locally by writing to schools and convening a round table meeting ​with teachers and youth representatives, ​to talk about mental health issues for children and young people in Penrith and The Border. Sue Baker OBE, Director of Time to Change, said: “Mental health problems are common and can affect any one of us, yet too often people are afraid to talk openly about mental health for fear of being judged. It’s easy to think there’s no right place to talk about mental health. But the more we talk about it, the better life is for all of us and Time to Talk Day is a chance for everyone to open up – to talk, to listen, to change lives.”

The World Health Organisation say that one in five young people suffer from poor mental health, and for the past three years young people have consistently identified mental health as their biggest concern, suggesting that it is one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Jacob Reid MYP said: “Given the statistics, if we are not affected by mental health issues ourselves, we will all know someone who is, yet there is still a stigma which we need to tackle. There is lots of work to do, but I think we can be hopeful that things are going to change, and that we are moving forward.

Members of Youth Parliament up and down the country have been campaign​ing​ on the issue, and I am delighted that all the main political parties pledged to improve mental health provisions in the last General Election, proving that this is an issue more important than party boundaries.”

Rory Stewart MP said: “We all need to be more open about our mental health and encourage young people to talk about how they feel. No one is unsusceptible to developing a mental health problem, and modern day life puts increasing pressures on young people, making this one of the biggest issues for society today. Having these important conversations about how we feel can make a big difference to many people. The more we talk, the more lives we can change, and that is why I am proud to work with Jacob to raise awareness and support the Time to Change initiative.”

For ​more information about Time to Talk Day and how you can get involved please visit: