Monthly Archives: May 2019

I’ve got a plan, says Rory Stewart — the MP whose life Brad Pitt wants to film

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Article first published in The Sunday Times on 5 May 2019 by Caroline Wheeler.

In his plush new office in the Admiralty building, where Royal Navy chiefs discussed their secret operations for hundreds of years, Rory Stewart wonders what Lord Nelson would have made of the events that elevated him to the cabinet.

The 46-year-old, who intends to run for Conservative Party leader if Theresa May steps down, became international development secretary on Wednesday after Gavin Williamson was unceremoniously sacked as defence secretary following an inquiry into a leak from the National Security Council (NSC).

“We’ve got to reset,” he says in the boardroom where the victor of the Battle of Trafalgar and hero of a thousand pub signs lay in state in 1806, “because otherwise I feel the ghosts all the way round this room thinking, ‘What on earth are you guys doing?’”

He might be the new kid, but Stewart, who will also sit on the NSC, wastes no time in demanding his new cabinet colleagues end the leaks. Politicians must be able to exchange views in private, he says. “We’ve got to get this right, because this is what the Americans would expect us to get right, what our potential adversaries would expect us to get right, in order to have frank discussions.”

Ministers must feel able to speak the truth, “in order to challenge, in order to say what I would have said about the Iraq War, which is: ‘You’re out of your mind, this is not going to work, it doesn’t matter that people have been killed, more will be killed if you keep doing this’ . . . If people leak, nobody is going to have those conversations and we’ll all be less well off.”

Stewart has served in the British Army, although for less time than people imagine — five months in the Black Watch regiment in his gap year. He became the deputy governor of a province of occupied Iraq during 2003 and 2004, which is the subject of his book, Occupational Hazards. While he initially supported the Iraq War, the international coalition’s inability to secure a more humane, prosperous state led him to believe the invasion had been a mistake.

His life before politics was so action-packed that in 2008 Brad Pitt’s film company bought the rights to a biopic. But having tutored Princes William and Harry, served in the Foreign Office in Indonesia and Montenegro, and trekked 6,000 miles through Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, the father of two is ready for a new challenge.

It is the climate change emergency he wants to address. Setting out his priorities in his new role, he wants to see more of the £14bn foreign aid budget spent on the environment. “We need a completely different approach to try and deal with emissions,” he says. “We need to think about what we can personally change in Britain, but we must recognise the air we breathe could be polluted by China or the United States even if we were to shut down everything in this country.”

He adds: “If you want a way of explaining why we spend 0.7% of our budget on national aid, we are facing a climate cataclysm: 30% to 40% of species on Earth will be gone by 2050, having effects on hundreds of thousands of people’s lives.

Stewart, who established the Turquoise Mountain foundation in 2006 to assist with the revival of Afghanistan’s traditional arts at the request of Prince Charles, is an unashamed supporter of the 0.7% aid target. Scrapping the commitment is thought to have support among grassroots Tories, but Stewart believes he can win over critics.

“British people are very, very generous, they support an enormous number of international charities, they really care about the world . . . but they get a bit suspicious when the government gets involved, so we need to solve it.”

He plans to do this by getting citizens “more involved” and being “intensely practical” as well as “making sure money’s spent well”. The MP for Penrith and the Border argues that protecting the planet is “politically smart” for Conservatives and will attract young voters.

“It’s a great opportunity for citizens to get involved and to think about what they can do in their everyday lives. For example, to understand that cycling is good for carbon, it’s also really good for your sex life.” In parliament, Stewart recently pointed to a study suggesting that men who ride a bicycle have the sexual prowess of those five years younger.

He is unlikely to have much time to put the theory to the test. Later this week the Brexit talks with Labour are expected to resume, with a comprehensive but temporary customs arrangement likely to be put on the table.

Although the former prisons minister claims May’s deal has always been his “strong preference”, his second choice is to do a deal with Labour. He is ready to sell a deal if one is done.

“We can’t go on with red lines,” he says. “So if we went for some sort of customs arrangement, there are certain things we would have to remember. Firstly, we have to be clear that is not being in the EU. Turkey is in the customs union; nobody thinks Turkey is a vassal state.

“We would have complete control of our borders and immigration, which really mattered to my voters. Thirdly, the city of London would not be regulated. Fourthly, if we did it right we would have access to not only all the European markets but also potentially to 60 other free trade agreements . . . that is not my preferred option, but I think it is certainly something we should explore because we need to leave the EU, but in a way that is responsible, that respects Europe.”

Stewart says the local election results have highlighted public frustration with the Brexit impasse. “I think whatever side of the Brexit debate you are on, people are thoroughly impatient and people just want to get it done.” Then, with his aides growing increasingly agitated, Stewart gets up quickly and apologises. “I am so sorry, I must dash. I am off to see the Queen at Windsor Castle this afternoon to be sworn in to the privy council.”

RORY APPEARS ON ‘POLITICAL THINKING’ WITH NICK ROBINSON

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Rory appeared on Nick Robinson’s ‘Political Thinking’ Podcast this week, to discuss his new job, his work in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his walk. You can listen to it here:

 

RORY SPEAKS ON IMMUNISATION

Rory opened a House of Commons debate on World Immunisation Week in the House of Commons today. Watch it here:

OF COURSE THERE’S A CLIMATE EMERGENCY

There is – undoubtedly – a global “climate emergency”. 39 million acres of tropical forests were lost in 2017 alone, the ice shelves are melting at ten times their predicted rate and we are at risk of losing more than 30% of the species on earth by 2050. And that is before you count the direct cost to people.

So we cannot just recite the Government’s achievements; that for the first time last week none of our power stations burned coal; that our renewable capacity has quadrupled since 2010; and that we have reduced Co2 emissions faster than any other nation in the G20.

We cannot just dwell on what we’ve done in the past when we face such a cataclysm. We must be radical on the environment because it’s the right thing to do. I entered Parliament to protect and improve the world – and this is perhaps the greatest cause of our age.

This must be a citizen’s movement, as much as a government initiative, in which each individual takes dozens of steps to reduce their impact – and enjoy the benefits in the process (insulation is good for your bills, as well as the climate; cycling is good for your fitness, as well as your carbon emissions).

But we must not pretend that people in our Cumbrian communities are suddenly going to be able do without a car; nor should we forget that many of our houses depend on oil and wood-stoves. Let’s not allow London to get all the attention on air quality, when central Leeds also has a serious problem. Nor allow companies off the hook. Amazon could start by dealing with their packaging, and too few car manufacturers are following Jaguar Land Rover’s push to become a zero-waste business.

Let’s make it about nature as well as climate. We need to be proud of our love – our deep love – of our uplands, our hedgerows, and, indeed, our hedgehogs. We could capture far more carbon, and transform our lungs and landscape by incentivising farmers to plant more native trees, not in dense plantations, but along hedgerows, and throughout our lowlands. We could easily plant a hundred million more trees in the next five years alone.

As the Environment Minister who signed off the plastic bag tax, I saw how a single 5p charge has already saved 6.6 billion plastic bags. Our national recycling rates continue to be a disgrace – and could be transformed overnight if we standardised the dozens of inefficient collection systems that proliferate around our country. We could do far more at a national level to reduce our carbon emissions, by working with the grain of our own island – our shallow North Sea waters are, as Professor Dieter Helm points out, perfect for storing carbon in our old oil and gas fields or for building off-shore wind.

We should be generous, caring, and cross-party in our approach to climate change, and welcome Parliament’s support for my colleague’s Alex Chalk bill, committing to the UK going zero carbon by 2050.

But we must never fool ourselves into thinking that the way to solve global warming is by an act of unilateral economic disarmament, that damages our own economy, without changing the world. Climate change is global. We should plant a hundred million more trees at home, but still remember that the Amazon is 25 times bigger than the whole of Britain, and that, if we continue to cut it down, we are removing the lungs of the world. We could do much more to save our lapwings, but also much more with our aid budget to help save the lion or the Irrawaddy dolphin.

And then there’s China. China has until recently been building more coal-fired stations a year than our entire generating capacity. They now have 1000 GW of coal-fired stations (when our total capacity is about 70 GW), with hundreds more planned in China and overseas through their Belt and Road initiative.

Even if China reduced the proportion of its energy from coal, their total output will climb with their economic growth – and if it continues to grow at the current rate, the economies of India, China, and Africa will be eight times bigger than they are now by 2050. Our best way of Britain influencing the development of China and India – and saving our planet – is through developing new technology. £1bn more of our budget (and that could be partly from our international aid budget) spent on British research into the light spectrum technologies, or bringing the ingenuity we brought the Graphene to developing a new solar film could transform Chinese and Indian emissions.

But we should be very careful with our investments, however good our intentions. Britain should not have encouraged people to invest so heavily in diesel vehicles – believing it would help the environment. Nor should Germany have funnelled almost 150 billion Euros into solar and wind technologies – failing to capture the renewable market or to meet its emission targets, and ultimately being forced to build another 25 GW of coal-fired stations.

Saving our planet will require an eclectic range of policies – from embracing exciting new technologies, to deepening our love of nature and history – from changing our own lives, to influencing China. It will need moral courage and grinding common-sense. It will require a unique philosophy of action that is unashamedly modern and romantic, individualistic and international, idealistic, popular, and practical.

RORY PROMOTED TO SECRETARY OF STATE FOR INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT

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Rory has been appointed to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for International Development.

The appointment was made by the Prime Minister this evening, as part of a wider reshuffle of Ministers. Rory replaces Penny Mordaunt MP, who has moved to Secretary of State for Defence. The Secretary of State for International Development is responsible for the distribution of the UK’s aid budget, tackling everything from the challenges of global warming to the UK’s humanitarian response to global catastrophes.

Rory has previously served at the Department for International Development as the Minister of State for Africa, from 2016 until his move to the Ministry of Justice in 2018 as Minister of State for Prisons and Probation. In this final capacity, he has championed the work of the prison and probation services and recently achieved a substantial reduction in the levels of violence within ten target troubled prisons. Prior to this, he served as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DEFRA and Chairman of the Defence Select Committee.

Commenting on his appointment Rory said, “I was delighted to accept the Prime Minister’s invitation to serve as Secretary of State for International Development and I am honoured by this opportunity. I would like to pay tribute to the work of my predecessor, Penny Mordaunt, in re-orientating British aid policy in the aftermath of Brexit. I immensely enjoyed my time at the Ministry of Justice and I will look forward to seeing the work that I was proud to begin, continue under my successor”.

OF COURSE THERE’S A CLIMATE EMERGENCY. HERE’S A WIDE-RANGING CONSERVATIVE PROGRAMME TO TACKLE IT

Of course there is as – as Greta Thunberg says, and as Labour will argue in parliament today – a “climate emergency.” Ice shelves are melting at ten times their predicted rate. 39 million acres of tropical forests were lost in 2017 alone, and we risk losing more than a third of the species on earth by 2050. And that is before you count the direct cost to people.

So we cannot just recite the Government’s achievements. It is true that for the first time last week, day after day, none of our power stations burned coal – the longest period without coal since the Industrial Revolution; and that our renewable capacity has quadrupled since 2010; and that we have reduced CO2 emissions faster than any G20 Nation.

But it is absurd to dwell on what we’ve done in the past, when we face such a cataclysm. And we must be radical on the environment because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s popular. It’s true that our only hope of winning a future election after nine years in office, will be by becoming again a party of radical change that appeals to younger voters (just four per cent of Conservative voters are currently under the age of 24). But we all originally joined political parties or entered Parliament to protect and improve the world – and this is perhaps the greatest cause of our age.

This must be a citizen’s movement, as much as a government initiative, in which each individual takes dozens more steps to reduce their impact – and enjoy the benefits (so insulation is good for your bills, as well as the climate; cycling is good for your sex life, as well as your carbon emissions).

But we should not pretend that people in Cumbria are suddenly going to be able do without a car – still less buy a Tesla; nor should we forget that rural houses depend on oil and wood-stoves. Let’s not allow London to get all the attention on air quality, when central Leeds also has a serious problem. Nor allow companies off the hook. Amazon could start by dealing with their packaging, and too few car manufacturers are following Jaguar Land Rover’s push to become a zero-waste business.

Let’s make it about nature as well as climate. We need to be proud of our love – our romantic love – of our hedgerows, our uplands and indeed our hedgehogs. We could capture far more carbon, and transform our lungs and landscape by incentivising farmers to plant more native trees, not in dense plantations, but along hedgerows, and throughout our lowlands and we could easily plant not 15 million more trees, but a hundred million more trees in the next five years alone.

As the Environment Minister who signed off the plastic bag tax, I saw how a single 5p charge has already saved 6.6 billion plastic bags. Our recycling rates are a disgrace – and could be transformed overnight if we standardised the dozens of inefficient collection systems that proliferate around our country. We could do far more at a national level to reduce our carbon emissions, by working with the grain of our own island – our shallow North Sea waters are, as Professor Dieter Helm points out, perfect for storing carbon in our old oil and gas fields or for building off-shore wind.

We should be generous, caring, and cross-party in our approach to climate change, and welcome Parliament’s support for my colleague’s Alex Chalk ten minute rule bill yesterday, committing to zero carbon by 2050.  And we should communicate better. (I finally understood how bad London’s air was, not when I was told that poor air quality cost two billion pounds a year, but when I realised that my toddler’s lungs could be a third underdeveloped, simply by breathing the nitrogen dioxide that chokes our streets).

But we must never not fool ourselves into thinking that the way to solve global warming is by an act of unilateral economic disarmament, that shatters our own economy, without changing the world. This is global climate change. We should plant a hundred million more trees at home, but still remember that the Amazon is 25 times bigger than the whole of Britain, and that if we continue to cut down the Amazon we are removing the lungs of the world – perhaps 20 per cent of our total oxygen. We could do much more to save our lapwings, but also much more with our aid budget to help save the lion or the Irrawaddy dolphin.

And then there’s China. China has until recently been building every year more coal-fired stations than our entire generating capacity. They now have 1000 GW of coal-fired stations (when our total capacity is about 70 GW), with hundreds more planned in China and overseas through their Belt and Road initiative. (Partly because everyone else in the world has exported their energy intensive energies from cement, to fertiliser and aluminium to China – and then imports those products back again).

Even if China reduced the proportion of its energy from coal, their total output will climb with their economic growth – and if it continues to grow at the current rate, the economies of China, India and Africa will be eight times bigger than they are now by 2050. Our best way of Britain influencing the development of China and India – and ultimately saving our planet – is through developing new technology. A billion pounds more of our budget (and that could be partly from our international aid budget) spent on British research into the light spectrum technologies, or bringing the ingenuity we brought the Graphene to developing a new solar film could transform Chinese and Indian emissions.

But we should be very careful with our investments, however good our intentions. Britain should not have encouraged people to invest so heavily in diesel vehicles – believing it would help the environment. Nor should Germany have funnelled almost 150 billion Euros into solar and wind technologies – failing to capture the renewable market or to meet its emission targets, and ultimately being forced to build another 25 GW of coal-fired stations.

Saving our planet will require a very eclectic bunch of policies – from embracing bewildering new technology, to deepening our love of nature and history – from changing our own individual lives, to influencing China – it needs moral courage and grinding common-sense. It requires a unique philosophy of action that is unashamedly modern and romantic, individualistic and international, idealistic, popular, and practical: in short a philosophy that is Conservative.