Author Archives: Gillian

Rory UN Security Council

The UK should not be abolishing its Department for International Development

There are many reasons to be concerned about the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development. But the solution is not, as the government proposes, to merge the two.

Rory UN Security Council

The Foreign Office is in crisis. The UK spends on our core diplomatic staff half of what we spend on the winter fuel payments for pensioners, and half of what the French spend on their Foreign Service. When I joined the Foreign Office in 1995 there were 25 UK-based diplomatic staff in Zambia—there are now two. Ambassadors increasingly lack the small budgets needed to maintain goodwill abroad.

But the key problem for the Foreign Office is not that it has lost control of international development. The problem is that it has also lost control of international trade, exit from the European Union, intelligence and national security policy—and in many ways of UK foreign policy itself. Departments and agencies which used to report directly to Foreign Office ministers, now hardly keep the ministerial teams abreast of their work, and have budgets larger than the Foreign Office itself. The Foreign Office is no longer staffed or funded to act as a global power.

Inevitably, the Foreign Office looks enviously at its colleagues from the Department for International Development with their £14bn-a-year budget—more than five times larger than that of the FCO itself. Diplomats sometimes imagine that if they were in charge they would be able to spend the money in a way that was more visible and popular (perhaps, in their minds, building large infrastructure with UK flags on it, rather than contributing almost anonymously to, say, a pooled World Bank fund for a local school system).

They imagine being able to spend the money to win friends in wealthier countries such as Vietnam or Turkey—rather than focusing on less powerful places like Malawi. They might like to see more of the money used in ways that could support British companies and British trade deals. And perhaps even cross-subsidise peace-keeping troops or British naval vessels with outlays on humanitarian tasks.

But the problem is not the existence of DfiD—countries need a department for overseas aid and DfiD is a highly professional and well-respected example. The problem is that the UK has no confident vision for what it intends to do in the world. The UK has not decided how many peace-keeping troops or aircraft carriers it really needs, how much it should invest in promoting British exports, and what contribution it wishes to make to international culture, conservation, or development. And ultimately, how much it is prepared to invest in being a global power. Playing budgetary games by trying to pretend that normal embassy expenditure is about poverty alleviation simply undermines the UK’s reputation in international development without answering the more fundamental questions on priorities.

If the government wants a structural change it should create joint-ministers of state for particular parts of the world—overseeing all UK operations in that region—while keeping the secretaries of state and departments distinct. A minister of state for Africa—responsible for the FCO, DfiD, the MoD, the intelligence agencies and the Department for International Trade on that continent, driving the UK Africa strategy, on behalf of the National Security Council—could do an extraordinary amount.

But merging the departments will achieve none of this—it will simply distract diplomats and befuddle development officers. Most British diplomats do not have the experience or skills to manage £100m development programs. DfiD staff lack the training in traditional diplomacy. Trying to pretend these two very different organisations are one damages both.

And it will not—despite the secret hopes of the diplomats—solve their own budgetary catastrophe. Instead, it will simply begin the shift of DfiD money from development towards things the Treasury cares about more—trade and frigates first, perhaps, but ultimately hospitals at home. The Foreign Office will have succeeded in weakening our much admired international development programmes, but gained nothing for itself.

LONDON CAN SHOW THE COUNTRY HOW TO DO DEMOCRACY BETTER

A General Election is coming, and I am leaving parliament to run as an independent candidate for mayor of London.

I am running to be mayor and not for parliament because I find Westminster increasingly depressing as it loses more and more of its meaning and purpose in stale divisive rows. And I believe that in London, we could show how to do democracy better.

Citizens have never been so well-informed or so educated. We ought to be living in an extraordinary moment for democracy, where our experiences and considered thoughts could shape a society for which we share a deep responsibility – and of which we could all be proud.

Instead, people are offered a vote in the simplest black-and-white terms, and then told to be quiet until parliament grants them another one.

I am running to be mayor of London because I love this city, and because I think both London and our politics can be so much better.

Away from the tribal politics of Westminster, I believe that it is possible to change things quickly and effectively. A mayor has the ability to respond to real needs, and the power to help people with the things that touch them most directly and daily.

Most importantly, it is at that local level that people can challenge us for the many things we misunderstand and get wrong.

My father served our country overseas for much of his life, and I followed him all over the world. But London has always drawn me back.

I have lived here longer and more happily than anywhere else in the world. I know I am not alone. Of the millions who call ourselves Londoners, many of us were not born here. While London isn’t where we all start, we come to call it our home. It is one of the things that I love most about this city.

My own time serving our country in Indonesia, Bosnia and Iraq, and running a charity in Afghanistan has taught me how real change must begin at the most practical and grassroots level, and how leadership draws all its strength from listening and debating with locals – because these are the people who always know more, care more, and can do more than distant officials.

Yet in Britain we have one of the most centralised political systems in the world. Gridlocked Westminster claims to possess all the power, but rarely seems to put it to useful effect. I believe that London can show us how to make a society better – practically and rapidly.

London is both a great city and a powerful idea. For centuries, it has been a sanctuary for freedom of thought and belief. It is both international – a centre drawing in millions from across the world – and local – a city of more than seven hundred villages, presented with its own opportunities.

London also faces its own great challenges. I will never forget seeing a victim of our knife crime epidemic carried away by air ambulance in Poplar, just moments after I spoke to the brother of another victim. Like any parent in our city, I am outraged that our children should be breathing air so polluted that it causes 10,000 preventable deaths each year. And I believe it is shameful that young people are unable to afford adequate housing in a city as wealthy as ours.

London’s politics needs to focus again on real, local concerns like these. But it can only do so if our politics rises above grandstanding and party division, and returns to pragmatic action and localised solutions.

That starts with our politicians listening better to what is happening in our city. I am painfully aware of how much I have to learn and am determined to keep listening.

For that reason, between now and Christmas I will walk through as many London boroughs as I can. Last week I was in Lambeth and Hillingdon, yesterday in Enfield, and I’ll be in Tower Hamlets later this week.

I am not out campaigning. I am asking questions, engaging in conversation, listening and learning. If you have the chance, come and find me. Even better, come and challenge me. I will tell you what I am hearing and thinking, and you can tell where I’m wrong.

In the process, I hope to show you that outside of Westminster, a better politics can emerge – a kind of politics which is not about individual MPs like me with all our limits and failings, but about what we can learn and achieve together.

And if I’m lucky enough to become mayor, I hope to formalise this direct democracy into something that can really drive the government of this great city.

‘I hope I got out of the Tory party before it was too late’

Article first published in The Observer on 6 October 2019.

I’m still not sure whether I left the Conservative party, or whether it left me. But I am so relieved that I don’t have to pretend to be a part of a political party any more. And even more that I am running to be mayor of London, rather than a Member of Parliament. I only hope I have got out before it is too late. I feel I have become steadily stupider over the last nine years of being a politician, and was beginning to lose the ability to listen, to think and to trust – losing all the skills that you need to actually change the world.

Middle-aged men are not famous for their ability to listen. But with politicians it’s far more extreme. Colleagues who have been in politics too long tell me they find their curiosity begins to wither and they start to talk far more than they listen. And with a dozen engagements on different issues a day, and two hours on Twitter, they can develop a form of attention deficit – unable to concentrate and think freshly or in depth. Instead, they are encouraged to recite messages which the party professionals think voters want to hear – messages which may sound radical but which are in fact designed to be as safe as possible. Instead of a nutritious loaf, packed with organic content, they are encouraged to serve a tasteless, unhealthy white wonder-bread in a dazzling package called “Tory austerity” or “Strong and stable”.

It’s even worse with ministers. Our terms are absurdly short. I held five ministerial jobs in four years. Just as I was completing my 25-year environment plan, I was made a Middle East minister. Just as I was trying to change our aid policy in Syria, I was made the Africa minister. Just as I was finishing my Africa strategy, I was moved to prisons.I promised to reduce violence in prisonsin 12 months, and violence was just beginning to come down – when I was made secretary of state for international development. How can this be a serious way to run a country?

Ninety per cent of what my constituents wanted me to do was local – sort out bus routes, planning and broadband – but these local council issues were simply not within my power as an MP. Even the relevant health or police ministers did not have the operational power to do what voters want: their powers were devolved to independent hospital trusts and police forces. Too often members of parliament and ministers have responsibility without power – the curse of grandees throughout the ages.

In all this, the healthiest part of our democracy is the most local. When a woman in Chrisp Street Market complains of air pollution, or a man shows me a dead body and demands to know what I am going to do about knife crime, I am being presented with problems that would be directly my responsibility as London mayor – areas where I need to set the priorities, trust people, back them – and check that they are getting the basics right – and where I should be fired if I fail to turn things around.

There are now angry and suspicious citizens, from the Arab spring to Alabama, boiling with rage on social media about political elites who seem absurdly distant from everyday lives. Politicians often respond by making extreme and extravagant promises that cannot be delivered (“I will leave on 31 October – do or die”). And then blame their inevitable failure on some mysterious “establishment”, making people even angrier. It is this politics that ultimately divides a country – it pits rich against poor, north against south, London against the rest, people against parliament, Brexit against Remain. It seeks to corral voters into hostile tribes. And the leaders are then hostages of those tribes – unable to return to the centre ground – because of fear of alienating their power base.

This has never been the British political tradition. Our voters were not American Republicans and Democrats – talking about completely different subjects – and trained to feel their opponents are evil. Our voters – at least until Brexit – broadly shared the same priorities: the NHS being the most obvious. They differed not on what to do but on how to do it.

Which is why I believe my future in politics should be independent, and why I believe that all politics must become more local. Above all, politics should focus much more on the “how”. “How are you going to get from A to B – what exactly is the plan?” Populists are paradoxically foolhardy and cowardly at the same time because their actions are not based on understanding a real place and a real context. They make rhetorical noises – claims about what they want to do – but are unable to describe how they are going to do it. But talking about the “how” is also a way of bringing divided citizens together again through focusing on shared goals, a shared reality, and the same details of implementation.

And the route to the “how” of politics – and the answer to anger and social media rage – is not to transmit messages but to listen. Politics is not a product to be packaged and sold. It’s as an activity, which for me comes alive through walking. I am walking now through every borough in London. If I am lucky enough to become mayor, I will continue to walk through all these boroughs, again and again, week in, week out. And the heart of the activity of politics is listening. In the end, the politician of the future will be the one who listens best.

Letter to London

Screenshot 2019-10-03 at 17.42.45

Dear Londoners

I am writing to tell you — the readers of the Evening Standard — first that I am running to be Mayor of London, as an independent candidate . And I would like your vote so that we can transform this great capital — the most intricate, diverse and astonishing city on the planet, the financial centre of the world, and the cradle of our democracy — together.

We are going to have to work together to lead London through one of the most challenging times in its history, through the uncertainty of Brexit, and in the face of an ever more divisive politics.

And there is so much to do immediately. I felt this in Poplar, when I saw a man who had just been stabbed to death in a park, and when a woman in the neighbourhood led me into a public lavatory, to show me male heroin addicts shooting up in the female cubicles. I felt it in Lewisham, where some people are living with seven people in a two-room flat, and waiting three weeks for a GP appointment.

I feel it through the frustration of tech entrepreneurs, struggling to plan for the future. And almost every day I feel the consequences of the vicious party divisions in Westminster.

So many of our problems in London are blindingly obvious. You don’t need me to tell you that too much of our housing is unaffordable, or that our air is grotesquely polluted, or our streets unsafe. Instead you need someone like me to sort these things out.

And again, the answers are not rocket science. It is obvious that we need to build far more houses and flats — not just gimcrack boxes, but homes we can be proud of. We need more police on the streets — immediately.

It is true that this is a complicated city, and there are no silver bullets, but it is sadly also true that we are suffering from a real lack of leadership, and of strong and thoughtful action. And that is, I fear, because most of our politicians have spent too much time within the political bubble.

I am proud of not being a professional politician. I have been able to apply the lessons I learnt as the deputy governor of a war-torn province in Iraq, as the founder of a charity in Afghanistan, and, back here in Britain, as the flooding minister and prisons minister, and as a member of Parliament.

It didn’t matter whether I was clearing 30,000 truck-loads of garbage out of the old city of Kabul, or whether I was introducing the plastic bag tax or reducing violence in an East London prison — I learned how to understand the problem clearly, grasp the solution, and then have the energy and determination to drive it through. When 10,000 people are dying prematurely each year and toddlers’ lungs are a third underdeveloped due to air pollution, or when we are inadequately supervising criminals in London, we shouldn’t be trying to hide the problem, we should be solving it.

And if we are lucky enough to live in a city that powers the British economy, we need to keep the traffic moving and the city growing.

But we are only going to succeed when we finally break free from the suffocating embrace of our dying party politics. Our leaders have become so bad at listening to the people — who are actually working at the ground level, keeping this city going, on the Tube, or in the police, or with communities.

Our politicians have been taken hostage by public relations consultants, and despite their optimistic promises, they are privately uneasy, pessimistic, and indecisive leaders, who have little experience of how to actually change the world.

Instead, they have retreated to a madhouse of mutual insults in the Gothic shouting chamber of Westminster, and under the bleak lights of City Hall, pitting one group against another — rich against poor, London against the rest, Brexit against Remain. All the time they are getting further and further from compromise, practical solutions, and the centre ground.

And this is why I’ve decided to stand, not for a party, but as an independent. There will always be disagreements over policy — we should often welcome this, otherwise we will just settle into lazy habits, half-baked ideas and pointless compromises. It takes a willingness to challenge others to get houses built in a crowded city, or tackle knife crime. We have to take risks, and sometimes even make mistakes.

But you can disagree about policy without firing political insults about cruelty or cowardice, ignorance or Marxism. As President Obama said about his time as a legislator in Chicago: “We learned to disagree without being disagreeable — that it’s possible to compromise so long as you know those principles that can never be compromised; and that so long as we’re willing to listen to each other, we can assume the best in people instead of the worst.”

I will be spending the coming weeks walking around London — not campaigning, but listening and learning, and walking through every borough.

I am doing it to hear from you, to see problems at their most local, to work through, step by step, all the differences between Ealing and Bromley.

Because I realise that local people always know more, care more and can do more about local issues than distant politicians.

Yours

Rory Stewart

First published in the Evening Standard on 4 October 2019.

RORY SUPPORTS EX OFFENDERS

Rory Stewart ACE project

Ahead of Prisons Week, Rory joined a coffee morning at St Andrews Church, Penrith, to hear how Caritas Care’s ACE project transforms the lives of ex-offenders.

The well-attended event held on Friday, October 11th, was organised by Stan Blacklock, who volunteers with the ACE project, to highlight Prisons Week and raise awareness of the great work the ACE project does. The programme works with ex-offenders preparing them for release, and supporting them back into the community. It works with statutory, voluntary and private services to ensure that individuals have access to community links and have some stability on which to build a better future.

As a former prisons minister with a keen interest in prisoner rehabilitation, Mr Stewart was delighted to be able to support the event and meet both volunteers and ex offenders involved with the ACE project. A number of former prisoners spoke movingly about how the project had changed their lives – building their self esteem, helping them get back on their feet and over their addictions.

Last August, Mr Stewart started the 10 Prisons Project – a year-long programme to reduce violence and drug use at some of the most challenging prisons in England and Wales. Through enhanced security, strong leadership and improved standards, statistics published a year later showed an overall 16% reduction in assaults and a 50% reduction in positive drug tests across the 10 prisons. HMP Lindholme and HMP Isis both saw a 46% reduction in assaults, while drug use fell by 84% at Lindholme and 78% at HMP Wealstun. While not all 10 prisons saw an improvement, this was a serious step in the right direction. And evidence from the project is now being used to drive up standards across the estate.

After the Penrith event, Mr Stewart said: “I am so glad I was able to find out more about the brilliant ACE project and hear first hand what an incredible impact it is having on people’s lives. It was truly amazing to hear some of the stories of how ACE has helped people. I spent a lot of time while I was prisons minister, visiting prisons and engaging with staff and prisoners and know that the work Caritas Care and other charities do is crucial.”

VACANCY

Job specification: Finance manager

Experience: 3+ years of financial management experience Qualification: chartered accountant
Other desirable: public sector, political party or NGO experience Part-time: 3 days/week (with option to increase to 4-5 days) Base: home working with meetings in London
Contract type: consultancy
Rate: commensurate with experience
Duration: 8 months with 1 month review and break point

Description

This role will have full oversight for the finances of a political election campaign, with revenue and expenditure in the hundreds of thousands of pounds. As the campaign grows, the role will have management responsibility for a small team. There will also be a requirement to ensure compliance with Electoral Commission rules on fundraising and campaign expenditure. The role will make broad strategic contributions, and requires both strong control of detail and the ability to anticipate challenges and shifts in activity.

Responsibilities

  • Establish finance procedures and appropriate book-keeping software
  • Budgeting with direction from campaign management
  • Oversee petty cash and an expenses procedure
  • Advise and lead on establishment of bank accounts as required
  • Maintain auditable records or donations and expenditure
  • Prepare accounts in line with statutory filing requirements
  • Ensure value for money, probity and efficiency in all campaign spend
  • Communicate policies, procedures and key information clearly and quickly to the campaign team
  • Proactively keep senior campaign managers updated on risks and opportunities
  • Contribute actively to strategic management discussions
  • Prepare regular management accounts
  • Advise on financial aspects of campaign recruitment, including potential tax, national insurance, pension, or other obligations
  • Work with broader operations team to ensure smooth procurement procedures.
  • Candidate profile

  • Comfortable in a fast-paced team
  • Adaptable to rapid and unforeseen changes
  • Self-directed
  • Rigorous with an eye for detail
  • Strong performer under pressure
  • Enjoys being part of a positive political movement for change.
  • Please send a CV (max 2 pages) and cover letter (max 1 page) to [email protected] by 15.10.19. Interviews will happen on a rolling basis.

     

    RORY TO STEP DOWN AT NEXT GENERAL ELECTION

    Rory is to step down as Member of Parliament for Penrith and The Border after nine and a half years.

    Writing in his latest column for The Cumberland and Westmorland Herald,  Mr Stewart said: “Being your Member of Parliament has been the privilege of my life. So much of what I love about Britain lies in Cumbria: our landscape, our farming communities, our deep history and the character of our people. I feel it every time I look out of the window at home in Butterwick. And I have felt it again and again since I first walked right around this constituency as a candidate. When I have thought of England, in my most difficult moments in Afghanistan or Iraq, I have thought of this place.

    “And I have been so proud to be allowed to support and work with you. What I will remember most, is not the big things that I helped with – installing the first superfast broadband through the constituency, responding to the terrible flooding, securing the money to dual the A66. Nor is it even the smaller campaigns – saving the Penrith cinema and fire station or the Alston community ambulance, or even Alston’s cobbles. What I will remember most is simply being with people, listening, learning and focusing on individual problems – helping people face and sometimes overcome the many smaller absurdities and injustices inflicted by government: late farm payments, pension issues, planning and parking. I have such happy memories of visits to hundreds of local charities and schools. But above all, I will remember that I probably achieved most by giving communities some initial support to solve their own problems –– from the community broadband schemes in Mallerstang and Dufton, through the community housing in Crosby Ravensworth, or indeed Crosby’s community pub. (If I have one regret it is that I was not something more like a mayor – responsible full-time for running things on the ground in Cumbria – rather than being sent off as a Member of Parliament and then a Minister to a talking-shop in Westminster!)

    “It is, therefore, with great sadness that I am now handing the baton on. As you will be aware, I am no longer allowed to run as Conservative MP in Penrith and The Border. Because I have loved the constituency so much, I had considered standing as an Independent; but I have decided that I wouldn’t want to run against those Conservative members who have been such wonderful colleagues over the last ten years. I am hugely grateful to all the members of my local party who have written in support, and to the Chair and President of my local party, who have resigned from the Conservative Party in support of my position. But it should be no secret that there are also local party members who would rather I did not run again. I don’t want to test loyalties, destroy old friendships or push any of these issues any further. There is enough toxic division in British politics without importing it into Cumbria! Instead, I want to end as I began with happy and positive memories of the work we have done together.

    “As for the future – I am a public servant to my core and will stay involved in politics, endeavouring to make my voice heard. I will, of course, continue to explain why I voted for a Brexit deal, while rejecting a No-Deal Brexit (especially because of the damage it would inflict on Cumbria and sectors such as farming). But ultimately I want to move beyond Brexit, and focus on getting things done on the ground. I think our great parties are now in danger of coming apart, and our great parliament is becoming increasingly diminished. I want to show how much difference can still be made outside parliament. So I hope to start work in another part of the country. I would like, if you will allow me, to remain closely involved with Cumbria – as a champion, supporting local charities and communities – not as your Member of Parliament, but I hope as your friend.”

    Diary: Am I Still A Conservative?

    My parents gave me a subscription to The Spectator in 1984, when I was 11. When I was 12, I wrote a letter to the editor, criticising the progressive views of the Bishop of Durham, and Charles Moore — who had just become the editor at the age of 27 — published it under the headline ‘Very young fogey’. Who knows what a weekly diet of The Spectator did to my impressionable mind? Is Taki responsible for my taking up martial arts? Or Roger Scruton for my views on ugly buildings? I think it was the book reviewers, so unintimidated by even the grandest book, who made the greatest impression. They made the most flattering assumptions about readers — that I would have read Osip Mandelstam, and had spent months with curlews, and made a close study of Pugin interiors. When I edited my school magazine I copied The Spectator right down to the font and the column shape. Such reverence is hard to eliminate: I was embarrassingly honoured when Charles Moore gave me high marks as a ‘real conservative’ two months ago.

    Except I am not technically a Conservative any more. I voted against no deal. (For the record I am pushing for Brexit and against Remain but think no deal would lead to uncertainty, damage and division. This is particularly true for farmers in my constituency.) The Prime Minister responded by deselecting me as the Conservative MP for Penrith and the Border, and trying to call an election. So having resigned from the cabinet only six weeks ago, I may find myself out of what remains of my job in six weeks’ time. I will be particularly sorry about this because I feel I am beginning to learn about some of the really tough hidden issues in Britain. Running for the leadership in June gave me the opportunity to explore areas outside my constituency — in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland, from Derry/Londonderry to Wigan. Last week, the last of the parliamentary holiday, I have been walking through communities in the north-east between Newcastle and Hartlepool.

    Last Thursday, I was in a food bank, in a church, which was feeding 70 people. The young Nigerian man who was studying aeronautical engineering was fit and confident. But he was the exception. A homeless man could have been any age between 20 and 30 – his skin was a raw red, he was hunched, one eye was half-closed. His flat stare implied that he had combined his heroin with street Valium. In Glasgow, I was told that the homeless simply sit, with their cup out, and when it has accumulated £10, their dealer comes and empties the cup and drops off the heroin. In a park by Saltmarket I found half an acre of ground, covered in discarded needles, and equipment for cooking drugs. The life expectancy of the heaviest drinkers is 29, and of the heroin addicts, 46. At least in Sunderland and Hartlepool there are some services, which you can access – for addiction or support. But I found that there was almost nothing for the addicts in Easington colliery, where houses cost £15,000, and nothing has replaced the mine.

    It was difficult to learn from professionals in charities – they seemed so allergic to Tory politicians that any questions were immediately diverted into furious attacks on austerity.  I had more luck with volunteers. Mary chatted to me while handing over bags of condensed milk and cereal. She had been coming to help in the food bank every week for the last two years. And seemed to know everyone. ‘This girl has removed herself from school at 14 – I’m trying to convince her to go back. Them? They’re drunk (a flailing fist-fight had erupted between two women near the statue of Our Lady). I’m not sure why they are queuing for the kids’ food – they don’t have kids. How did she afford those hair extensions? They cost £70…’ I loved her energy and cheerfulness – and lack of solemn piety. ‘Right’ she said at the end, ‘that’s my guilt dealt with for the week – I’m going paddleboarding.’ The answer has to begin with recruiting, training and backing more Marys: thoughtful, realistic, good-humoured people – some in social, youth and probation work, some volunteers – patiently helping people through all the challenges: from addiction to a simple lack of hope.

    I’ve just finished reading Blitzed, a beautifully researched book about drugs in Nazi Germany. The Blitzkrieg was fuelled, it seems, on crystal meth — it allowed the panzer drivers to go for three days without sleep and gave suicidal confidence to the waves of attacking German troops. The success of a reckless charge, against all odds, just strengthened their optimism. By 1944 Hitler was maintaining the Führer confidence with six injections a day. Some were cocktails of pig’s blood (which didn’t affect his belief that he was a vegetarian). But increasingly it was combinations of heroin and methamphetamine. The generals — astonished at his optimism in the face of all negative reports on every front — assumed he must have a secret weapon. The secret was chemically induced.

    Yesterday, I was worrying about my cherry trees — what we call ‘Gean’ in my part of Britain and what the Spectator reader would call prunus avium. We planted 40 of them to mark our wedding seven years ago. One is thick, healthy, and 20 feet high. The others are in terrible states — black and wilting leaves, leaves shredded by aphids, barks torn to the core by roe-deer. They all share the same sun, in the same field, and I have put new shelters around all of them, but after seven years some are barely four foot tall. Twice I have replaced some of the most sickly, so there are now three batches struggling in the field. Every spring I hope the problem will be solved. I suspect the soil and the cherries simply don’t agree. But I cannot seem to change course. I am a great one for accusing other people of fairytale optimism, about Iraq, Afghanistan or no-deal Brexit. But when it comes to my cherry trees my megalomaniac fantasies are on full display: failure is not an option.