On Changing Britain

raftTeacher: “What does your father do, little Billy?” “He plays the piano in an opium den”. Teacher calls home. Father: “I lied: but how can you tell an eight year old boy that his father is a politician?”

In polls, more than eighty per cent of the public feel ‘politics is broken’. When strangers discover I’m a politician they often look at me as though they are unsure whether I am a snake or a monkey. And all the questions they ask – put as politely as they can – imply they are astonished by our ignorance, our shoddiness, and our incompetence. Which leaves democracy in a strange position. Our democracy has been developing for four hundred years, the British people have never been so educated or confident, but the gap between public and politicians has never felt larger: citizens are deeply disappointed in their politicians. The same is true in almost every ‘democratic’ country.

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There are many drivers of prison violence – the greatest is probably the surge in the use of Spice and other mind-altering drugs. But the trend is clear. Assaults have risen steadily over the last five years and there were more than eight thousand attacks on prison staff last year alone. Violence wrecks prisons. It doesn’t only make it challenging to perform the most […]

Rough Sleeping Strategy and Prison Leavers

Sleeping out, night after night, in a street or a park, or a doorway, is not simply cold and uncomfortable – it is lonely, and damaging to soul and body. Rough sleepers are seventeen times more likely to be attacked than the general public. They are more likely to have substance misuse problems, and many […]


It once seemed easier to define the point of politicians. Historically this was done in three ways. Aristotle’s ideal politician was a virtuous and philosophical man, serving the city-state of Athens. He only required his politician to defend Athens, to rule it justly, and to beautify it; not to change it. For Ancient Romans, and […]


For many decades, Cumbrian planners have tried to create economic growth by backing large Cumbrian industries. This is understandable because our industrial revolution was a miracle. The slow growth of our traditional rural economy, celebrated by Wordsworth, was blown apart in the second half of the nineteenth century, as we tore into the land, extracting […]

Politics: A Dozen Small Things

Article first published in the Cumberland & Westmorland Herald on 1 December 2017 When I lived outside Britain, I felt that the greatest problem in Britain was injustice. Once I became a ‘parliamentary candidate’ I began to feel that the problem was that government was completely out of touch with reality on the ground, and […]

Herald Column

Article first published in The Herald on 1 April 2017. About every three weeks, I seem to be perched on the edge of a desk – sometimes a comically small desk – talking politics in a classroom. Some Cumbrian schools have only twelve students, some have one and a half thousand. But the conversations are […]

Thoughts on my father

I have spent a lot of the last four years thinking about my father, and writing about him, and walks through Cumbria, in a book, published last week, called The Marches. I thought – at first – that I could learn more about him by interviewing him. Often, therefore, when we sat down for dinner […]

Tackling Food Waste

I am the Minister for Environment and Rural Affairs. The job includes rural communities, wildlife, national parks, forestry, rivers (fish, irrigation, drinking water, and flooding), air quality, and more. And although I have to travel around the country, a lot of this brings me back to Cumbria. Two weeks ago, for example, I began by […]

What kind of place do we want Cumbria to be?

What kind of place do we want Cumbria to be in twenty years’ time? Or in two hundred years’ time? Our lives are still shaped by political decisions made centuries ago. We travel on railway lines, and drink from reservoirs, first laid by the Victorians. We look at scenery created by neolithic farmers and nineteenth […]