Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Rory Stewart - the Tory it's OK to like?

I'm not a right-winger. That might be obvious to you if you've ever read one of my posts. I don't really describe myself as occupying any particular position on the political spectrum, not any more - in my younger days I would have called myself a socialist, but there's bits of all political philosphies that I like or dislike - perhaps I could call myself an anarcho-liberal-socialist-democrat, but I prefer to avoid labels. Fortunately, because that wouldn't fit well on a badge.

By and large, then, I tend to dislike politicians of the right. Just take a look - Margaret Thatcher, George Osborne, Silvio Berlusconi, George Bush, powermongers all, obsessed with attacking the state, the poor, the workers, anyone who stands in the way of the rich elite and obstructs their path to unadulterated wealth and power.

Try as I might, though, I can find nothing to dislike about Rory Stewart.

Who, I hear you cry? Potted history alert - Eton, Oxford, British Diplomatic Service, Montenegro, Kosovo, walked across Afghanistan and wrote a book about it, became province governor in Iraq and wrote a book about it, founded a charity in Afghanistan, professor at Harvard, elected MP for Penrith in Cumbria in 2010.

Phew. That's some CV. This isn't your standard policy wonk MP, like Ed Miliband, or David Cameron. This guy's actually achieved something in his life.

It was this article in the Observer that alerted me to Rory Stewart. Not only is it intelligently written, by someone who clearly has taken the time to get to know his constituency, but he actually puts into practice a form of localism, the kind that Cameron and his cronies espouse without ever really convincing you that they mean it.
But our Eden communities may have the solution. In Great Asby, one volunteer discovered there was already fibre, paid for by the taxpayer, for the school. The school let him splice off the fibre to a cabinet that he calls a "parish pump". From that he ran a wireless network, with transmitters in the church tower and one, powered by solar panels, on a dead tree to reach the outlying farms. He has persuaded 70% of the village to sign up and is making enough money (as an unpaid volunteer) to upgrade the network. Local farmers have agreed to lay the fibre, at a fraction of the commercial cost. This is not a just impressive technology, it's astonishing community action.
I got to the end of the article without realising that this was a Conservative MP writing - it's never apparent. Party lines don't seem to count with Stewart.

On his website, Stewart addresses Afghanistan, clearly a place that looms large in his life, and again writes with eloquence, intelligence and insight, not to mention an understanding of history that's alien to most politicians.
No politician wants to be perceived to have underestimated, or failed to address, a terrorist threat; or to write off the ‘blood and treasure’ that we have sunk into Afghanistan; or to admit defeat. Americans are particularly unwilling to believe that problems are insoluble; Obama’s motto is not ‘no we can’t’; soldiers are not trained to admit defeat or to say a mission is impossible. And to suggest that what worked in Iraq won’t work in Afghanistan (or that what worked in postwar West Germany or 1950s Souh Korea won’t work in Afghanistan) requires a detailed knowledge of each country’s past, a bold analysis of the causes of development and a rigorous exposition of the differences, for which few have patience.
He goes on to expound on civil service opinions of Afghanistan in the 19th century.

I'm sure there must be some point of principle that I'd disagree with him on - for one thing, his embrace of local empowerment might work well in Cumbria, where independence and self-sufficiency is forced upon you by the environment, but I doubt it would translate to a council estate in Peckham, for example. But I find it admirable that someone of obvious intelligence and experience wants to represent people, and actually seems to care about the people he represents, without apparently having any ambition towards higher office. From publicservice:
"Without being too pompous about it you are trying to be useful. It might be I could do something useful being a backbencher. My suspicion is I like managing things and getting things done. I am very interested in the civil service, so if I was lucky enough to become a junior Foreign Office minister I would be fascinated to go back to a department where I had worked.

"The Department for International Development, for example, was the most extraordinary department under Clare Short – she managed to really give it energy. But the idea of being an MP is a wonderful thing as well and I wouldn't like to live in a world where that is just a stepping stone to being a minister."
Scary. I've found a Conservative politician I actually like. Whatever next?

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