Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster
WELL, there we are. We made it at long last. One of the true wonders of the world, acknowledged as such by Unesco’s decision to make the Lake District a world heritage site.
Mostly my reaction is positive, with the inscription’s recognition of our cultural and farming heritage and its call that more affordable housing is needed in the realisation that the area is about people as much as about poetry and landscape. It’s claimed that world heritage status will bring an extra £20 million into the economy of the Lakes. I sometimes wonder just how valid these sort of figures really are. It’s a bit like tearing a sheet of paper into bits and casting them into the wind then seeing what order they come down in.
If we are going to attract many more visitors I’m concerned that the Lake District is pretty full as it stands. At the weekend, as United Nations delegates in Poland sat deciding on world heritage status, I saw miles of traffic queuing to get into the South Lakes and in Keswick there wasn’t a parking place to be had by lunchtime. A headline on a newspaper website the same day told of mountain rescuers spending 14 hours helping walkers in trouble on the fells. More tourists — more people to be rescued.
It’s said that our new status will attract more tourists from countries like China and Japan, and it will devolve extra business to fringe areas. I don’t know about that. If you are coming all the way from China to see the designated Lake District, do you really plan on spending time on the west coast? More likely they will want to visit Grasmere, Windermere, Keswick, and the places they see in their tourist brochures.
If world heritage status makes us more visible to government that’s a good thing, for as it stands we are an ageing population. But what if the new status makes the area more popular with second homers and weekenders, further inflating property prices? First-time buyers and families are already moving away from the places where they grew up. Our new-found tourists won’t want to see valleys deserted except at weekends, “an enclave of the affluent” as the head of the Rural Coalition, Dr. Alan Smith, said just the other day.
We’ve been granted this marvellous new status, one that puts us up alongside the Taj Mahal and Grand Canyon, but those of us who live in this lovely area have needs, too. Care for the elderly, shops, post offices, pubs, all closing in recent times. Poor infrastructure, slow broadband, housing, schools and public services.
Tourism provides most of our jobs, around 18,000 of them, but all the wonders of the world are nothing without people. World heritage is as much about people as it is about mountains, lakes and Wordsworth. In all the excitement of a 30-year campaign finally coming to fruition, that must never be forgotten.
The newly-won status has received a generally favourable welcome, although I don’t suppose George Monbiot, the man who wants our fells rewilding, is jumping for joy at the prospect of support for the farming industry and protection of a landscape which, so far as I can tell, isn’t yet being turned into a desert by munching Herdwicks.
But as for the projected £20 million economic bonus, I’m not so sure how it stacks up statistically speaking. Let’s put it this way, I wouldn’t buy horse racing tips off the person who came up with it.
RORY — LEADER IN WAITING?
LADIES and gentlemen, meet your new Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Rory Stewart, MP for Penrith and the Border.
Could it really be? After all, Mr. Stewart is one of a handful of younger Tory parliamentarians identified by The Times as potential leaders-in-waiting.
While some old guard Tories plot to replace Theresa May after her disastrous election campaign, The Times suggests that a new narrative is required, someone who has not been around for a long time, someone fresher, with greater appeal to young voters.
One thing I will say about Theresa May. She has guts. What must it feel like going to work every day knowing that colleagues are simply lining up to stab you in the back?
However, even her most devoted admirers must admit she is on borrowed time. And this could be the moment when MPs decide to skip a generation, replacing her after Brexit with someone who can appeal to the young people. Tory MPs say Mrs. May’s campaign focused on the older voters at the expense of the young, although she managed to alienate both. While Labour fell well short of winning the election, Jeremy Corbyn has outflanked the Tories at every turn with his disingenuous anti-austerity promises and his appetite for meeting ordinary voters. While the Tories were fussing over foxhunting and grammar schools, and wondering if they could grab Ukip’s former supporters, Jeremy’s liberalism chimed with the idealism of the young voters.
Corbyn can do no wrong, while the Prime Minister gets the blame for everything. There are times, for all the electoral incompetence and stupidity, when I feel a bit sorry for Mrs. May.
The Times’ political experts are already picking their fancies for a Tory leader untainted by the humiliation, looking to the ranks of junior ministers. Penny Mordaunt, the 44-year-old disabilities minister who appeared on Splash, a diving-based TV show; Yorkshire MP Rishi Sunak, a businessman before joining the Commons; justice minister Dominic Raab, a passionate Brexiteer; employment minister Damian Hinds, who worked in the hotel industry; and Rory Stewart, former diplomat and tutor to the royal children.
Mr. Stewart, who commands a safe majority in his Penrith and the Border constituency, once the domain of the formidable Willie Whitelaw, was deputy governor of two southern Iraqi provinces after the 2003 invasion and, as minister for Africa, has a knowledge of overseas affairs unmatched in the Commons.
But leadership, as Theresa May quickly discovered, is a poisoned chalice, with the challenge to the leader’s authority as likely to come from within the party as from the opposition.
Who, in the name of sanity, would seek it? Well, quite a few ambitious and talented up-and-comers, if The Times’s predictions are correct.
OVERTAKEN — BY PADDINGTON BEAR
“MY generation has been decimated. So many actors have gone. There is not a day goes by where I don’t think of my mortality.” Screen and stage actor Patrick Stewart, reflecting on growing old.
Indeed, so many of those celebrities we used to see on television have gone recently. Or so it seems. Yet, considering the matter logically, it’s because we’re getting older, too. It’s not that death is taking any more of a toll than before. But we are familiar with the names. They have played a role, albeit indirectly, in our lives.
They do say, and I’m coming up to a significant birthday, that the time us oldies need to start worrying is when the family club together — and buy you a voucher for Dignitas.
It’s not been a happy time for children’s TV stars. Noakes, Cant and Carol Lee Scott, the woman who played Grotbags, all icons of ours and our kids’ childhoods. And not forgetting Michael Bond, who gave us loveable Paddington Bear.
The last time I did the Great North Run I was overtaken by a giraffe and a Paddington, in full costume carrying a bucket full of coins. It was my final venture into the world of road running. But what an amazing thing it must have been for Mr. Bond, who spent his later years knowing there was a Paddington taking part in every charity run in the country. It kind of means that, as an author, you’ve well and truly made it.
JACOB’S THE STAR
I’VE heard it all now. An ovation by the Question Time audience — usually left-leaning in their politics — for a devout Tory.
As a rule I don’t watch Question Time these days, but an appearance by Rees-Mogg persuaded me to switch on last week. I wasn’t disappointed. In his considered, well-argued way, he was the star of the program. There’s something about this smartly attired Old Etonian that somehow transcends politics. Even his opponents think he’s cool.
A petition for him to stand at Tory leader has more than 13,000 signatures. I don’t share many of his policy views, but he’s definitely our most colourful and compelling politician. Dimbleby must wish he could get him on every week.