April 2010

Friday, 30 April
 
Had a most useful and informative morning on the Swanage Railway with Shadow Transport Secretary, Teresa Villiers. She kindly came at my request to hear the concerns of the railway, which is trying to raise £3m to help upgrade Worgret Junction and the signalling there, in order to connect properly to the main line.  The key issue is to try to get the works done by Network Rail, which is carrying out a £30 million upgrade on the Poole to Dorchester line. The cut off date for this has now been extended by a further three months. If funding can be found, the advantages for Swanage are obvious. 
Teresa Villiers was taken on a single diesel train from Norden to Swanage. On the way she spoke to the senior managers and was briefed on the railway's history and future. When we got to Swanage, we boarded the plate of the steam locomotive and felt like Casey Jones! 
We then had lunch at the Conservative club, where as always, we were warmly welcomed. Afterwards, we visited the chain ferry between Sandbanks and Studland, met the manager and enjoyed the fabulous views of Brownsea Island, the harbour and Harry Redknapp's house!We handed Teresa Villiers over to my colleague Nick King, before heading over to Weymouth and Portland, where we spent the rest of the day.
 
 
Thursday, 29 April
Last night's hustings at Emmanuel Church in Weymouth was well attended and lasted for two and a half hours.
Started early at Wool market and met stallholders and locals, who were very welcoming. Headed to Swanage to join Shadow Education Minister, Nick Gibb, who very kindly came to meet a group of parents, governors and teachers affected by the Purbeck Review. I think the meeting was extremely useful and clarified our education policy. We then drove across to Portland, where we met MEP Ashley Fox and supporters at Easton Square before setting off again to visit a local farmer. We finished with more canvassing across the island.
Final hustings are being held tonight at Easton Methodist Church.
 
Wednesday, 28 April
Went to Portland this morning to meet a man whose father was very severely hurt in a motorbike crash. Sadly, he has now had to go to Bristol Hospital for further treatment for his injuries. We wish him well.
 
From there, we moved on to meet the boss of one of the quarry companies on the Isle of Portland. We discussed the concerns local residents had raised with me about the quantities of dust and noise caused by quarrying and transporting the aggregate. Following our meeting, the boss was able to tell me that as a result of our discussions, he had decided to move the aggregate extraction to another quarry. This, he hopes, will reduce disturbance and dust to the people of the Island.
 
After that we went on to visit an elderly lady who wrote to me recently about antisocial behaviour near her home. Regrettably, she was out but we will try to visit her on another occasion.
 
Tuesday, 27 April
Popped down to Swanage market in the early hours of this glorious morning. I hugely enjoyed meeting the residents and stallholders, some of whom were from as far away as Birmingham. We met many locals who greeted us warmly and chatted about their concerns. I met one gentleman who told me that he would be voting for us for the first time in his life, having always voted Lib Dem in previous elections. Why I asked why, he replied that the Lib Dems had become 'arrogant'.
The sheer array of produce on offer was outstanding and encouragingly, most of it was local. The sausages were great and the bacon buttie was unbeatable! After a few hours, we headed to Weymouth, where we spent the rest of the day.
 
Monday, 26 April
Started the day at ADCAP, Weymouth - the alcohol and drug community aftercare programme, where we met some clients and counselors of the service. We discussed the issues they are dealing with - for many, an uphill struggle. I was very impressed at the help offered and delighted that the people I met felt able to speak so freely. I wish them all success in fighting their addictions.
Moved on to the Bankes Arms on Studland, where we met activists and had lunch. After this, we canvassed in Corfe Castle  - in both the square and along the Halves Cottages, where we were greeted warmly and found a new poster site, thanks to Barry Bust. Onwards to support Nick Cake, the conservative councillor seeking reelection in Ridge.
 
Saturday, 24 April
We continued for the second time with the NHS Action Day, asking Weymouth residents to sign a petition demanding free access to the best cancer drugs for all patients. Currently some of the most effective medicines are denied by NICE - the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence - while others are available only in certain areas in what must be the most callous of postcode lotteries. I was accompanied by my eldest son and we spent several hours in the square outside Debenhams collecting signatures. I was delighted by the warmth of our reception and the sheer numbers of those who wanted to welcome us.
 
I have been encouraged by recent polls suggesting the Clegg bubble is bursting - as it should be. The Lib Dem vessel, though sailing the same seas as the rest of us - carries absolutely no cargo. We shall continue to fight for what we believe in because I think this election is the most important in memory - and certainly in my lifetime. It's now a question of saving our country, of giving her hope. The alternative is shackling her to a state yoke, where she is beaten regularly with an EU stick. We have not fought for freedom for generations, only for our democracy to be destroyed.
 
Friday, 23 April
While the team were in the office preparing for next week, including the visit of Greg Clark, Shadow Secretary of State for  Energy and Climate Change, I spent the day preparing for the first hustings in Weymouth. These have been organised by the Weymouth and Portland Chamber of Commerce - Industry and Tourism, to be held at Weymouth College at 7pm.
 
Thurs 22 April
As expected, Julian Fellowes gave a masterclass in conservative values last night. He was hugely entertaining - witty and perceptive - about our current political masters and the state the country is in. The question and answer session was lively and varied, with many members of the audience contributing and asking questions. Two submariners in particular discussed the UK's independent nuclear deterrent and gave their very valuable and informed views on what it takes and how much it matters to keep this country safe.
Started the day by meeting Steven Davis, Chief Executive of Portland Port. Learned about his plans for the future, including a very interesting opportunity to pitch for a new Dutch contract to build 150, 400 foot tall wind turbines, stretching out to sea from the Isle of Wight towards Poole Bay. Winning the contract could mean several hundred new jobs for Portland - an exciting prospect.
Moved on to Swanage to meet Gary Suttle at the Conservative Club before heading up to Benlease Way to canvass. Many residents were out but those who were at home received us warmly. Next, we met Mike Lovell at Langton Matravers Post Office, where we said hello to Anne and Bob before canvassing onward towards Worth Matravers. Swiftly changed into my suit and headed down to St Mary's Church for the last Swanage hustings, which went well, I think.
 
Wed 21 April
Canvassing in the Weymouth area this morning before heading into the more rural parts of the constituency to meet the voters this afternoon. Tonight's question and answer session at the Swanage Mowlem with brilliant raconteur, writer and Conservative supporter Julian Fellowes promises to be illuminating and entertaining.
 
Tues 20 April
  Accompanied former Defence Minister Tom King to Weymouth, wherewe watched the historic lifting bridge open to allow two yachts to pass through. We met the senior berthing officer, Dennis George and his charming assistant who told us that grease needs to be applied regularly to keep things working properly. Apparently on occasions, one or two equally well oiled enthusiasts have jumped the widening gap - happily avoiding a dunking so far.
  On the way back to the battlebus, we met a man collecting for Help for Heroes. He had three children in the armed services. Tom King and I chatted to him about Afghanistan and the medical backup - or lack of it - for those wounded both mentally and physically.
  We met the press for photographs and interviews before heading back to the battlebus and setting off for the coastwatch tower at Portland Bill. Deputy manager John Watts told us how the system is run by volunteers and explained their role in keeping an eye on the notorious waters to the south of the island.
  We then returned to the top of the island to meet fish wholesaler Paul Wilson. Apparently crab and lobster fishing is still poor at the moment due to the unseasonably cold water temperatures - a hangover from the bitter winter. Fishermen are relying on scallop dredging to survive in the meantime.
   Having met Paul's staff, we then went on to the Conservative Club for lunch, where we met some long standing members, including Olive Carroll and Terry Darch.
  Tom King then left usto join Nick King in the neighbouring seat while Charles and I drove to Portland to garden with Margaret Someville and the Chiswell Community Trust on land they have restored to create a community garden and orchard.  Paul Glavin was already there and the three of us cleared the site and burned rubbish for an hour or two.
  Next, up to Crossways, where we met Geoff Priest, Teresa Seall and Peter Read and their team for a successful afternoon's canvassing before returning to base.
 
Mon 19 Apr
Attended a public meeting at Swanage Town Hall about the future of the James Day care home site. I was only able to stay for 30 minutes but I heard Andrew Cattaway explain why the County Council is in the predicament it is. He was articulate and compassionate. I was encouraged to hear he was meeting with providers and in fact had one such discussion with someone sitting behind me who had come to listen to the debate. My hope is that another provider will be found soon.
 
We then rushed to Weymouth to meet Caroline Spelman, the shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government at a Weymouth club. Forty councillors and local business leaders gathered to hear her speak, which she did for 15 minutes before inviting a 30 minute question and answer session. We were all impressed by her knowledge of her brief and were all heartened at the idea of power being returned to locally elected people if we win the election. The local press attended, and interviewed us both. She then shot off to Somerset while I went to help our candidate canvass in town.
 
Sat, 10 Apr
Another lovely day and this time we were campaigning on the NHS in both Weymouth and Swanage. We met lots of supporters and many visitors, which is most encouraging for the local economies of both towns.
 

 
Fri, 9 Apr
On a stunning spring morning, I drove to Studland to see off the last hunt of the season. About 400 riders and spectators were treated to plate-loads of food from the Knoll House Hotel, courtesy of Mike Ferguson.
 
The hunting community are prospective constituents too and for them this activity is an integral part of our rural community. They form part of a law-abiding minority who I shall represent, along with everyone else.
 
Afterwards, I joined our team in Weymouth for the afternoon.
 

 
Thu, 8 Apr
Again, we travelled right across the constituency, taking in some of our smaller villages. The feedback was most encouraging, with many saying they are fed up with Labour and do want this change for the country's sake.
 
I am enjoying the campaign very much. There is a lot more to come, but we relish the challenges.
 

 
Wed, 7 Apr
We met our shadow housing minister Grant Shapps this morning at the new housing development off Victoria Square on Portland.
 
We had an informative brief before being taken on a tour of the site. The homes will initially provide accommodation for the sailing Olympics in 2012, before being sold on the open market. However, about 19 homes will provide affordable homes for local people, which is a wonderful legacy.
 
Then we visited some relatively new sheltered accommodation in Weymouth, before moving to the Pavilion where Grant was briefed by our council leader Cllr Mike Goodman.
 
Then to the Dorset Echo office to meet the editor, who sadly was ill. Instead, we met one of his senior journalists and a raw recruit, who took shorthand notes as we chatted.
 
We popped into the Conservative Club for a welcome breather, before heading back out into Weymouth to meet more people.
 
The evening saw us on Portland attending a public meeting on the proposed palm oil plant. About 100 people listened to both sides of the argument for about two hours.
 
It got a little personal at times, but that was to be expected. The people of Portland can't understand why the planning system does not take their important views into account. Now, that's a good question.
 
Our Party has said that the planning process will be radically overhauled, placing decisions nearer to those who are affected by them. This is clearly one such case.
 
In addition, we are concerned about the sustainability issue and of course the pollution aspect, especially the smell, if indeed there is one. We were assured tonight that pollution was negligible and there was no smell. That I would like to test.
 

 
Tue, 6 Apr
At last, the gun's gone and the phoney war has ended. Now we can get on with the job of removing one of the most incompetent governments of all time.
 
The morning saw us in Weymouth, greeting those coming to work at 9am and doing some filming with Meridian Television. My interviewer was my former competition and friend Martin Dowse.
 
Then, we drove across to Portland in our battered old landrover, which we have turned into our battle bus.
 
We had a happy and most positive time there, before moving to Swanage. After popping into the Conservative Club, we met residents and shop keepers as we strolled around the town for an hour or two. 
 
Say one ended on a high note, and with a feeling that we can at last get on with the job of fighting for our seat.
 

 
Sun, 4 Apr
Can I wish you all a very happy and peaceful Easter.
 
I spent the day enjoying a rare moment with my family. What joy.
 
With our church leaders at last beginning to stand up for the Christian faith, this weekend, and this day in particular, is especially significant.
 

 
 
Sat, 3 Apr
On a damp and overcast day I drove down to Swanage. First stop was the Mowlam Theatre. Climbing up the stairs to the second floor, I attended a coffee morning for Help The Heroes charity. What a team and what an effort, raising lots of money for this excellent cause.
 
Then it was off to meet one of our councillors to discuss a number of issues, before visiting the Conservative Club and catching up with the many characters who use it.
 
The club has a wonderful atmosphere, is well attended and well run. It's proving to be a welcome rest place, a fun place to be and a chance to get some honest feedback!
 

 
Fri, 2 Apr
As I headed down to Weymouth, the Heavens opened. What an Easter weekend!
 
I popped into a coffee morning in Sutton Poyntz and then visited Brewers' Quay to see how the family entertainment was progressing.
 
While walking around, I bumped into one of our retiring councillors and his charming wife. Unable to resist the smell of sausage rolls, I wolfed one down to keep body and soul together.
 
Then it was back to HQs for more preparatory work.
 

 
Thu, 1 Apr
My sympathy went out to the supporters of St Mary's RC School in Swanage who protested outside County Hall at about 1pm today.
 
They are opposing a proposal to reduce the number of children who go to their school. Why, they say, when the school is exemplary and oversubscribed. 
 
As I've said on many occasions, I believe that if the Conservatives win the general election education will undergo a fundamental change in the way it is delivered.
 
Emphasis will once again be placed on parents, teachers and governors to do what they think is best for the children and not the State. Schools will also be able to opt out of LEA control, giving them independence and control, which I am sure will suit many. 
 
In the afternoon I went to meet a lady who'd come to see me at one of my recent Drax Directs. She is fighting to retain a run down playground which is all but closed near their estate.
 
She's a very determined lady and we will do all we can to help her.
 
Meanwhile, the mountain of correspondence and election preparation continues unabated. I relish the challenge.