April 2011

Sat, 30 Apr

The morning was spent campaigning against AV in Weymouth square. I met only one person who was going to vote for it, which was a relief. AV is a stitch-up and a political con, to ensure the minority parties stand a chance of winning more seats. Instead, they should be changing their politics to persuade more of the electorate to vote for them.

At 1230 I hopped on my motorbike and drove around to the town's CCTV office to meet up with Chief Inspector Nick Maton.

He and about 100 officers were policing a public meeting by members of the English Defence League (EDL). A small counter march, organised by Socialists, met at the Pavilion.

Fortunately, the two sides were not allowed to meet and the afternoon passed off peacefully, with the police doing a very professional job.

I believe there were no arrests, which is quite something.

I watched events for about two hours before thanking as many officers I could. Remarkably, some of them had just come back from duty in Bristol, where they'd been dealing with the troubles outside a Tesco store.

We owe our police a huge debt of gratitude. 

Fri, 29 Apr

 

Royal Wedding day:

What a colourful and memorable day it was. Bride and groom looked so happy and the wedding went without a hitch, at least not that we saw.

I, like most of the nation, spent the morning with friends, as watched the great event unfold on our screens.

I tihink the day reminded us all just how lucky we are to have a Royal family, rather than a President. And how lucky we are to have the history we do, which has carried us to where we are today.

And like marriage - for better, for worse - the UK has been moulded by her experiences to play a leading role on the world stage.

The Queen looked spectacular, as always, and long may she reign over us. Charles will do a wonderful job when his time comes, as will William.

For the moment, though, the nation can breathe a sigh of relief that the day went without a hitch and two young people are starting out together on a long and challenging path with our support behind them.

Thu, 28 Apr

 

 

An early start with my very special barber in Wimborne. Cheryl is marvellous and allows me to sneak in before opening time so I can get on my way without delay. 

I then went to visit an old supporter of ours out in Purbeck. He had a planning issue and although I could not resolve it, I was able to bring some comfort by finding out where a certain application had got to.

Then down to Weymouth to meet about eight GPs from the area, to hear their views on the government's proposals to change the NHS. 

It was a fascinating hour or so and their views coincided almost exactly with those GPs from Swanage who I'd visited the other day.

I then headed out to Westham West to meet up with Jean Woodward, our candidate there. She's a very special lady and was preparing for a garden party to celebrate the Royal Wedding. 

Finally, across to Studland to team up with Sue Sides, who's been campaigning vigorously against the sitting councillor, Nigel Dragon, an Independent. Sue's going down well there and who knows what might happen. 

Wed, 27 Apr

 

Set out on my morning constitution and soon noticed a number of pre-wedding arrangements, not least mountings for news cameras, stalls for the park, lavatories and what looked like telephone masts.

On the way into the Commons, I saw some of the early-birds encamped on the pavement outside the entrance to the Abbey - something very touching about this.

Then, up to my office, with coffee in one hand and croissant in the other.

We have a young politics' student in today called Toby. It's been interesting getting his views and he's enjoyed getting a glimpse of the workings of this place before he heads back to university for his final year.

At 1145 I left Toby in the public gallery and entered the Chamber for PMQs.

It ran its course in the usual way, with the two main protaganists doing their best to do each other down.

Then a quick bite to eat before a long Defra select committee meeting, which went on for three hours.

On the agenda today was the future of the UK's dairy industry. Our first witness was Tom Hind, the NFU's director of corporate affairs. He's a bright cooky and answered our questions well and with confidence.

We had a vote at 1600 before reconvening for part two, taking evidence from Dairy UK, which represents processors in the industry.

After a long session, a cup of tea and then back to my office to await another vote at 1900. After dining with colleagues, I headed home to Dorset.

Tue, 26 Apr

Back to the House after the Easter weekend ... and what a scorcher it was.

After my meeting with Dr David Haines, I was keen to ask a question, so entered the Chamber in time for Health Questions, which began at 1430.

Dr Haines wanted to know the answer to questions. First, would the fundholders be the GP practices or the consortia. And, secondly, did the government expect GPs to provide the out of hours service at weekends.

Due to poor timing, my question in the Chamber was asked during the wrong part of the session, with the minister not quite understanding how South Dorset fitted in with a question about Wales! You live and learn here.

Not to be outdone, I drafted two written questions to the Secretary of State and await a reply. 

This was followed by a statement to the House by the Foreign Secretary on the tunnel escape in Afghanistan, in which hundreds of Taliban prisoners escaped.

The session broadened out to Syria, Gaza and of course Libya, with MPs on both sides of the House raising concerns about 'mission creep'.

At 1800 the House began to debate the second reading of the Finance Bill. With no time limit set on this debate, we were all set for a long night. 

However, in the end we wrapped up at about 2300 and headed home.

Thu, 21 Apr

Spent the morning with Pam Nixon, our Wey Valley candidate. Accompanied by Kevin Hodder and his Pa, we canvassed Nottington and the surrounding area. 

A very worthwhile morning, with lots of support and encouragement. Pam's an outstanding councillor and now that she's retired from being librarian at Wey Valley School, she will have more time to devote to this role which she loves.

At 1400 I rushed over to Portland to attend my surgery, before driving back across to Swanage to meet Dr David Haines, who heads the town's GP practice. 

He very generously gave me a lot of his time and we chatted about the proposed NHS reforms. The NHS is a very complicated and unwieldy beast and there's no doubt changes are needed. The questions are what and how?

Home for a late supper and a glimpse of my poor wife!

 

 

Wed, 20 Apr

A busy day in the office, before heading off to Wool in the evening to canvass with our charming candidate there Richard Ley.

In glorious evening sunshine, we went from door to door, chatting and listening to residents. 

The conversations ranged from the EU to Libya. More than 99 per cent wanted to retain first past the post, which was reassuring, although AV did not come up as a topic until we mentioned it.

This was, in most cases, accompanied by a grimace! The electorate are not fools and can see for themselves that this is nothing more than a Lib Dem smokescreen to hide their real ambition of obtaining PR.

Libya continues to dominate the headlines, with reports that we have now despatched so called military advisers to the country.  

The Foreign Secretary reassures us that they will not play a military role and are there for logistical reasons.

As a Labour MP has pointed out, this was how America became engulfed in the Vietnam War! 

Certainly, food for thought.

Tue, 19 Apr

 

Another stunning day and a lot of canvassing achieved. After a morning spent in the office, I again returned to Weymouth to canvass with Mike Goodman , who's standing for Upwey and Broadwey.

He's a tower of strength and is very well known in his ward. I'd be surprised if Mike did not hold here and hold well.

Hopping into my Landrover, I drove across to Portland to join Richard Paisley , who's fighting Tophill East.

In brilliant sunshine we knocked on doors throughout the afternoon, again being very well received.

Finally, I then went to Osmington to meet our two Owermoigne candidates Teresa Seall and Peter Stein.

We dropped in on some businesses and ended up canvassing in Crossways. At 2000 we all headed home.  

 

Mon, 18 Apr

With a full in-tray, I was up early to tackle the correspondence, weekly column and constituency matters sent down from London.

At midday I headed down to Weymouth to canvass with our candidate Andy Manvell. After meeting at the Conservative Club, we strolled out into brilliant sunshine and knocked on doors for several hours before returning to meet another candidate, Claire Waghorn.

Claire is a remarkable find and full of get-up-and-go. The late afternoon, early evening is always a good time to canvass as many people are in and you can stop and chat.

We had a good time on the door and Claire was welcomed warmly by all who met her.

Sat, 16 Apr

 

It was a national day of action, with MPs and councillors across the country campaigning on the 'No' to AV referendum.

I personally did not find anyone in favour of AV, which was most reassuring. Too complicated and open to misrepresentation were the two most common complaints. I agree.

I started the day in Swanage and then moved across to Portland, where I canvassed with Amanda Munro. I think she has a good chance and was welcomed warmly on the door. 

Fri, 15 Apr

 

It was Swanage's turn today, as I headed down to our picturesque resort town to canvass for Bill Trite.

We met in the Conservative Club and after a welcome coffee went our separate ways: Bill to complete some literature, me to canvass in the north of the town. 

With lots of flats, canvassing is not easy, but I stuck with it and met many constituents.

I carried on to mid afternoon, before returning to the office, where I worked until the early evening.

Thu, 14 Apr

 

After a hectic start to the day, I ventured down to Wool to join our council candidate there, the charming Richard Ley.

He runs a culinary business out of the British Legion in the village which he's just started. We canvassed a large number of homes and I was delighted to find many people in.

The feedback was most encouraging and Richard enjoyed his morning. A local man, he will do well if elected.

I then headed across to Corfe Castle to join another candidate, the joyous Sue Sides. She is a brick and having just retired will be able to give her constituents a lot of her time if they elect her. 

Back to the office for an hour, then a good, long run to keep me in shape, before a bath and change for a fundraising event near East Creech.

The event was great fun and well attended, with more than 100 guests. Fell into bed at midnight. 

Wed, 13 Apr

 

After a morning at my desk, I drove into Blandford to meet the managing director of Hall & Woodhouse, Anthony Woodhouse.

Anthony has replaced his dear brother, David, who sadlly died of a heart attack at the tender age of 49. 

BBC SW has cottoned on to a speech I made in the House recently, calling for the price escalator on beer to be removed. 

This has worried David for years and keen to promote and support local businesses I spoke up on his behalf for this inequity to be removed.

A charming reporter, called Jenny, and her cameraman, were soon interviewing first Anthony, then I. 

For Anthony, running a brewery is challenge enough, without having to cope with this annual tax raid.

For myself, I believe we are the Party of business and should be repealing any legislation which stifles that aim.

For, let's face it, it's the private sector that now has to generate these new jobs and of course wealth if the UK is to crawl out of economic mess we find ourselves in. I just hope David knows that his battle continues to be fought. 

Then, I headed down to Weymouth to canvass with Pamela Nixon, one of our fabulous candidates. We continued to about 4pm, when rain stopped play.

I then grabbed the opportunity to drop in on Sue Moore, the principal of Weymouth College. My visit followed the local paper's front page story that the college is to scrap its A Level courses.

Of course, there are several students who are unhappy with this, but regrettably the take-up is so small that the college can't make it pay.

Instead, the college will be concentrating on its core vocational courses and accompanying apprenticeships.

Sue is a dedicated principal and will continue to honour the contract she's made already with those currently on A2 courses.

Afterwards, I headed back to the office, working into the evening on more correspondence.

 

Tue, 12 Apr

 

The last hunt of the season and I hopped on my motorbike and headed for Studland. Across the picturesque ferry and up the hill to the Knoll House Hotel.

The Meet is in a field opposite the hotel, with a stunning view over the sea. There were 106 mounted riders and about 300 supporters.

As always, we were fed by the hotel in magnificent style, all thanks to Chris and Mike Ferguson.

I said a few words before the hunt rode off and then headed down to Swanage for my regular surgery.

The resort looked stunning as I came down the hill. We really are lucky to live in Dorset. 

I popped into see a councillor, grabbed a bacon sandwich at the market, chatted briefly with the team at the Gazette and then attended my surgery. 

Mon, 11 Apr

 

Today was a catch-up day. Correspondence takes a lot of my time. I try my best to deal with the many issues which cross my desk. Some are quite complicated and take time and consideration.

I note Mr Cameron's in trouble for telling Oxford University it's a disgrace they've only got one black student.

It turns out they have circa 40 from ethnic minorities and a row has blown up. I'm surprised that the Prime Minister's comments are inaccurate because he should be receiving sound briefings from his staff.

We continue to police the no-fly zone over Libya as moves are made to try and end the conflict there. I am nervous over our commitment to this campaign and fear we will be dragged into the post conflict stage, which we can neither afford, nor want.

I worked through to the early evening and then went home to enjoy an evening with two of my children, who are home on holiday. 

 

 

 

Fri, 8 Apr

Another stunning day. Summer's come early. I seem to remember we had a weather pattern similar to this last year.

I was out and about with our candidate Andy Manvell for most of the morning and into early afternoon.

We canvassed the Park District in Weymouth, where we received a warm welcome.

Andy's a very good candidate, local man and will make an excellent councillor. He cares and gets on well with people.

Later, I returned to the office and waded through a lot of constituency correspondence and cases.

Thu, 7 Apr

 

What a stunner of a day. Hotter than the Med, apparently.

First off, down to East Stoke to meet Cllr Barry Quinn, who is fighting to stop Network Rail closing the level crossing which separates the small village of circa 500 people.

Apparently, this closure has been on the cards for decades, but so far any effort to do so has been successfully thwarted. 

Now, to battle again as Network Rail threaten to close it in 2013. 

Clearly, its closure would split the village, and push traffic even further around the roads to other crossings.

It's a non starter, hopefully, and I am joining the fight to see if we can keep it. An automatic barrier is the answer, although I appreciate they don't come cheap, but nor do the three men who currently man the crossing, I suspect!

Then off to Purbeck School to meet head Richard Holman. He's charming and totally dedicated to his job.

It was break time when I arrived, so we wandered around the school, chatting to sixth formers and an interesting group who are going to sleep on Swanage beach in tents over the Easter weekend to raise money for Haiti. 

They feel that Haiti was been forgotten and tens of thousands of people are living in abject misery and squalor who they want to help.

Some years ago I reported from Haiti for the BBC, and I was shocked at the poverty and deprivation. Families live in boxes, surrounded by open sewers. It's not a pretty sight, or smell.

I can only imagine the situation over there now, with no government, lawlessness and little hope. We are so very lucky.

Richard and I chatted about educational matters for an hour before I headed back to the office to catch up with work there. 

Wed, 6 Apr

 

 

A very special day - my parent's 54th wedding anniversary. What a wonderful and remarkable achievement.

On a lovely spring morning, I headed down to Swanage. I went to visit the community hospital, so loved by all residents, and understandably so.

It's a cosy house really, rather than a hospital, and you are greeted by a lovely, warm atmosphere when you walk in.

Today, I was met by Matron Jane Williams and chief operating officer Tim Archer.

Both could not have been more charming and I enjoyed my tour. The last time I visited was over a year ago when I was the candidate. 

I asked for people's blunt views on the government's proposed changes to the NHS and while there was overall agreement that something had to be done, I think there was uncertainty as to how exactly it should be done.

I encouraged all I met to write in with their views, because it's the opinions of those on the front line we must listen to.  

My last visit was memorable for many reasons, not least being presented with the most delicious cake I've ever eaten.

On this occasion chef Claire Thompson had sweetly baked me a small chocolate cake, which I devoured at home later in the evening. So thoughtful of her.

After touring the hospital and talking to as many people as I could, I visited our former chairman George Preston.

He was in fine form, enjoying his retirement from politics and spending more time in the garden. Now, there's a nice thought!

Then, after a cup of tea, I picked up Suzy Patterson, who helps me part time and together we drove across to Weymouth to attend a public meeting in the Park District.  

The Waterside Weymouth Community Forum is run most ably by Ken Whatley and supported by the impressive likes of treasurer Dave Burchill.

Both men and their committee have done so much for their local community, especially in trying to combat the problems caused all too often by HMOs.

After the AGM, there was a brief presentation by a council officer on the trial they are carrying out with anti-seagull-proof bags.

The gulls are a menace and rip open rubbish bags as they await the binmen. This bag is tougher and seagull proof and the idea is to put your rubbish bag inside this one.

It's a good idea and I hope it catches on.

Then, the council's chief housing officer Kate Hindson spoke about HMOs and what they were doing to combat their spread.

Kate is a most impressive lady, and she and her team are doing all they can to help residents. 

The problem is that this area is not simple and the council's authority is limited. Governments of both colours appear uncertain how to deal with it, which does not instil confidence.

I followed Kate and gave a brief address, before Ken moved on to the PACT meeting. The police and PCSOs are doing a tremendous job and have really cracked down on trouble-makers.

Crime is down in the area and the police and PCSOs deserve a commendation for a thoroughly good performance.

The meeting ended at about 2130 and, after saying my goodbyes and buying some raffle tickets, we headed home for a late supper.

I really enjoy my days in the constituency. You meet so many interesting people and it's very important to hear what everyone has to say. 

Tue, 5 Apr

 

What a miserable, grey and cold day. 

I spent most of it in the office, catching up with correspondence and organising constituency events in the days ahead. 

I note there's some consternation at our planned reforms for the NHS.

Interestingly, I met the chairman of a health Trust recently, who implored we get on with it. His view was the if anyone could make the GP-based system work, it was them.

Hard working, intelligent, dedicated and leaders, GPs were more than qualified to take on this new role.

Mon, 4 Apr

 

Up to London for our penultimate day before the Easter break.

There's a lot going on in the world and no less than four statements from the Front Bench underline this.

We had statements on military redundancies, the situation in Libya, The Ivory Coast, Yemen and Syria, health reforms and the horrifying murder of a Roman Catholic policeman in Northern Ireland.

I asked Mr Lansley, the health secretary, whether community hospitals would continue to be high on the pecking order as he went to the country for further consultation. He assured me they were.

We have wonderful community hospitals in Swanage, Weymouth and Portland, all of them loved by those who use them.

The Opposition Day on police reforms finally started very late due to these delays.   

It was a bad-tempered debate, with both sides blaming each other. One or two speakers made more non-partisan speeches, which were lost in the melee.

The debate ended at 2200, after which there were two votes, then home.

Fri, 1 Apr

April Fool's Day. I didn't notice any leg-pulling in the Press, but perhaps there's so much uncertainty around the world right now that we've lost our sense of humour.

My first port of call was Swanage. I met and chatted to one of my constituents, who'd asked to see me.

She was concerned about our Party's direction and that we did not appear to be dealing with the issues that the electorate wanted us to. These included law and order, immigration and the EU. 

I then met up with Alan Power, chairman of the Swanage & Purbeck Hospitality Association. He'd invited me to open and address their AGM, which I duly did.

It was a most pleasurable event, and well attended. Local businesses of all descriptions were represented and it was fascinating to meet the owners and hear their stories.

Alan has worked tirelessly for the town and in particular boosting the area's profile in order to attract more tourists.

Alan is ably supported by his team and I was very impressed by their passion and determination to do their best for the town and Purbeck as a whole.  

After staying and listening to other speakers, I had to head over to Weymouth to attend a full surgery, which took some time.

I was able to introduce my new assistant, Clare Hibbert, to my constituents. Clare begins a four-morning-a-week role on Tuesday.

She will be my point of contact for constituents and will do a superb job.

Back home early evening and finished the day dealing with more correspondence.