August 2009

Sun, 30 Aug
Picking up my parents, we headed out for a pub lunch and probably unwisely took the A354 Blandford to Salisbury road.
For, as we approached the site of the Great Dorset Steam Fair, the traffic began to build as lorries laden with every conceivable attraction turned off the busy road. Reduced to a crawl, I watched as a group of teenage boys swaggered down the grass verge, clearly having just left the site. They soon began to hurl police bollards into both lanes, blocking the traffic and potentially causing severe risk to drivers, especially motorcyclists.
 
Angry, I turned my car round. I soon passed the boys, about six of them and indicated they should remove the obstacles from the road. Not surprisingly, I was met with a barrage of abuse. Then, as I climbed out of my car, two police officers arrived on motorcycles and immediately stopped the youths to no doubt give them a ticking off. Having cleared the road, I reported the incident to staff at one of the gates. They were not surprised. They'd just been stoned by the same group! I'm not sure 'Great' is the right description of today's steam fair, as it has been ruined by a small, handful of people intent on disruption and worse.
I eventually headed off for lunch, feeling sorry for our poor police service, the locals and organisers. For how much longer are we prepared to tolerate this sort of behaviour? I say no longer and I hope most sincerely that a Conservative government, if elected, will look at anti-social behaviour as a matter of priority.
 
It's what I suppose you could term as the 'small things' that in the end matter most to people. And I believe the nation, as a whole, wants to call time on these louts.
 

 
Fri, 28 Aug
After a lot of research and inquiring with those who know what they're talking about, I put out a press release on my view on the Weymouth women's refuge saga. I do believe that a town the size of Weymouth should have such a refuge. As a journalist, I interviewed several victims of dometic violence and visited refuges. I know first hand just how vital they are for those who need them. So, I am sad that the county council is considering closing it and have urged the Cabinet to think very carefully before coming to a decision on Wednesday.
 
However, I am also aware that severe underfunding from central government is one of the main reasons why the authority is having to go down this road at all. Dorset is one of the lowest funded authorities in the country and Labour has done nothing to address this. Both Dorset County Council and Stonham, the current provider of this refuge, would love to provide both a residential and outreach service. But both tell me there simply isn't the money.
 
And, to make better use of what there is, an expanded outreach service is the only pragmatic option. A council spokesman told me that to run a full time refuge of suitable size and state would cost nearly twice as much. I think it important to note that a spokesperson from Stonham said that all the women at the refuge will be properly catered for. So, there we have it. A very emotive and difficult problem, with money - or lack of it - at its core. I say we need a proper facility for the town and that more money must be forthcoming from central government. And that's the basis on which I and my colleagues in county hall have been and will continue to fight. Can I wish you all a very happy Bank Holiday Weekend.
 

Thu, 27 Aug
Today, I popped into a wonderful lending organisation called First Dorset Credit Union. First started in Dorchester in 1999 to provide cheaper and safer lending for the less well off, the organisation has thrived and expanded. I am a member of Credit Union, contributing a sum of money, along with many others, which can be used to help those who really need it. I was given an update by Brian Parkhurst, who's chairman of the supervisory committee. During our chat, he asked me to help him find at least six volunteers to man the Weymouth office.
 
The volunteers are needed two days a week - Tuesdays and Thursdays - between 10 and 12am. The office is located at the local authority, with free parking. The Credit Union will provide the necessary training. So, if there are any volunteers out there, do please contact the organisation on 01305 268444. I also learnt that our Prime Minister has, in a single move, undermined organisations like the Credit Union with his Debt Relief Order. Alarmingly, anyone who meets certain criteria, which includes having debts of less than £15,000, can go bankrupt at a cost of £40.
 
As you can imagine, this rather defeats the object of lending to the sort of clients Credit Union caters for. It's also, in my view, immoral in the sense that people can escape debt without any sense of shame or responsibility. Good old New Labour.
In the evening, I pushed my way into a crowded Cove House Inn on Portland. I was meeting a prospective constituent, who's been fighting the licensing laws governing live music for years. He'd invited me down to hear musicians play, as they do most Thursdays. The music was country-style, lively, cheerful and certainly not loud and offensive. Clearly, everyone there enjoyed it, and I wondered how such a natural part of pub life could be potentially criminalized.
 
The problem, as always, is how you interpret the law and the current Licensing Act requires publicans to have a licence. This gentleman argues that picking up a guitar and strumming in a pub does not require regulation. And, listening to the catchy music coming from this small band of musicians, I'd agree. Leaving them playing away, and reassuring them I'd look into their point further, I strode out into a dark and windy Portland night.
 

 
Wed, 26 Aug
Today I saw many happy, young faces as children from five areas in Weymouth competed at the final of their Fun In The Sun soccer programme. Backed by more than 20 organisations, and run with style and dedication by Tim Davies, from the town's football club, the five week soccer school has proved an outstanding success.
 
Tim was supported by several PCSOs, who were young, full of vitality and totally dedicated to the scheme. The children played their young hearts out. Fiercely competitive, the teams - all named after well known national sides - struggled against a blustery wind and sweeping rain. I was honoured to be asked to present the cup to the winning team, which duly celebrated in traditional football style - jigging around, with the cup held aloft!
 
Tim generously thanked everyone for making the soccer school work, which gave me the opportunity to thank him on behalf of the participants and their parents. If only we could roll out these sort of projects across the country, let alone the county. And, as I've said on many occasions, I'd like to see children remain in school until late afternoon/early evening in order to play sport, properly organised and supported.
 
Well done, Tim, and the team. You were inspirational and all the parents I spoke to were extremely grateful to you all.
 

 
Tue, 25 Aug
Government plans to swamp our constituency with yet more homes is rightly causing anger in Weymouth. Today I met two residents who are fighting a proposal to build homes at two different locations. One is the open space between Westham and Wyke Regis, known as Markham and Little Francis; the other is farmland at Wyke Oliver Farm.
 
Having visited both sites today, I think it would be a sad and detrimental move to plaster them with homes. In a town like Weymouth, these green spaces are vital, if for no other reason to allow residents some breathing space. But the problem is that the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) is imposed on us by the Government. The name alone is as confusing as the policies that come from it. Anyway, the RSS wants us to build thousands of new homes in Weymouth, in my view with little thought of the consequences.
 
A number of questions spring to mind, including how on earth is the infrastructure going to cope and where are all the jobs?
David Cameron has said that these sort of decisions must be made at a local level by local people. I agree, wholeheartedly, and hope that we dismantle the RSS framework if we are elected and give planning a radical overhaul. In the meantime the two people I met will fight on to press their very good case that both sites should not be developed. I shall be making more inquiries in the coming days in my effort to help them.
 

 
Mon, 24 Aug
Back from a rock in Norway - literally. No electricity, hot water or television and I can assure you it was sheer Heaven.
It didn't take long for the Weymouth women's refuge row to glow red on my radar. I made some inquiries during the afternoon and got myself better briefed.
 
On the surface, I could see why this proposal to close the refuge is so contentious. But the county council is yet again caught between a rock and a hard place as funding from central government is reduced. I understand that an unfortunate comment from someone within the authority that the refuge did not provide for men was pounced upon by certain politicians and used to inflame an already sensitive situation.
 
Speaking to an official in the council, it was made clear to me that ideally the authority would like to improve both the residential element and the outreach service, but there simply isn't the funding to do this. I am making inquiries to speak to those who run the refuge, to get both sides of the story, as I have been trained for 17 years to do.
 
I am not going to start yelling from the parapets purely for political gain. Once I've done my own research, I shall then represent my prospective constituents as best I can in a calm and dignified manner. I know the value of these refuges as I have visited several in my time as a journalist and interviewed on one or two occasions the users whose circumstances are so sad.
Meanwhile, I cannot help but feel angry over the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi. I think it's a huge mistake by the Scottish Parliament and I suspect Gordon Brown is involved in the decision. There's no doubt in my mind that his Labour colleagues in Scotland would have briefed him thoroughly before this contentious move was made. 
 

Wed, 5 Aug
Harriet Harman's gone bonkers again! The moment she's left anywhere near No 10, a raft of nonsense is launched on equal rights and other such matters. Men are blamed for everything and the world would be a better place if we didn't exist!
Oh, well, the start of another day. This afternoon I spoke to two Weymouth residents who are very concerned about plans for thousands of more homes in the town.
 
This has Labour's hands all over it, as they try and impose all these new homes on us for which there is little room.
In fact there's so little room some of these homes, as I understand it, might have to be built on green field sites. That would be a terrible pity and against the spirit of trying to keep the concrete out of our countryside. But there is a difficulty. We do need more homes in this country, of that there's no doubt. The question is where do we put them. Anyway, I am going to visit these two people later this month and see the situation for myself. They have my sympathy and, hopefully, if we win the election, our legislative power to hand these kind of decisions back to local people to decide.
 

 
Tue, 4 Aug
Meetings are inevitable in political life. Some achieve a lot, others do not. Tonight, as I drove home at 10.30, I felt the one I had just attended very definitely fell into the former category. Education Swanage (ES) is a small but determined group of local people who want only the best for their children, and the children to come.
 
They've been given the chance by the local education authority (LEA) to revisit proposals to radically overhaul education provision in the town due to a shortage of children; about 1,000 of them. This problem has forced the LEA to consider moving from three tier to two, which would see a number of middle schools close and first schools merged or even shut.
Naturally, this has caused some consternation, and not everyone agrees with the LEA's proposals. Unfortunately, the LEA is following government guidelines, enticed by millions of pounds from a project calling itself Building Schools for the Future programme. The bottom line is that if LEA's follow certain government criteria, they will receive large sums of money to invest in education. What no one's sure of, though, is whether this money is actually there, especially as this country is effectively broke.
 
Rightly, in my view, ES believes there should be some form of secondary education in Swanage. It's suggesting that a new school should be built in the town, with links to Purbeck School at Wareham. The alternative is to bus hundreds of children to Wareham and back down a single road which in the summer is all too often congested. ES also believes that a secondary school in the town would attract more young people to the area and keep the area vibrant. The LEA has said it will listen and I hope it does. What I hope it remembers is that we are dealing with people here, not just statistics. A solution must be found which meets the needs of parents and the children who need educating, and not the needs of officials who are forced to tick boxes and satisfy the Audit Commission. I am quietly confident that if we all work together a satisfactory solution can be found. I do hope so.
 

Sat, 1 Aug
A wash out! I'm referring to the Test Match, naturally, and how frustrating it is that every time we have the Aussies on the back foot it rains. I don't know if you have been following the series to date, but it's been fascinating, as the game of the cricket (for those who know it) so often is.
 
Having played the game for most of my school years and on into the army, I realised more and more how many elements there are to cricket. There's the batting, bowling and fielding, of course, but the tactics, field placing, bowling, conditions, weather and many more factors all have to be taken into account by the captain when deciding how to conduct the actual match. Anyway, I digress, because I've just returned from my Saturday outing to Wool and Swanage to collect more signatures for our school funding petition. Why our children are deemed so much more unworthy than other children across the country, I have no idea.
 
Yes, of course I understand there are parts of the UK where education is not as simple to provide as it is here in Dorset for all kinds of reasons. But even the gap between us and other similar areas is enormous and this has to stop. I was glad to see many visitors to Swanage, despite the weather. And in many ways shopkeepers will be quietly grateful for these overcast conditions as they drive people off the beach and into the shops. And a big well done to Sarah Lane for being crowned Carnival Queen and to both her princesses, Drew Hamilton and Aicha Thompson