December 2009

Sat, 26 Dec
As the snow swirled around our wooden chalet in Norway, my mind turned to Michael Turner, who languishes in an Hungarian jail.
 
A text message from Michael´s father, Mark, had jolted my mind.
 
I reached for my phone and called Mark at his cosy pub in Corfe Castle. The news was encouraging. Michael had called on Christmas day, the local press were maintaining their coverage of the case and the campaigning group Fair Trials Abroad was showing an interest. And my recent letter to the Hungarian ambassador was also receiving some attention. All this was good.
 
Both Mark and I are still looking forward to hearing from the Prime Minister, to whom we both wrote recently. We are both holding him to account, to ensure he carries out his primary duty which is to safeguard the rights of every British citizen.
 
Michael´s family has been outstanding in every way, and how Mark has remained so cool-headed in recent weeks has been an example of restraint. I am quietly confident we will get Michael home and justice will be done. In the meantime, we can only fight on against a Europe which is lost and rudderless, corrupt and undemocratic.
 

 
Mon, 21 Dec
I was in our office this morning when a gentleman called and asked to speak to me. He was surprised when I said he was. He then shared his concerns with me over the way our country is being run into the ground and how everything he held dear had been torn up by 12 years of Labour mismanagement.
 
He longed for the general election and I reassured him we did too. In the meantime, can I wish you all a very Happy Christmas and New Year. Keep warm and safe and let's face 2010 with courage, fortitude and hope.
 

 
Sun, 20 Dec
 I spent a long time on the phone to Mark Turner, who's returned from Hungary, where he visited his son Michael in jail. You will recall Michael was extradited to Hungary on 2 November on charges of alleged fraud.
 
Meeting his son in prison was a traumatic experience for both father and son, as you can imagine. The prison has a terrible reputation from its former communist days and conditions are not good.
 
Michael's main worry was loss of weight, especially muscle, which he put down to the poor diet. He has complained, but to no effect yet. He also told his father how he found the verbal abuse dished out by the guards to the large number of prisoners from Romany origin difficult to deal with.
 
Michael shares a small cell with three other men. The lavatory has a curtain. They are kept in their cell for 23 hours a day and the food is poor, as I have mentioned.
 
Mark and many others continue to fight for the release of both Michael and his business partner Jason McGoldrick, who are locked up, without charge. The men's London barrister Hugh O'Donoghue believes he can challenge this injustice now he's armed with more information from Mr Andras Pakay, Michael's Hungarian lawyer.
 
In the meantime, I have written a long letter to the Prime Minister, following up on our recent visit to 10 Downing Street last week.
 
This is a fight we will win, and justice will be done and the men repatriated until, and if, charges are indeed brought by the Hungarian authorities.
 

 
Sat, 19 Dec
The morning brought a sharp frost and that wonderful, cold, crisp feel which gives the Christmas period such an appropriate atmosphere.
 
It was to Weymouth this morning, to visit the Conservative Club. It was the day of the Christmas draw and the club was full. Many familiar faces greeted me as I chatted to everyone, wishing them a happy Christmas.
 
Then, the microphone was thrust into my hand and an expectant hush fell over the assembled members. I kept it short. It was time to get our country back from a government which has taken over every part of our lives and ruined them. 
 
Yet again Labour has showed it is unfit to govern our great country. It's believe that the State knows best has been exposed as nothing more than a sham, despite being dressed up in New Labour clothes. The resulting mess is quite appalling to behold and, while we look on in horror, Labour continues to spend, spend, spend our money as its scorched earth policy runs riot in these final months before a general election.
 
For us, our children and our grandchildren, we must win, and win, hopefully, we shall.
 
Then, it was on to Portland to visit the volunteers at the coastguard station above Portland Bill. There I found two volunteers diligently souring the seas and cliffs through binoculars as they carried out their duties  to take care of all those at sea. What a wonderful team and I thanked them on all our behalves.
 
On the way home, I popped into the police station and found a full house. Pat, Jim and Mike were all there in their tiny office on Osprey Quay. What a great bunch they are and what fun. All was quiet on the Portland front, thankfully, and everyone was looking forward to a well-earned Christmas break.
 

 
Fri, 18 Dec
The news has come through that Dorset County Hospital is making 28 senior managers redundant to claw back its £6 million deficit. Sadly, another 200 posts are having to go over the next two years. What a mess. There is no doubt that in addition to managerial weaknesses there is also a problem of funding.

 
The interim chief executive Derek Smith believes that due to one formula they are losing about £4 million a year. He is going to try and remedy this, which will help. He, like everyone, is also concerned about losing services. This is a longer term problem and hard to assess right at this moment. To coin that ghastly phrase, time will tell.
 
The Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP visited South Dorset this morning to launch our Party's coastal town manifesto. I met him, local businessmen and councillors at the sailing academy, where Oliver briefed us on what the launch was about.
 
In essence, it's about putting the spotlight - at last - on coastal towns. The document - appropriately entitled No Longer the End of the Line - looks at trying to create an environment in which coastal towns can thrive.
 
One aspect I liked particularly was the plan to give more power back to local authorities. So areas like housing, planning and dealing with 24 hour drinking will come under the council's wing. This must be right.
 
Our policies appeared to be well received by those present at the launch, although Cllr Nigel Reed made the excellent point that what we really needed is an end to all this bureaucracy, which stifles enterprise and wealth creation.
 
After posing for a photograph for the local paper, which kindly sent a photographer, I drove to Bournemouth to attend my charity's annual Christmas lunch. I am a Patron for the Cherry Tree Nursery, which caters for those with mental health issues and is located on the outskirts of Bournemouth.
 
This fantastic charity is run by an extraordinary woman called Jess Davies. A woman of immense charm and energy, she has led this project from the start. The nursery grows every manner of plant and is tended by the clients with love and care. The rural setting, camaraderie and care offered by this project brings untold comfort and companionship to those whose lives have been blighted by mental illness, which could happen to any of us at any time.
 
Regrettably, it took me an hour and a half to drive from Weymouth to Kinson. The traffic was appalling. So, late, I ran into the party to catch up with as many people as I could. The first thing that happened was that a parcel was handed to me, full of presents. I was engulfed by emotion and have to say felt like weeping. Here I was, with everything a man could possibly want, being treated by those who have lost so much. Moments like this are deeply humbling.
 
As the last person went on their way, I bade my farewells and returned to my office. I felt light on my feet. I had witnessed something miraculous in this confused and angry world, and tucked the memory into the back of mind, where it will be nurtured for years to come
 

 
Thu, 17 Dec
My visit to a local market in Wool this morning only reinforced my opinion that local matters so much. Some local produce was on sale, in addition to some jams and knitwear.
 
It was a cosy set up and a chance for the residents to meet up and have a chat. How important villages like Wool are to our rural infrastructure.
 
The market ended with a touching rendition of carols from children from Wool CE First School, led by their dynamic head Lesley Craze.
 
Then it was off to my political office nearby to catch up with a mountain of correspondence.
 

 
Tue, 15 Dec
Throwing some cold water in my face at 6am, I struggled into some clothes and went to my office before leaving for London with Mark Turner at 8.15am.
 
I had suggested, and Mark agreed, that we deliver two letters to the Prime Minister himself in our attempts to get Mark's son repatriated from a jail in Hungary.
 
Michael, if you recall, was extradited on 2 November under European law to face an investigation into alleged fraud, following the collapse of his marketing company back in 2005.
 
The point is that Michael has not been charged, although under Hungarian law you can be locked up while an investigation is carried out. Michael's London barrister Hugh O'Donoghue believes this is against the principle of the extradition treaty and is hoping to challenge the ruling.
 
After delivering our letters to 10 Downing Street, I wished Mark well as he headed off to Hungary to see his son for the first time in six weeks.
 
A family member is allowed to visit for one hour per month. And this is meant to be on par with the UK? I don't think so. And Mark and I are very concerned that a grave wrong is being carried out here and will continue to campaign until Michael is back home.
 

 
 
Mon 14 Dec
The news of the impending 12-day strike by BA cabin crew over Christmas and New Year is devastating. I cannot understand the logic of this, especially as BA is already running a loss of circa £400 million and this sort of action could well sign the company's death-warrant.
 
In addition, there will be hundreds of thousands of people affected at a most sensitive time of year. This strike could not be more cynical if it tried and I am appalled at this decision.
 
One couple who called me are extremely upset at the prospect of not seeing their daughter for Christmas. She is studying at a university in Montreal and her parents have not seen her since August. I am doing what I can to help, including liaising with a very good travel agent I use to see what flights are available on other carriers if the worst happens.
 
I would have thought that these cabin crew, all of whom are paid pretty well, should regard themselves lucky to have a job right now. Their action will not help their cause, nor will it secure the long term future of our national carrier.
 

 
Thu, 10 Dec
At last the sun shone, as it always does after the canvassing stops! Today was election day in Wyke and I have to be honest we were hoping to win. We did not, although our candidate Helen Glavin did a sterling job, visiting every house during the campaign, despite the appalling weather.
 
She would have made a super councillor. Bright, articulate and caring, Helen would have served the people of Wyke well. Sadly, they won't know now just how well, but that's politics.
 
It would be churlish of me not to congratulate the winner, Kate Wheller, a Wyke lady, who will no doubt do a good job.
 
A surprise call from the local paper found me in my car heading to another commitment. A reporter wanted my opinion on a story they were running tomorrow concerning your current MP's repayment of parliamentary expenses for life insurance.
 
I had nothing to say. It's for the electorate to judge, not me. My job is to represent my prospective constituents as best I can.
 
Inbetween all the rushing around, I managed to drop in on our Studland branch, which was enjoying a Christmas knees up at the Manor Hotel. Tails were up and we are all looking forward to the general election, which I suspect will be in May.
 

 
 
 
Wed, 9 Dec
Phew ... the rain had stopped. And I headed down to canvass with our Wyke candidate Helen Glavin. She has worked so hard and deserves to win this by-election. Nursing a minor injury, I raised many a laugh as I limped around with Helen in the morning.
 
Then, it was off to HM YOI to meet the POA. I had a very interesting chat with local branch chairman Tony Walker and secretary Anouska Rousell. Our conversation was in confidence, but I think it fair to say they have many concerns.
 
Afterwards, I popped into the new Portland Arts Centre, established by the lovely Kat Bryan-Merrett. She really has worked wonders and the centre is now open, with work from many local artists on display. It's well worth a visit.
 
Tonight was our staff Christmas party. It was, as always, a fun affair. We are extremely lucky to have such a wonderful team. Where has the year gone?
 

 
Tue, 8 Dec
I got a whiff of what was to come at the weekend when the Mail on Sunday published a story of my surname which, for the record, is Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax!
 
It's a name I am very proud of but for logistical reasons - as I'm sure you will understand - have never used in my everyday life. From the moment I was born 51 years ago, I have been called Richard Drax.
 
After class war once again erupted from the Labour benches last week, the press clearly went on a hunt for anyone with a long name. They found mine.
 
Had I been ordered to cut it short by Mr Cameron? No, no and no. He's never phoned, written or asked me to shorten my name. There you are, that's official.
 
Clearly, I did not ask for this press invasion, nor did I want it. I am just a Dorset man trying his best to represent his prospective constituents and to serve his country. I do not believe where you come from has anything to do with your ability to be an MP, or anything else for that matter. It's where you are going that counts and how you get there.
 
Enough said on this matter, I think.
 
This morning I went to visit the Weymouth refuge which sadly is due to close next year. I was welcomed by the lovely Hazel, who showed me around and chatted about the role of the refuge and what it did.
 
I met two ladies there, one with a sweet daughter, who was looking forward to Christmas. My heart ached at the thought of this asset going, because I could see just how valuable it is.
 
But if this is a national treasure, why is the funding for it not far more equitable? Again, this low funding we receive here in Dorset is having a devastating effect on our services. It makes me so angry and again this is something bleeping red on my radar should I be elected.
 
I then went to meet a prospective constituent who wanted to share with me a very bad experience he'd had with Dorset County Hospital back in 2006. The gentleman had prepared sausage rolls and a hot cuppa, which was extraordinarily kind and thoughtful.
 
He explained calmly and sensibly the situation he and his poorly wife had found themselves in some three years ago, and I have to say his story was appalling. I really don't want to reveal any more here as it would be unfair to the hospital who don't have the right of reply as it were.
 
But this gentleman's complaint was investigated and dealt with. Sadly his wife died from her illness and life has moved on, as it does. But I have noted his story, just to remind myself that care can go wrong.
 
All day I have been thinking of Mrs Charman-Allen, whose son Phillip was buried today at a well attended service. Another young man who has sacrificed his life for his country in a far-flung land.
 
As a father of four children, I can begin to imagine the pain of losing a son or a daughter. We all bow our heads in respect of young Phillip and the thousands of other young men and women who are in Afghanistan right now, doing our bidding.
 

 
Mon, 7 Dec
An early start saw me sitting in front of the interim chief executive of Dorset County Hospital (DCH) at 9am on the dot. I'd come to hear from the lion's mouth just how bad the situation was.
 
Derek Smith impressed me and is clearly able. Parachuted in to put the troubled hospital back on track, he has an enormous task. With debts of more than £7 million, about 200 posts are having to go over the next 18 months to balance the books.
 
Some services will also be affected, inevitably, but these are being considered now. There is no doubt that if small, district hospitals such as ours are to survive they must be paid a premium. The pressure on DCH can only worsen as more and more elderly settle in this beautiful part of the UK.
 
Should I get my job, DCH is very much on my radar.
 
Then, with rain pouring down, I set off to join our Wyke candidate for a spot of canvassing. Helen and her husband Paul are an indomitable team, pounding the pavement through rain and shine to give the electorate a chance to meet their Conservative candidate. Helen deserves to win and will make the most wonderful, caring and considerate councillor.
 
In the afternoon, I bade my farewells and set off back home to prepare for my next Drax Direct in Wool. The event lasted about two hours, with plenty of lively debate and questions. I remain eternally grateful to both Ian Wilding and his lovely wife Barbara who are always there in support to make the tea and welcome everyone.
 

 
Fri, 4 Dec
More news about my jailed prospective constituent Michael Turner. His London barrister believes the extradition was illegal. This is marvellous news as it gives the lawyers something to work on and campaigners something else to attack with.
 
I have written to the Hungarian Ambassador in London, making our points forcefully but politely. This whole saga really is something out of a nightmare and as I've said highlights what closer political integration with the EU really means.
 
In the evening I attended another Drax Direct, this time in Weymouth's Park district. There was a lively audience, with HMOs the top topic. I am doing all I can, along with others, to try and resolve this historical problem. The issue as I see it is how to manage both density and location of these HMOs to ensure one community does not have more than its fair share. You might well ask, what is there fair share? I don't know, is my answer, but the Weymouth and Portland area has about 1,000 and this sounds excessive.
 
And our campaign to win the Wyke seat continues apace, with our brilliant candidate Helen Glavin out on the streets and meeting as many people as she can. She would make the most fabulous replacement for Doug, who is sorely missed. We shall see on the 10th what the outcome will be.
 

 
Thu, 3 Dec
The news that Dorset is not going to receive £80 million from the Building Schools for the Future programme doesn't seem to have really hit home yet.
 
In South Dorset this will affect plans for the Portland Academy and the move from three tier to two in Purbeck, both of which were to cost about £25 each.
 
This is a serious body blow to the hopes and aspirations of thousands of people. With Dorset already at the bottom of the heap so far as funding is concerned, this empty promise by this government is nothing more than I'd expect.
 
This country is virtually broke and if Labour cannot afford to give us £6 million to revamp the Weymouth seafront, it sure as Hell cannot give us £80 million for education.
 
It's a sad day, but one which frankly was expected. What I'd like to know, and intend to find out, is where have all these millions gone? Watch this space.
 

 
Wed, 2 Dec
A big day. Dorset County Council's Cabinet met to decide how to progress the education review in Purbeck. Their colleagues in the Community Overview Committee had recommended that St George's First School in Langton Matravers (a) remains where it is and (b) would become a primary school. They also voted to continue to investigate the opportunities for a secondary school in Swanage. 
 
I supported both of these recommendations and, along with many others, waited with bated breath for the Cabinet decision. At this stage in the meeting, the Heavens opened and the noise of the rain almost drowned out the debate. 
 
Cllr Toni Coombs, the education briefholder, spoke slowly and carefully as she backed the move to allow St George's to remain where it is and asked for further consultation on secondary provision in Swanage.
 
Her Cabinet colleagues supported her and there was an audible sigh of relief all round. I am delighted as I believe that if we win the general election new opportunities will present themselves for the people of Swanage, which is vital for the children and the town's future.
 
As for St George's, common sense won in the end and I can only congratulate all the residents who have fought hard for their school and town.
 
After the meeting, we gathered in the front entrance of County Hall, watching torrential rain. I could not wait and, armed with a Conservative umbrella, decided to make a dash for the car park. Taking one of the campaigners under my wing, we stepped out into the downpour.
 
And, as we virtually swam to the car park, she told me she was a Labour supporter and had never taken shelter under a Conservative umbrella before! I smiled, broadly, reassuring her that all political colours were welcome under a Conservative umbrella.  
 
Then, it was down to Weymouth to join my colleague Helen Glavin, who's fighting the Wyke seat. It poured with rain, but we worked on until Cllr Geoff Petherick and I decided to pop into a local pub to have a well earned drink! Appropriately, the Heavens opened again, but this time we didn't mind.