December 2010

Fri, 24 Dec

Spent the day touring the constituency, visiting a number of organisations and people. Ended up in Swanage and popped into the Conservative Club which was brimming with people.

With Christmas Day tomorrow, it only leaves me to wish you all a very happy day with your family, loved ones and friends. 

Thu, 23 Dec

A day spent with my family ... and how lovely that was. 

More revelations from certain Lib Dems. No surprises there. I have my own views, but bearing in mind it's Christmas and with it good cheer to all men, I shall keep them to myself! 

Wed, 22 Dec

I spent nearly all the day retrieving members of my family from various parts of the country. The day ended with a late night trip to Southampton station to pick up my wife's sister and family. They'd had a nightmare coming from Norway. 

Tue, 21 Dec

 

With conditiions slightly better, I managed to get out a bit and visit one or two people in the constituency.

A large part of the day was spent signing Christmas cards to constituents.

Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond MP kept cool under fire as he was virtually blamed for this cold snap. I've never quite understood that line from my former colleagues!  

Mon, 20 Dec

 

Snow had already caused chaos, so a little more came as no surprise. But today it was Dorset's turn to get a dumping and by 8am even the A31 had virtually come to a halt.

Hopping on to my trailbike, I skidded and slid to my office and picked up the phone. Weymouth police advised me not to come down, as I had planned to do.

Roads in Swanage, especially the hilly parts, were treacherous. So, too, outlying areas.

I checked with Dorset County Council to ensure the gritters were doing all they could. I was told they were, but the conditions were very unusual.

So, unable to go anywhere, I settled down and worked through a mass of constituency correspondence. My secretary in London also worked through the day, dealing with a number of complaints from constituents who claimed the roads had not been gritted.

I also checked to see when news of funding for the Portland Academy would come through. It's expected this week.

At the end of the day, we learnt that my sister-in-law and nephew were stranded in Norway as Gatwick had closed. Goodness knows how many tens of thousands of people are now stranded around the world. My heart goes out to them.

Friday, 17 Dec

 

I woke early and headed off down to Swanage to meet and thank the postmen. What a great bunch of characters.

I found myself deep in conversation with two of them and our topics ranged from those abusing the welfare state to poverty in South Africa, where one of them came from. Fascinating.

I then headed over to Weymouth to meet an MCA representative to talk through the recent announcement that the centre was to close.

Clearly, the staff are devastated, although the closure won't happen for another two years at least.

I have many concerns about this proposal and having spoken to the MCA representative will be taking it further with our minister.

After this meeting, I found myself rushing to attend a lunch hosted by the Cherry Tree Nursery, a mental health charity which I am one of the Patrons of.

The centre manager Jess Davies deserves two medals at least, but she shies away from any praise or recognition. 

With snow falling in various parts of the county, warnings on the radio became more frequent. Scotland's taking a hammering again and we're due for a large dump tomorrow. A white Christmas!

Thu, 16 Dec

A early morning run was just the tonic before the news I'd been dreading came through. The Minister has decided to close the MCA centre at Weymouth.

The centre will finally close by 2015, after which all control will pass to a new super-centre at Solent. No news on the future of the Portland helicopter, which is still under review.

The Press were on to me quickly and I spent the morning handling a large number of calls.

I am instinctively against this closure, although the Minister promises more efficiencies with this new centre.

Front line services will not be affected, which is a relief. So, at least local people on the ground reacting to an incident will know where to go.

This is a very sad day and I am due to meet MCA members tomorrow morning to discuss where we go from here.

Meanwhile, more students are protesting outside the Commons and I heard police sirens for a large part of the morning.

A large part of the day was spent dealing with Press over the MCA announcement. I was consequently late leaving London and missed a fundraising event in the evening. I heard it was a great success. 

Wed, 15 Dec

PMQs was a lively affair, as always. Ed Miliband again failed to land a blow and, judging from the expressions on the faces of his Front Bench, they weren't too impressed either.

The afternoon was spent taking evidence from Agriculture Minister Jim Paice MP on cloning. A very interesting and emotive topic. Personally, I'd rather trust Mother Nature than science, but the latter is a powerful advocate. Let's hope it doesn't lead to disaster.

The Prime Minister then addressed the '22 Backbench Committee, which was well attended, as you'd expect. The debate is confidential.

EFRA select committee members then had a drink with our civil servants to thank them for all their work. I am very impressed by them all.

News on the future of the MCA centre at Weymouth again postponed.  

Tue, 14 Dec

Had to detour to Tooting to see a member of my family in hospital before heading into the Commons.

I met and chatted with two members of the Horticultural Society for half an hour, which was interesting. The chief topic of conversation was hosepipe bans, which have a devastating effect on the business, understandably.

Then, I returned to my office to discuss two important issues - police funding and the threats to the MCA station in Weymouth.

An announcement on the latter was postponed until tomorrow, we think.

The rest of the afternoon was spent on constituency matters.

Mon, 13 Dec

Our Government's savings' plans caught up with me today when I was questioned by the local paper on a leak in the Sunday papers about cuts in the Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA).

It's no secret that the Solent centre has received large investment and my concern is that the centre in Weymouth will be closed, to be replaced by a smaller number of super-centres like the one at Solent.

What this would ignore is the extraordinary work the 30 staff at the MCA in Weymouth do. And it's not just related matters. Being a highly respected uniform service, the community often turns to it for advice and help on whole range of matters.

I hope most sincerely that Weymouth will not suffer and of course my worries extend to the search and rescue helicopter, which does such an outstanding job.

Fri, 10 Dec

First thing, I caught up on some constituency matters, before heading down to Weymouth to see Princess Anne commemorate the completion of the relief road.

On the way down, I tuned into the Jeremy Vine show on BBC Radio Two, which I normally enjoy, but not today.

Mr Vine's theme, if you can call it that, was to seek opinions on yesteray's riots in London, and in particular the appalling attack on Prince Charles' car.

Mr Vine was asking for people to call in who thought that Prince Charles and his wife, who was also in the vehicle, were due a duffing over, to remind them of the anger some of their subjects felt over the rise in tuition fees.

Mr Vine's normally neutral stance turned distinctly ugly as more and more listeners either called in or emailed with their warped views that it was indeed a good thing that the future King of England experienced a dose of reality.

I really could not believe my ears and was ashamed that my former employers - who I used to respect - should stoop to this level and encourage anyone with a grudge to besmirch two perfectly innocent people who were travelling to the Royal Variety performance, which raises money for good causes. 

Anyway, enough of this.

I arrived at the Skanska site and met a mass of representatives there. A lovely lady was cooking bacon sandwiches and dishing out tea, both of which were most welcome.

Princess Anne arrived slightly early from her trip down the relief road and, after a quick bit to eat, came through to a marquee where we'd all gathered to meet her.

She was her usual charming and chatty self, and bewitched everyone. She then unveiled a commemorative stone which I believe will be placed in the middle of the first bridge you go under as you descend into Weymouth and Portland. 

Youngsters from four local schools certainly enjoyed themselves and waved their flags furiously when Princess Anne first arrived.

A short and excellent speech by the chairman of Dorset County Council, John Wilson, ended the visit, after which Princess Anne slipped away to Bournemouth Airport to catch her helicopter home.  

Thu, 9 Dec

 

Today was never going to easy, and so it proved. After my morning run, I sped to the Commons to first attend DEFRA questions.

As I sit on the select committee, it's important to listen to the debate, not least points raised by the Opposition. We don't have all the answers!

There were no students outside the Commons first thing, as you'd expect, but at about midday you could hear the noise outside growing louder.

The debate on tuition fees began at 1230 and went on for five hours.

As you'd expect, the event was noisy and at times ill-humoured. Two Conservative MPs bravely made speeches against the planned rise, although I wasn't sure they really made a case for an alternative.

Nick Clegg was jeered as he and David Cameron left the Chamber after the opening speeches. There is no doubt the Lib Dems are in trouble and I have to say not before time.

The Party has a reputation for promising everything under the sun in the knowledge they'd never win power. But now they're sharing power, their disingenuous campaigning has caught up with them.

It's a lesson for us all: don't promise something you simply cannot deliver.

I put in to speak but regrettably was not called. The Speaker kept to time and after five hours we voted on the rise.

The Coalition government won by 21 votes, a small majority, but enough.

My own view on this rise is expressed in a speech I did not make - see my website - and in today's Daily Echo.

We are facing a huge expansion in both Further and Higher Education and Labour's misguided policy of pushing 50 per cent of students into university is partly to blame for the mess we have inherited.

The target is both unaffordable and unrealistic.

While the debate was raging inside, thugs - because that's what they are - were causing chaos outside.

The poor police were once again attacked, with several officers injured. Many of the so-called students were no such thing, and saw this protest as an opportunity to vent their bile and bitterness on society.

They discredited those who had come to protest peacefully, which of course I support. We are a free country and people should have that right.

What a week! I eventually got home at 9pm. We live in interesting times.  

Wed, 8 Dec

 

I was to make another speech today, this time on police funding. So, a lot of the morning was spent preparing it, before I dropped down to Central Lobby to meet a charming constituent Stephen Pack and his family.

Together, we watched the Speaker troop through to the Chamber, a wonderful ceremony which always draws a crowd.

Then, bidding my farewells to family Pack, who had enjoyed their tour, I dashed into the Chamber to attend the weekly PMQs.

To be fair to Ed Miliband, he did a better job than last week, but was still outgunned by the PM.

Grabbing a quick bite to eat, I was soon back in the Chamber to await my turn to be called on the police funding debate.

When it came to my turn, I spoke for about eight minutes, reminding the police minister about the terrible funding Dorset has had over the past ten years or so.

You can read my speech on my website, so I won't expand this point any further.

On this occasion, I decided to sit through the whole debate, which was very interesting.

I then attended the '22 Back Bench Committee, which again was very interesting. These meetings are private, so not for publication.

Then, as the evening grew longer, the Opposition argued and argued over the time given for tomorrow's debate on tuition fees.

Clearly, this was a ruse to keep us all here, because a Programme Motion - as it's known - does not normally take much time. Politics!  

Tue, 7 Dec

It perhaps was not wise to wander out into the cold for a run with flu. Anyway, I've always believed exercise is the solution to most problems and it was feeling fresher and perkier that I entered the Commons in the morning.

I spent most of the morning on constituency matters and preparing my speech for the debate on the second reading of the European Union Bill.

This followed health questions and I found myself sitting in the Chamber at about 4pm. I was to stay there for the next six hours.

It's protocol to be in on a debate from the start. Then, when you have spoken, you wait for at least two speeches before slinking out to attend to other duties.

You are then expected back in the Chamber for the sum up from both Front Benches.

I won't bore you with too much detail, but the Bill is an attempt by the Coalition government to prevent further powers going to the EU. Importantly, any further delegation to the EU would spark a referendum.

However, I and others are not happy with the Bill, believing it does not go far enough in protecting our sovereignty or stopping another government from repealing the lot and leaping further into bed with Europe.

I abstained from the vote, rather than vote against the government, which I have done so on an earlier occasion but as a last resort.

The debate ended at 10pm, when we all began to head home.    

Mon 6 Dec

It's going to be an interesting week, culminating with a vote on tuition fees. For my view on this issue, see the speech I had prepared for last week's debate, but was not called to deliver.

My first appointment was a meeting of like-minded colleagues about tomorrow's debate on the European Union Bill.

After dealing with constituency correspondence, I entered the Chamber to listen to part of Home Office questions.

I then joined a number of colleagues in one of the committee rooms to listen to our Foreign Secretary William Hague on a wide range of subjects, including Europe!

It was Opposition day today, and they were debating local government funding. I listened to the debate while I worked through the evening on more constituency matters.

Tomorrow, I've put in to speak during the debate on the European Union Bill.

Sun, 5 Dec

The joint Weymouth and Portland carole service was a joy. Held in Easton Methodist Church, the Reverent Chris Briggs did an admirable job taking the evening Service, which had its humorous moments!

For example, the two mayors were given a long reading which they were meant to share. But Cllr David Thurston became so involved, he forgot to hand over to Cllr Paul Kimber until near the end. No doubt Paul will kick off the reading next year.

And for those who have not been there, the organist is sat at the highest point of the church, seemingly in the clouds. Apparently, it's quite chilly up there.

Sir Anthony Jolliffe DL and his charming wife were also there and there was a high turn out, which gave the event a good Christmas feel.

Certainly, the tea and eats afterwards were most welcome to ward off the cold, although I noted the temperature on the island was +3 degrees and a few miles away in Bere Regis - 2 degrees.

Fri, 3 Dec

The temperature difference between Bere Regis and Weymouth was startling. At the former, we shivered in c-6 degrees, while in Weymouth it was a sunny +1.5 degrees.

I was in the town at the invitation the Chamber of Trade, which was holding its annual Christmas lunch, to which the sitting MP is invited.

It was a fun affair, with many familiar faces and a few new ones. I was lucky enough to sit next to dynamic newcomer Stephanie Pettitt, who's recently established her own accountacy business and already has more than 120 clients.

Her story is extraordinary, and I've written to three headteachers to see if Stephanie can go and address students, who I know she will inspire.

Then, walking slowly back to my car to avoid falling over on the ice, I headed over to Swanage to attend to my surgery.

Swanage was far colder than Weymouth, the former still sitting in freezing fog. 

A sad news story tonight about two pensioners who have been found dead, probably due to the cold.

If you have an elderly neighbour, perhaps a quick check would not go amiss. 

Thu, 2 Dec

 

I woke early. The weather was as depressing as the news we'd been stitched up over our bid to host the 2018 World Cup. We threw everything bar the kitchen sink at it, but to no avail.

The bitterly cold weather cancelled all my commitments today, and a large fundraiser at the Purbeck Golf Club bit the dust because the staff could not get in. 

So, I spent the day wading through a mass of constituency correspondence and managed to make a serious indent in my in-tray.

Wed, 1 Dec

I think it was even colder this morning as I set off on my daily jaunt. Certainly, the wind bit through my running clothes, but that was nothing compared to one man I saw, who was bicycling to work in his shorts!

PMQs at midday was certainly rowdy. David Cameron had flown back from Zurich, where he'd been promoting our bid to host the football 2018 world cup.

However, he was in buoyant mood and I'm sure most commentators would say he crushed 'Red Ed' at the Despatch Box. 

Afterwards, I returned to my office, before attending another committee stage of the Fixed Term Parliament Bill. My colleague Bernard Jenkin had submitted his own amendment on one particular issue which I will not expand on as it's quite complicated.

I am abstaining on the whole Bill and might well vote against the Government at its third reading. I am instintively against tinkering with the workings of Parliament, which must be respected - a point I made during my Maiden Speech.

The Commons has been there a lot longer than us and will still be there long after we have gone. We were put on a one line Whip at about 6.30pm, after which I headed back to the constituency.

The snow wasn't a problem, although the night was bitterly cold.