December 2011

Wed, 21 Dec

A day of Christmas cards, letters, lunch with my Association chairman, writing my newspaper column for Christmas and New Year and popping out to visit our bricky, who is fatally ill with a brain tumour.

I have known this man all my life and he is a dear friend. Strong, wonderfully down to earth and with a dry sense of humour, it is beyond words to describe what agony it is for us all, not least his dear wife, to see him go like this. Why is it always the good people who seem to suffer this way?

I also chased up some loose ends regarding the Portland helicopter. We are now seeing the PM on 11 January and the Secretary of State on 18th. We shall fight on.   

Tue, 20 Dec

 

A cold and clear day. After a morning stint in the office, I set off to Portland to attend 'Butch' Nash's funeral at All Saints' Church, Easton.

It was as well I took my motorbike because the traffic was quite heavy. 

Made it in good time, though, and was soon clambering out of my kit and retrieving my suit which had been consumed by my waterproofs!

The church was packed. There must have been hundreds of people and what a sad but special event it was.

I did not know 'Butch' well, but enough to understand that a man like that would be universally liked and respected.

Trevor Poole made a quite excellent eulogy and I could have listened to more as Butch's life unfolded from the pulpit. What a fascinating man.

The Service was simple and nicely taken by the Reverend Tim Gomm. 

There were many tears and I left feeling that Butch's departure will leave a big hole on the island.

He fought his dreaded cancer will enormous courage and dignity and I wish I had known the man better.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the family at this special time of year.

Mon, 19 Dec

 

 

A wet and windy day, as I found to my cost on my motorbike.

But first into the office to deal with the normal volume of correspondence and then on to metal steed for Weymouth.

First stop was Asda, where I was hoping to meet Cllr Sandy West, but she'd gone home, so across the causeway I went, virtually being blown off it!

I found Sandy and her husband, delivered a small present, gave her a hug and then set off for Portland Bill.

I wound my way round the island and up the hill to the Coastwatch station.

I think I am right in saying that one of the charming gentlemen was called Richard Bull. He made me a welcome cup of tea while we chatted for half an hour or so.

These volunteers do the most remarkable job, scanning the sea and cliffs to anything untoward and of course reacting to real events as and when they happen.

There's a real sense of camaraderie among the 70-strong team and we are lucky to have them.

I then returned to see the Wrights, who lost their son James in Afghanistan. This Christmas will be a difficult time for the family and for James's girlfriend, Shelley, who is expected a baby.

Sadly, there were not in, so I left a Christmas card and headed off into the wind and rain.

It really was bucketing down by the time I got over the hill and was back on our only 'motorway'.

Back to the office and worked through until the evening. 

Friday, 16 Dec

 

A cold start to the day.

Had time to gather my thoughts, wolf down a cup of coffee, before gearing up in motorcycle clothes and heading down to Swanage.

I was attending the Carol Service at Purbeck View School, a quite remarkable place which caters for children with serious disadvantages.

Head Susan Harvey is absolutely fabulous and leads a dedicated team with great skill, love and devotion.

The sing-a-long was very catchy and it wasn't long before we were all joining in.

The children took part and had worked so hard to learn their lines and to pluck up courage to face us at all. 

A very moving event.

A warming cup of tea afterwards and then back on to the bike and, in a biting wind, to Portland.

Straight to Tesco to meet up with the lovely Pauline Lewington, who is raising money for alzheimers.

We were bag-packing, which I have to say I'm really quite good at now!

What fun we had. Staff had taken the trouble to dress up and there was a wonderful atmosphere in the store.

Appparently, they raised more than £500 last time, and shoppers were being very generous.

Back on the bike, and off to meet a remarkable lady called Norah Riley-Smith.

She is organising a Christmas party for elderly people who will be alone on the 25th.

Norah introduced me to two of her charming friends, Ron and Elsie Sibley, who have been married for more than 70 years.

How about that for a record?

I chatted with the three of them for an hour before once more climbing aboard the bike and heading home in the dark.

Another cup of tea to warm me up and then behind the desk until the evening.

A wonderful day, meeting so many remarkable people. 

Thu, 15 Dec

 

I was at my desk by 8.30am, working through a pile of correspondence and Christmas cards.

An hour later, I hopped on to my motorbike and headed to Weymouth.

I hadn't quite appreciated quite how cold and windy it was and found myself leaning heavily to one side as I crossed the causeway to Portland as the wind roared across Chesil Beach.

Arriving at the new housing complex at Officers' Field, I was ushered into one of the houses where a number of dignitaries had gathered.

I'd been asked to turn on the new wood-chip heating system, one of three which will heat the new homes.

After a couple of short speeches, I and two Mayors cut the ribbon to officially open one of the boilers.

I then pushed the button and to everyone's relief there was a gentle hum and the system started up.

It's very impressive, I have to say.

After a successful 'turn on', it was off to the port next door to meet with the delegation that I shall be taking to see the PM in an attempt to save our SAR helcopter at Portland.

The port CEO, Steve Davies, and Cllr Mike Goodman, leader of Weymouth & Portland Borough Council, chatted for an hour.

We collated all the information we had gathered, which was a lot.

We feel, that were any of us presented with these facts, the decision would be reviewed instantly.

We have a date with the PM on 11 January.

Behind the scenes more is happening with my colleague Oliver Letwin, who is being very supportive.

Then on to meet someone else, to talk about the same subject.

I cannot identify this person, save to say he was very helpful.

Just in time to head home, bath and change and then head out again for a fabulous fundraising Christmas do at the Manor Hotel at Studland.

Our kind host Andrew Purkis gave us a lovely evening.

Wed, 14 Dec

 

Another early start and off round the park.

Then to the dentist for the usual check up, before meeting up with my team and dealing with a variety of on-going issues, not least the Portland helicopter.

Olive Letwin is proving extremely helpful and supportive and we are hoping to see the Secretary of State before we see the PM.

And on that front, we now have a date in the diary to see him: 11 January.

I continue to do all I can, through every channel I can, to get this proposal changed. Fingers crossed.

At PMQs I was called again by the Speaker.

I was delighted as I wanted to express my gratitude, and that of all my colleagues, to Eddy Mackay, a doorkeeper here in the Commons for 23 years and who retires on Tuesday.

Before working here, Eddy served with the Scots Guards for 23 years, rising to the rank of senior warrant officer.

In the Household Division, this is no mean feat as only the best reach that rank.

During his service, Eddy took part in the night assault on Mount Tumbledown during the Falklands War in 1982.

G company, 2 BN Scots Guards, were given the task of leading the attack at night and in terrible conditions.

It was testament to the courage of all those who took part that the mountain was taken after a bloody and brutal fight.

Like so many top soldiers, Eddy is a humble man who never talks about this experience.

Today was an opportunity for us all to thank this remarkable man for years of dedicated service.

I entertained my staff to lunch, which was fun, before heading back to the office to try and make some progress on a growing pile of mail before leaving for Dorset.

Tue, 13 Dec

It was pretty chilly this morning as I pounded around the park, but at least winter is here.

After tackling the in-tray, I went across to Portcullis House to meet Samantha Edwards and Annette Cole, both from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC).

The organisation receives a lot of its income from the government and its job is to better tie-up links between country sports, like shooting, conservation and rural businesses.

It was a pleasure chatting to the two women for an hour, who were passionate about their task and selling their message.

They think improvements could be made linking sport and tourism, which would bring large benefits to rural areas in particular.

I met my two daughters for lunch, which was very special.

And then off to meet two experts in search and rescue to discuss the potential loss of our Portland helicopter, which I am fighting like mad.

The good news is that my colleague Oliver Letwin, a senior Cabinet member, is fully supportive.

Back to the office to dictate a mass of letters, edit my weekly column and speak to Mark Turner, whose son is facing an European Arrest Warrant.

An alarming development here in that the Hungarian authorities have indicated that charges are to follow in the New Year, with a likely court case in February

I am doing all I can to ensure Michael has the backing he needs. This extradition treaty is a total injustice and a joke.

Mon, 12 Dec

The day began with an early morning slot on BBC Radio Solent.

The topic: what else but Europe!

On Friday, the Prime Minister had rightly vetoed a German and French move to put more restrictions on us.

The repercussions crashed on to the front pages of the newspapers all weekend and continued through to today.

Mr Clegg has done his Party no favours by flouncing off in a huff, saying that the UK is doomed, standing alone and forever isolated.

I could not disagree more and said so during my interview.

I'd like to think that Mr Cameron realises that what he has done will inevitably lead to a referendum as the eurozone countries attempt to bring in powers which we cannot accept.

I remained in my home office until 11am, before heading to London for the expected show down in the Chamber at 3.30pm when Mr Cameron made his statement.

As it happened, the event was a bit of a damp squib, frankly.

There was a bit of ya-boo politics, but both the PM and Ed Miliband managed to make themselves heard in relative silence.

Regrettably, I had to attend a minor parliamentary committee and was unable to stay for more than an hour.

The big question is where does the UK go now.

The other question is how long will the eurozone last before it collapses, which it surely will.

I think we now have to let the dust settle for a while and then we must start pushing to repatriate powers, which would include a referendum.

It's sad to me that the europhiles will lead us to disaster before admitting defeat, taking with them potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs, broken banks and economic meltdown.

I do hope this is not the scenario, but I suspect it will be.

Sun, 11 Dec

A day of rest this was not!

Tucked myself in the office at home and spent the day writing Christmas cards and the like.

Come the evening, I attended the Weymouth Civic Christmas Service.

Taken beautifully by the Reverend Richard Simmons, whose wife conducted the young choir, played the guitar and directed all the carols, it was a touching and simple event.

I mention the choir because the children from St Nicholas and St Laurence Primary School were simply brilliant.

They sang their little socks off.  

Many councillors and local people attended. Very special service. 

Thu, 8 Dec

A sad day, spending the morning at a family funeral in Hampshire.

Then down to Portland to meet a relatively new organisation called Revive.

The laudable aim of the organisers is to galvanise the local population into action to clean up the island.

The team, led by Nikki Billington, was inspirational.

Her determined team is making great headway and I've asked the Minister if he'd visit in the spring.

I was able to get back home just in time to host the farm Christmas party.

Wed, 7 Dec

An early morning run, followed by an early morning meeting in the Commons.

Many more phone calls concerning the future of the Portland helicopter and then writing my column.

PMQs was interesting. Again, the Prime Minister won that round.

After lunch I met Simon Willis, the editor of the Politics Show at BBC South West.

I then had to to rush to my Efra select committee, where we questioned Richard Benyon on fishing for more than two hours.

Another meeting with a colleague followed, after which I headed home.

Tue, 6 Dec

After a busy morning working on saving the Portland helicopter, I just had time for a quick sandwich lunch before meeting two former helicopter pilots who work for a large private company.

We spent a fascinating hour together, discussing SAR provision and how best to secure Portland's future.

Much of what we said is confidential for commercial reasons. Perhaps I can just say the meeting was extremely useful.

That meeting was followed by another with some colleagues. Again, a confidential and fascinating meeting.

Then, I attended the Defra Christmas party, which was fun, I must say.

Caroline Spelman and Richard Benyon came, so too did many of those we have interviewed in the past year. 

Mon, 5 Dec

An early start.

Headed down to Weymouth to meet someone - who must remain incogito - to discuss the future of the Portland helicopter.

I am gathering as much information as I can to put in front of the PM, who has agreed to meet a delegation led by me.

I used the motorbike to avoid the traffic and was glad that I did as I had to get back home, change and then head to London.

I was speaking in the Backbench debate on extradition, which is affecting my constituent Michael Turner, about who I've written regularly.

My colleague Dominic Raab got the debate and his motion which called for reform of the process went through unapposed. Victory of a sort.

That debate began at 7pm and ended at 10pm, after which I headed home, calling Michael on the way to tell him the good news.

He was delighted.

Sun, 4 Dec

You know when Christmas is upon you when invitations to civic carol services begin arriving through the post.

And so it was that I headed to Portland for what I knew would be a special event, as was last year's.

And, so it proved to be, with the Reverend Christopher Briggs leading the pastoral team in true style and humour.

A number of gremlins had slipped into the system, with doors refusing to open, organs breaking down and microphones not working properly.

The Methodist Church was packed and we listened to some fine performances from an all-ladies' choir and the Sea Cadets.

Carols are always fun to sing and Rosemary, demoted to the piano, played her heart out.

Afterwards, we wandered through to the adjoining hall for tea and biscuits.

I chatted to many people, including the wonderful Geoff Peters, a member of Coastwatch, a volunteer organisation which mans the watch tower at Portland Bill.

A lovely evening.

Fri, 2 Dec

A busy morning working on constituency matters, before attending the annual Weymouth Chamber of Trade Christmas lunch at the Ship Inn.

Hosted by Cllr Andy Cooke, it was a hugely fun event.

I spoke briefly at the end and was hugely honoured to present June Chorley with a certificate and a bunch of flowers for her contribution to the Chamber for more than 30 years.

What a special lady.

Afterwards, I headed up to Southwell Primary School to meet Dianne Stone, who'd won a most prestigious teaching assistant award which was presented to her at No 10.

Then, running a little late, I attended my surgery on the island.

Thu, 1 Dec

A brisk run began the day. Colder than before and most welcome.

Worked through the morning in the office, before meeting Caroline Spelman, Defra Secretary of State, and Richard Benyon, the fishing minister, for lunch.

Afterwards, I had to rush to my surgery at Wool. It was a full surgery and ran for some time, allowing me to arrive at my quarterly meeting with my NFU just in time.

This was a most useful meeting and I must thank Gary Suttle, leader of Purbeck District Council, Bridget Downton, who heads up planning, and Alan Davies, one of her senior planning officers.

They managed to reassure our meeting that the whole planning process was under review, which came as a breath of fresh air to all listening.

I established this farming group some time ago now and it really is working well.