February 2009

Fri, 27 Feb
A visit to St George's CE First School in Langton Matravers now concludes my round of visits to all first, middle and secondary schools in my prospective constituency which could be affected by this Purbeck review. I have listened to many, both at public and private meetings, and have corresponded with more. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this debate, my main concern is one of finances. Our country is in a perilous situation, yet Labour continues to promise billions of pounds for new and refurbished schools. Where is all this money coming from? And if it's not there, Dorset County Council must, must consider this. For, without the money, there can be no review, at least not as it stands.

Thu, 26 Feb
Today I was in Weymouth, where I got the chance to meet many people and to hear their concerns. They, like me, were aghast as Labour lurches from one crisis to another, throwing out measure after measure in panic as the economic situation darkens. And in true Labour style, all their guns are now trained on the bankers as spin doctors do their best to deflect the in-coming rounds from an angry and confused electorate. Labour's days are numbered, thank God, but they still have more than a year in which to really ruin this great country of ours.

Wed, 25 Feb
I received the sad news as I drank a cup of coffee just off Oxford Street. The caller told me David and Samantha Cameron's son Ivan had died in the early hours. My thoughts flew to my own children and I could not banish the thought of losing one of them. There can be nothing more terrible than losing a child and my heart goes out to the Camerons and anyone else who has gone through this appalling experience.
I was in London to attend an event we had organised for our Patrons' Club. David Cameron's great friend Michael Gove was our speaker, so we were all able to pass on our condolences to David and Samantha via him. Michael spoke well and eloquently. He will make a fine education secretary, as hopefully he will be. Our Patrons, to whom we owe so much, enjoyed their lunch and a chance to get to know each other a little better.

Wed, 18 Feb
It was time to meet man's best friend again this morning and for their handlers I can tell you this is no understatement. I am of course referring to Dorset Police's dog section, which was holding its annual open day. More than 100 officers, families and friends were treated to two hours of impressive displays by the handlers and dogs, working in close co-ordination and with supreme discipline. The tests and challenges entertained both performers and audience, with many light-hearted moments.
But the message was a serious one. This asset is essential to the police and its achievements only underline this point. In one year the dog handlers have attended a staggering 5,200 crime incidents. They've been involved in over 900 arrests and found property or people on nearly 300 occasions.
It's a most impressive record, which Dorset Police is rightly proud of. And we should be, too, as these brave teams are often called into hostile situations, at short notice, frequently confronting very violent criminals at great risk to themselves. I was delighted and honoured to present my search trophy to PC Bill Mereweather and his dog, Jasper. Several other colleagues of Bill's also received awards and were rightly recognised in front of their families at a happy event. We should all be proud of these brave men and women, and of course their faithful hounds!  

Tue, 17 Feb
I always enjoy a stroll through Weymouth. The sea air reminds me of my childhood, when beach cricket and sandcastles illuminated my young life. I spoke to many people and there really is a feeling of great anger, aimed at this Government and a few greedy bankers, both of whom have brought our great country to her knees.
One man was so angry, he was almost spitting with rage. He accused the Government of leading our children astray. I asked him why. He replied that young girls could soon to be injected with a drug which would prevent them from getting pregnant. What sort of message did that send out, he implored.
I know that these girls can already go to any doctor and ask for a morning-after pill without their parents knowing. I find this sad because I don't believe that offering contraceptives of one kind or another is the solution to teenage pregnancy. There's only one effective solution and it's called the 'family'. And to reclaim this lost ground will take a generation, if not more, but that's no reason for not trying.
Then, later on, I drove to the Purbeck School, to attend a meeting of the local authority, which was debating the Purbeck schools' review. It started at 7pm and ended around two hours later. Quite a large number of the public attended, although not as many as I had expected. It was an interesting two hours, with contributions from the county council's chief education officer, our education brief-holder, the public and the district council's planning policy manager. Then it was time for the political debate among the councillors.
I'd now like to paraphrase what went on, as it shows just what an unprincipled lot the Lib Dems really are. Our group proposed a sensible amendment to the recommendation - in short, to hold another consultation, but this time taking into account all stakeholders - which was then countered by the Lib Dems. After a lot of hot air from them, especially one councillor, who banged on and on, they asked the Conservatives to repeat their amendment. This they duly did, after which another Lib Dem wanted the amendment to include children in any future consultation process. Earlier, a Conservative had already mentioned the importance of talking to them, so Councillor Bill Trite had no problem agreeing with this addition.
Then - and this is when the Lib Dems showed their true colours - a vote was taken. The Conservatives were for, the Lib Dems against. Yes, against! They voted against their own amendment to the amendment, if you've got the patience to keep with me.
Why? This is the question which hung in the air in the hall, leaving us all blinking in disbelief. It was naked electioneering, without a thought for the children or their future. Don't let a Lib Dem ever tell you  that they care for our children's future. Tonight they showed they don't. All they care about is playing on people's emotions as much as they can in the belief it will win them votes. It was a shameful performance.

Sat, 14 Feb
This morning I was lucky enough to see the Sailing Academy at full stretch, as scores of youngsters and their parents prepared their small boats for a series of races. It was truly inspirational to see all this activity, and I could only wish that more young people could reach for the sea and the exciting challenges the sport brings. I love sailing and have been fortunate enough to participate all my life.
I was at the Academy to have some photographs taken, after which we all enjoyed a delicious cup of coffee in the restaurant.
Then it was off to Owermoigne to support a local fair. As I stood outside the village hall, I sensed spring in the air for the first time. I love that smell, which is always accompanied by the first glimpse of snowdrops, as they poke their heads out above the ground. We do live in the most beautiful country, a country we must fight for. She is on her knees at the moment, brought there by socialism in its most virulent form - New Labour.

Fri, 13 Feb
I was greatly honoured to be asked to address North Dorset Patrons at Athelhampton House, which is the most lovely venue. My colleague Bob Walters MP was present, along with the owner of the historic house, Patrick Cooke, who kindly hosted us all.
It was a fun evening, which began in the great hall, with its imposing fireplace and stone-flagged floor. I walked among the guests, judging the political mood, really for my own interest. And, as wherever else I go, I found morale very high indeed, with a huge longing to remove Labour to the wilderness, where it deserves to be sent.

Thu, 12 Feb
Today was a trip down memory lane. For it was at Bovington Middle School that I was selected to be the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate for South Dorset over two years ago.
That was then, though, and now I had the pleasure to meet the affable head Keith Sutton, whose school is under threat of closure. He kindly gave me a tour of the school and I was most impressed by the long corridors and high ceilings. Both gave a wonderful feeling of space.
Keith, like the other middle school heads, is against the move from three to two tier and I can understand his concerns. He is not convinced that such a move will improve the children's education. And that point needs to be proved, Keith believes.
Keith's governors and parents are behind him and have no doubt submitted their views to the local education authority.
And, then, later I headed on down to Swanage for another public meeting at the Middle School. The head, Dave Pratten, spoke passionately at the start of the meeting, before John Nash gave his presentation to the assembled parents.
The questions which followed came thick and fast. Many good points were raised, not least the matter of transport and after-school activities. All the points were noted and the meeting ended at 2030. There's no doubt council officers are getting the message that the one-cap-fits-all approach to education is not necessarily correct for Swanage.

Wed, 11 Feb
It's not quite St Valentine's day but local Conservatives from Swanage were not going to let that small point bother them. About ninety supporters filled the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club for a most entertaining, fundraising lunch.
Staff at the club were brilliant and I tucked into some delicious soup and cod before speaking to our supporters. The mood was optimistic and it was reassuring to see such high spirits and camaraderie.
We all believe Labour's days are numbered. The only worry is that by the time Gordon does go to the country, we won't have one left to take over. We must look forward, though, with strength of purpose and a lot of courage. The real work starts when this current shower is pushed out.
I can't help wondering just how many skeletons will fall out of the cupboard after that wonderful day. 

Tue, 10 Feb
It was fishy matters this morning and the concerns local fishermen have over this impending Marine Bill, which is currently going through the House of Lords.
I think most people would agree that some form of Bill is needed to co-ordinate our policy on fishing and associated matters. Putting the EU aside for one minute, the fishermen worry that conservationists want to introduce no-take zones which would seriously affect their livelihoods and way of life. The local lobster and crab fishermen believe their way of life is sustainable and has very low impact on the marine environment. Why after fishing off Dorset for generations are the waters still well stocked? The reason, they say, is that they are the best guardians of these waters. Why would they damage their own futures?
I hope the two sides can come to a workable solution, but this needs some attention and a lot of common sense.

Mon, 9 Feb
Chatting with former teachers - especially highly successful and respected ones - is always interesting. And so I faced one of our supporters over a cup of coffee, having been asked to come and see him. He was passionate about education, with interesting views on the way forward. Let me share one with you. He said, in addition to having a fee-paying school at one end of the spectrum and a free, State-run one at the other, why could we not have something in the middle?
His idea is to set up a school where the teachers are paid for by the State, with parents paying fees on a sliding scale, according to their ability to pay. Interesting. We had a good chat about many issues and I left after a couple of hours feeling rather uplifted. No doubt his former pupils felt like that, too.

Sat, 7 Feb
At 1930 on the dot, and as smart as a button, I arrived at the Portland Spa for the annual Chamber of Trade dinner. The former managing director of the Daily Echo, Paul Kinvig, was the guest speaker, and he kept us all entertained and informed after dinner.
It was good to see so many people enjoying themselves, despite the appalling economic situation and the accompanying threat to livelihoods. The view was that we've all got to face it as best we can and being miserable was not going to help matters. After dinner there was some dancing and of course a chance to catch up with people at the bar. I'm glad to report that the Weymouth and Portland spirit is very much alive.

Fri, 6 Feb
Well, the doom and gloom merchants predicting the end of the world must be wondering what's going on as the country disappears under a blanket of snow. Today even the southern parts of Dorset were affected, and that's unusual due to their proximity to the sea.
But, it was due to this downfall that we had to cancel a visit by the newly-appointed Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Grieve, to the Young Offender Institution on Portland. We still had a chance to meet and catch up, though, in the warmth of Robert Syms' office in Poole. We touched on many issues, not least law and order. I was reminded of the dire crisis of the growing prison population and how Labour is preventing overcrowding by letting prisoners out early. It is a national disgrace.
I was reassured by what Dominic had to say and he's quite clearly a very bright and able man. The next job is to ensure he can execute his excellent proposals by winning the next general election. We're ready.

Wed, 4 Feb
The snow had cleared by the time I made my way to Bovington First School this morning. Having navigated my way under the car park barrier, I was soon in the front office and signing in. I then met the headteacher, Juliet Muir, a most impressive and dynamic lady, and the school's chairman of governors.
We all chatted for a while, picking over the Purbeck review and bouncing ideas off each other. Of the 190 pupils, about 70 per cent come from service families. With the school located in Bovington camp, this is hardly surprising.
The LEA is proposing to make this a primary school, which it is well suited for. There's plenty of space, both inside and out, and the school was originally a primary anyway, apparently. So, no worried teachers and parents at this school.
After a guided tour, where I met most of the teachers and many children, I bade my farewells and climbed back into my car. As I left, the barrier rose obediently, and I drove off feeling I had been in a very good school indeed.  

Mon, 2 Feb
As I left Norway last night, I thought I'd left the cold and snow behind. But, as we came into land, our captain explained that Gatwick had already closed and we were the lucky ones. We drove home in driving snow for most of the way and then rose early this morning to meet the challenges of a new week.
The first was hearing the all-too-familiar news bulletins of one closure after another as the wintry conditions began to bite. I couldn't help thinking that Norway appears to cope with this for months on end. One flake of snow here and we collapse.
This week, weather permitting, I'm going to visit some more schools caught up in the Purbeck review. I am hoping that good old common sense will prevail in the end ... please!