January 2012

Tue, 31 Jan

A cold morning, as I donned my black, woolly hat and ventured out into the early morning light.

Something rather refreshing about cold weather and I personally welcome this snap.

A coffee and croissant later, I was checking and signing 40 letters, before heading across to Portcullis House to meet my constituent Michael Turner and Daily Mail reporter James Slack.

The paper is rightly interested in this case, which centres around the European Arrest Warrant.

For Michael charges of fraud by the Hungarian authorities are now coming to a head when he returns to the former Communist state at the end of this month to face trial.

Shortly after saying my farewells to Michael, I wandered across to meet a right-wing Danish MP who was visiting the Commons, hosted by Bill Cash.

An interesting man, he is keen to lead a right of centre party which will challenge the move to a more federalist Europe.

A sandwich lunch, where I drafted my weekly column for my local paper.

I had then a three-line commitment to attend a Committee, which was debating CAP reforms.

Very much up to speed on this as the topic is very much on the Efra Select Committee's agenda.

At the same time, colleagues were meeting next door to discuss reform of the House of Lords.

One thing is for certain, none of us agree with Mr Clegg - no surprise there!

A vote followed on an amendment in the Local Government Finance Bill, before I returned to my office and worked through until 10pm.  

Mon, 30 Jan

A flurry of snow swept past the window as I crept out of bed. Extremely cold, with a bitter easterly blowing in from Russia - where else!

Spent most of the morning glued to my desk, completing a mass of correspondence.

I also worked on my fledgling idea to team up with a small group of businessmen to see if we can't better help the youth of the area. Watch this space.

Then, in the afternoon, I headed up to London and straight into a meeting with the Home Secretary, Theresa May.

She is seeing small groups of MPs, to listen to their concerns and take questions.

I'm afraid I don't agree with this idea of police commissioners, who I feel will further encumber a Chief Constable and create needless expenditure.

Back to the office until 2130 when we were released by the Whips.

Sat, 28 Jan

Despite the cold, I dressed up warmly, slung a leg over my motorcycle and headed to Weymouth.

I was going to visit a group of Littlemoor residents who are trying to find out what residents would like after receiving a lottery windfall of £1 million.

I sat for a couple of hours in the local church listening with great interest to a range of views and proposals.

It can't be easy deciding what to do with £1 million.

The residents I met could not have been more charming or welcoming. I wish them well as they attempt to better co-ordinate their local community for everyone's benefit.

Fri, 27 Jan

Defence minister Gerald Howarth came to South Dorset to visit a dynamic defence company Atlas Elektronik (my spelling is correct!).

The MD, a charming man called Dr Antoni Mazur, has assembled a team of about six people, who hosted a sandwich lunch, before we were given a briefing and taken on a tour of the site.

The company specialises on underwater technology, including mine hunting and destroying and sonar.

It was a fascinating visit and both Mr Howarth and I were most impressed by all we heard and saw.

Afterwards, we returned home for a fundraising dinner, which Mr Howarth spoke at.

Thu, 26 Jan

The defence debate was interesting.

There were about 40 to 50 Tory MPs and only 7 to 8 Labour ones. True, it was a one line Whip but I would have thought that a subject as important as defence would have attracted a larger attendance.

I'm impressed with shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy. Not only is he a nice fella, but he seems genuinely interested in his role and opposes well and sensibly.

I recall one of my colleagues joking that he'd make a good Labour leader. I agree!

The debate ranged far and wide and lasted until 6pm. There was no vote and I then headed home to Dorset.

You can read my speech on my website. 

Wed, 25 Jan

The usual scamper around the park.

It's funny, but London is so different every day. Just a feel I get as run in the early morning light.

The new governor of HM YOI at Portland, Russ Trent, visited today. I managed to squeeze him into PMQs, which he'd never attended before.

We chatted about his new ideas and projects over lunch.

Mr Trent's out of the box approach to prison governing is refreshing and already paying dividends.

From sport to army-style yomps across the moors, the youngsters in Mr Trents' charge are benefiting enormously from this new approach.

Meanwhile, I worked on my speech for tomorrow.

Backbenchers are looking at how the defence spending review is affecting our armed forces.

Many of us are not happy at the outcome of the review, which is seeing thousands of servicemen and women being made redundant and, with it, our ability to defend ourselves and our dependents.  

Tue, 24 Jan

A run, breakfast with my daughter and then into the office.

The BBC called, wanting to speak to one of the new 'rebellious' MPs. By the time I got on to them, someone else had been found. He said what I would have done. Our job is to represent our constituents and that does mean speaking one's mind on occasions.

I was soon working on my defence speech for Thursday and writing my weekly column.

I finished all my correspondence to the Foreign Secretary and Minister regarding my constituent Michael Turner, who is fighting a European Arrest Warrant.

I attended an interested meeting, organised by Chris Heaton-Harris MP, regarding wind turbines, both on land and in the sea.

About 30 MPs attended, all worried about the ability of these proposals to get through the planning process, despite opposition from local people.  

Personally, I am against wind turbines per se, as they are heavily subsidised, inefficient and will not produce enough electricity for our future needs, even if there is enough wind to turn the blades!

Clearly, we need to do something here in Parliament to rebalance the presumption for building these eyesores and a number of us are planning to do just that.

Last vote at 10pm.

Mon, 23 Jan

Mondays are always busy, mainly because you spend time catching up on the backlog over the weekend.

I was up early and into the office briefly before driving down to the notorious corner on the A31 at Stag Gate to meet a photographer from the local paper.

The reason for the paper's inquisitiveness: the fact the wall had almost been repaired!

I then worked through a number of local issues and asked my assistant in London to put in to speak during the defence debate on Thursday.

I was delighted to note in the local paper that the petition to save our Portland SAR helicopter is gathering many signatories. It will all help, I hope, to persuade the Transport Secretary to relook at this whole issue.

In the afternoon, I headed to London, arriving in the early evening.

I read and signed about 40 letters and wrote another 10.

There were two votes: one at 7pm, the last at 10pm.

Fri, 20 Jan

Back on the bike and this time down to Swanage to see Amanda Mason and John Hall.

Both were understandably concerned that the dental practice in the town was withdrawing from its NHS contract and going private.

I was able to reassure the two of them that NHS Dorset had written to me, saying that NHS provision would be provided and they were working on the problem.

I do understand the many concerns. Indeed, Mrs Mason has collected 1,500 signatures for her petition, which highlights the concerns felt by many.

I hope most sincerely the problem will be resolved soon and I shall keep the pressure on.

I then stuck my head into Cllr Gary Suttle's office to have a quick chat, before driving across to Weymouth.

I drove straight to the Redlands Centre where a business conference had been organised.

The idea was to get as many local businesses to attend as possible to enable everyone to network better.

It was a brilliant idea and well attended.

I managed to speak to most of the stall holders and everyone was full of praise for the organisers.

I ended up staying much longer than intended, because this was important.

Without local businesses the resort would be in trouble, and I met many enthusiastic and hard working business people, all intent on seeing the town and area thrive.

I eventually made it to the lovely Nora Stone some two hours late!

Mrs Stone forgave me.

What a remarkable lady. Her husband, John, had sadly died recently and he was quite remarkable too, winning the MC during World War Two.

Mrs Stone and I chatted for an hour when I had to leave to get home and change in time to turnaround and attend a presentation on Portland.

About 30 prison officers from the YOI were being awarded their long service medals and I was asked to attend, which was a pleasure.

We owe a lot to our prison officers, who do a pretty thankless task brilliantly. Unfortunately, the public does not really see their work because it all goes on behind closed doors.

This ceremony was a chance to say thank you to some dedicated public servants. 

Thu, 19 Jan

 

Mounted my motorbike and set off to Weymouth to visit Wyvern special school. 

On the way, and contrary to the forecast I'd seen, it rained. I got soaked!

Stripped off at the school, hanging wet gear behind the door in the hope it would dry.

The wonderful head Sue Hoxey met me with her deputy and chair of governors. 

What an extraordinary school it is; so peaceful, so full of love and care and attention. I was mightily impressed by all I saw and heard.

It takes a special kind of person to teach at this school and there is apparently no shortage of people who want to work there. So touching.

After a useful chat and update - I'd visited before - we did a short tour of the school, ending up in the kitchen - or the engine room, as I call it.

Two lovely ladies work there and they are clearly two of the reasons the school is so very special.

Then to the council offices to meet another remarkable woman, Kate Chandler. She runs the drop in centre at Easton Methodist Church on Portland with Rebekah Comben.

They are introducing a new scheme whereby young people are nominated for awards.

The project is called Pride of Portland and it builds on the amazing work that both Kate and Rebekah are already doing with the young on the island. 

Again, I was mightily impressed by all I heard and hope to get the minister down to meet Kate and her team in the spring.

A full surgery followed, before heading back home. Again, it rained the moment I got on my bike!

Back to the office to dry out and to work through until the evening. 

Wed, 18 Jan

 

My youngest son's birthday, so a special day.

It began with the normal jaunt around the park and then into the office for the normal sort-out of mail, papers and updates.

I finished off the document I was to hand to Transport Secretary Justine Greening later in the afternoon, before going down to meet some children from Stoborough First School.

The children had taken part in a national exercise to draw attention to the huge numbers of children around the world who do not go to school at all.

Their art work formed part of a small exhibition at the House and quite naturally the children wanted to see their handiwork on display.

We'd organised a tour around the Palace of Westminster before hand, which they thoroughly enjoyed.

After they'd gone, I returned to the office to put the final touches to the helicopter report before heading over to the Department for Transport and my meeting with Justine Greening.

I met up with my neighbour and colleague Oliver Letwin, who is similarly concerned about the potential loss of our SAR helicopter, outside Ms Greening's office.

We were ushered in, to be confronted by about nine officials! They'd certainly pulled the boat out for us.

Over the next 3o minutes, Oliver and I argued our case, and we both felt that our points were taken on board, although a rather carnivorous official next to Ms Greening didn't look too impressed.

Ms Greening listened, promised to read our report and think carefully on what we'd told her. I do hope so, because people will die if our helicopter is removed. 

I then did a number of press interviews on the way back to the office, and voted at 7pm before heading down to Dorset. 

Tue, 17 Jan

 

A day with wall-to-wall meetings.

Started with my morning constitution around the park.

Into the office and dealt with a range of issues, before walking across to Portcullis House for an Efra select committee meeting.

We were taking oral evidence from Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State, in the Thatcher Room on reform on the CAP.

This is monumental issue and I was concerned to read in our briefing papers that the EU is looking for a one-cap-fits-all solution to future food production and environmental controls.

Bearing in mind the experiment with the euro and federalism is heading for the rocks, I was alarmed to see the bureaucrats surging ahead with another potential disaster.

The meeting had not ended before I headed across to another meeting room to see Michael Turner, my constituent from Corfe Castle who is battling a European Arrest Warrant.

Jago Russell, from Fair Trials International, Dominic Raab MP, and Michaels' father, Mark, were also there.

We called Michael's Hungarian lawyer, Dr Pakay, who was reassuring and appears to be on top of things.

The court date is set for Wednesday 29 February.

No sooner had I said my farewells to Michael and Mark, than I was meeting a former Weymouth councillor Roger Alllen downstairs in the lobby.

Roger had come to tell me about an Italian politician who his PR company is doing some work for.

This man, unelected at the moment, has relaunched a political party in Italy calling for a return of the lire and to leave the EU - a man after my own heart.

I would have thought that a plain-speaking politician like this would find a lot of support in troubled Italy right now.  

I managed to get back to my office for a short while until I met up with Will Blair, a young man who has helped the Association during three general elections.

Will is a hard working and ambitious fella, who I suspect one day might well try and enter politics. He has tinkered around the edges for some time and has built up an impressive portfolio.

Finally, supper with my son.

 Mon, 16 Jan

A busy day.

The report laying out our case to save the Portland SAR helicopter needed a little tinkering with.

I pay huge tribute to all those who have worked so hard to draft it. Let's hope is has some effect.

I put in a check call to the Turners to ensure they were ready for the trip to London tomorrow.

I have organised a meeting with Fair Trials International, Michael Turner and his Hungarian lawyer Dr Pakay so that we chat through our plans before Michael appears in a court at the end of February.

The sinking of the cruise liner Costa Concordia off the west coast of Italy features in all the papers today.

It seems at first glance that the Captain of the ship altered course and sailed too close to some rocks, which he claims were not on his chart!

There have been a few deaths and a few more are still missing, but thank God the ship was in shallow water and didn't founder completely when more lives would have been lost.

I headed up to London in the afternoon and was soon catching up with correspondence which had come in over the weekend.

I also confirmed that defence secretary Gerald Howarth MP was coming down to South Dorset to meet a new and exciting defence company. 

Fri, 13 Jan

A very sad day.

The funeral of this remarkable craftsman was very well attended. The chapel at Poole crematorium was overflowing and many people had to stand.

The Service was beautifully taken by the Dean of Gloucester, Stephen Lake.

Afterwards, we moved to a popular, local pub, where we all downed a drink to drown our sorrows.

I did return to the office in late afternoon and went home in the evening, feeling I'd lost a great friend, as I'm sure did everyone else.

Thu, 12 Jan

Out into the park early, and shortly afterwards munching a croissant - I do like them - as I glanced through the papers.

Our fight to save the Portland SAR helicopter has been well covered, which is good.

I had time to dictate several letters and sign 40 others before leaving for Dorset. We were on a one-line whip.

Hammersmith flyover is closed and fortunately the traffic had not started to build before I managed to sneak out. I hate to imagine what chaos this closure is causing at rush hour.

An in-tray to sort out at home, calls to make around the constituency and an on-diary session with my team.

Tomorrow I am attending the funeral of our dear bricklayer, who died before Christmas. It will no doubt be well attended. He was a very special man.  

Wed, 11 Jan

 

What a day!

It began with a good run around the park early in the morning.

Into the office, a coffee and then down to the business for our meeting with the Prime Minister.

I did a load of press interviews in the morning, before my delegation - Cllr Mike Goodman and Portland Port CEO Steve Davies - arrived at the Commons.

We were interviewed by ITV, before I took my guests up to the gallery to listen to PMQs.

Straight afterwards, we went to the PM's private office behind the Chamber and were almost immediately sent in.

Mr Cameron listened to us for about 20 minutes as the three of us put our case to save the Portland search and rescue helicopter.

We all thought the meeting went as well as it could have done. The PM said he'd speak to Justine Greening, the Transport Secretary, before we see her next week.

My colleague and neighbour Oliver Letwin has also seen the PM and raised his concerns. He is equally anxious.

I then raced out to do more press interviews, leaving my guests to fend for themselves in the Members' Dining Room.

Lunch was consumed eventually and while the delegation headed back to Dorset, I went off to meet Dominic Raab MP, who has led the way to get some reform on extradition and is keen to help in the case of my constituent from Corfe Castle.

Then, late, to my select committee, where we were taking oral evidence on the back of the Natural Environment White Paper.

The Division bell went at 4.30pm, after which I rushed off to complete more press engagements.

Finally, back into my office to finish the day on a number of constituency matters which had arisen.

Tue, 10 Jan

Back to the Commons!

The Hammersmith flyover is stll closed, so that did not help my journey.

I'd listened in the morning to Ed Miliband being interviewed by John Humphreys on the Today Programme.

The Guardian newspaper was claiming on its front page that today was the day Mr Miliband would shake the world with his speech.

It wasn't to be, and Labour has to acknowledge the mess it's put this country in before it can re-invent itself.

No sooner had I arrived at my office, than I was called to the BBC's offices for two interviews on my planned meeting with the PM tomorrow regarding the future of the Portland SAR helicopter.

Then, back to the office for a major catch-up.

Listened in part to the statement on the planned referendum on Scottish independence.

I really do think this is so very sad and that Scotland should not be allowed a referendum on something which could divide the UK. It's just madness and I hope the majority of cool heads north of the border realise this.

I then wrote an article for the Gazette in Swanage, before drafting a speech I have been asked to make at the funeral of a wonderful bricklayer on Friday.

I've also arranged a meeting next week for Michael Turner and Fair Trials International so we can all sit down and discuss how we are going to tackle the court case in Hungary at the end of February.

A very worrying start to the new year for Michael and his co-accused.

Mon, 9 Jan

Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, paid Portland a call today.

I was kindly invited and enjoyed a buffet lunch aboard the 16,000 ton RFA Mounts Bay, before receiving a joint security brief from the Royal Navy and police. 

The ship, whose aft end can be lowered into the sea to create a floating dock, was cavernous.

You've got to be fit to get to the bridge as it's 11 floors up!

The skipper, Captain Peter Farmer, and his crew could not have been more accommodating and we were all very impressed at the comfort they enjoy.

It was all a very far cry from the hole in the ground that I used to sleep in as a soldier!

Mr Hammond arrived and departed by helicopter as he had another meeting to attend in London at 1600.

A very interesting few hours, before heading back to my desk.

Sat, 7 Jan

 

Time to visit one of my favourite haunts, the Swanage Conservative Club.

Thanks to my motorbike, I was soon in the resort and parking up near the club.

It was pretty full, with several regulars enjoying a glass or two of ale.

I stayed for an hour, chatting to members and enjoying an ale myself.

The charming doorman told me that the children's hospice Julia's House is in trouble financially.

I recall fliming there when this wonderful place was opened.

It's for terminally ill children and offers a vital service for overstretched and exhausted parents, quite apart from the special environment for the children themselves.  

Fri, 6 Jan

 

A run and then on to my motorbike and down to Weymouth to meet up with my delegation - Cllr Mike Goodman and port CEO Steve Davies. 

We chatted for more than an hour, prioritising our points, bearing in mind we will only have about 15 minutes with the PM.

On the way home, I popped in to see the wife of our beloved bricklayer, who tragically died before Christmas. 

She has asked me to say a few words at his funeral, which I am deeply honoured to be able to do.

He was a remarkable man and a gentleman in the truest sense of the word. 

Thu, 5 Jan

More preparations for the weeks ahead, including booking in with the Chief Constable to have an update on policing.

The budget really is tight and I am concerned at the loss of any officer, especially in a rural area like ours.

More preparation for our meeting with the PM next week in our bid to save the Portland SAR helicopter.

Secretary of State for Defence visiting Portland on Monday and I have been invited to attend.  

Wed, 4 Jan

 

We now have a date to see the PM to put our case to save the Portland SAR helicopter - Wed, 11 Jan.

I have organised a meeting with the delegation this Friday. We will organise our various points to ensure we stress the most important ones to the PM. We won't have long with him.

I've also heard that the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, is visiting Portland on Monday.

A mass of correspondence already under way, both here and in London.

Received some lovely Christmas cards from a number of constituents.

Tue, 3 Jan

A very happy new year to all readers.

Goodness knows what 2012 will bring, but there's plenty on the agenda, not least the EU, proposed changes to the NHS, immigration, defence ... the list goes on.

As you'd imagine, the in-tray is brimming, although my wonderfully, efficient secretary has kept up with things.

There are a number of issues already on my radar, not least the future of the Portland SAR helicopter and the fate of Michael Turner, the young man combating an European Arrest Warrant.

The Hungarian authorities have now charged him and his colleague and they are looking at a trial date at the end of February.

Michael's team are confident that he will come through with a clean sheet.

Whatever happens, the Hungarian authorities have told him that he will not be sent to jail if found guilty, although Michael has always claimed his innocence.

On the home-front, our lovely brickie has died. He slipped away just before Christmas. We all feel his loss, not least his special wife. So, so sad.