June 2010

Wed, 30 Jun

The big day! Maiden speech day and I thought the best way to start it was with some early morning exercise. 

After a good run, I was wolfing down a hearty breakfast in the Commons by 0800 and flicking through the papers.

Suzy was in half an hour later and we retired to our attic to continue rehearsing my speech. Two more run throughs were enough, we thought, or it'd become counter-productive.

I'd placed by prayer card where I'd wanted to sit and was now ready for the great moment.

At 1130, while I attended prayers themselves, Suzy rounded up my family. I'd got tickets for PMQs for my parents, so they quickly took their seats in time for the weekly ding-dong.

Custom has it that you are not allowed to leave the Chamber until you are called to give your maiden speech. So, while my family enjoyed lunch, I listened to the two opening speeches on energy provision, the topic for the afternoon's debate.

The Speaker was replaced by one of his new deputies, Labour's Dawn Primarolo MP, just before I was called.

She could not have been kinder or more helpful. She must have seen my family, with their faces pressed against the safety screen, waiting for me to be called.

And, unlike many of my colleagues, I did not have to wait long.

Dawn gave me a nod and a wink - so thoughtful of her - and I straightened my tie, winked at my family and waited for my name to be called.

I rose and after thanking the Madam Deputy Speaker launched into my speech. What fun it was. And knowing I was not going to be heckled - maiden speeches are not interrupted - was quite reassuring!

That courtesy is over now and I must take what comes.

It's protocol and polite to wait for two speeches after yours before leaving the Chamber. Two more maiden speeches followed mine, both excellent.

Then, I strolled out into the lobby to enjoy a break with my family on the terrace. The rest of the day past in a blur and I eventually fell into bed very late at night, tired but elated. What an extraordindary day. 

Tue, 29 Jun

An early start saw me pounding round Hyde Park at 0615. It's a lovely time of day in London. The sun's not yet joined the pollution to make you feel sweaty and dirty and there are few cars around.

I was in the office by 0800, having enjoyed a good breakfast. I don't often eat a full breakfast but when I do - by Heavens it's good.

It felt like 'meet the press' day. Both ITV and BBC were doing the rounds, eyeing up their future targets like a lion does a wounded zebra!

ITV's Bob Constantine was charming and we'd met - we both thought - at some point during my career in broadcasting.

Various topics arose during our conversation - all off the record - and I warmed to Bob, who appeared to have a good grasp on issues South Dorset.

After an hour back in the office, I was once again drinking coffee at Portcullis House, this time with three journalists from BBC SW.

The chat was similar, the aim the same. They now knew me and I them. What was perhaps interesting is that both teams felt politics and politicians were back on the agenda, having taken a hammering over the expenses' scandal.

Later in the afternoon, I met Marcel Ciantar, the director of business and enterprise, and five of his sixth form students from Budmouth College.

They could not have been more charming or more intelligent and inquisitive. They'd come for a purpose: to interview me for their school magazine.

So, after a brief tour of the Palace of Westminster, we strolled out on to the terrace and the grilling began.

I say grilling because the questions were excellent, topical and pertinent. I did my best for an hour to answer these inspirational youngsters before it was time for them to catch the train back to Weymouth. I was sad to see them go. It'd been a fun and interesting two hours for both sides.

Then, it was back to the attic to rehearse and refine further my maiden speech. My friend Suzy, herself a journalist, and I went through it repeatedly.

And the more we rehearsed, the more confident I became. Finally, Suzy went home, and I returned to my office to work quietly at my desk until the vote at 2200.  

Mon, 28 Jun

Summer is here at last, although mercifully the House of Commons remains cool. With David Cameron and Theresa May at the Despatch Box, it was a busy afternoon in the Chamber. And tonight we have a late vote on the Budget.

Much of the talk is about our football team and there's not much sympathy for them. Overpaid and far too pampered, they've returned home for the inevitable inquest into their performance. Next time, perhaps?

Fri, 25 Jun

Up with the lark on another stunning day. I tackled the ever present pile of correspondence until 0930 when the first of five buses appeared for my annual Kids to Farm project. We could not have wished for more perfect conditions.

Nearly 150 children had the day of their lives, moving through six stands, taking in talks on arable and dairy farming, bee keeping, forestry, conservation and deer management.

While my team got on with task at hand, I hopped on to my motorcyle and drove to Portland to attend my advice surgery. It was as well I took to two wheels. The traffic was appalling as the roadworks in Weymouth continue apace.

Thu, 24 Jun

After another early morning run, I was soon in the Commons, sipping a coffee and listening to a brief from Caroline Spelman’s PPS prior to DEFRA questions.

I had Question Number One and made my first vocal contribution in the House. My supplementary question followed on from the first about the government’s plans to roll out high speed broadband.

I asked the Secretary of State whether she could confirm that there would be a high speed broadband legacy after the sailing games in South Dorset, especially in Weymouth and Portland. She assured me there would be.

Defra questions over, I returned to my office to complete my paperwork, before catching the train home to attend a fundraising event in the evening.

Wed, 23 Jun

The beautiful morning sun dragged me from my bed at 0600 and a few minutes later I was jogging around Hyde Park.

It’s a great feeling getting up before most of the nation. A few others had a similar idea, clearly, as cyclists, joggers, dog walkers and sun worshippers joined the general melee around the park.

I was in the office by 0800 and soon piling through a mountain of paperwork. At 1130 I strolled down to the Chamber in time for PMQs at midday. The Chamber was full and expectant. With a controversial Budget announced only the day before, we were expecting a few sparks.

And, sure enough, Harriet Harman was soon attacking the Budget, picking holes in some of the financial detail. David Cameron batted her away with ease, his confidence evident for all to see.

Then, it was off to lunch with Mark Thompson, the director general of the BBC. Having worked for the organisation for some nine years, I was interested to meet my old boss.

Mr Thompson wanted to impart his views of the BBC and listen to ours. The BBC is in the middle of a large re-organisation, with many staff moving to new offices in the midlands. This idea was mooted when I was a reporter and it was universally unpopular. I suspect it still is.

I then raced back to the Commons to meet Cllr Les Ames, who was in London on business.

We had a lengthy chat sitting on the Commons’ terrace about fishing and the implications of a number of changes to the industry’s structure.

Arriving home in the evening, I flicked on the television and settled down to watch Wimbledon.

I noticed the figures 56 on the scoreboard and thought for a moment it was the time! It wasn’t until I’d watched further that I realised it was the score. What a staggering match. Much to my frustration, the umpire stopped play due to bad light.

Tue, 22 Jun

 

The big day! After an early morning jog, I was in the Commons by 8am to plant my prayer card firmly in one of the many brackets which run along the back of the green benches.

It’s called a prayer card because if you don’t attend prayers themselves – normally at 11.30am – you lose your seat!

I was in situ in good time and by 11.35am we watched as Nick Clegg took a hammering from Labour. Their tactics are clear: undermine the Lib Dems and break the coalition.

Then, at 12.32pm, it was George Osborne’s turn. He entered the Chamber ten minutes earlier looking like a piece of chalk he was so white.

I’m not surprising, bearing in mind the message he was about to spell out. His speech was shorter than most, and he presented the emergency budget well, I thought.

Inwardly, I groaned at the rise in VAT and CGT. I am a low tax man and the rise in VAT will hit us all and perhaps slow our recovery.

However, the lowering of Corporation Tax is absolutely right, as is the necessity of tackling the welfare state budget of some £192 billion. It’s just unaffordable.

There’s no doubt the Budget will have implications for the public sector, but this is an area which Gordon Brown expanded irresponsibly in his quest for full employment. Again, it is unaffordable.

After the Chancellor’s speech, I listened to Harriet Harman’s reply which, I’m afraid, did not impress me, considering it was her government which got us all in this appalling mess.

Finally, I retired to my office and worked through into the early evening on constituency matters.

Mon, 21 Jun

Up to London for another week of politics. I have to say it gets more interesting every day and, with the emergency budget tomorrow, the heat will rise!

Popped into the Chamber to listen to questions on culture, Olympics, media and sport, before an hour in our new office. It’s not massive, but we do fit in it, and it does have a window.

Then, I, along with many other Tory MPs, attended an excellent pre-Budget brief from a representative from the Institute of Financial Studies.

More time in the office, before heading home in the evening and a long run around Hyde Park.

Thu, 17 Jun

I had a most useful meeting with Clive Chamberlain, the chairman of the Dorset Police Federation. Over a cup of coffee and some delicious shortbread -my favourite - we chatted about a number of issues, not least pay, pensions and the future of the police force in this country.

Engrossed in conversation, I failed to notice the time slipping by, so ended up rushing down to the National Sailing Academy to attend the unveiling of a new picture, completed by sixth formers from Budmouth College.

The long mural has been hung on the wall behind the serving plate in the cafe and it's very striking. You'd expect it to have a sailing theme, and indeed it did. A number of sails of different colours and at different angles are superimposed on a big, running sea. The 3-D effect is eye-catching and innovative. 

I chatted to the students and their parents, who could not have been more charming. Photographs were taken, with the large group desperately squeezing into a smaller one as camera lenses battled to frame us all.

In the evening, I attended a party hosted by one of our members to thank all those who have helped us win this seat back. We were blessed with a fine evening and a well-kept garden! 

Wed, 16 Jun

 

Another busy day in the Commons. Due to a three-line Whip, I was unable to attend a memorial service and march past in Dorchester by A Company The Rifles. I am sure the event went well. 

The Regiment has served with great distinction in Afghanistan over the past few years, but suffered greatly with many killed and even more seriously wounded.

And, just to remind us of this war, the names of more fatalities were read out at PMQs before David Cameron and Harriet Harman got stuck into each other.

Again, the Prime Minister came out on top, with Ms Harman fluffing her lines as she attempted a bit of humour. She even grimaced while delivering it, so it probably was not written by her!

While all this was going on, my long-suffering secretary was trying to get some desks installed in our office and the IT system linked up. To be fair to those who do all this work, they are coping with a lot of new MPs, all of whom want their office up and running yesterday!

Tue, 15 Jun

 

The day began with a most fascinating brief from a senior figure from Chatham House. The former Foreign Secretary, Lord Howe, was one of several emminent people there.

The brief was confidential but I can tell you it explored where the UK was placed in today's world and, more importantly, perhaps, where it was going. A very absorbing hour.

Then it was back to my new office to try and sort out mundane matters such as a desk, computer and of course a door key!

I attended the Chamber at 2.30pm to hear Ken Clark tackle the opposition on justice matters. The anonymity of alleged rapists was vexing certain Labour members.

Then, at 2.55pm David Cameron entered the Chamber to make a statement on Lord Saville's Bloody Sunday report.

Mr Cameron's statement was statesmanlike, clear and unambiguous, rather like Lord Saville's findings.

The conclusion was that British soldiers had lost control and were the first to open fire. Tragically, numerous people were killed and injured as a result.

The Prime Minister refused to be drawn on whether prosecutions would follow. I sincerely hope not.

Nearly 40 years on, it would be wrong to pursue former soldiers, now in their fifties and sixties, so long after this unhappy event.

Let's hope all sides can draw a line under this now and move on.

Later in the evening, we voted on certain administrative matters on how Parliament is run, before we all headed home.

Mon, 14 Jun

The morning was spent catching up with correspondence, telephoning and other administrative responsibilities before catching a train to London.

With the papers, computer and diary spread around me, I worked quietly the whole way to Waterloo. Surprising how quick the journey appears to take when you are fully occupied.

Arriving at the Commons, I was delighted to find we had an office. It was with some trepidation that I wandered down a very long corridor to inspect my new home. To my relief, it has a window. I look out on to part of the roof and one of the many spires.

Later on I entered the Chamber, before we all voted on another aspect of the Queen's Speech.

Sun, 13 Jun 

The sun was certainly shining on the righteous today, and so it should have been. Thousands of veterans, cadets, visitors and of course residents marked the Weymouth and Portland Veterans’ Remembrance Service and Parade.

It was a marvellous spectacle, which everyone clearly enjoyed. Long may it continue.

This was my first parade as the newly elected MP and I felt very privileged to witness it all as a so-called VIP. I say that because on previous occasions I have attended events like this one as the candidate and of course you get a very different perspective.

I was most impressed by the organisation. Matt Ryan, the borough councils’ Leisure and Events’ Manager, and his team, had done a good job. We were looked after superbly and the event went with only one hitch, but that was so minor that it didn’t matter and not many noticed!

Following the simple but poignant service, we were led down the road to the viewing stand by two mace bearers. Once settled, the march past began. This year it was led by hundreds of youngsters from the Sea Cadet Corps, the Army Cadet Force, the Air Training Corps and the Combined Cadet Force. 

They made a stirring sight and did a remarkable job. Then came the veterans themselves, dignified and proud, they strode past the podium where the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset, the lovely Mrs Anthony Pitt-Rivers, took the salute on behalf of Her Majesty. 

Then came a convoy of military vehicles from World War Two, all in remarkable condition. At the rear came the modern motorbikes, the roar of their super-charged engines drowning out the applause. 

We were then taken by bus to the ferry terminal, where we met and chatted to all of the cadets. What a bunch and it was good to see so many young people experiencing, albeit at a junior level, the benefits of the armed services. 

Then we met the veterans themselves and listened to their remarkable stories of courage and camaraderie, before enjoying a buffet lunch upstairs.

I left in the early afternoon having had the most remarkable day. There’s no doubting the significance of these parades and we must continue to host them.

Fri, 11 Jun

Had a most informative meeting with Paul Sly and Jacqueline Swift, the chief executive and chairman of the Dorset Primary Care Trust, respectively. 

I was most grateful to both of them for their time. Our talk ranged across a number of topics, not least Dorset County Hospital and our cosy, community hospitals. 

Then it was down to Weymouth to meet the Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, the Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP.

He delivered a major speech on tourism at the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy to a number of dignitaries and invited guests.

I was very grateful that he should chose my seat to make the third of four speeches, covering the four different areas of his new portfolio. 

Tourism is indeed vital for South Dorset and with the sailing Games only two years away there’s a fabulous opportunity to exploit this exciting event to the benefit of everyone. 

I then had to leave before Mr Hunt’s departure to attend an advice surgery in Swanage. 

Thu, 10 Jun

My first appointment was with the Chief Constable, Martin Baker. Concerned at a further reduction in police funding, I went in search of some reassurance that South Dorset would still be policed effectively.

Mr Baker is a most impressive and clearly intelligent man. He has a very good grip on his brief and our talk lasted nearly two hours. I was reassured at the end of it, although Dorset is the second lowest funded force in the country, which is far from satisfactory considering what a large area Mr Baker has to cover.

Then, I met Barbara Howe, a lovely lady, who has started a petition to get the tourist information centre put back where it was on the promenade. She’s a very determined lady and I accompanied her to the Pavilion to see where the centre has now been located, before wandering up to the former site to chat to residents and retailers there.

A couple of hours in the office before attending a public meeting in Swanage at 8pm. It was organised by Education Swanage, which wants a secondary school in the town.

The meeting was open to all and we listened to Paul Angel give an impressive brief on why he and his group believe secondary provision is vital for the town. 

The new Secretary of State Michael Gove is aware of the situation in Swanage and I am keeping him informed as the consultation widens to see if the residents of the town want a secondary school.

Wed, 9 Jun

Up early as I needed desperately to stretch my legs. So, jumping into my running kit, I was soon pounding around Hyde Park with other enthusiasts, including the Household Cavalry. A great sight.

On my second circuit, I heard a large bang and noticed someone lying on their back on the side of the road just off to my right.

Arriving at the scene, I saw a cyclist lying on his back, groaning and his face covered in blood. I stripped off my T-shirt and attempted to stem the blood from two nasty cuts above the man’s eye.

Another cyclist had seen the whole incident. Unfortunately for the victim, he had not noticed a broken down people carrier at the side of the road, four way flashers on, and pedalling hard to navigate a slight incline had gone straight into the back of it.

There was quite a hole in the back of the vehicle! Two charming PCSOs were on the scene first and they took over from me trying to clear up this man’s face.

Then the police arrived, following shortly later by a paramedic. I was soon chatting to the police and giving them what information I could. One of the officers had served in the Household Division, so we were soon deep in conversation about our past careers.

With our victim now in good hands, it was time for me to get home and to work. Rather than run home half naked, my friendly policeman offered me a lift, which I accepted gratefully. 

Today, PMQs was held at the normal time of midday. David Cameron gave a good performance, with Harriet Harman doing her best to land a few blows.

We had another vote in the early evening, leaving me enough time to catch the 6.35pm from Waterloo.

Another very interesting and fascinating week. 

Tue, 8 Jun

After an early morning breakfast meeting with some colleagues, I was in our communal office by 9am and sorting out the many letters from constituents and others. My secretary, Jane, is simply fantastic, efficient and very professional. She needs to be – the range of matters she deals with is quite extraordinary.

At midday I voted for the new Deputy Speakers. One thing that new members have to get accustomed to, is the sheer volume of letters and emails from more senior colleagues, all trying to bend your ear on why they should be this, that or the other. 

And, sensibly, the responsibility for appointing the chairmen of committees has been taken from the Whips and given to MPs. I can only imagine the manoeuvrings that must have occurred when the Whips’ office made these decisions!

In the evening, I and other new members attended a reception at 11 Downing Street, courtesy of George Osborne. It was very considerate of him to ask us down to his new abode, which did not disappoint.

I have to say, though, that it was looking a little tired. A lick of paint would not go amiss. 

Then, back to the Commons for another vote and home at about midnight. 

Mon, 7 Jun 

Up to London and a chance to experience another first. I was elected to legislate – that’s our primary task.

So, today I voted for the first time in one of many such occasions to come as we vote through the Queen’s Speech. 

After a day in the Chamber, we all piled into the Division Lobby late in the evening to vote. A fascinating experience and a special one. 

Interesting, too, walking through the lobby next to the likes of William Hague, Nick Clegg and Michael Gove. 

Sun, 6 Jun 

Two stalwart supporters living in Owermoigne and Osmington kindly hosted garden parties. I attended both, thanking our supporters and enjoying two beautiful English gardens.

I have been humbled by the support given by so many people over the years to ensure our victory on 6 May. No Party would survive long without the work and good will of its supporters.

And, of course, you can’t let this famous day pass without referring to the greatest invasion known to mankind – D Day. So many gave their lives so we can enjoy the freedoms we do today. We must never forget them.

Sat, 5 Jun

Again, my motorcycle proved most useful as I drove down to Swanage and spent several hours wandering around the town, chatting to retailers, popping into the Conservative Club and checking on the railway.

We are lucky to have this Conservative Club. It really is the most fabulous place, and whenever I go in there I’m made to feel at home. The members are all charming and I’ve had many a laugh over these past four years, and look forward to many more.

Fri, 4 Jun

After tackling my desk once again, I hopped on my bike and rode to Weymouth for my advice surgery.

It was held in the library, courtesy of the charming staff there, who could not have been more helpful.

I’d learnt from the day before that a car in Weymouth at the moment is not a good idea.

A motorbike is just the ticket, and I’m sorry motorists but there is a big grin across my face as I weave my way cautiously past the queuing cars. 

Thu, 3 Jun

Back in the constituency, I had an appointment to meet artist Laura Mulhern in Café 127 on Lodmoor Hill in Weymouth.

Laura’s enthusiasm for all-things artistic was infectious. We sipped coffees and dreamt of a new-look Weymouth, with refurbished hotels, updated promenade, with good shops and restaurants for tourists and residents to enjoy. 

Art, Laura believes, is an integral part of any development along these lines, and is currently using small businesses as galleries to promote art.

But her dream extends to the whole of the south west, not just Weymouth. I put her in touch with the new gallery on Portland and hopefully the two can work together.

I have to say that I have a mountain of correspondence to deal with and it’s to this I returned for the rest of the day in an attempt to catch up.

Wed, 2 Jun

Half term week. No doubt millions of parents across the land are dreaming up ways of entertaining their beloveds! For us parliamentarians, it’s back to work today.

And for me, it’s my first Prime Minister’s Questions – or PMQs, as they are better known, perhaps – which did not disappoint.

The atmosphere in the Chamber was muted, however, for a number of reasons. First, we’d lost more soldiers in Afghanistan; second, a madman had done berserk in Crumbria, killing several and wounding others; and, third, Foreign Secretary William Hague made a solemn statement on the Israeli commando raid on the Gaza convoy.

Bad news tends to come in threes, doesn’t it?