March 2010

Wed, 31 March
At 1pm, we all rose as one as the coffin of Rifleman Jonny Allot was brought in to St Peter's Church on the shoulders of his comrades. It was a sobering sight.
 
Hundreds of mourners crammed into the church, while many standard bearers stood on parade outside.
 
The service was simple and poignant. The eulogies from two of Rifleman Allott's friends and a major from The Rifles were each touching and repeated his many attributes, not least his infectious smile.
 
This sad and harrowing service only reminded us all how terribly young these soldiers are. Rifleman Allot was 19. It's a tender age to lay down your life for your country.
 
At the end of the service, we all went out into the driving rain and cold wind to watch the sad convoy slip into the traffic and disappear from sight. We must never forget.
 
Then, I left for Weymouth to join colleagues out on the campaign trail, before hosting another Drax Direct in the Littlemoor Church Hall. Again, we had a most interesting evening, with agreements and disagreements being discussed into the night.
 

 
Tue, 30 Mar
I had a most interesting morning, visiting Wyvern School in Weymouth. Located next to Wey Valley School, I walked through the main entrance on the dot of 11am.
 
The school caters for more than 80 children with serious disabilities. As I waited to meet the headteacher, I noticed how calm and peaceful it was. The atmosphere was reassuring, caring even.
 
Then, round the corner came Sue Hoxey, the head. Quietly spoken and direct, she led me off on a guided tour of this wonderful school.
 
I met teaching assistants, teachers, kitchen staff, the children and even a student who was writing a paper on the lack of further education provision for these students when they leave Wyvern aged 19.
 
This is what worred Sue most.
 
Photographs of imaginative and happy outings decorated most walls and everywhere I went I was captured by the sheer dedication of all the staff. A remarkable school, doing a remarkable job.
 

 
Mon, 29 Mar
A proposed wind farm near the village of East Stoke is causing concern among several residents there. I went to meet two of them and to see where the proposed wind farm would go.
 
These are the giant turbines which would certainly dominate the skyline for miles around. The nearest turbine would be about 700 metres away.
 
The Labour government's rush to plaster our countryside with wind farms is ill thought through. There are many sound reasons why wind farms are not the answer to our energy needs, which I do not intend to expand here.
 
The only way to stop the march of these giants is to change planning law, which is something the Conservatives are committed to do.
 
Off-shore wind farms are one thing, but giant blades whirling near people's homes are another.
 
In the evening, I hosted another Drax Direct in Wyke Regis. The sports and social club was a perfect venue and the event went on for over two hours, with plenty of questions and debate.
 

   
Sat, 27 Mar
Back in Weymouth with one of our borough council candidates today. We had an eventful and rewarding day, enjoying a break in the Ship Inn at midday. After a busy week, dinner with my lovely wife was an even more special event.
 

 
Fri, 26 Mar
I was on the road by 7am and in the Carlton Hotel, Bournemouth, by 7.41am. There I had an enjoyable breakfast with two members of the Federation of Small Businesses. My colleagues Tobias Ellwood MP and Chris Chope MP were also present.
 
We were guided through the organisation's excellent manifesto and by the end were nodding our heads in agreement. We must and will allow business - both big and small - to fly.
 
They will create the wealth and jobs, not the State.
 
After snatching a few moments with my election team, I drove to Swanage to listen to parents and governors of St Mary's RC School, who voiced their concerns about the proposed cut in the number of children the school would be able to take each year.
 
The Purbeck review rumbles on, although a Conservative win on 7 May would inevitable lead to a massive sea-change in how education was delivered. It's time to take politicians and bureaucrats out of education and to hand it back to those who know what's best for their children.
 

 
Thu, 25 Mar
Off to a small hamlet this morning to meet a supporter and two of her friends. We had a long chat and their concerns mirrored those of the many others I have met recently.
 
After attempting to catch up with correspondence, I attended a fundraising drinks do in Studland. Everyone's tails were up and the mood was optimistic.
 

 
Wed, 24 Mar
Another busy day. First up was the issue of secondary provision for Swanage. There is a genuine wish for a secondary school in the town, and it would seem that a Conservative government, if elected, would be very supportive.
 
Clearly, there is a lot of work to be done to make this aspiration become a reality, which will include a sea change in how we look at education provision in Purbeck and across the country.
 
After the meeting with one hopeful parent, it was out into the town to meet more prospective constituents.
 
Then, with the rain beginning to fall, I drove across to Weymouth to host another Drax Direct in Upwey. I was able to catch up on the Budget detail on the radio. More Labour spite aimed at all those who work hard, this time because it was only 'fair' that the rich should contribute more in these times of economic chaos. Perhaps Labour has forgotten that this chaos is in large part down to its mismanagement.
 
Once at the hall, I met the Green candidate, who could not have been more charming.
 
He didn't really do himself justice by declaring as I shook his hand: "I am a bit of a viper in the nest!" All are welcome at these public meetings and I was interested to hear what this candidate had to say.
 

 
Tue, 23 Mar
And, talking of facing the voters, I was today invited to address members of the Southill Day Centre in Weymouth. David Beagley, who runs the centre, has invited the candidates from the three main parties to address his users. I believe I was the second candidate.
 
Having got stuck on the hill above the town due to roadworks, I was a little late, but managed to get there in the end. I was asked ten very good questions, which I answered after giving a brief introduction.
 
Again, I found the morning most illuminating, learning a lot myself in the process.
 

 
Mon, 22 Mar
I spent a couple of hours this morning in Swanage, talking to voters at a coffee morning, organised kindly by a supporter who'd called me.
 
About 12 people attended and our debate ranged far and wide. What was clear to me was that they were all concerned at a hung parliament, or worse, a Labour victory.
 
It's not that they didn't feel the Conservatives would win, but the spectre of anything other than an outright win was haunting them.
 
I find this a lot, but after some reassurance the worry lines across their faces are removed by smiles.
 
In the evening, I hosted another Drax Direct in Wool. Several issues cropped up, not least wind farms and our creaking infrastructure.
 
The evening lasted for some two hours and was most illuminating for all of us. If elected, I shall continue with these Drax Directs, as I believe they are essential if MPs are to remain in touch with their electorate. It's also democracy and if MPs are not prepared to face their voters, I can only suggest they seek another profession.
 

 
Sat, 20 Mar
Following our Association's AGM, which was a great success, I went over to Portland to view a new community garden. In pouring rain, a handful of stalwarts attended this event, which really was most impressive.
 
Volunteers have turned an area of scrubland into allotments. Their enthusiasm was most infectious and certainly the rain and mud had no effect on their aspirations and hopes for the future.
 
Then, I joined some colleagues over in Weymouth, getting home in time to watch a very exciting Six Nation's match between England and France in the evening.
 

 
Fri, 19 Mar
I always enjoy meeting John Tweed, the national sailing academy's chief executive. This time I was accompanied by Tom Appleby, who is working with a team wanting to create a diving attraction by placing a wreck off Weymouth's coast.
 
As you can imagine, there are several organisations involved in such an idea, all with different agendas. Hopefully, they can be worked through and a solution found, as the town's diving community has taken a knock economically and a new attraction will hopefully redress the balance.
 

Thu, 18 Mar
The education review in Purbeck rumbles on. I attended a drop in session at St George's CE School in Langton Matravers this afternoon. Concerns were raised by parents and governors at the education authority's proposal to reduce the intake at the school from 20 a year to 15. 
 
The officers responded by saying that if they were to keep as many schools open as possible, they had to share the children between all the schools.
 
Clearly, everyone is still very sensitive about this review and I understand why. I am hoping that a general election will end all this uncertainty in the sense that an incoming government - of whatever colour - will have to make funding decisions.
 
And once we know how much money Dorset has hopefully sensible decisions can be reached. It's not an easy issue.
 

 
Wed, 17 Mar
I listen to and watch Labour wriggling over its links with the union Unite with growing incredulity. Now we hear that my opponent is funded by the union. No wonder he doesn't want to tackle the union's destructive and unreasonable behaviour over these proposed strikes - he's paid up by them.
 
And we also hear that 147 other Labour MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates are bankrolled by the union! And, remember, Unite's political director, Charlie Whelan, is helping to run Labour's election campaign. The whole thing stinks.
 
And, just imagine if Labour did win the general election what they would owe their paymasters. The country would be in ruins. I rest my case.
 
In the evening, I hosted another Drax Direct, this time at the Methodist Hall in Westham. The turn out was low, but having distributed fliers to many households beforehand, I knew that residents were aware we are making the effort to give them a chance to participate in our battered democracy. 
 

 
Mon, 15 Mar
Catching the early train from Poole, I was able to watch the sun rise over the harbour. It was a good start to a day which saw me visit the MOD and the House of Commons.
 
At my first stop, I received a very useful and informative brief on the state of our armed services, Afghanistan and what lies ahead. There is no doubt we shall not be pulling out of Afghanistan for some time, and I suspect the difficulty for politicians will be to persuade an increasingly sceptical public that we should be there at all. I have no doubt we should be.
 
Then, I walked down the road to the House to meet our shadow Olympic minister Hugh Robertson. Naturally, the sailing element was on my mind and I chatted through several issues which are concerning the police, the port and the sailing academy. It was a most useful meeting.
 
Of course, it won't be until after the general election that we will - if elected - be able to put more flesh on the bones.
 

 
Sat, 13 Mar
It was Portland's turn today and I began the morning meeting a group of protesters angry at all the dust being created by the lorries. There were also concerns expressed over asbestos, which I will look into.
 
While I was busy here, a team was canvassing another part of the island. We met for lunch, before moving across to Weymouth to finish off the day.
 

 
Fri, 12 Mar
I spent the day in Crossways, knocking on doors and talking with many residents. Julie Girling, a newly elected MEP, joined our team at about midday. She is a truly charming and intelligent lady, and I much enjoyed listening to her experiences.
 
At mid afternoon, we went to say goodbye to the retiring librarian. She'd been given a party the night before, but that did not stop her friends hanging out the balloons and distributing some delicious cake. The party marked the end of an era - 21 years in the library service - and there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
 

 
Thu, 11 Mar
It was a gloriously crisp morning as I drove down to Portland Port. I had a very interesting hour with the chief executive, before heading to Osmington to meet an 'undecided'.
 
Again, I listened to a litany of frustrations at the way our country has been abused by Labour for the past 13 years. I reassured the husband, I think, and was heartened by comments from his wife.
 
Then, late, I headed for Salisbury and the A338 to Marlborough. I arrived at Wootton Bassett with ten minutes to spare.
 
I was soon standing to attention as the five hearses crept into the village and stopped by the Memorial. Five soldiers from The Rifles were being repatriated, one of them Rifleman Jonny Allott, from Bournemouth.
 
This was my second time I'd paid my respects to the fallen, and I found it again an extremely emotional experience. The word is raw. All our hearts went out to the families and friends of these fallen heroes, all so young and with so much to look forward to. 
 
The drive home was done deep in thought. My respect for these young men and women on the frontline is immense.
 

 
Wed, 10 Mar
It was off to Weymouth first thing this morning to re-meet an elderly gentleman with a fascinating background. After discussing his problem, I was able to go next door to a kindly neighbour.
 
I think that between us we managed to help but not sadly solve the elderly gentleman's problem.
 
Then, it was back to my association office to hold a very interesting meeting with a senior member of an association linked to the building and engineering trade. He was meeting PPCs to ensure we were up to speed on what the industry needed to compete in the future.
 
That evening, I hosted another Drax Direct, this time in Crossways.
 

 
Tue, 9 Mar
It was back to Swanage today to help a prospective constituent. We chatted for some time and I gave what advice I could. 
 
The local paper had a picture of a young man, who has sadly been killed in Afghanistan. Rifleman Jonny Allott died in an explosion last Friday.
 
His body and that of four other colleagues will be repatriated on Thursday. My deepest sympathies lie with the families and friends of these brave men.
 

 
Sat, 6 Mar
It was cold this morning, as I climbed out of bed, wolfed down a boiled egg and headed for Swanage. I met up with our team, who were soon out canvassing.
 
Before joining them, I went off to visit a local businessman. He could not have been more charming and we chewed the cud for two hours, debating several issues which proved frustrating for us both.
 
A coffee later, I joined my colleagues on the doorsteps. We were welcomed warmly and there was a general feel that Labour's day is over and it's time for a change.
 
If we win, there is much to do, and it is not going to be easy for an incoming Conservative government to tackle the many problems our country faces. But succeed we will, of that I am certain, and I relish the challenges ahead.
 

 
Fri, 5 Mar
Throughout the day, I listened to news reports on Gordon Brown's appearance at the Iraq inquiry. I felt his answers were disingenuous following as they did contrary evidence given by other members of his government.
 
Senior retired members of the armed services were soon adding to this sense of disquiet.
 
There is no doubt in my mind, that voters are just so tired of spin, and Mr Brown did himself no justice by trying to distance himself from the decisions made when he was Chancellor.
 
Meanwhile, the Ashcroft affair rumbled on and inevitably the local press were trying to put a local twist on the story.
 
I have nothing to hide, mainly because virtually all our money has been raised locally. A tiny amount has come from central office, but surely that's to be expected as they are there to support us.
 
And talking of fund-raising, I attended our raffle evening hosted kindly by a local supporter. It was a fun evening with supporters and volunteers all in good spirits.
 

 
Thu, 4 Mar
At last, I met the man I have been helping these past few months. Our meeting was far removed from where Michael Turner has been held since 2 November last year.
 
Michael was taller than I expected and naturally a lot thinner, having lost more than two stone in his Hungarian jail.
 
However, his demeanour was upbeat considering what he's been through. After a charming reporter from the local paper had interviewed him, we sat down by a crackling fire and talked.
 
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this extraordinary case, I was struck by Michael's courage. He's quite prepared to face this allegation of fraud if and when charges are brought, despite his ordeal.
 
After our chat, I drove a few miles to Langton Matravers for another Drax Direct. The public meeting was well attended and again the questions came thick and fast.
 

 
Wed, 3 Mar
Our shadow Agriculture Minister Jim Paice MP returned to South Dorset today, which was kind of him. I picked him up from Poole station and we chatted animatedly for the 40 minute drive to Weymouth.
 
There, we visited Peter and Janet Blakey at Broadwey Village Stores. The couple used to run the sub post office there before this 'clunking' government closed thousands of them across the country in the most ham-fisted operation which was universally condemned. 
 
Determined not to be beaten, Peter and Janet diversified and now sell local produce to their customers, meeting a growing demand for localness. Their operation is proving a success and Mr Paice listened intently to the couple's story.
 
Later in the evening, I travelled to Wool for one of several consultation exercises on the future of education in Purbeck. Three officers from the LEA were there to answer resident's concerns about proposals for the future of the local Roman Catholic and Cof E schools. 
 
Thankfully, both have been saved and will become primary schools, so I was not surprised that only a handful of local residents attended. A battle won and a big sigh of relief from all residents!
 

 
Tue, 2 Mar
Today, I actually spoke to the man I and many others have been trying to help for the past four months - Michael Turner. He'd been released from jail in Hungary unexpectedly and was waiting to fly home.
 
As you'd expect after being locked up in the most appalling conditions for four months, Michael was delighted to be out. He sounded confident, although his father has told me the jail time has taken its toll.
 
Michael told me he was longing to see his family again, but that the authorities had told him to return to Hungary next month.
 
Apparently, the investigation into his alleged fraudulent behaviour following the collapse of his marketing company in 2005 was still being investigated.
 
So, Michael is not out of the woods yet. However, it would appear that the pressure we have all put on the authorities in recent weeks has worked to some extent.
 
Michael and his business colleague Jason McGoldrick should never have been extradited in the first place. The men's London barrister and Hungarian lawyer both say the European Arrest Warrant was wrongly used, maybe even intentionally by the Hungarians.
 
For the moment, then, Michael is safe and back home, despite having lost more then two stone in weight! There's more to come but Michael is hopeful he can prove his innocence and get on with his young life.
 
I really was feeling invigorated when I attended our next Drax Direct in Osmington. The village hall was packed and we had a good meeting, debating many issues over a couple of hours.
 

 
Mon, 1 Mar
I had been looking forward to visiting Westfield Arts College for some time. I took the coast road to Weymouth, enjoying the first glimpse of the sea as you pass through Osmington.
 
Five minutes later, I was trying to park my car in the college car park, which was packed. I liked the headteacher Andrew Penman from the moment I met him, and I'm not just saying this to curry favour.
 
He exudes a quiet confidence, which has clearly rubbed off on the school, as it too exudes the same calm and sense of direction. We chatted for about 30 minutes and I listened, fascinated by Andrew's career and his dedication to it.
 
Then, I was introduced to Jess and Declan, both 13, who took me on a guided tour. What superb guides they were and I was impressed by the clean, well ordered school and all who I met.
 
I almost regretting saying my farewells as I'd enjoyed myself so much, but it was time to move on and leave Andrew and his team in peace.
 
No sooner had I climbed into my car when the phone rang. It was Mark Turner from Corfe Castle. Michael was coming home from Hungary today. What great news and how pleased I am for the family, who have been through hell.
 
Finally, it was back to the office to make more calls over the controversial decision to close James Day Care Home in Swanage. How sad I am to see politicians playing to the gallery over this very difficult issue. 
 
I have done all I can to see if there are any options to keep the home open. There are not. Our best hope now is to find another provider, with the money and enthusiasm to start again, hopefully taking on some, if not all, of the current staff.