May 2008

Tue, 27 May
I was asked to a briefing at the Weymouth College. Arriving there, I met Cllr Mike Goodman, who's recently been chosen to lead the Conservative group. We were both ushered to the office of the deputy principal, Paul Lonsdale. He explained his "vision", which would involved a new building programme costing somewhere in the region of £60 million. Inevitably there are problems, not least the proposal to build on some existing football fields. But those issues will be tackled no doubt by the planners as the process proceeds. Like all visions, those who see them are passionate about their cause. And Paul and his team were no exception. I can only wish them luck, as I welcome any new money which South Dorset can attract, especially for education. As the saying goes, time will tell whether they are successful or not.
Bank Holiday weekend

I spent the weekend north of the border near Aberdeen. I was attending the wedding of an old friend of mine. During the three days, I met and talked to several local people, all of whom were charming. During the course of several conversations the matter of the union came up. The general view was unanimous - the union should remain. No one wanted independence and most realised that without England Scotland would not be able to finance itself. The straw poll was minuscule, but I suspect representative. Together we stand, divided we fall. It's as simple as that, in my view.

Fri, 16 May
Southwell Business Park is the most impressive place, tucked away at the back of Portland. Today I was meeting Gary Fooks, who's in charge of the 2012 Olympic legacy. Quite a daunting task, I thought, as I sauntered into the vast, former MOD building. I was shown to Gary's office by the park's charming chief executive Roy Haywood. He picked me up near the front hall and without a moment's hesitation offered to lead the way. I duly followed, glancing in awe at all the work in progress.
A short time later, we entered Gary's office, which looks out on to a building site - soon to be a hotel. Roy bid his farewells and Gary and I were left to chat for some two hours about his new role. He gave me a short presentation on his laptop, and I was impressed. In a very short time, Gary's managed to inject a lot of Olympic enthusiasm into many organisations, both on and off the island. He sees 2012 and the lead up to it as a once in a lifetime opportunity for Weymouth and Portland to really benefit, especially the next generation. He's surprised by the number of people and companies who haven't really thought the Olympics through. But he's working on them and making headway.
Gary's enthusiasm was infectious and if anyone can make this whole work, he can.

Wed, 14 May
It was back to school today; in fact five schools, and all on Portland. I was in the hands of Jane Fooks, who's driving forward a proposal to establish a 0-19 Academy system on the island. It's a multi-million pound "vision" which will see huge benefits for youngsters on the island. New school buildings, sports facilities and playing fields are just three.
Our first stop was Underhill Junior School. We were met by the head, Alan McKechan, a charming man, who enthusiastically supports the Academy idea.Today was warm and sunny, but he assured me that when a severe westerly blew, the wind roared over the buildings like an express train.
Then we moved next door to Brackenbury Infant School, which is forming a federation with its neighbour. The head's enthusiasm was infectious. Zoe Green knows where she's going and what's in the best interest of her young charges. And there's no doubt in her mind that an Academy is the way forward.
Keeping to our strict timetable, we then drove to Southwell Primary School, where we met head Stuart McLeod. He 's lucky as his school has a grass playing area, which the children were clearly enjoying. Stuart's also keen on the Academy idea, which he sees as being regenerative as well as providing better educational facilities for the youngsters.
Saying our farewells, we then drove to the Grove Infant School, which is adjacent to the Young Offenders' Institution. Head Jane Hurdiss had organised a healthy eating day, which the parents attended, too. The whole ground floor had been turned into a massive restaurant, with families all tucking into raw carrots, caulifower and salads of various descriptions. I've never seen so many happy faces and the atmosphere in the school was wonderful.
Finally, we moved on to the Royal Manor for lunch, where we met up with all the heads again. My thanks to head Paul Green, who'd organised some delicious sandwiches. I was struck not only by the dedication and professionalism of all those I met, but by their determination not to waste this opportunity. They're calling it an olympic legacy. And I would agree with that. What better way for this new generation to remember 2012, than to recall that was the year their educational hopes and aspirations were met. And, finally, I can only thank Jane and those I met for their time. It was a most interesting, fun and informative morning.

Mon, 12 May
It was a pleasure to welcome the Shadow Minister for Justice, Edward Garnier, down to Dorset. He came to visit both the Portland Young Offenders' Institution (YOI) and HMP The Verne. It was another beautiful, sunny day as we drove down to Portland from Poole. Edward told me he'd visited more than 40 prisons across the UK. Many shocked him. He felt Labour had virtually abdicated all responsibility for the prisons.
First stop was the YOI. The governor, Steve Holland, could not have been more courteous and after a chat he showed us around. Edward and I were most impressed by the new rugby pitch that's being built. Steve had to fight to get it, but he stuck to his guns, believing that young men should have an outlet for all their energy.
Then we shared some sandwiches with members of the Prison Officers' Association (POA). Their concerns clearly indicated a problem with morale. Officers feel forgotten and neglected.
Finally, we visited HMP The Verne. Again, the governor, Denise Hodder, could not have been kinder. We exchanged some views and encouraged her to read the Party's green paper on proposals for the future should we win the election. As we drove back to the train, Edward said the prison service desperately needed a Conservative government. I agree, naturally. And with MPs like Edward, who's also a QC, I'm sure we can mend fences and restore confidence in a system which is nearly at breaking point.

Wed, 7 May
The sun shone, for once. And the 60-odd youngsters thoroughly enjoyed their day on the farm. The 10-12 year olds, from Stoborough First School, St George's Primary, Portland, and Haymoor Middle and Hillbourne School, both from Poole, rotated around a number of stands. They included farming, forestry, the environment and the park deer. Dorset Wildlife Trust also had a stand. This is the third time we've run a day like this and they're proving a great success. It's so important, in my view, for youngsters to understand their rural surroundings. I also hope the word will spread and that more schools will come next time. We can't educate enough on this subject.

Thu, 1 May
By the early hours of Friday morning, the sheer scale of Labour's humiliation was apparent. And there's no doubt that had this been the general election, South Dorset would once again be in Conservative hands. Sadly, we're probably going to have to wait two long years for the chance to take the seat back as Labour holds on to the reins of power. But what's good news is that the horse has bolted and all Labour can do is cling on for their lives. What damage this runaway horse can do in the interim is anyone's guess. Judging from the reaction of Labour cabinet ministers, many of them have gone into denial.

In Weymouth and Portland, the evening was a success for us, winning two more seats, one of them on Portland. The councillor there, Amanda Alsop, is young, intelligent and local. And in Weymouth, former local businessman Grant Leighton became a councillor after an outstanding campaign. The sting in the tale was losing our leader, Nigel Reed. The Lib Dems toppled him after a disingenuous, single-issue campaign on the Pavilion development. In time, the electorate will realise what a class act they've thrown away.