May 2010

Friday, 28 May
A busy day spent meeting constituents in Swanage, Weymouth and Portland. My stop at Weymouth College was especially welcome, as principal Sue Moore had very kindly organised some sandwiches.
 
In the afternoon, I was informed by the local press that my former opponent Jim Knight had been elevated to the House of Lords. I wish him well. Scrutinising legislation is an important role.
Thursday, 27 May
I spent most of the day on the phone and behind my desk. There's a lot to organise as a new MP, and learn, of course. I am in the process of organising surgeries and when and where they should be held.
 
The police have advised us to be wary after an MP was stabbed recently. One precaution is to request constituents to write in and make appointments rather than just come in off the streets, as it were.
Wednesday, 26 May
Back up to London on the early train to catch the second day of debate on the Queen's Speech. The Treasury team opened the batting, before our Foreign Secretary William Hague came into the Chamber to explain our foreign policy.
 
He's a gifted speaker and a confident one. The performance was impressive, intelligent and competent - a lesson for all us new boys and girls!
 
That evening, we voted for the various posts for the 1922 Backbench Committee. Graham Brady was voted in as Chairman, which delighted us all. An independent politician who speaks his mind is just the man for this job. 
 
Then it was back to the constituency after another interesting few days in Parliament.
 
Tuesday, 25 May
I knew this day was going to be special and so it proved. The last time I attended the State Opening of Parliament, I was street-lining with my regiment.
 
On this occasion, I was able to stand outside the Palace of Westminster with my wife, Christopher Chope MP and his wife, to watch the procession head towards the Sovereign's Entrance.
 
We then dashed into the Chamber at 11.25am to say prayers, before we all walked across the hallway to the Lords to hear the Queen deliver her speech.
 
Breaking for lunch, we then reconvened in the Chamber at 2.30pm when the fireworks started.
 
The Acting Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, and David Cameron both made speeches which generated roars of delight and derision on both sides of the House, depending which side you were on of course.
 
The atmosphere was electric, with no quarter given or expected. It's the asides which are so devastating, many of which are not picked up by the microphones, or simply drowned out by the noise.
 
I left the Chamber at about 4pm to rush down to Portland to attend a public meeting on the proposed Academy for the island.
 
This was well attended and the majority of those there were against the all-through version which is being pursued.
 
The big question is money, and whether there is any at all for Dorset. I am seeking clarity on this issue with our coalition government but at the moment new ministers are just stretching out their legs under new and unfamiliar desks and I don't suppose I shall get an answer quickly.
 
Monday, 24 May
After a couple of days catching up with my long suffering wife - all MPs have these, I am discovering - I returned to my desk, to discover a bulging in-tray. It is extraordinary how much correspondence this job generates.
Wednesday, 19 May
The morning consisted of more helpful advice on the workings of the Palace of Westminster and our new roles as MPs. Then I returned to my broom cupboard to get more acquainted with my new secretary, Jane.
 
She's a delightful lady, with plenty of experience working with MPs, and I soon realised just how valuable a good secretary is as she began to sort out my mountain of mail.
 
In the evening, the political party was again called to meet David Cameron. The conversation we all had is confidential, but it leaked like a sieve and before long the Press had picked up on some grumblings about the way Mr Cameron wanted to tinker with the 19922 Backbench Committee.
 
As I left the meeting, I walked past the Chamber and grabbed an opportunity to swear my oath of allegiance, a task we all have to complete before we can (a) speak and (b) get paid!
 
Then it was home to Dorset on a late train. Quite day.
Tuesday, 18 May
Letting the train take the strain, I headed to London to attend the re-election of the Speaker. There were rumblings that a move would be made to oust John Bercow, but in the end his re-election went through without a hitch. There were a few against, but not enough to swing the result.
It was quite impressive watching more than 600 people squash in the Chamber. And with our Benches full of Lib Dems, many of us found ourselves standing, including some senior MPs!
While my new colleagues share committee rooms, I am lucky enough to be in a friend's broom cupboard! Well, not quite the broom cupboard, but not far off it. It does have a desk and phone.
And it's from here that I am now filing my diary column. In the meantime, John Redwood MP has voiced his concern about our proposal to increase Capital Gains Tax (CGT), which I have to say concerns me too and I support John's stand against it. 
Monday, 17 May
At 1000 I was at County Hall for the important COC meeting to discuss the Purbeck Review. I am between a rock and a hard place in the sense that something has to be done to ensure certainty. A very good letter from various heads made that point extremely well.
 
And one point in particular caught my attention, which I emphasised when I spoke at the meeting. And that is that the resources and money must be in place before any changes are made and that the education authority can give this assurance before embarking on their plans.
 
I also mentioned the subject of a new secondary school for Swanage, if indeed residents wanted it. And this is still to be decided. I have written to the new education minister Nick Gibb, asking to bring a delegation to see him on this issue.
 
With several speakers, the meeting went on for some while, and it wasn't until the early afternoon that I was able to drop down to Weymouth and meet a couple who'd asked to see me.
Friday, 14 May
I rose at dawn to catch up with all my correspondence. Working through the morning, I looked forward to visiting St Andrew's Primary School in Weymouth in the afternoon.
 
At 2pm I was met at the school door by two charming students, George and Bethany. I was soon into a tour, dropping into classrooms and meeting both teachers and pupils. There was a wonderfully happy atmosphere in the school, generated no doubt by an excellent headteacher Vanessa Lucas and her efficient and dedicated team.
 
I then attended afternoon prayers, before meeting the senior part of the school. I have never been bombarded with so many questions in my life! Now, the reason they were all so motivated is because the school had run a mini election of its own prior to the real one.
 
After campaigning and spelling out their agendas, the school had voted for the four party representatives - Conservatives, Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens. I was delighted to see in the local paper on Polling Day itself that we had won, and by a good margin. In fact, interestingly, the school's result mirrored the national picture. So, at the next election, I might just pay more attention to the very first poll - the one at St Andrew's!
 
What a fabulous school and the leadership there is clearly inspirational. I look forward to returning soon.
 
Thursday, 13 May
Back down to my new constituency where I discovered my comments on television had had a mixed response. Clearly, speaking one's mind is not always to everyone's taste, especially at the start of a new Parliament. However, I was first selected and then elected to be honest and speak my mind if asked a straight question.
 
My conscience was clear and I hope some straight talking will see a new style of Parliament where people's different opinions are respected rather than crushed. And bearing in mind we now have a coalition government, I am certain there will be certain aspects of policy which I and many others will not agree with. If, after talking them through, an agreement cannot be found, then both sides must agree to disagree. 
 
I spent much of the morning at the Dorset Echo, meeting the journalists there and talking to editor Toby Granville, an extremely able and competent journalist, who has increased the paper's sales. He has a good team around him and it was nice to put some faces to names at last.
 
Toby kindly offered me a weekly column, called from Weymouth To Westminster, and I accepted this generous offer. I promise not to ram political dogma down your throats! I intend to make observations, rather than political points.
 
Then I raced back to Wimborne to meet a colleague over a rushed sandwich, before catching up with my wonderful and loyal team at the office, where a mountain of correspondence awaited! Donning waders, I struck out into the middle of the river and began to tackle the various concerns.
Wednesday, 12 May
History was in the making and here I was in the middle of it. We had a new coalition between us and the Lib Dems. As you can imagine, the Palace was seething with Party bigwigs flying to and fro between various news organisations.
 
In the meantime, we new boys and girls continued with our induction programme, which included a group photograph. The poor photographer had the patience of a saint as more and more MPs kept appearing from doors and passageways leading into Westminster Hall after he's taken the picture. I think in the end only one new MP was not in the final photograph.
 
Then I was called for an interview by Radio Five Live. I didn't know it at the time, but the presenter's producer was a former colleague of mine from my BBC days. I arrived at the small tent erected alongside many others on the Green, adjacent to the House.
 
I found myself being interviewed jointly with another new boy from Labour. We were both asked our views on the new coalition and we both gave honest and forthright answers. I understand why we are in this coalition - for the greater good of the country - but have reservations about our new partner, who appears to have sold every principle they had for a seat at the top table and some ministerial cars. However, we have what we have and we must now try and make it work, but seeing Mr Clegg take Question Time when Mr Cameron is away will be hard to swallow. Time will tell.
 
It was while I was in this throng of journalists that I met my former colleagues from South Today and of course my old opponents from ITV. They also wanted to interview me, which I duly obliged.
 
Another extraordinary day.
Tuesday, 11 May
The first day flew past in a blur of activity. The reception of all new MPs was efficiently organised and we went from room to room in Portcullis House signing endless forms and receiving our pass, providing access to every nook and cranny in the Palace of Westminster.
 
By the time I went home in the evening, my mind was so full of information that it needed a long run around Hyde Park to calm it down!
 
Monday, May 10
No rest for the wicked! Up at six and into the office to deal with a mountain of correspondence, most of it wishing us well for the future. Then it was time to hop on the train to London to enter my future workplace as an MP for the first time. The process of signing in and completing all the forms reminded me of returning to school!
Friday May 7
Friday morning dawned and we found ourselves still at the count! The early signals were encouraging as ballot papers were counted. Then, at about 5am, Mr Knight conceded and came over to offer his congratulations. It was a decent gesture, considering the high profile position he had held. At about 5.30am our victory was formally announced by the returning officer. I do think our victory was the result of effective teamwork and goes to prove what can be done if everyone believes in a cause.
After numerous interviews with the Press, we returned to the Conservative Club for a well earned sausage roll and a celebratory drink. It would have been nice to go to bed at this stage but duty called and we were soon heading to Purbeck for the local election count before heading over to Weymouth in the afternoon for the Borough Council results. We retained all our Purbeck seats in South Dorset and lost one and won one in Weymouth.
Finally, in the evening, we hosted a party to celebrate a successful couple of days. 
Wednesday May 5
Started at dawn with the postmen of the Weymouth sorting office. We had a most interesting exchange of views before they set off on their rounds and I returned to canvassing across the constituency on this, the last full day of campaigning. After a very welcome and reviving bacon bap in Portland, we visited Portland Bill and canvassed many streets on the island then rushed back to meet the fishermen in Weymouth as they came in from their morning trips.  I spoke to the scallop divers, who often dive for up to 90 minutes at a time in up to 80 feet of cold, dark water in Weymouth Bay. I take my hat off to them and will certainly appreciate scallops from now on. We spent the afternoon canvassing in many different areas of Weymouth. The conversations I had on so many doorsteps reminded me how important it is that things change for the better. The opposition was out in force, waving banners on street corners but the banter was all very humorous and good tempered. 
Tuesday, May 4
Early to Swanage market where we again met stallholders and discussed their concerns - the price of fuel and government encouragement for small businessses were high on the list. From there, we went on to visit a company in Poole, where I held a most interesting question and answer session - covering a wide range of business, housing and taxation issues - with 150 workers. Following this, we visited a supermarket  in Weymouth and went on to canvass in Portland for the rest of the afternoon.
Monday, May 3
Continued with the fairer funding for schools petition in Debenhams Square in Weymouth this morning. Seven of my friends  joined us and after four hours of collecting signatures, they all had something positive to report, although there are still a number of undecideds out there. Mid morning, I popped across to Portland to attend the market, which was bustling. Several people told us they were Labour voters and several more said they were ours; on balance it was about 50/50 - and not a Lib Dem voter in sight! We then canvassed in Weymouth West, ably assisted by a loyal supporter who had travelled all the way from Oxford to help us. He could not have been more helpful nor more charming. Finally left for Swanage to be interviewed by BBC News 24. Two more hours canvassing in West Lulworth until it began to get dark.
 
Saturday, May 1
 Spent the morning in Swanage with a team of friends and helpers, asking voters to sign our NHS and fairer funding for schools petitions.  As always in this campaign, we were greeting warmly and offered help and advice. Back to the office for team meetings this afternoon.
 May 2010