May 2012

Thu, 31 May

Into the office first thing and then down to Portland to the Sailing Academy.

I'd been asked there by representatives from the charity Fair Trade, who wanted me to present a certificate to chief executive John Tweed.

Afterwards, John and I chatted about the Olympics and he seemed remarkably relaxed about the whole thing.

John's a well organised man, so I am sure he's left nothing to chance.

A big sailing event is on over this weekend, with many countries represented.

I then popped into the police and was met by my old friend Inspector Sean Cronin, who is delightful.

He's been seconded to the Olympic team, so I caught up with all the latest  news and had a quick look into the control room.

With tv screens everywhere, it resembled the bridge of the starship Enterprise!

Then it was down to the quayside and back into the King's Arms to meet Jennie Jackson and Chrissie Payne, the chairman and secretary of the charity which runs the MV Freedom, an especially adapted boat which caters for those in wheelchairs.

I'd seen they were short of cash in the local paper and wanted to meet them.

They were both charming, as you'd expect, and we had a good natter in the pub, chomping on some delicious sandwiches, courtesy of the landlord, Peter Whittle.

What a wonderful cause and I am going to see if I can organise some parking for their minibus by the jetty opposite the council offices.  

With no appointments for my surgery, I headed back to the office. 

Wed, 30 May

 

Today was always going to be a sad day, and so it was.

Dave McFarlane's funeral was held at the Holy Trinity Church in Weymouth, opposite where his fishing boat, the Purbeck Isle, used to moor.

The church was full of family, friends, fishermen and supporters. 

The Service was taken quietly and well by The Reverend Canon Richard Franklin.

Afterwards, the family and a few close friends went to the crematorium.

Dave's lovely mum and dad, Colin and Grace, had asked me to attend and it was an honour to do so.

Then, we all returned to the harbour and, armed with some beers provided by hard-working staff in the King's Arms, we watched a small armada of fishing boats take the family and friends out to sea for a while where they laid flowers.

Dave's partner, Vicky Huntley, was very brave and dignified throughout.

At 2.30pm I had to leave the wake and headed to Underhill Junior School to meet and listen to a young choir.

They were fabulous.

Their leader, the smashing Nicki Fryer, was inspirational.

The choir sang their little hearts out for about an hour, before parents arrived and took them home.

I also had the pleasure of meeting 12 year old Wednesday Jolliffe, who now goes to Royal Manor Arts College.

She was a pupil at Underhill and had such a fun time there that she now comes back to help Nicki with the choir.

What a lovely girl, whose mum is a teaching assistant at Underhill. 

It was a more cheerful end to a rather bleak day.

One little crumb of comfort: I understand that divers have been down to the wreck and the two missing men are not there.

At least that brings closure to the families on that issue.

The hope now is that their bodies will turn up so the families can have a son to grieve over.

It is very, very sad. 

Tue, 29 May

 

Hopping on to my motorcyle, I headed to Yeovil in brilliant sunshine.

I went to visit AugustWestland, which builds helicopters for the MOD.

I was met by Simon Jones, the Vice President of UK Government Business, and Gerry McFall, head of external communications.

I received an hour-long brief in the Boardroom.

The illustrated talk was fascinating and very informative.

Afterwards, Gerry took me on a guided tour of the massive site, which employs more than 3,000 staff.

We went to see how the blades are made, before I was given a go on a simulator.

it's the coockpit for the new Wildcat aircraft and I was told that Nick Clegg only lasted four minutes in the air before he crashed.

I am glad to report that I was still flying after 10 minutes! What better incentive did I need!

I was then taken to a hangar where they were working on Merlins and the new AW159. 

Absolutely fascinating.

And of course while all this was going on, helicopters of all descriptions were landing and taking off from the airfield outside the hangars.

The purpose of my visit was to see for myself how this giant company operates because a lot of contract work has been awarded to companies in my constituency.

Universal Engineering springs to mind, which puts together all the internal wiring for the new AW helicopter.

It is vital we retain these skills and expertise in the UK.

We lead the world in many areas of defence, which of course have implications for the civil markets too.

Back to the office late afternoon, where I worked through to the evening. 

Mon, 28 May

 

A busy day at my desk, dealing with a raft of constituency matters.

There's the threatened Swanage Hospital, the elderly lady in the resort disturbed by the temporary dentist, the on-going tragedy with the deaths of three fishermen in Weymouth. I shall be attending Dave MacFarlane's funeral on Wednesday. Trouble has flared up again on Littlemoor, with residents claiming that incidents are occurring because the county council has switched off street lights at night to save money. I am looking into this. There's the column to write and a visit to Augusta Westland tomorrow to plan. Meanwhile, in London my excellent team continue to fight their way through copious emails. We may be on so-called holiday, but I can tell you it is not!

Regarding the sinking of the Purbeck Isle, the police have now said they will not be diving on the wreck, which sits in about 150 feet of water.

I know that not all the families are happy with this as they want closure on this terrible tragedy and finding the bodies of their loved ones would be one giant step forward.

I have written to both the accident investigation branch and the police, requesting they reconsider this, if indeed the bodies are not found soon. 

Sun, 27 May

Attended a wonderful service at Wimborne Minster in the afternoon.

It was to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Minster was full, as you'd expect.

Many dignitaries came, including, naturally, our wonderful Lord Lieutenant, Mrs Pitt-Rivers, who is a remarkable lady.

Unusually, perhaps, we had two Bishops, the Bishop of Salisbury, who gave the address, and the Bishop of Sherborne, who led the Thanksgiving.

Touchingly, 60 schoolchildren walked through the church, each carrying a candle.

The choir performed magnificently and the Rector glued it all together in great style.

The sun shone and many guests were only too grateful to walk into the cool church and take a breather!

Musicians from the Royal Signals gave weight to a very talented organist, Sean Tucker.

It was absolutely right that we should give thanks for our Queen, who is truly a magnificent lady.

Several colleagues from the House were also present.

A fitting accolade for a special lady. 

Fri, 25 May

An early morning breakfast meeting with councillors to discuss the health review being proposed for Purbeck.

None of us are happy as it would entail the closure of Swanage's cottage hospital and the loss of 15 beds.

It's more complicated than that, but we are on to it.

Home to the office for a short while, before heading to Weymouth to meet businessman Richard Grafton.

What a delightful man, who had some excellent points for our Government to get business moving again.

He consults with small businesses in the pub, hotel and food outlet world and wants the Government to reduce VAT to five per cent.

I entirely concur with this and have already been working on this up in the Commons.

A quick journey to the council offices to attend the regular Dorset Olympic Board meeting, before racing home to change into a suit and then to Bovington for the Beating to Quarters.

Never a dull moment!

Worryingly, the police have said they will not dive on the wreck of the Purbeck Isle to see if the bodies of the two young men are still there.

The poor families need certainty, so I have written to the marine accident investigation branch for help and advice on this sensitive issue. 

Thu, 24 May

 

Not an easy day.

I hopped on to my motorcyle and headed to Weymouth.

The town is still rocked by the deaths of the three fishermen, Dave McFarlane, Robert Prowse and Jack Craig.

Today I was visiting Dave's parents, Coline and Grace.

During my two hours with the family, we were joined by Dave's partner, Vicky Huntley.

The whole family are managing this tragedy with such dignity and courage.

Dave is to be cremated, following a Service at The Holy Trinity, on Wednesday.

So very sad.

I then popped into the local MCA station and had a long yatter with the boss, Mark Rodaway, such a nice man.

I thanked the watchkeepers for their vital role in the search operation.

Across, then, to Swanage to meet a group of objectors, who are appalled at plans to erect up to 330 giant wind turbines off Swanage.

I am, too, so they had a willing ear.

They made a short presentation, which included a video of what the wind farm will look like if built.

It is truly horrifying.

We shall do all we can to fight this proposal and I am already in correspondence with ministers and others.

Late in the afternoon, I visited a lovely elderly lady, who was represented by her daughter, who lives nearby.

She's understandably upset by the fact the new mobile dentist is right next door, overlooks her garden and the noise of drills is driving her mad.

I'm sure we can find a solution to this one.

Then, back to the office until the early evening. 

Wed, 23 May

 

Out on my first run for days! And tired though I was, it was pure joy to get out into the early morning sunshine.

Worked through to 1130am and then went down to the Chamber for PMQs.

Had written to the Speaker, requesting I could pay tribute to the three dead fishermen and their families and friends.

Disappointingly, I was not called.

Lunch with my daughter and then across to Westminster Hall for a debate on dangerous dogs.

As it happens, a young constituent of mine was savaged by a Scottish Highland Terrier at a private party in a neighbouring house.

Because the attack happened on private property, there is nothing the girls's parents or the law can do.

I raised this issue on behalf of this poor family and I was glad to hear that the Government has just started consulting about legislation and dangerous dogs.

Then, I had to race to my Efra Select Committee, which went on to 5pm.

Back to the office until 7pm and then down to Dorset.

Tue, 22 May

Headed back up to London, having recovered from my bug.

Straight into a mountain of mail and constituency matters.

Popped down to the Chamber at 3.30pm to listen to a debate on the phone hacking scandal.

Then, back to the office to catch up.

Worked through until 10pm and then home.

Mon, 21 May

Feeling a little stronger at last.

Made several inquiries into thiis terrible fishing disaster.

Intend to pay tribute to the dead men at this week's PMQs if am called. I have asked to be.

Several radio interviews and one with the local press regarding the loss of our SAR helicopter in 2017 and whether this incident again justifies its existence.

There is no doubt in my mind that it does and I have written a pretty blunt and open letter to the Secretary of State, Justine Greening, requesting for a second time that she visit South Dorset and speaks to the professionals who run our SAR services.

I also wrote to Robert Prowse's father and am trying to find the details of the other men so I can offer what comfort I can, should they require it.

The two young men are still missing.

Sun, 20 May

Mark Rodaway told me the search was called off yesterday. 

He believes a man can last only about six hours in the sea at this time of year.

Flowers bedeck the quayside in Weymouth and clearly this awful accident has hit the community hard.

The search for the two young men continues.

Sat, 19 May

Tragically, the skipper, Dave Macfarlane, has been found.

The two other young men, Jack Craig and Robert Prowse, are still missing.

This really is a terrible tragedy and my heart goes out to their families and friends.

I have spoken to MCA chief Mark Rodaway and Andy Allock, secretary of the W&P Licensed Boatmen's & Fishermen's Association.

I've had some feedback now on how our brilliant SAR helicopter, lifeboat and co-ordination centre have worked with the Royal Navy and others to scour the sea for two days.

I wish there was more one could do.

Fri, 18 May

 

I froze while listening to the radio this morning, as reports of a fishing vessel lost off our coastline came in.

The Purbeck Isle and three crew have been missing since yesterday.

A huge search and rescue operation was mounted and is on-going.

I've just spoken to Ken Lynham, who tells me wreckage has been found off The Shambles.

The signs are not good, poor devils. 

Recovering from this vicious bug, I had to cancel a visit to Augusta Westland in Yeovil, which I'd be looking forward to.

Constituents in South Dorset companies make parts for the helicopter and I wanted to go and see the  finished product. Another time.

Still no news on the three missing fishermen.

Andy Allcock, their Association secretary, told me the boat had been found.

She'd sunk about 10 miles south of Portland Bill.

Let's pray and hope the men are in a life raft, awaiting rescue.

I also made enquries about plans published recently to review health provision in Purbeck.

I can see this becoming a very controversial issue. 

Thu, 17 May

Still struggling with this cursed bug.

So frustrated to miss the official opening of the new signal box on the Swanage railway.

My former chairman, George Preston, very kindly took over the honours and met the minister Teresa Villiers, who had come down to officiate. 

She has been so supportive all the way through and I was sorry to miss her.

Wed, 16 May

 

Struggled in the office - always so much to do - but failed after a couple of hours and went home.

Will get there!

Tue, 15 May

 

No better!

Mon, 14 May

Feeling even worse, I took myself off to the Dr.

He told me what I already knew, and ordered me home and rest. I duly complied.

I hate being ill and have not felt like this for many years.

I felt bad at letting down the RSPB, which had kindly asked me to open their new centre at Radipole Lake in Weymouth.

I had then booked in to speak in the Chamber in the afternoon on the economy and business. That speech can be read on my website.

Still, I think caution is the better part of valour right now, frankly.

Back to bed!

Fri, 11 May

Still feeling under the weather, I hopped on my motorcyle and headed to Dorchester to meet Fire Chief Darran Gunter.
We are extremely lucky to have a man of such high calibre leading our fire and rescue service. 

For about an hour, he delivered a well constructed and superbly illustrated brief on the dire state of his finances. 

They are bad, and something must be done before the elastic snaps.

The minister Bob Neill is aware of our situation, but I shall be lobbying him hard again to ensure he realises just how serious the situation is.

Afterwards, I headed across the constituency to Langton Matravers to meet some householders who are in dispute with their housing association.

I always think that a visit is the only way to truly be able to assess the situation and so this visit proved.

The houses, built about 20 years ago, are suffering from mould, poor window fittings and lack of heating.

I am hopeful that we can work this through with the housing association, which is building more homes behind these ones. 

Then, back to Wool for my surgery, after which I headed home, lept into a suit and drove to Devon to help out a colleague who wanted a guest speaker at a fundraising do.

It was held in a beautiful private house, with a stunning view of Tiverton.

Really feeling awful by now, I headed home and to bed! 

Thu, 10 May

 

I stupidly risked riding my motorcycle today, which was a mistake!

Still feeling under the weather and riding through pouring rain was not a clever thing to do.

Never mind.

My first stop was to meet a family whose child had been attacked by a dog last year.

It was an horrific incident and one that falls outside the law because it happened in someone's home.

I shall be asking the government where we stand on this as there is currently no law to cover this loophole, although I suspect there's a good reason. No doubt I will find out.

I then met a charming constituent who had several points he wanted to put to me.

We chatted for about 45 minutes and I think he was reassured by the time he left.

Then it was back to the office the pouring rain ... and did it rain! I could hardly see where I was going.

Spent some time co-ordinating two ministerial visits.

One's by Teresa Villiers, who is coming to open the new signal box on the Swanage railway.

The other is James Brokenshire, who is receiving a security brief on the Olympics at the Sailing Academy.

Wed, 9 May

 

Queen's Speech today.

House of Commons and all approaches sealed off. More like a fortress than a magnificent display of our democracy!

All MPs met in the House for prayers at 1125, after which Black Rod summoned us all to the Lords, where we listened to the Queen deliver her speech.

By this time I really was feeling like death and retired back to my flat and to bed!

Horrid, horrid bug .... I watched the opening speeches.

As was expected, Miliband attacked on a number of fronts, doing rather well I thought, for a change!

Personally, there was little in the Speech which will radically revisit the ways we do business in this country and, still tied to the EU, there is little opportunity to really free up enterprise from red tape and high taxes, albeit corporation tax is being reduced, but not fast enough.  

Having slept a bit, I headed home to Dorset. 

Tue, 8 May

 

Post Bank Holiday weekend in-tray to wade through.

I met with the Bournemouth Echo's news editor Andy Martin for a chat mid morning.

Several constituency issues to resolve.

Post local election mop-up.

Pre Queen's Speech chats with colleagues in the House.

Up to London in the evening, beginning to feel awful as a horrid bug began to take its toll.

Fri, 4 May

 

The media mop up was well underway when I tuned into the Today programme at 0700.

We had taken a kicking, so too the Lib Dems.

Politicians from the three main parties faced a barrage of questions.

Labour's representatives were upbeat, as you'd expect.

Lib Dems were inconsolable and our team was claiming mid-term blues, which I happen to disagree with.

There's no doubt our problems stem from a lack of vision at the top.

Anyway, I didn't have much time to dwell on all this as I had to get to Lulworth and Winfrith First School, to visit the charming head there and catch up with their news.

Such a lovely and well run school and I was encouraged to hear they'd got some money to invest in their building, which needs it!

On to the Portland SAR helicopter afterwards, where I met the pilot Captain Simon Hoare and his crew.

All are ex-services and you can tell that. There's something reassuring about ex-service people and it's hard to explain exactly what.

I was escorted by Richard Parkes from the MCA and Ian McLuskie, a senior executive with CHC, which runs the SAR contract here.

As you know, I am deeply worried about the government's plans to remove our helicopter in 2017 and I told the crew in no uncertain terms that I intend to fight on to get this stupid decision overturned.

I expressed my thanks to these brave men on behalf of us all for their dedication and courage. We are so lucky to be served by such men.

Then, I had the very sad task to attending the 'Flag man's' funeral at the crematorium.

I first met this extraordinary man, Pat Silverton, while I was campaiging in the square outside Debenhams.

He came up to me, thumped me on the arm and asked in his blunt, Londoner way who the hell I was!

We hit it off straight away and we became friends.

Full of life and one of those rare givers, he lit up the town with his humour and dedication to make the resort a better place for all of us.

He succeeded through sheer force of character.

At the funeral, I met his family, including his lovely partner Amanda and his charming brother Dennis, who gave one of the most touching eulogies I've heard.

The wake was held in The Cutter inn and we all piled in for a few beers, or two.

I, we, shall miss this remarkable man.

It was back to office afterwards, to catch up on emails and other correspondence, while waiting anxiously for the result of the Mayoral elections in London.

Boris made it!

Thank the Lord that at least one Conservative did well in the past 24 hours.

No doubt the press will compare Boris' success with Cameron's disaster.

The latter would do well to listen and learn! 

Thu, 3 May

 

Local election day and a busy one.

First stop Wyvern Special School . I attended a meeting with the charming head Sue Hoxey and Chairman of Governors and two ladies from the Dorset health team.

The aim of the meeting was to impress on the health team that the school needed paediatric cover for children with serious complications.

The two delightful ladies were most helpful and progress was made.

I then travelled on to a very sad case, which I will not embellish for fear of breaking confidences.

Needless to say, I have done my best to resolve it and progress was again made here, much to my relief.

Grabbing a sandwich at the Spar Shop in Preston Road, I hopped back on my motorbike and headed across to Corfe Castle to see Nigel Beckett, the excellent head at the First School there.

On the way, I, along with many other motorists, got stuck behind a Challenger tank!

The police were escorting it down the road from Bere Regis to the turn off to the Lulworth ranges.

You've never seen oncoming traffic get out of the way so quickly!

Nigel wanted to chat about funding for small, village schools, and he was going to email me his points which I will then take up to the great and the good.

He has a point, and our small schools are a vital part of the fabric of rural life.

Back to the office to deal further with my sad case which I think between the various agencies we've managed to solve, at least temporarily.

The count followed.

I was in the Pavilion by 2230, to meet all our candidates and savour the atmosphere, which there always is.

The count was well run, as always, and the results soon started coming in.

There was clearly a swing to Labour, which was to be expected.

Fortunately, the national swing against us was not so prominent in Dorset.

No Party has overall control of the council still and we still have one more councillor than the other parties.

However, we were two down overall, with the former MP Ian Bruce doing brilliantly in Preston.

Regrettably, we lost two wards in Portland, with Tim Munro and Richard Paisley losing to Labour.

Politics is a tough business and all of us can expect things to go wrong at times. We have to pick ourselves up and carry on.

There's no doubt in my mind that the national picture played a major part, and my views on the Government are expressed on my website.

Left Weymouth at the end of the count and drove to Wareham to support our Purbeck colleagues.

Fortunately, we held there, with the lovely and capable Ali Patrick having a fight on her hand with her young, Labour challenger.

To be at about 0330!

Wed, 2 May

In the office for the first part of the morning, until biking down to Weymouth to campaign with our council candidate Jean Woodward in Southill.

After a couple of hours with Jean, I popped across to Portland to see the delightful Phil Laming.

He was concerned about the lack of communication from the Aldridge Foundation, which is driving the Portland Academy through.

Then, over to Swanage to campaign there for our lovely, sitting councillor Ali Patrick.

Stuck my nose into the hospital to say hello.

They are such a special team there.

Back to the office for an hour and then home. 

Tue, 1 May

A mass of correspondence to catch up with and constituency matters to deal with.