November 2009

Mon, 30 Nov
The drive to Portland always gives me great pleasure. There's much to see as you battle your way through traffic, which is just as well. I went to the medical centre in Easton to meet members of the island's carers' support group.
 
We often forget carers as, in most cases, they are family members looking after a relative and this is done out of love and duty. They don't make a fuss and quietly go about their lives, which are often complicated and exhausting.
 
Jo Pearce is the chairman of this fledgling group, and a woman with determination written all over her face. The group meets to support each other, to share experiences and to plan days out.
 
I was very touched by the different accounts and one thing shone through as I listened: they were all absolutely dedicated to their role. We must not forget these special people, whose lives are often not their own.
 

 
Sat, 28 Nov
The forecast was terrible, but we were lucky and managed several hours' canvassing in Wyke. When out of the wind, it was really a rather nice day.
 
Again, we found many Conservatives, all of whom wished Helen well. Then, at about 3pm, the rain came in and it was time to draw stumps. I don't recall this much rain for along time.
 
I am hoping it will turn colder, not only to give us all that Christmas feel, but to banish the rain as well. You wait; the next thing, we will fighting our way through snow drifts!
 

 
Thu, 26 Nov
It was a great honour to be able to present a cheque for more than £4,000 to our county regiment The Rifles. The money I raised running this year's London marathon will go to the Rifles' Hardship Fund, set up to support the bereaved, those serving in the field and those recovering from horrific injuries back home.
 
The cheque was accepted by the commander of army recruiting Brigadier Jolyon Jackson, who remembered my brother, Charles, a former Greenjacket.
 
After the presentation, we chatted about the regiment and its ethos following amalgamation. They are very proud of their new regiment and the role they are playing in Afghanistan.
 
That role has taken its toll, with 34 soldiers dead and more than 100 very seriously injured.
 
While half the money I raised went to The Rifles, the other half went to Starlight, a children's charity that grants wishes to seriously or terminally ill youngsters.
 
After my tea and chat, I headed back down to Weymouth to canvass with Helen Glavin and her delightful husband, Paul.
 

 
Wed, 25 Nov
I joined forces again with your council candidate Helen Glavin canvassing in Wyke. She is a fabulous lady and, should she be elected, will follow in Doug's steps admirably. Cool, calm and intelligent, she seems to appeal to many on the door.
 
I left Helen in good hands and went to a Park District PACT meeting. Many issues were debated, but the main one was HMOs. I also met Mark Burrows and his wife, who claim to have been plagued by the anti-social behaviour from some tenants living in an adjacent HMO. He adds he has complained to both the landlord and the council, to no effect. 
 
I am grateful to the seat's former MP, Ian Bruce, who, with this Weymouth & Portland Landlords' Association hat on, is trying to help in this matter. I do hope this can be resolved, for everyone's sake.
 
Other matters at the PACT meeting included dog fouling, littering and dangerous cycling. A further concern are the plans for the 2012 road management proposals. PACT chairman Dave Burchill said they had not been thought through and urged everyone to voice their concerns to the council before it was too late.
 
The police and two PCSOs were present, thankfully with nothing too much to report. This really is a community who deserves to be listened to. They are all doing so much to improve their lives and need help, support and reassurance as they represent their community so admirably.
 

 
Tue, 24 Nov
The colourful and noisy demonstration wound its way through the streets of Dorchester, pulling up in front of County Hall on the dot of 9.45am.
 
At the front of this visual feast was a tractor and trailer, festooned with placards calling for St George's First School to be saved. Following along behind was a crowd of about 100 people, vocal and full of fight.
 
They handed their petition into the committee's chairman before heading up to the public gallery. I, too, made my way into the chamber, where I was one of several deputations with permission to address councillors on this thorny issue of education provision in Purbeck.
 
Many excellent points were made by all the speakers. And after about two hours it was time for the councillors to do their elected duty and vote on the proposals. 
 
There was a loud cheer when they dropped one option to consider merging St George's with another first school on a new site. The proposal going forward now is for the Langton Matravers' school to remain where it is, and that's how it should be.
 
Another cheer went up when councillors decided to include an option to provide some form of secondary provision in the town. This was going to be dropped and I applaud the council's change of heart.
 
This is a wonderful opportunity to re-introduce a secondary school to Swanage and a Conservative government would look at parents' wishes seriously. Big is not always beautiful and a smaller secondary school would be a huge asset to the town and surrounding area.
 
Our small town and village communities need schools. They are the heart and lifeblood of rural communities, which this government has done so much to damage.
 
Well done the residents of Swanage and those groups who have worked so hard to give their town a legacy to be proud of.
 
After a long meeting, I shot down to Weymouth to meet a new group for teenage mums. I was most impressed. Two ladies have set up this small charity, to help and guide youngsters who get themselves pregnant. The care and attention I witnessed is already paying dividends but they need money and if anyone is prepared to support this worthwhile cause do please get in touch with me.
 
I found meeting these young mums a poignant experience. They all had good hearts and on the whole regretted the position they found themselves in. But, with help and guidance, these young ladies will make it through and they will have this fantastic charity to thank.
 

 
Mon, 23 Nov
A busy day preparing for a presentation to Dorset County Council's community overview committee. This whole review into education provision in Purbeck is fraught with difficulty. And it would seem that many capable cannot agree on a workable solution.
 
Encouragingly, Michael Gove's office is keen for me to make several points tomorrow which may offer hope to those who feel they have no say in the future education of their children. 
 
The State does not know best, of that I am certain. And if we win at the next election, we must empower parents and others so that education standards can rise.
 
Meanwhile, Mark Turner is lobbying his MP up in London in order to highlight the plight of his son, Michael, who's locked up in a Hungarian jail without charge. I have told the story in earlier entries, so I won't repeat myself, save to say this whole sorry saga is an outrage.
 
I shall continue to do what I can for Michael in the hope that all we are doing will lead to his repatriation.
 

 
Fri, 20 Nov
Time to deal with an overflowing in-tray. The problems range from noisy pubs to ramps for the disabled. I'm glad to report that I believe I have helped resolve the latter, with Boots confirming they had now applied to the local authority to install a ramp to their store on Portland.
 
Meanwhile, my heart goes out to all those affected by the torrential downpour in northern England and Scotland. And a policeman is missing after a bridge collapsed. Mother nature is a terrifying lady when she unleashes her power, making man look only too mortal.
 

 
Thu, 19 Nov
After meeting with one of our supporters in the morning, I spoke to Mark Turner to gather the latest on his son, languishing in an Hungarian jail. Mark is heading to London on Monday to hand in a letter to his MP and to then visit the Hungarian embassy.
 
Mark's already written to the Queen, no less, and had a response. Her staff have in turn written to Jack Straw, so the campaign is definitely out there and will hopefully succeed in seeing Michael repatriated as soon as possible.
 
In the afternoon, I had the most pleasurable task of presenting a tankard to one of our wood staff who has worked here for 40 years! It is a remarkable record. I have grown up with this man and others in the forestry department and they really are the most special men and good friends.
 
Then, in the evening, I attended our eighth Drax Direct, this time in Westham.
 

 
Wed, 18 Nov
After an hour with our campaign director, I joined our Wyke candidate Helen Glavin and Cllr Geoff Petherick on the streets out canvassing.
 
Despite a blustery wind, the rain held off and we managed to meet many residents, who appeared pleased to see us. Helen communicates so well with people and I know that if elected she will be a superb replacement for dear Doug Hollings.
 
As Doug was the 'gentleman' of his ward, Helen will be the 'gentlewoman'.
 

 
Tue, 17 Nov
A great friend of mine came to call today, but in his role as shadow fishing minister. Richard Benyon MP joined me at home before we drove to Weymouth to meet fishermen from across the south.
 
Fortunately for us - though clearly not for them - the weather prevented them from going to sea, so we had a full house, with about 50 fishermen from Poole, Lulworth, Swanage, Weymouth and Portland.
 
If anyone's likely to speak their minds, it's fishermen, and Mr Benyon was questioned for more than an hour on a whole range of subjects. He impressed his listeners, I heard later, by his depth of knowledge, despite having only been promoted to the post quite recently.
 
The fishermen, like others who work on the sea and land, feel neglected and ruled over by bureaucrats. Too seldom their voices are heard, or even asked for. Conservationists have their place, but it appears to many fishermen they hold the aces in the pack, with time and money to lobby government effectively.
 
Mr Benyon promised to take these concerns into account should we form the next government. And much of what he said was welcomed, with caution, I should add. Fishermen feel they have already been betrayed by this government and they're not ready to trust any more politicians. It's action they want, not talk.
 
On arriving back in the office, I called Mark Turner at Corfe Castle to gather the latest on his son, who's jailed in Hungary. Mark told me they were now concerned for Michael's business partner, Jason, who'd told his wife on the phone he was being bullied by his cell mates. This whole episode is a salutary lesson to us all on what this so-called closer integration with the EU really means.
 

 
Mon, 16 Nov
I had been looking forward to this commitment for some time and I was not disappointed. I had an hour with about 40 A Level students all studying politics at The Thomas Hardye School in Dorchester.
 
And what an interesting hour it turned out to be. After a brief introduction by the school's charming head of government and politics Anna Killick, I gave a short address and then handed the session over to the students.
 
The questions came thick and fast. They ranged from points on positive discrimination to the war in Afghanistan. It was good to see so many students taking an interest in politics. There is a lot going on at the moment and with an election round the corner it's an exciting time.
 
Afterwards, I had a few moments with the school's charismatic and highly successful head Dr Melvin. He leads a dynamic team and one he is rightly very proud of.
 

 
Sun, 15 Nov
I was back in the office by about 9am to catch up with all my correspondence.
 

 
Sat, 14 Nov
With memories of the previous night's gales on Portland, I went to my office to speak to the Telegraph over the plight of my prospective constituent Michael Turner, who's languishing in an Hungarian jail.
 
Then, it was off to Weymouth to support our Wyke candidate Helen Glavin. We met in a downpour, huddling in a bus stop. They team of canvassers were all soaked by this stage, having started earlier in the morning. We decided to call it a day as it really did not make any sense to battle on.
 
I diverted to Corfe Castle on the way home to chat to Mark Turner and to see how he was. The family are doing well, considering, and all we can do is keep the pressure on this government to act and to keep publicising this extraordinary and worrying case.
 

 
Fri, 13 Nov
Unlucky for some! But that was not my case today. The Michael Turner case is moving more and more into the spotlight, and rightly so. You may recall, this is the 27-year-old man from Corfe Castle, who's locked up in Hungary on alleged fraud charges.
 
Michael handed himself over to the Hungarian authorities at Gatwick two weeks ago after losing his extradition battle in the High Court. His father, Mark, who runs the Castle Inn in Corfe Castle, has not heard from his son since.
 
Michael's Hungarian lawyer, Dr Andras Pakay, is not exactly reassuring about his country's judicial system, saying it should be "more human and flexible". 
 
But if this case is a taste of what's to come, then God help us. It won't be long before other British citizens are handed over to European countries who, like Hungary, can lock you up without charges for weeks, maybe months.
 
I am working hard of the family's behalf and have passed all the information to our shadow team. I have warned about this slide to Federalism again and again and again.
 
This unfortunate case is just the beginning.
 
Then, in the evening, I joined the Portland police, to see first hand how the island is covered on a Friday night. I caught a brief glimpse of PCs Pat Braithwait and Jim Long, before I was handed over to the tender mercies of PC Mike Holman and PCSO Lyn Huckins.
 
As you know, it was a wet and windy night! At one point, Lyn could hardly close the patrol car door. On another she was almost dragged out of the car when she opened it.
 
There is a great sense of camaraderie among the Portland team. Their little outpost is tucked away in a corner of a building on Osprey Quay. It's so tucked away that no one heard the buzzer when I arrived. So, using my common sense, I reached for a yellow phone nearby and dialled '1'.
 
Someone answered and asked if I wanted fire, ambulance or police. I replied I wanted to enter the building, thinking this was a wind-up. I soon realised it wasn't and the yellow phone had indeed put me through to the 999 emergency centre. Mumbling my apologies, I banged on a window and the automatic door swung open. I was in.
 
I stayed with Mike and Lyn until they went off shift at midnight. We patrolled the island by car as the rain lashed down. Mike and Lyn briefed me on their role and range of tasks. Much of the crime was low level, but enough to cause unease among residents.
 
The Portland Gang were the main group of teenage yobs who thought themselves above the law. The police are aware of them and keep a beady eye.
 
I have always admired the police and tonight's visit only strengthened that view. They're out in all weathers, trying their best to keep us safe and criminals off the streets. But they are badly let down by the system, with powerless courts and pathetic prison sentences. There is no respect for the police or fear of prison. This must change and I shall fight hard if elected to ensure this inbalance is corrected.
 
Lyn told me she was not allowed to carry pepper spray and was often called to potentially dangerous situations, armed with little more than an anti-stab vest. I shall be writing to the Chief Constable to ask him why PCSOs cannot have the equipment to protect themselves in the event they are attacked.
 
At the end of our shift, I gave Lyn a huge hug and shook Mike's hand. Two more able officers you could not find, and they are out there doing all they can for the island and its inhabitants.
 
We are lucky in this country, in so many ways.
 

 
Thu, 12 Nov
At 10am on the dot, I was reporting at the Park Community Centre in Weymouth to team up with Ken Whatley. Ken runs the centre and is a key community figure, working tirelessly for residents and representing their concerns and worries.
 
I met Ken at a previous meeting and we'd agreed to meet again for a tour of the Park District, which has received some bad press in recent months.
 
Ken's main concern is the number of HMOs in the area, and he's not alone. Another area activist David Burchill is almost worn down by the problems linked to a high number of HMOs.
 
What baffles me is why this district has so many. Does the local authority have any powers to reduce the number, or indeed place more HMOs in other parts of the town. I have written to the chief executive of Weymouth & Portland Borough Council and am awaiting a reply.
 
David joined us on our pleasant tour, as we looked at the houses, met local people and chatted to a young PCSO we encountered.
 
I was told of one B&B owner in the area whose health has been affected after years of trouble from an HMSO next to hus business. Everyone is tired of talk and wants action.
 
After a couple of hours with Ken and David, I bade them farewell and headed across to Swanage to attend the funeral service of former town councillor Constance Gainsborough.
 
The Reverend John Wood took the service so well, offering comfort to Constance's family and friends. Afterwards, we enjoyed a cup of team and some delicious cakes and sandwiches in the church.
 
Constance was the most lovely, kind and thoughtful person, who had a full and remarkable life. She had an endearing love of Swanage and its people. We shall all miss her.
 

   
Wed, 11 Nov
Armistice Day and time to remember when the guns fell silent at the end of World War One. I joined Swanage's Mayor Cllr Mike Pratt at the town's war memorial at 1045.
 
Colin Bright was there to play the Last Post most beautifully and the Team Rector of Swanage and Studland, John Wood, took a short, dignified service.
 
There were about 100 people, all dressed up against a cold wind. Afterwards, Mike and I popped into the Conservative Club to meet old friends and have a warming coffee.
 
Tomorrow, sadly, I shall meet John again. I say sadly as he is taking the service at the funeral of dear Constance Gainsborough, who was a wonderful colleague and a very special lady.
 

 
Tue, 10 Nov
This morning I had a useful meeting with Jeremy Pope, who was the deputy chairman of the South West of England Regional Development Agency.
 
He's worked tirelessly on preparing for the Olympics down here and has done, and is doing, many good works to ensure we enjoy some kind of legacy from these Games.
 
I was fascinated to hear what is being planned and what is hoped for. Clearly, if I get my job next year, I shall be working alongside him and others to ensure South Dorset succeeds in maximising this unique opportunity in 2012.
 
Afterwards, I joined our new prospective district council candidate Helen Glavin canvassing in Wyke. She's aiming to fill Doug Hollings' shoes after his very sad and premature death, following a long illness.
 
Helen was well received at many doors and we were both very encouraged at the level of support. Helen will do a fantastic job. A retired lawyer, she's bright, lives in the town and has a wonderful rapport with people.
 
If elected, she will do a fabulous job. In many ways, she's similar to Doug, except she's a gentlewoman, rather than a gentleman.
 

 
Mon, 9 Nov
I was looking forward to meeting the principal of Weymouth College again. Sue Moore's charismatic, full of energy and doing a wonderful job at the college.
 
I was in her office on the dot of 9am, to meet both Sue and her able deputy Paul Lonsdale. Much of our chat revolved around money, or the lack of it. Funding is a key issue for the college and the future is uncertain.
 
Two buildings need renovating, if they are to continue in the years ahead, and of course there's now the Redlands Sport Centre, which the college is now running.
 
It will be one of my top priorities, should I be elected, to fight for a larger slice of the funding cake. We are almost criminally underfunded in Dorset, much to this government's shame.
 
In the evening, I attended my seventh Drax Direct in Littlemoor. One of the attendees was round Britain walker Seb Green, who I'd supported, and his father.
 
The evening went well, with many questions and feedback. I find these events extremely useful and it's a wonderful way for my prospective constituents to meet me and for me to meet them.
 

 
Sun, 8 Nov
A special day, and time to remember our fallen and think of those who are fighting on our behalf, especially in Afghanistan. I started the day in Weymouth, where thousands of people gathered to pay their respects.
 
Under leaden skies and an increasingly cold wind, the outdoor ceremony was its usual poignant affair. The Last Post somehow sounded even more solemn this year as television pictures of our brave troops, battling in tough conditions, filled my mind.
 
Afterwards, I wandered back the Esplanade with Olive Carroll, passing people of all ages and from all backgrounds, all with a common purpose. It was a touching moment. We dropped into the Conservative Club to enjoy a  warming coffee, before I headed back home for a quick bite to eat.
 
Then, it was down to Swanage to join Ali and Roger Patrick for another moving ceremony. A pipe band led the way as we marched through the town to the church, where the Team Rector of Swanage and Studland, John Wood, conducted a wonderful service in a packed church.
 
Then, we marched to the town's memorial and laid a number of wreaths. Following this, I headed up to the British Legion club and caught up with many of those who'd attended the parade. A tremendous spread had been laid on and everyone tucked in with relish, especially the signallers from Blandford!
 
The day ended with news that two more young men had fallen in the course of their duty in Afghanistan. We owe them a huge debt, which we must never forget.
 

 
Fri, 6 Nov
I have never met Michael and Sandra Howard before and I was looking forward to it. I was not disappointed, when at lunchtime the couple arrived at the Prince Regent Hotel in Weymouth for an Association lunch.
 
They were charming. Sandra had been to the same venue some months before without Michael. And it says a lot for him that when Sandra passed on her request for Michael to come down he did. Over a good and well attended lunch, we chatted away, enjoying the couple's anecdotes, of which there are plenty, as you can imagine. Michael then addressed us for 15 minutes or so before taking a few questions. I managed to purchase Sandra's new book, a thriller with an Islamic theme. She sensibly takes spare copies wherever she goes, and there were no shortage of takers.
 
Back at the office, I received an email which really lifted my heart. A Royal Marine and his new bride, who I have been helping, were coming home from Phuket after an unpleasant incident out there during there honeymoon. I shan't go into detail, except to say the Marine fell foul of the law for admirably reasons and ended up on the wrong side of it. The authorities have released him now after some weeks and a relieved couple, family and friends will no doubt soon be celebrating together the conclusion of this extraordinary experience.
 
Then, in the evening, I attended a public meeting, called by my colleague Oliver Letwin MP in response to the shock news that 200 staff at Dorset County Hospital (DCH) face the axe. The hospital's seriously in debt to the tune of about £7 million and managers appear to have no other option than to cut jobs to save money.
 
There's no doubt management has to take some responsibility for this, but this government must also answer questions. The former chairman, Robin Sequeira, who's now stood down, told me that Labour policies meant more funds going to hospitals in urban areas.
 
He added DCH was losing out to the tune of between four and six million pounds a year. If small, district hospitals like DCH are to survive they are going to have to receive a premium, and that's something a incoming Conservative government, if there is one, must look at.
These community-style hospitals must be nurtured. They are an integral part of our rural communities, preventing local people - many elderly and infirm - from having to travel miles to the bigger hospitals, such as Bournemouth and Southampton.
 

 
Thu, 5 Nov
The man I met today impressed me enormously. His name is Colin Moses and he is the national chairman of the Prison Officers' Association. He was visiting HMP The Verne on Portland and he kindly accommodated me to chat over a number of issues which worry his members.
 
The content of our conversation is confidential, but I was concerned at many of the points raised.
My own view is that prison officers are part of a forgotten army, locked up with prisoners who have more rights than the officers who guard them. This has to change and I am campaigning hard with our shadow justice team to ensure the POA's concerns are listened to and acted upon.
 
Meanwhile, I am continuing to help Mark Turner, whose son Michael is locked up in an Hungarian jail on alleged fraud charges. The story is in my diary entry of 3 Nov.  I am now speaking to a lawyer involved in the case and he has several concerns, not least on procedural points. And of course there is the shocking news that Dorset County Hospital will have to axe 200 jobs to balance the books. The area's MP Oliver Letwin has called a public meeting for tomorrow night at the Town Hall in Dorchester which I shall be attending. The hospital's £7 million in the red and this is largely due to lack of funding from the government. No doubt there's an element of overspend by management, but if small, district hospitals like Dorset County are to thrive a premium will have to be paid.
 

 
Wed, 4 Nov
It's colder at last. At least it felt that way as I lept out of bed this morning at 6.30. After an hour in the office, I drove to Weymouth to meet a remarkable lady called Sandra Scott. She is happy for me to explain to you that she has in the past used the women's refuge in the town and is a passionate supporter of it.
 
She, like me, believes it should be kept open. Regrettably, the county council has decided to close it as it simply does not have the funds to run a proper and modern service. Instead, what money there is will be used to expand an outreach service. Were I to be elected, I shall be fighting on Dorset's behalf for a far bigger share of the public cake. I don't like statistics, but the gap in funding between us and the average council in the land is about £25 million! Imagine what we could do with this money.
 
Sandra is a remarkable lady, who has an abundance of common sense and speaks her mind. After seeing her, I popped into the local paper. It's always a pleasant stopover and I was delighted to hear that sales are up, which is all credit to the editor, Toby Granville. A local paper is vital for the community and for local democracy. Then, in the evening, I attended our sixth Drax Direct initiative to meet the people at St Andrew's Church Hall in Preston, Weymouth.
 
We started a little later this time at 7.30pm. I had great pleasure in meeting several people from the area, many of whom had many questions to ask, which I was more than happy to field. I also met our new council candidate Helen Glavin, who will fight the district council seat so recently and sadly vacated by Doug Hollings. I was most impressed and she's looking forward to meeting her new prospective constituents as she canvasses the ward. The evening went on to 9.30pm before the questions dried up and we all headed for our respective homes. Tomorrow, I am meeting Colin Moses, the national chairman of the Prison Officers' Association. I am looking forward to it.
 

 
Tue, 3 Nov
It was to be a busy day, launching a new website, canvassing in Portland and visiting the Prison Officers' Association at HMP The Verne. But a phone call from the local news agency changed all that. One of my prospective constituents from Corfe Castle, Michael Turner, and a business colleague of his, had been handed over to the Hungarian authorities at Gatwick airport yesterday on suspected fraud charges.
A court case to fight this extradition had gone on for a year, to no avail. The EU's extradition treaty won the day. However, I am worried on several counts.
 
First, I do not believe that Hungary's justice system equates to ours. Second, Michael is a British citizen who committed this alleged crime in 2004 when his company collapsed. That was five years before Hungary even joined the EU. Third, I am uneasy that any country can grab our citizens retrospectively, as it were. Fourth, Michael's father, Mark, was at the handover at Gatwick and says the Hungarian officials, who claimed they were 'special forces', wanted to wear balaclavas when they realised the Press was present. Fifth, when I checked with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office this afternoon whether a Consulate was going to visit the two men in prison, the official I spoke to said they knew nothing about this case.
 
This is far from satisfactory and very worrying for the family, as you can imagine. I'm on the case.
And, then, this evening I heard the Lisbon Treaty had been finally ratified by all 27 EU countries. My spirits sank as another part of our beloved and abused country was handed over to Socialists and bureaucrats. This EU Orwellian nightmare will not last. However, by the time we have all woken up to this fact, the damage will be immense, our country neutered. Labour has lied to us all and betrayed our nation. Treason is not too strong a word and I don't believe the British public will forget or forgive easily. This is a very, very sad day for us all.