October 2008

Fri, 31 Oct
I was the guest speaker at a dinner hosted by a neighbouring constituency. I was asked at the end who I thought would become the new President of America. I replied that my instinct was with the Republicans, but that the Democrats would pull it off. How right I was. But despite my reservations, I have to congratulate Barak Obama for an outstanding and presidential campaign. I wish him well because there's an awful lot of bad out there and we shall need the US in the years ahead.

Thu, 30 Oct
I attended a coffee morning in Southill in order to meet residents there. More than forty attended and I listened to the many points they raised. I'd liked to mention one, which I believe is a perfect example of how the State has interfered yet again and in this case caused the closure of a pre-school which had been running for 36 years.
The bureaucratic demon in this case is the recently introduced Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). It's statutory, onerous and prescriptive and imposes the most stringent instructions on practitioners, who also face Ofsted inspections.
I saw for myself the books of instructions and guidelines. It really is madness and I am doing what I can to help this group of desperate ladies who worry for others in their line of work.

Tue, 28 Oct
After a lot of research, I'm afraid I've had to pause in my efforts to secure a stand-in ferry service at Poole Harbour mouth. The chain ferry is out of action, as you know, for two months while the slipways are worked on and the ferry serviced. But it struck me that perhaps we could find an alternative, at least for passengers.
I found a ferry operator, but the economics and the lack of an appropriate landing site has scuppered the plan for the moment. We're working on it, as there's always a solution to problems. They just have to be found.
What is definitely needed, though, is a co-ordinated approach from all the relevant local authorities and Poole Harbour Commissioners. I'm working on this, too.

Mon, 27 Oct
My letter to the Rt Hon James Purnell MP, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, left today. I am trying to help a pensioner from Weymouth, who feels aggrieved about his pension. He's fought this particular battle since 1984, but has got nowhere. I feel he has got a good case and I've written to Mr Purnell and copied it to our shadow minister, Chris Grayling MP. Let's see if the wheels of state can turn to this pensioner's benefit.

Mon, 20 Oct
I had a very interesting tour today of the new Weymouth relief road. One of the project's agents showed us around and very interesting it was too. Building a road is a logistical nightmare and I was told communication was the key. We ended up on the ridgeway and having driven as far as we could, strolled down the hill to where an archaeologist was working. There's a team on site, recording any finds.
From the ridge, I looked down over the railway line and on to Littlemoor, where the road will cut through. I'd already helped two residents there who wanted information on when the work would start and how it would affect them. A couple of calls later, I was able to point them in the right direction and both families attended a recent exhibition where their inquiries were dealt with. As is so often the case, it's just a simple matter of knowing what is going to happen and when. I have to compliment the road's builders, as they have tried to reassure residents living close to the works.
I know that some families will be affected by this new road, but it is desperately needed. What's  a shame is that it's too little too late. The road should have gone to the west of Weymouth, linking up with the motorway network to the north. But that opportunity's gone now and we've got to live with this one.

Fri, 17 Oct
Up with the larks this morning and off to Dorchester for a breakfast meeting with West Dorset District Council. Hosted by the leader, Cllr Robert Gould, I listened enraptured to Oliver Letwin MP who, fresh from London, was able to update us on the credit crunch and its political ramifications.

Thu, 16 Oct
It's not often you meet a national treasure, but today I did. Dame Norma Major came to lunch and answered questions on her fascinating life as the wife of our last Conservative Prime Minister, author and charity fundraiser. What a lovely lady she is, and she went down a treat with the audience.

Wed, 15 Oct
I was very honoured to be a guest at the Mayor's charity music night in Swanage. The band of the light cavalry put on a most impressive performance, with help from local girl Emma Fiddler, who sang two numbers. Cllr Mike Pratt was supporting both the Purbeck CAB and a stroke charity. It was a wonderful evening, with a collection of Mayors from around the south, collectively referred to as the 'chain gang'.

Tue, 14 Oct
At 11am I sat down opposite a pensioner who'd contacted me over a long running sore he had with his previous employer. The elderly gentleman comes from Weymouth, although we were in his sister's house in Dorchester. She kindly made some coffee, before I listened to the man's story. Like all stories of this kind, they are long and complicated, with a lot of the finer detail lost in the mist of time.
However, this gentleman was very lucid and he recalled enough to paint a picture of an every-day working man, who'd worked hard and contributed to a pension. However, he claims his employer had not explained the rules very clearly, despite queries he'd made on several occasions over the years. As a result, he'd lost out on a more lucrative pension policy which he was told he could not move across to. Subsequently, he's learnt that he could have done, and he feels let down. He's been fighting his corner for years, to no avail. The MOD is a big organisation and not an easy one to take on.
He's asked me for help and I'm delighted to try. It's the classic David and Goliath scenario, and one I've covered on many occasions as a journalist. So, armed with our sling-shot, we'll give it a go. 

Mon, 13 Oct
I was fascinated to visit two schemes aimed at helping underprivileged youngsters on Portland. The first was a club in Fortuneswell. There a team of volunteers provides a service on most evenings for a range of youngsters. They can play indoor football, video games and pool. But this service costs about £18,000 a year to run and like all good causes it needs more money to keep it going.
The second club was a boxing club. It's proving highly successful and is oversubscribed. From their small building, the club does untold good work, giving many young people some self confidence and a skill. It's hoping to expand, with new washing facilities. Again, this project is invaluable and needs all the support it can get.

Wed, 9 Oct
I had an enjoyable lunch at Worgret Manor on the outskirts of Wareham today. I'd been asked to address members of the Dorset and East Devon EU Women. It's not often you are surrounded by about 30 ladies, and what an entertaining meal it was. There were some very strong views on certain matters and questions at the end cut into all kinds of areas that I have not been hitherto. For example, one lady asked me for my opinion on apostates - those who renouce their former beliefs - and what we could do to protect Iranian women who face abuse, jail and possibly death if they do so. The questioner was particularly concerned for those who now live in this country. All I could say was that the police would do their best to protect anyone under threat. This intolerance is unacceptable to us and we should stand up and say so. We're a country of free speech and this is the biggest defence against those who would try and detroy our way of life. 

Tue, 7 Oct
When you meet someone who is a doer, they stand out above the crowd like beacons. The chairman of Weymouth Football Club, Malcolm Curtis, is such a man. As all those in the seaside town know, Malcolm is trying to build a new stadium, with a whole range of community facilities. His vision, if I may use that word, is inspirational, and I can only wish him the best of luck and all my support as he takes this exciting plan forward.

Thu, 2 Oct
At 11am at a beautiful, country church, a service began today which will stay with me for a long, long time. A friend's grandson was buried, but he was very, very young; a day short of his fourth birthday. The church was packed and 11am precisely the father walked into the church carrying the coffin of his son. It was one of the most heart-wrenching spectacles I've ever seen.
The service carried on in this vein for just over an hour. The father gave an inspirational address about his young son, "my best friend." How he spoke so eloquently under the circumstances, I shall never know. One particular message he emphasised, I should like to pass on to all of you with children.
That is this. Never forget to tell them - and regularly - how much you love them. It's a simple message, but probably one of the most important, in my very humble opinion. There are no names in this record, as the funeral was a private affair, and I should like it to remain that way. But I do want to share the father's message with you. Life is SO short. And, as a good friend said to me once: "You're a long time dead."