October 2011

Mon, 31 Oct

A new member joined our team today in the shape of Janet Lickiss, a local lady, who will take over case work in the constituency.

This role has been performed by a number of younger people, all of whom have moved on to pastures new, like university.

I'm hoping Janet will bring some consistency to this vital role and she is a most welcome addition.

After a busy start in the morning, I headed to London and a busy afternoon in my office.

The repercussions of last Monday's rebellion are still being felt, which is good, as this EU issue is so important.

Another month gone. Where does the year go?

Three votes after 10pm and then home.

On the way back, my taxi driver told me he'd been held up by protestors lying in the street. Apparently, they'd been protesting against plans to change squatters' rights - and not before time.

Sat, 29 Oct

The Royal British Legion celebrated its 80th anniversary in Swanage today, and what a memorable occasion it was.

About 100 of us attended, including the Mayor Cllr Bill Trite and a contingent from the Royal Signals, based at Blandford.

Chatting to these young men only underlines the huge respect I have for them all. Their stories of daring-do in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Bosnia after very humbling.

A small parade was held and silence observed before we all went inside for tea and cakes, made so generously and kindly by a team of ladies.

I stayed on and chatted to many people before climbing back into my motorcycle gear and headed home.

Fri, 28 Oct

After dealing with a couple of constituency matters, I hopped on to my motorcycle and enjoyed a drive over to Langton Matravers for another Drax Direct.

It last about two hours and proved a great success. About 20 or so constituents asked a number of questions, including ones on the future of our role in Europe.

Ann Beard had organised the event kindly and she and Sue Inge sweetly made tea and coffee for us all.

Popped in to see Anne and Bob Clyde, the delightful couple who run the village store. 

Then, back on the bike and across to Wareham to meet both Chief Superintendent Colin Searle and Inspector Tracey Baker, who has taken over command of policing in Purbeck.

The former, a most charming and able officer, brought me up to date on plans to close, move or retain police inquiry offices. 

With £18 million to save off a budget of £120 million something has to give. But I was encouraged by Colin's approach, which was full of common sense. He's going to great lengths to ensure everyone is informed. A final decision is yet to be made.

Tracey was right on top of her brief.

Bright and articulate, she is already working on a number of initiatives to police the area as effectively as possible. I was most impressed.

Finally, back to the office and into the evening working on more constituency matters. 

Thu, 27 Oct

 

Into the office first thing, to catch up on a mountain of correspondence.

At lunchtime, I drove to Weymouth to visit the community mental health team, based in Radipole Lane.

Funnily enough, I had found my way there after meeting one of the team at a talk I gave to the WI recently. 

I met four members of staff, led by the charming Andy Vickers. For an hour we exchanged information, with me doing most of the asking. 

I was fascinated by all their accounts and full of paise for their work, which often goes unrecognised. It is not an easy area to work in and I was struck with their dedication and commitment. More funding would be nice!

I went home via our association office, to catch up on events there. A lovely work experience lady has come in temporarily and proving extremely useful.

Wed, 26 Oct

 

Up early again for my pound around the park.

Then to the Commons for a breakfast meeting with the Dorset branch of the Federation of Small Businesses.

Very interesting. Several MPs attended, and we listened to an update on the Dorset LEP, before discussing banks their poor record of lending.

Several stories of small businesses being denied relatively small amounts of money to tied them over during these tough times.

And when money was forthcoming, the interest rates being charged were punitive. I could not help pointing out the fact that, while deserving causes here in the UK were struggling to get small amounts of financial aid from banks, the eurozone countries were pouring billions of euros into failed economic states lilke Greece! Quite extraordinary.

After PMQs, where Miliband tried but failed to score off the Prime Minister, I tried to find some pensioners from Poole who wanted to meet me. Sadly, due to another commitment, which they were aware of, we didn't get a chance to chat.

After a quick lunch, I was wrapped up in a three hour select committee meeting, questioning Caroline Spelman on her department's budget.

It was an interesting session.

I worked through to 7pm when we the bell rang for our final vote and then headed down to Dorset.

Tue, 25 Oct

 

 

First up, an early morning interview with Five Live. They put me up against colleague Peter Lilley, who had not supported last nights' motion.

Then, off to the park to let off steam and get some fresh air into my lungs.

Into the office and straight into more press interviews and reaction from the debate.

Many of the papers are leading with the story, the Daily Mail bluntly saying the Prime Minister got a thump on the nose.  

Is this the start of something new in this divisive debate. I do hope so.

Signed off more than 60 letters to constituents and caught up with many colleagues from last night to guage reaction, which was most positive.

If we do not stand up for our country on this issue, we will not only be dragged more and more into economic ruin, but we will never have a chance of winning the next election.

Mon, 24 Oct

The big debate! The Press was in a feeding frenzy, snapping at any morsels of information prior to the afternoon's debate.

For myself, I headed to London in the morning to continue working on my speech, which I'd put in to make.

The debate was preceded by a statement by the Prime Minister, which was meant to be about his recent meeting with European leaders.

Instead, he defended his position on the EU ahead of the debate.

That was kicked off by my colleague David Nuttall, the MP for Bury North, who'd put the motion for a referendum on our future relationship with the EU.

Regrettably, despite sitting in the Chamber for several hours, I was not called. Despite my personal frustration at this, I listened with great attention to the many speeches.

The majority were in support of the motion, with one or two speaking against it. I have to say I admired courage because they were surrounded by wolves!

At one point, the charming and very able Education Secretary joined us on the Back Benches and I could not refrain from asking Michael Gove whether he had resigned on the issue.

Sadly, he had not.

The debate was on a point of principle, that we no longer want to be ruled by Europe, although we wish to trade with Europe.

It really is that simple and many of my colleagues feel passionately on that point, which is why we were all baffled why the Prime Minister had placed a three-line whip on the Party.

As a consequence two junior minister resigned their posts.

We were told by Mr Cameron and the Foreign Secretary that now was not the time for such a referendum.

Why? Because the eurozone was in such crisis.

That, to me, is a jolly good reason to debate our motion before we all hit the buffers in spectacular fashion.

Peter Bone concluded the debate with a heavy dose of irony. We knew we were never going to win the debate, but we were delightfully surprised to take so many colleagues into our division lobby: 81.

Congratulations must also be extended to several Labour MPs, like the highly respected Kate Hoey adnd Frank Field, and of course the one thinking Lib Dem, Adrian Sanders, who joined us.

A marker was put down tonight and judging from the response from constituents I hope we lit a beacon of hope in this country which for too long has lain dormant.

Sat, 22 Oct

Up at the crack of dawn and out into the fresh air for a morning run.

Then, into a suit and off to London to attend the People's Pledge conference just off Parliament Square.

I pay tribute to this campaign to place our membership of the EU fair and square on the radar.

A wide range of speakers addressed a packed hall throughout the day. I'd been asked to wind up the whole day with a speech on my views on the EU, which I sadly could not do due to another long standing commitment in the evening.

However, I did participate in an open discussion during the lunch break with three other speakers, a barrister called Steven Wolfe, Brian Denny, editor of RMT News and Patricia McKenna, a former Green MEP from Ireland.

The idea was to give a short speech, lasting no more than three minutes, and then field questions from the floor.

Regrettably, my colleagues on the stage forgot the 'three minutes' instructions and banged on for far too long, leaving only a short time for questions, which was a shame.

The day was a success and its timing could not have been better, with David Cameron wielding his whip in an attempt to bring us all into line for Monday's debate on whether or not we should hold a referendum.

I understand that two strong-willed MPs, Priti Patel, and Dominic Raab, were asked not to attend the event by our Whips' office.

I am baffled by the PM's heavy-handed approach to this all-important subject because it's reflecting very badly on him. 

After my session, which lasted about 45 minutes, I had to head back to Dorset in time to take my place as the guest speaker at the Royal Dorset Yacht Club's Trafalgar night dinner.

I had time to climb out of my suit and into Black Tie before heading down to Weymouth for this long standing engagement.

It was a most fun evening and I was made to feel most welcome. More than 60 members attended the dinner in the newly refurbished Club, which I recommend to anyone who wants a good meal in a charming location.

My address was based on the incredible story of Captain Henry Digby RN, who at 35 was the youngest Captain at the Battle of Trafalgar.

I had been briefed by his ancestor Lord Digby, who lives at Minterne in Dorset.

After a wonderful evening, I slipped away at midnight to re-acquaint myself with my poor wife! A busy week.

Fri, 21 Oct

 

I spent the morning with representatives from the RSPB at their reserve at Arne, near Wareham.

I was shown the extent of their work and was given a most illuminating briefing on their aims and objectives.

I was interested by the idea of imposing a tax on developers to pay for the charity's work.

The idea being that more and more people are placing pressure on wildlife habitats and should therefore pay for their upkeep.

I am not supportive of this idea, I have to say. There are quite enough taxes already!

I left in time to hop on my motorcycle and head to Weymouth to the brand, new community fire station.

Arriving there at 1.45pm, I had enough time to strip off my motorcycle gear and parade with the Lord Lieutenant, the delightful Val Pitt-Rivers, and the Chief Fire Officer Darran Gunter at 2pm.

We had come to witness the pass out of a group of troubled youngsters who'd been trained for a week at the fire station. 

The project is called SPARC and is proving an outstanding success.

The young people are introduced to discipline, camaraderie, team spirit and challenge, in short the necessary rudiments of life which has passed them by for one reason or another.

We are all most impressed by the result, as were their trainers. I had the sheer good fortune to meet Jennifer Egan, a dental nurse, who had given more than 25 hours of her free time to help with this project.

Jennifer wants to join the Brigade herself and, in my opinion, would make the most wonderful fire-fighter.

The afternoon went on for some time and it was a pleasure to chat to the youngsters and their families after the demonstration was over.

What's so sad is that it take so little to turn the lives of these teenagers around. Afterwards, I hopped back on my bike and returned to my in-tray in the office.

Thu, 20 Oct

 

Very much a home-based day, interrupted by a working lunch with James Weld, an old friend whose land extends to the sea, encompassing new legislation on footpaths and the sea bed.

Plenty of constituents' correspondence kept me busy until the evening when I held a party for our farm staff who have worked wonders during this year's harvest. 

The EU remains very much on the news agenda, with seemingly a heavy hand being applied on backbenchers by No 10. Very unnecessary. 

Wed, 19 Oct

 

My colleague David Nuttall succeeded in winning a whole day's debate on our future relationship with Europe.

The motion calls for a Bill to be introduced into the House to hold a referendum on our relationship with the EU.

To our surprise the Prime Minister is rumoured to want to impose a three line Whip on the debate which would be extraordinary. We shall see.

The day past in a blur as I worked on the constituency paper - draft two - correspondence and a speech on the EU.

PMQs was the usual exchange of pleasantries, with Mr Miliband attacking the PM on the whole Dr Fox resignation.

The Opposition chose the cost of energy to debate on during the afternoon, but that was after a personal statement by Dr Fox, as it protocol under such circumstances.

He attacked certain parts of the Press for intrusion into his family's life, which I have a lot of sympathy for.

We all accept that public life puts us in the spotlight, but that does not give the press free rein to harass our families.

Amendments to the Armed Forces Bill ended the day, until we all got wind that the Government had changed the date of the historic debate on the EU from next Thursday to Monday.

This appears like a amateurish attempt to derail the anti EU train, but I suspect it will have the opposite effect, and has already angered many of my colleagues.

Headed home at 8pm.

Tue, 18 Oct

An early morning run in the fresh, autumn air began the day. I don't know what I'd do without this wonderful, physical release, which really does prepare me for the day ahead.

Top priority in the morning was to edit our constituency paper, which is now on draft two. As always, the emphasis was on speed to meet various deadlines.

The paper is a mixture of what I've been up to and what my colleagues in the councils have been doing.

A sandwich lunch at my desk, before entering the Chamber to listen to the new Defence Secretary Phillip Hammond make a statement on Afghanistan.

Tributes were paid to Dr Fox, after which Mr Hammond reminded us that British troops will be out of the combat zone by 2015. I will believe that when I see it!

Then, two chats with colleagues, which included a post book-launch round up in David Davis' office.

Today's debate is on the Pensions Bill, which I spoke on when it first came through the Commons.

The Government has made amendments to ensure that a small group of women are not more disadvantaged than they have to be.

This will never be entirely satisfactory, but our country is in such an economic mess that horrible choices are having to be made. 

Vote at 10pm and then home.

Mon, 17 Oct

After a busy morning at my desk, I headed up to London to honour a diary engagement I'd been looking forward to for some time.

About 50 youngsters from Royal Manor School on Portland were visiting the Commons on an educational tour and I'd agreed to meet them and take questions.

I arrived as they were voting at a fictional election, which formed part of their day.

What an entertaining group and the questions were soon coming in thick and fast. They ranged from the proposed Academy on the island to what was the worst part of my new job.

After an hour they left to catch a bus home and I returned to my office, working through to the evening on correspondence.

Fri, 14 Oct

After wishing a member of my team a very happy birthday, taken in some fresh air on my run and completed more than ten letters, I mounted my bike and headed to Winfrith to our Association office to meet a new volunteer. 

Having met her, I then rode to Osmington for my regular surgery. It lasted more than two hours, after which I visited Geoffrey Codd, who has worked so hard to restore the White Horse nearby. 

We chatted for more than an hour over a cup of tea and some delicious, homemade shortbread. Mr Codd is a fascinating man, having work in IT all his life. 

He's worried that the government's drive to establish large, integrated IT systems for organisations like the NHS are doomed to failure. He'd like to meet Francis Maude to explain why. 

Finally, it was to Worth Matravers for a bangers and mash fund-raising evening. All was going well, until I had a call from home that we had a major flood!

So ended the day in a row of buckets!

I must mention the resignation of Dr Liam Fox, our former defence secretary. He finally stood down after mounting speculation and allegations. It's not for me to comment on what I think of this whole affair, save to say I think Dr Fox made the right decision in the end.

Thu, 13 Oct

 

Another busy day, travelling around the constituency on my trusted, metal steed! It really is the only mode of travel which guarantees arriving anywhere near on time to my appointments. 

First stop was Portland. I wanted to catch up with Geoff Smith, the CEO of Stone Quarrys Ltd. 

After a shaky period, where the bank wanted to call in loans, the company has gone from strength to strength.

Geoff is generous in his praise after I arranged a meeting at the Commons between him and his bankers some months ago.

The outcome was a success and Geoff managed to fend of the creditors and save more than 60 jobs on the island in the process. That's what I'd term a success.

After seeing Geoff, I headed to the Pavilion to attend a formal consultation on the Studland to Portland special area of conservation (pSAC) put on by Natural England. 

I was introduced to Dr Robert Enever, an evidence specialist, who briefed me on why they wanted to apply this designation to so much of our coastal waters.

I have to admit to being sceptical to organisations of this kind, who all too often seem to adopt the role of policeman rather than mediator, but on this occasion I was pleasantly surprised, I have to say.

Dr Enever was fluent and new his stuff. He reassured me that their data was evidence-based and not some fluffy, environmental sob story which too often holds sway.

My chief concern has always been the local fishermen, especially the potters, who have worked here for generations.

I was assured that their livelohoods would not be threatened so long as the underwater habitats, like the reefs, were respected.

This stop over took time and I finally headed home to finish off some correspondence before enjoying the movie Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. A bit slow, but good! 

Wed, 12 Oct

 

Another early morning jaunt before heading into the office.

I spent most of the day writing. We are in the middle of putting together a constituency newspaper, which we hope to deliver next month.

There was also my weekly column for the Dorset Echo and my monthly contribution to the Purbeck Gazette.

And of course there's plenty of constituency matters to deal with, some of it urgent.

I received good news from education minister Lord Hill. He has given the Swanage Free School the go ahead to the next stage. All credit to Paul Angel and his determined team, which has worked tirelessly to estabish a new secondary school in the resort.

And health minister Simon Burns has agreed to attend my Dorset Health Forum to discuss the health bill, currently with the Lords. The idea is to hold an open and frank debate on the government's proposals, which many are not happy with.

At midday I wandered down to the Chamber to see how the two leaders performed at PMQs.

With the three week conference period, the two men had a lot of catching up to do and Mr Miliband made the most of the unemployment figures, which came out today. They are not good, but there again we can't expect miracles.

Recovery will take time and regrettably people will lose their jobs while the economy recovers, which it will in time - more time than most people think, sadly. 

The Opposition debate during the afternoon was on the economy - a bit rich when you consider what a mess Labour has left us in. Mr Balls should hang his head in shame, resign and never deal with money matters ever again.

A busy day.

Tue, 11 Oct

Up at sparrows and off into the park for a run. Hundreds of fellow early morning risers, all jogging, bicycling and generally keeping themselves in good nick.

A coffee and croissant later I was at my desk putting final touches to my speech.

Also finished articles for the Purbeck Gazette and the on-line parliamentary network. BBC and ITV television also chasing for interviews post speech.

At 1245 I wandered down the Westminster Hall and waited for the witching hour.

My debate was called spot on 1pm and we were off. I spoke for about 15 minutes, giving the minister the same time to reply.

To cut a long story short, the minister was having none of it and he refused to hold another consultation period to consider whether the proposed new Coastguard super-centre should be based in Weymouth or Portland.

I know Solent was always the preferred option and think that the decision was made some time ago, although to be fair to Mr Penning Weymouth and Portland were never part of the consultation process.

Our argument was that our option had three buildings which could be occupied immediately and at relatively low cost. Mr Penning's option requires a new build and that won't be cheap.

I was clearly disappointed at the outcome, especially for the 30 staff who currently man the Portland Coastguard Centre and for all those who have done so much work on our proposal, notably the borough council.

And to all those who managed to get more than 22,000 signatures on a petition, I can only offer my condolences.

They worked so hard and clearly many thousands of people in Weymouth feel very strongly about this issue.

Mike Goodman, the council leader, was typically upbeat, saying that the exercise was not a waste of time and that the sites located would now be marketed with the Olympics in mind. He's a good man and the town is lucky to have him working so hard for the benefit of all.

After the 30 minute debate, I was interviewed by ITV before returning to dispatch a press release and get on with other pressing matters. 

With a long night ahead, I enjoyed a good chat with fellow former soldier Patrick Mercer. It's always interesting to chew the cud with colleagues as you get a different perspective on things, which is always healthy!

Final vote at 10pm.

Mon, 10 Oct

Back to the Commons! The party conference season is over, thank Heavens. I note there are calls to end them altogether, which isn't a bad idea!

The Defence Secretary's in trouble over his relationship with his best man Adam Werritty, who Dr Fox has met "in a social capacity in the margins of 18 trips overseas including my annual leave"

There's also concern about a meeting in Dubai in June 2011 with a potential commerial supplier, which Dr Fox attended without an official being present.

Rumours of one kind or another abound, and Dr Fox first took Defence Questions before making  a statement afterwards.

Our benches were full and the support for Dr Fox was evident for all to see. 

After that George Osborne made a statement on the financial crisis in the Eurozone which didn't take us much further forward.

Back in the office I worked hard on my Coastguard speech, which I was to make tomorrow. That was interrupted by a three line Whip to attend a Statutory Instrument, which takes place in a committee room. The format is the same as the Chamber, but clearly on a much smaller scale.

I worked on at my speech, drafted more than 20 letters and saw the evening through voting on amendments to the Protection of Freedoms Bill.

Last vote at 10pm and then home.

Sat, 8 Oct

An early start, leaping out of bed at 0645 in order to get to Weymouth to see off more than 50 Operation Raleigh members who were completing a 50km walk over the weekend.

I took my motorbike on this occasion and soon realised it was rather a cold day. Despite having wrapped up on top, I was only wearing a pair of thin trousers below. Silly mistake.

Anyway, the bliss of riding on a bike is that you do not get delayed and I arrived at Littlesea Holiday Park on schedule at 0815.

Driving as far to the rear of the park as possible, I found the Op Raleigh encampment and a former Royal Marine hurrying them all along.

More than 70 per cent of the walkers were Op Raleigh alumni who were raising money for volunteers to go on expeditions abroad. This selfless act gives young people who cannot afford these trips the money to go on them. And, for many, these expeditions are life changing. 

After they'd been organised into teams, we gathered at the start of the walk for a photograph. A brief good luck from me and they all disappeared through a rather thick bush. It reminded me of Harry Potter! Would they ever be seen again?

Home to watch our team knocked out of the Rugby World Cup by a revitalised France. I suspect Will Carling is eating humble pie!

What's so sad is that we were the better team, but we just didn't get going until the second half, by which time we'd given away 16 points. At this level that's too much.

So, feeling appropriately glum, I hopped on my bike again and headed down to Swanage.

I was attending the Conservative Club's centenary, a fantastic event and as always well attended.

They do a super job at the club, making everyone feel welcome. I was honoured to be asked to hand out some commemorative glasses to those who have given so much of their time to the club. Touchingly, I was given one too. I used it with great pride tonight.

We are lucky to have such a facility in the town and such special people to run it. Happy 100th birthday.

Fri, 7 Oct

 

A full and varied day, beginning with a good run.

First stop was my regular surgery, this time in Weymouth. A full surgery took me through to my next meeting on the floor above.

The Dorset Olympic Board meets at the borough council offices every three months or so. Today's meeting was well attended with the permanent secretary down from London on a visit to the Sailing Academy.

I have been most impressed with all those involved in the day to day preparations of this great event. I will make special mention of Gary Fooks who, until recently, was a one-man band. He's now supported with a far bigger team and not before time.

The meeting went on for some three hours, which led nicely to my next engagement, my Weymouth Drax Direct.

We held it in the Sun Deck in the Pavilion. About ten people came and after a brief chat from me I took questions for over an hour.

I started these public meetings as your candidate and intend to continue with them.

Although numbers were few, I am doing what I said I'd do and clearly it's up to constituents to attend or not.

Thu, 6 Oct

 

I was delighted to read in the local paper that the county council has decided to axe only 10 school crossing patrols and retain the remaining 50.

I congratulate all those who have campaigned so vociferously to save these posts, not least Helen Toft, who kindly thanked me and others for our contribution.

This must be the right decision and a most welcome one. 

Trying to organise a ministerial visit to one of our defence companies, based at Winfrith. Atlas Elektronik is a most impressive set up which I visited a while ago. They deal in the main with submersibles and they are impressive, I can assure you.

Also trying to help a local cafe on Portland get a bite of the Olympic cherry. The cafe, run by the lovely Sue Mayo, does sandwich lunches and the like and would like to win a contract over the Games' period.

News that the Bank of England is going to pump $75 billion pounds into the economy is worrying.

While stimulating the money supply, it also raises the spectre of rising inflation where we all see what's left of our savings disappear further down the pan!

Time for a run! 

Back at my desk before heading down to Portland to attend a presentation by the Army to local representatives.

A team of officers and NCOs are touring the area to promote the army, what it does and to dispel any myths.

Attended by the deputy Lord Lieutenant and the Mayor, the event was well organised, informative and fun.

Amusingly, the most senior officer there was an old friend and my father's Godson, Brigadier Piers Hankinson. Small world.

The event went on for three hours or so and as I say it really was most appreciated by everyone.

Seb Green, the young man from Weymouth who walked around Britain with this dog, was also there, dressed smartly in  his uniform. It was especially good to see him again. 

Wed, 5 Oct

 

Having arrived home from conference at 4am, I have to admit to sleeping in a bit! However, by mid morning I was back at my desk and catching up with the normal load of correspondence.

I watched the Prime Minister's speech along with my father, who joined me.

Mr Cameron's recalled the nation's bulldog spirit, which has seen us through some sticky moments in history, and urged we adopt it again now.

I certainly support this stance as I believe it's only by being positive in life that you'll get anywhere at all.

I did not agree with the PM's stand on overseas aid, a ludicrously high budget, which should be cut, with the money saved being invested in our armed services and other more important causes. 

I worked on until early evening, when I lept into my running kit and headed off out into the rain for a good run.

Tue, 4 Oct

 

An interesting day. listening to Boris Johnson, which is always good value, Michael Gove, who was inspirational, and Andrew Lansley, who reassured delegates that the NHS was safe in our hands and that the proposed changes were necessary.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May, got herself into hot water over a cat, while Ken Clarke was miffed that Mrs May hadn't told him she was going to call for the end of the Human Rights Act, which all of conference agreed with.

I also attended our book signing at Blackwells, which was located in the main hall. Our book sold like hot cakes and soon ran out!

Afterwards, I went to the Social Action stand and read a children's story for Calibre audio library, a free service to help people with sight problems or other disabilities.

My story was called Mauie and the Big Fish.

I also visited other stands, which is always interesting and educational.

In the evening, I attended a big business dinner, where the Chancellor made a speech at the beginning and the Defence Secretary at the end.

Both were interesting, as were the guests, who represented a cross section of business from around the UK.

At 2245, I headed home, arriving back at about 0400! 

Mon, 3 Oct

Off to Manchester and our annual Party conference.

First stop was the launch of our book on Conservatism. A number of high profile MPs - like David Davis, John Redwood, Brian Binley andd Bill Cash, to name but a few - have contributed to the book. I am a co-author to one of the chapters.

The book - called The Future of Conservatism Values Revisited - places a Conservative stand in the sand at a time our country needs leadership and courage. I believe Conservatism is the answer and, given a chance, will turn our country round.

The fringe meeting was well attended, with more than 200 people coming to the launch. John Redwood and David Davis made excellent speeches, which went down very well indeed.

James Landale, a BBC reporter, was given short shrift when he posed the age-old question about the issue of Europe splitting the Party.

There's no doubt in our minds that this issue is back on the radar whether we want it there or not. The fact is there is a financial crisis in the EU as countries like Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain all struggle to stay afloat. 

The hall at Manchester is vast. Airport style security greeted us and my shoes - apparently - ensured I was body-searched every time I went through! 

The mood was sombre, I would say. The economic plight of our country and the parlous state of the Euro means we are all living on the edge of an abyss.

George Osborne gave a speech which didn't quite catch fire. What he said was fine, it's perhaps he's just not the greatest orator of our time. However, he's doing a good job in difficult times and the delegates all realised that. 

Out to dinner with my Association chairman.