September 2008

Tue, 30 Sep
It was back to our conference early this morning for a number of appointments, one of them with David Cameron. However, world events meant Mr Cameron was on the platform telling conference that the Party would work with the Government even as stock markets around the world dived. The talk this morning was of little else and no doubt the shock waves of this financial collapse will reverberate around the world for some time to come. Meanwhile, our conference continues, despite rumours it might end early.
I thought Mr Cameron's emergency speech struck the right cord and came across as states-manlike. We're all in this together and the recriminations must come later when the fire's been put out.
However, despite all the difficulties, morale among the delegates was high. Politically the Party feels strong and confident. And I am quietly confident that come the day, Labour will be ousted, for the benefit of us all.

Sun, 28 Sep
A near three hour drive took me into the heart of Birmingham where our Party is holding its annual conference. After claiming my pass, I went through security and into the conference centre. There were thousands of delegates and the atmosphere was electric. Hopes and confidence are high and it wasn't long before the main hall was full and people were turned away.
Boris Johnson got the delegates going, with a humorous and upbeat speech, which was well received. During lunchtime, I attended a brilliant presentation by some distinguished members of the United Kingdom National Defence Association (UKNDA).
We heard talks from Winston Churchill, the great man's grandson, General Patrick Cordingley DSO, who commanded the Desert Rats during Gulf War 1, Professor Richard Holmes CBE, a highly respected historian, and Bernard Jenkin MP.
The message from these great men was clear: we need to treat and respect our armed forces a great deal more. At the end, Mr Churchill challenged David Cameron to say now that were he to become the Prime Minister one of the first things he'd do is raise expenditure on our armed services. I was in total agreement with every speaker, and found myself applauding loudly at some good, sound speeches which presented some cold and startling facts that all political parties need to wake up to.

Fri, 26 Sep
The coffee morning to raise money for the Macmillan cancer charity was buzzing with activity. Again, the sun shone, and many of those attending basked in the warm air at this picturesque location above Winfrith. Inside the house, coffee was served and scones galore were consumed. They were hard to refuse, especially as butter and jam laying temptingly close. It's a wonderful cause and clearly well supported in the village. Hundreds of pounds were raised and the organisers were delighted with the turn out.

Wed, 24 Sep
What a stunning setting for a fundraising supper. Situated on the hills above Kingston, the Frys have the most spectacular view down the valley towards Corfe Castle. The event was well attended, with everyone in buoyant mood. One of our prospective MEPs Julie Girling was there and both she and I spoke after supper. Our hosts could not have been kinder and the evening was most enjoyable.

Mon, 22 Sep
The view as you climb the hill to the top of Portland is always breathtaking, but especially so on a day like today, when the sun shines and the wind keeps its peace. I was heading to Southwell Business Park to meet for the second time the heads of the schools who would be affected if this new 0-19 Portland Academy gets the go-ahead.
But on this occasion, I'd invited our Shadow Education Minister Nick Gibb MP to attend, to meet the heads for himself and listen to any points they had to raise. For the first 30 minutes or so we chatted about this vision over a cup of coffee. Not all the heads agree, and some opposing views were put forward. But the meeting was good-natured and after it we followed Jane Fooks, the project's development director, in her white Smart car to Underhill Junior School, where we were shown around by head Alan McKechan and listened to a group of youngsters singing - very well, by the way.
Then we stopped by the proposed site of the new secondary school - currently a disused stone quarry - before driving down the hill to the site of one of the hoped-for 0-11 learning centres. With its stunning view over the harbour, I could see how this element would fit into the overall plan. It was another very interesting afternoon and I know Mr Gibb and I wish the project well.  

Thu, 18 Sep
On a windless and peaceful evening, I drove down to Swanage to meet members of the town's sea rowing club. As I approached the area of the pier, I saw this magnificent, blue long boat on the beach. Emblazoned boldly on both sides of this vessel was her name, Old Harry - after the rock, of course.
I soon met Martin Steeden, one of the men behind this astonishing and successful revival. He was soon joined by the crew, ranging in ages from 72 to 19. Many did not have a rowing background, but all enjoyed the camaraderie and challenge that Old Harry gave them.
Taking the front seat, I watched as a range of traditional instructions were quietly given out, before we were soon surging through the water at high speed. The noise of the oars dipping into the still sea was rythmic and I began to realise just what a superb activity this was and why it enticed so many. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Martin and some of the members. They are hoping to build a new boatshed, which is desperately needed. I hope that the local authority will look at their application with sympathy, as this club is a shining beacon for all those who want some fun, friendship and good old competitive sport.

Wed, 17 Sep
I had a feeling some interesting views would be exchanged between South Dorset's fishermen and our Shadow Fishing Minister Bill Wiggin MP, and so it was. Fishermen have a deep feeling of helplessness as they can only watch their industry being devastated by factors outside their control. The EU is enemy number one; at least that's how it came across at the meeting. And concern is concentrated on retaining the derogation on the six and 12 mile limits. It simple English the 'derogation' means that EU boats must stay outside these limits, although the French alone have 'Historic Rights' up to our six mile limit, which of course they take advantage of.
If this derogation is not renewed in December 2012, the EU fishing fleet will have access to what is termed 'a common resource' and will be able to fish right up to our beaches. This is totally unacceptable to both the fishermen and me. And I'm glad to say that Mr Wiggin told us all that it is Conservative policy to make the derogation permanent. Phew!
Other points were debated, passionately. Mr Wiggin listened for an hour or so, before we moved to meet Paul Wilson, who runs a fishing merchants on Portland. There's no doubt he's a canny operator and it was a pleasure to meet him for the second time. It was also very kind of him to show us around his business.
It was then time for Mr Wiggin to move on to his next appointment in Wiltshire. Everyone appreciated his visit, and we all hope that much of what was discussed will go back up the chain to those who, hopefully, will soon be in power to do something about the points raised.

Thu, 11 Sep
The rain took its toll on the the annual Beating to Quarters parade at Bovington. It was so damp underfoot that the marching band element was cancelled, sadly. However, it did not dampen spirits, and the room was a sea of colour, with the officers wearing Mess Dress. There were many familiar faces, and many new ones. After chatting to many guests, I and my chairman George Preston set off for nearby Briantspuddle to meet a potential MEP, who's hoping to represent the South West.
Arriving at the village hall, I met our aspiring European politician Julie Girling. She was delightful and after a dinner of bangers and mash she spoke to us all for about 20 minutes. It was an interesting talk, making the point that however cynical we all are about the EU her job was to get in there and achieve the best deal for us.
After the speech, I chatted to the guests and bumped into one very articulate lady who told me in no uncertain terms she had been a committed Labour supporter all her life! But she was now thinking of voting for us because she felt the Labour Party had betrayed the working man. At least that was her drift. A very interesting and charming lady, who I suspect reflects what many Labour supporters are feeling. I can only thank our stalwarts Caroline Nickinson and Olive Carroll for organising everything.

Sat, 6 Sep
Looking out of the window at the sheet rain, I knew the only mode of transport to the Dorset County show was by trail-bike. But each time I ventured out, another deluge descended. But, hey, it's only rain, so having climbed into my waterproofs, I set off to Dorchester. I was soon parking up right at the front of hundreds of cars, feeling a little smug as my rough-terrain tyres guided me safely through the mud. I then spent the next two hours or so wandering around the show, meeting many people and watching the various activities in the main arena.
Despite the conditions and the clinging mud, the British stiff upper lip was very much in evidence. 'Typical British weather,' was the most popular comment I encountered, but with it a smile and a joke. The important thing was to make the most of it, and everyone appeared to do just that, from the entertainers to the entertained. Show secretary Sam Mackenzie-Green deserves a medal for her calmness and the wonderful way she dealt with it all. I went home having thoroughly enjoyed myself and in the knowledge that everyone would be back next year to face whatever Mother Nature threw at them.