September 2009

Fri, 11 Sep
What an evening! I met and addressed more than 100 Equitable Life policy holders, who'd been called together by their campaign group EMAG.

Thu, 10 Sep
The Shadow Home Secretary's visit coincided with some of the best weather we have experienced for months.
Chris Grayling was taller than I expected, and taller than me! Having introduced him to our team at Winfrith, we jumped into my campaign director's car and drove all of one mile to police HQs. There we were met by the Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Whiting. Adrian and I have worked together on various topics in recent months and I have a huge respect for him.
After the hand-shakes, Adrian took us along to meet Clive Chamberlain, the very able chairman of the Police Federation. Clive has a razor-sharp wit and doesn't suffer fools gladly. We chatted in earnest for about 30 minutes, covering a range of issues pertinent to the rank and file, who Clive represents with such diligence. Afterwards, we hopped into Adrian's smart Landrover and headed down to Portland. This time was invaluable and it flew past as the three of us discussed police issues, both local and national. First stop was right on the top of Portland adjacent to HMP The Verne.
With this bird's eye view, Adrian briefed Chris on the sailing Olympics, the scale of the task in hand and the problems he envisaged. After posing for a photograph for the local paper, we headed back down the hill to the police's new Olympic command centre on Osprey Quay. We met and chatted to the staff, most ably led by Chief Superintendent David Griffiths, who I know from old, before the arrival of the Chief Constable, Martin Baker, two members of the Police Authority and Inspector Pete Meteau, who's in charge of the Weymouth division.
Munching delicious sandwiches, our discussions roamed from one end of the spectrum to the other. Finally, after two hours, Mr Baker had to leave to attend a funeral of one of his officers. Chris and I then went on to the sailing Academy to meet the chairman of the Weymouth and Portland Community Partnership, Phil Laming, and some members of the local Home Watch organisation.
Chris spent most of the hour listening to local concerns, not least about underage drinking, anti-social behaviour and late night disturbances, caused in the main by booze. Chris, I think, reassured the meeting with his plans to tackle these problems and to give local authorities the powers to scrap 24 hour drinking if needs be. As the meeting broke up, we noticed a very satisfied young man, dressed in a wetsuit, walk through the door. The smile on his face said it all. Of course, it was Nick Dempsey, who'd literally just won Gold in the windsurfing World Championships. A wonderful achievement which has set him up very nicely for the Olympics themselves.
Then it was on to the offices of the Dorset Echo, where we met the new editor Toby Granville. Chris was then interviewed by a very charming reporter, before we moved to the Weymouth Conservative Club, to meet and chat to our councillors. Chris addressed everyone for about 20 minutes, before taking questions. His answers impressed us all and there was certainly a buzz in the air when we finally took Chris back to Winfrith to collect his car. A successful day, I and Chris felt. He'd learnt alot about policing in  Dorset and the huge task of providing security for the big event in 2012.
There's plenty to do, with our main objective to cut bureaucracy and get more officers out on the beat. The police are doing a fantastic job, but have their hands tied behind their back by a government bent on chasing targets, form filling and ticking boxes. This has to stop.

Wed, 9 Sep
I learnt more from excursion today than I have for a very long time. And that's all thanks to the Chief Executive of Portland Gas, Andrew Hindle. What a man. A geologist by training, it was he that identified this suitable strata for storing gas. The plan is to have 14 storage caverns at a depth of more than 2,000 metres under Portland.
This layer of Triassic rock salt (halite) is more than 200 million years old. The caves will be able to store about one per cent of the UK's total annual demand. Andrew hopes they will be fully functional by 2013. The caves will then be linked up to the national network and play a pivotal part in our supplies in the years ahead. The fact that Andrew is the brains behind this extraordinary venture had to be dragged out of him. He's not a man to blow his own trumpet. In addition, the company has set up its own Trust to help projects which increase public understanding of geology and help education and the environment.
One such exciting project is the £1.5 million conversion of the old engine shed into an interpretation centre.
The Trust is also committed to opening up a section of the round island coastal path. There's no doubt Andrew and his team have thought this project through and the benefits for the island are clearly identifiable.

Tue, 8 Sep
This evening we launched the first of several meet the people evenings across South Dorset. We started at the Conservative Club on Portland. I spoke for about 15 minutes, after which the floor was open for questions. One elderly lady was making copious notes and I guessed immediately she was from another camp.
She sighed heavily every time someone made a comment against Labour, which of course identified her allegiance. Still, as I told her, everyone is welcome at these meetings and if Labour supporters want to come and listen, they are most welcome. The evening went well and although the club was not exactly full, hopefully the message will get out there that we are accessible and trying to meet the electorate and hear their concerns. More evenings are planned across the patch. The next is in Osmington Village Hall on 22 September at 7pm.

Sun, 6 Sep
The mystery of the five-legged stag above Stag Gate on the A31 was resolved publicly on air this morning. And this revelation all came about because of an invitation to appear on Nick Girdler's show on BBC Radio Solent. Nick is a old colleague of mine from my time with BBC South Today, so I was looking forward to chatting to him over the air waves. Regrettably, Nick was ill, so his stand-in did the interview.
The truth, as in most cases, is very dull. The most popular myth I've heard over the years is that one of my ancestors was gazing across the park and noticed that he could only see three of the stag's four legs. So, a command was sent out to stick on a fifth, enabling said ancestor to see a perfectly formed beast.
I like this story, but it's untrue. The truth is that on fairly recent inspection the stag was found to be a little wobbly on its plinth, so some extra support was provided which, from a distance, resembles a fifth leg. The true story is, regrettably, very dull! Let's stick to the myth. Later that morning, I attended a wonderful lunch party put on by a supporter in Weymouth. The weather was friendly and the band fantastic. What a great noise and it wasn't long before people were dancing. Fun, laughter and a little politics!

Thu, 3 Sep
I was reminded of the price some women will have to pay at the decision to close the Weymouth women's refuge when my phone rang this morning.
I was soon chatting with a lovely lady, who will obviously remain anonymous, who'd benefited from the refuge. Indeed, she told me that without it, she would not have survived. I am still hoping that the Cabinet will review its decision and have a second thought. This refuge is not only vital for Dorset but equally so for women outside the county who have relied on its wonderful service for years.

Wed, 2 Sep
I arrived at County Hall about thirty minutes before the Cabinet meeting. About 20 protesters, many holding political banners, were gathered near the front entrance. Emotions were running high and wading in to the small group I chatted to some of them before going into the meeting.
During the two hour debate, I heard both sides' point of view, which had equally relevant points to make. In the end, sadly, the Cabinet decided to end funding for the women's refuge, which means it will now close. My view was, and still is, that a large town like Weymouth needs a proper, residential facility and that more money should be spent on it, not less. But the fact is, that despite the Labour MP's protestations, funding from central government has been cut, and will be so again next year.
The money that's left - £9.66 million this year - has to meet a vast range of services which the Supporting People Programme provides. That includes hundreds of individual contracts with almost 100 suppliers and if Dorset's going to be able to properly fund all this then central government MUST be more equitable with taxpayer's money and give us more. I give you one statistic to make my point. If Dorset was funded at the national average level, it would have received another £28 million from central government this year.
Regrettably, Labour is sending our money to Labour-led authorities. So, I have to say, I find it a bit rich when a certain person 'protests too much' when tough decisions like closing a refuge have to be faced. As I have said on many occasions, I shall fight tooth and nail, hopefully with a Conservative government, for fairer funding for Dorset if elected. In the meantime, a fabulous asset is now going to close and I for one am very disappointed at the decision. 

Tue, 1 Sep
I rose early this morning. There's a lot going on. I was soon behind my desk, reading the local Echo. The lead story did not surprise me. Campaigners are planning a protest outside county hall tomorrow morning to protest against the proposed closure of Weymouth's women's refuge.
As I have indicated earlier in my diary, I have spent a lot of time researching this. What is clear is that one of the main reasons for this move is a shortage of central government funds, which I indicated strongly in last week's press release. My view is that a town the size of Weymouth needs a proper refuge and funds should be available for such a resource.
What saddens me is how this whole saga has now been politicized for the sake of scoring a few points. Rather than attack the county council, campaigners should be aiming their anger at the government for reducing funding in this particular area.
The authority hopes to provide a more effective service to more people by moving its scant resources to expand its outreach service.  As I understand it, emergency residential care will be available to women from the locality at a variety of locations until longer term care is organised.
I have also been told that the six women currently at the refuge have been fully briefed about this proposal and they will all be catered for if the decision to close the refuge goes through. As I've said, I do not support the closure of this refuge, which the town needs, or should I say Dorset needs. But faced with reality, and unless there are more funds from government, I can understand why the authority is being forced to consider the closure option.  
It's all deeply unsatisfying and it makes uncomfortable viewing seeing the two main opposition parties in South Dorset trying to make political gain out of such a regrettable situation.