A week in the life of Cheryl Gillan, Shadow Secretary of State for Wales
Thursday 27th March
Picked up my new Smart car and whilst driving back to London via the Royal Automobile Club country club, stopped and noticed there was one letter wrong on the new number plate. This left me trapped and unable to drive on to Westminster legally. Impromptu lunch with my husband whilst Mercedes Benz sent new number plates and reaffixed them to the car. Drove to Westminster legally. Spent the afternoon dealing with a mountain of correspondence and drafting press releases on various issues on Wales that seemed to have broken all at once. Guest speaker at a Coningsby Club dinner at the Carlton Club.
Friday 28th March
Left the flat at 7.30am to drive to Aylesbury for a meeting with Buckinghamshire County Council, where we were given an update on, amongst other things, the waste management solution for Buckinghamshire. It’s a particularly difficult issue as, obviously, no-one wants an incinerator or a tip in their back garden – yet it has to go somewhere. It will be interesting to see how this project develops.
After a convivial lunch with my husband (second day running), my constituency secretary and my researcher in an excellent local pub in Amersham Old Town, I held a surgery for constituents in my Amersham office. Surgeries are always very varied affairs, throwing up wildly different but equally complex issues. I wish I had a magic wand to help with some of the saddest cases. Still, I do what I can.
The surgery over, I had a quick break to walk my dog, before getting ready to head to the Chesham and Amersham Conservative Association AGM. Attended by well over 120 people in Coleshill village hall. Our President Dick Brisbourne conducted the formal part of the AGM, then invited our guest Margot James, the prospective Conservative candidate for Stourbridge and party vice-chair, to speak. She gave an excellent speech explaining about her constituency and the problems it faced. I believe she will make an excellent Member of Parliament when she is elected in 2009, 2010 or whenever Gordon finally has the courage to go to Buckingham Palace. I then delivered my annual keynote speech and answered questions until about 10.00pm.
Saturday 29th March
Realized I had forgotten my secretary’s birthday, so spent the morning organising flowers and champagne for her. Then worked on my e-mails and read up on briefing materials for the local government elections. Did the weekly shop, then dinner with friends.
Sunday 30th March
Lots more reading – papers, briefing materials etc. Did my e-mails then watched the Eastenders omnibus. Packed my case for the week and headed up to London.
Monday 31st March
Left home at 6.30am to travel to an appointment to visit a train simulator at Chiltern Railways in Aylesbury with Theresa Villiers, Shadow Secretary of State for Transport. Theresa unfortunately had to pull out due to an Urgent Question in the House on the shambles at Terminal 5, but I duly headed off to Marylebone station, only to have the train pull away as I ran down the platform. Ken certainly hasn’t helped ease traffic in London on a Monday morning! The irony of missing the train to visit a train simulator was palpable, but I was sad to disappoint Chiltern Railways.
Back to Westminster to sign vast pile of letters and then had a most interesting lunch discussing drug rehabilitation and prescribing with representatives from Schering Plough. Meeting with David Ruffley about policing in Wales, to ensure co-ordination of Home Office policies and that the Welsh perspective was given a priority. Continued to deal with correspondence and discussed with my researcher the issue of ‘smokies’, a type of skin-on sheep meat, currently illegal under EU law, but that would provide a hearty income for Welsh farmers if legalised, in preparation for a meeting I have secured with the Secretary of State for Wales. We may well have to wait for the Food Standards Agency to finish their investigations before anything is done about it, but a good case can be made for legalisation, and the extra income would help to alleviate the growing pressures on the farming community in Wales.
Went to a reception in the House of Lords for The Buckinghamshire Foundation, called in on my colleague Dominic Grieve, who was celebrating taking silk, and then on to the Reform Club for the Debating Group AGM and annual dinner.
Tuesday 1st April
Welsh press briefing, followed by a meeting to talk about the development of the party. Whilst working on my e-mails (approximately 120 a day) noticed a strange gathering of people on Westminster bridge, before finding out there was to be a fly-past by the Red Arrows at 1. Hurried down to the terrace to catch it. Really was the most spectacular sight. I have flown in fast jets when on the Parliamentary Armed Services Scheme, which were very memorable experiences. Seeing the trail of coloured smoke drift across the sky over London was pretty special and reminded me what a great job of work our RAF men and women do on our behalf.
The afternoon was spent mostly researching and drafting for Welsh Questions the following day. This was interspersed with the inaugural meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Archives and the weekly Shadow Cabinet meeting. In the evening I met with a constituent to discuss how I could help with her business problems and her wranglings with government regulations, then worked until about 9.00pm, grabbed supper with some colleagues and then home.
Wednesday 2nd April
Arrived at the Commons at 8.00am for early morning conference call with the Shadow Welsh Affairs team in Westminster, Europe and the Assembly followed by a departmental meeting and final preparations for Welsh Questions.
At Welsh Questions, raised the issue of the NUT’s decision to oppose Armed Forces visits to schools. I think it’s a huge mistake and have challenged Jane Hutt, the Assembly Education Minister, to reject this proposal. I think the Secretary of State took the point but managed to shy away from an outright condemnation of the decision himself. Next question was about the consistency of cross-border health services, particularly in relation to post-release drugs rehabilitation programmes for female prisoners, which is particularly important and goes hand in hand with the issue over the lack of a women’s prison in Wales.
Grabbed lunch and signed and checked letters (about 200 had appeared on my desk from my overworked secretary!), before attending a briefing session by the Wales Office on the legislative procedure. Voiced concerns over the hideously complicated system we have in place at the moment and came armed with suggestions of possible improvements – some of which I had outlined in a letter to the Secretary of State.
Caught the 5.45 train to Cardiff for meetings in the Welsh Assembly and for the launch of the Welsh Conservatives local government campaign tomorrow. Arrived and went straight up to Islwyn to meet a large number of Conservative candidates. It’s good to see we are fielding many more than last time, and across all areas of Wales. Had meetings with various individuals on Wales matters and finally arrived back at the hotel about 11pm.
Thursday 3rd April
Headed straight to the Assembly in the morning and had various meetings on Welsh legislation and matters passing through both the Assembly and Westminster, particularly the local Transport Bill. Also discussed the briefing on the legislative procedure I had had the day before.
On to Sophia Gardens, where they will soon be holding an Ashes match, on a beautiful sunny day to launch the Local Government Manifesto, which all went very well. Caught the train back to London and back to the office to deal with e-mails, correspondence and start preparing for Any Questions? tomorrow. Headed out to my constituency to a meeting of the Little Kingshill Society, where I spoke to them about a number of issues they were concerned with: particularly holes in our roads and traffic speeding through the villages. Spoke to the local PCSO, who does a fantastic job. Left the meeting around 9.45 and drove home.