From 1st January 2010 this site will no longer be updated, in accordance with Parliamentary rules.
The site will be kept online and can still be used to find information and to contact John, but the latest news will be posted on the West Edinburgh Liberal Democrats website.
This blog aims to give an insight into the day to day life of an MP, rather than being a political soapbox.
30 January 2009
Reform of Parliament long overdue
Back home in Edinburgh after a busy week in London, it looks like the Scottish Parliament has gone from threatening an early election, to peace and quiet, as all parties work towards agreeing the Scottish budget. As has often been said, "A week is a long time in politics." The week in London was especially busy with the Welfare Reform Bill, Heathrow Airport, a debate on Palestine and a rare opportunity to ask the Prime Minister a question. However much of this was overshadowed by the allegations of sleaze in the Parliament. First of all with a Times article about four Labour Peers, who allegedly had offered to do work for outside companies for large sums of money. Then the publication of a Standards Report about a former Conservative MP, who had abused the system. The Parliament suffers as everyone is tarred with the same brush. I have no doubt that the vast majority of MPs and Peers of all parties are hard working individuals, who do their work for the right reasons and do not abuse the system. Unfortunately there will always be a few who do break the rules. We must now change the law so that these individuals have no place in Parliament and that, if convicted, they should be removed immediately. In the case of the Commons, this would trigger a by-election and in the Lords, they would just be thrown out. I would not be surprised if there is some all party move in this direction in the weeks ahead.
25 January 2009
The BBC - a disaster
The decision by the BBC not to broadcast the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal to send aid to the victims in Gaza has baffled many people. Their reasoning appears to be that it could be seen as political if they were to broadcast an appeal for help. Many people will remember that it was the broadcast by Michael Buerk for the BBC that alerted people worldwide to the millions starving in Ethiopia. This effectively started one of the greatest ever appeals - Live Aid. Since then the willingness to give to help disasters has always been supported by the BBC and other broadcasters. To say that they cannot do anything because of the politics is ridiculous, as many other appeals, such as for Darfur, have clearly ended up requiring assistance precisely because of the political action by the Governments involved. Clearly the BBC is now isolated, as the other broadcasters have announced that they are happy to put out the appeal. I have been working over the weekend with other like-minded MPs from all parties to ensure that on Monday there is a substantial group ready to lay down a motion in Parliament to put pressure on the BBC to think again.
21 January 2009
Freedom of Information and MPs Expenses
Today the Government backed down over exempting MPs from the Freedom of Information Act. It was expected that tomorrow there would have been a vote to allow MPs to keep confidential all information relating to their expenses. This was something that was originally promoted by the former Conservative Chief Whip, David MacLean and now supported by the Government. Only the Lib-Dems have consistently championed Freedom of Information and many people have contacted me about this issue. There are lots of problems with the present system and I have always been happy to sit down and explain the details of this issue to any constituents who want to discuss this matter. This is something I have offered this for many years on my website. There needs to be a complete overhaul of the system to remove office costs and salaries of staff from what is currently included as "expenses" as they are the costs that are paid by every other employer and should be paid directly by Parliament to allow MPs to do their job. There are no other jobs in the country where the rent of your office is considered an "expense" and has to be claimed back by the employee. The current system is completely mad.
20 January 2009
It was truly a historic event to see President Obama take his place at the head of the most powerful nation on earth. Expectations are high and the problems he faces are massive. An economic meltdown, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, continuing problems in the Middle East, and inequality worldwide. It was good to hear in his inaugural speech that he was not only well aware of the scale of the task ahead, but that he was also ready for the challenge. He commented on how much had changed from when his father would not be served in Washington restaurants because of his colour, up to today when his son became President. Hopes are high, but he did however lower expectations for those who are wishing for too much, too soon. Although after eight years of George Bush in the White House, he does not have a hard act to follow.
15 January 2009
Not speaking in the house
Normally this blog details life outside Westminster as everything said, and voted on, in the House of Commons is recorded and available elsewhere. Votes, speeches and everything said in committees is well recorded. The only thing that understandably is not, are all those undelivered speeches - when the preparation has been done, but for one of a number of reasons I am not called to speak. This week has had two such occasions. The first was during Question Time to the Foreign Secretary. When, despite repeated attempts I did not get called by the Speaker. This is not unusual, as at Questions to Ministers, particularly Prime Minister's Questions, the odds of being called can be quite long. Speeches during debates follow a protocol and if debates are oversubscribed a time limit is often placed on back-bench speakers. Today there was a debate on the situation in Gaza and, following recent events, I was particularly keen to speak but following two long statements on the new runway at Heathrow Airport and on Equitable life, which took over one and a half hours, it was clear from the start that time was already restricted and some speakers would not get called. At the end of the day, I was one. It affected all parties equally, but the frustrating thing was that I suggested to the Deputy Speaker at the very start of the debate that this would be the case and that a further time restriction would have allowed everyone to make their contribution. However this idea was not taken up. There is no real reason that the end of the day could not be more flexible to allow good debate and in certain cases the business need not go on until 10pm if there are not enough speakers. Today it should have gone on for longer. For those interested I will put my speaking notes on to the web-site. I often take in notes of the key points and alter them as the debate progresses, to avoid repeating points already dealt with. When I am asked why I did not contribute to some debates, this is sometimes why.
10 January 2009
Gaza protest march
While the situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate, many people took to the streets today to show their concern and to let their governments know of the strength of feeling backing an immediate ceasefire and an end to the rising death toll. I joined with many thousands on the march through Edinburgh, along Princes Street and into the gardens to the Ross Bandstand, where I was one of the speakers to address the crowd. I decided not to join in the shoe throwing protest. I also met up with some school pupils from Forrester High, who were there to show how much they cared about the issue. It was good to see so many young people involved in a peaceful protest. Many are baffled as to why the Israeli government believe that bombing the Gaza strip is likely to have the desired effect of delivering security to their country. Others think it has more to do with forthcoming elections than military strategy. I was in London on the 7th July 2005, when the terrorist bombs exploded on the tube and in a double-decker bus, killing 52 innocent people and injuring over 770. We were all surprised when it was discovered that many of the bombers came from Leeds. At no point would any rational person consider taking action against the people of Leeds for the actions of some extremists. The civilians in Gaza must be wishing the same logic would apply out there.
6 January 2009
The theatre in Gaza
Just when you think things cannot get any worse, often they do. Today there are reports of a UN run school in Gaza being hit and 40 people being killed, and also three Israelis being killed by their own side. The term often used to describe this is "friendly fire" but it is no such thing and is one of the many odd phrases used in war, such as "theatre" to describe the field of action or "theatre weapons" which are those between tactical and strategic. The words used do not capture the human suffering and misery on all sides. The history of the region has a legacy of bloodshed and terror on both sides. From early attacks on the UK Government by Jewish terrorists, when Israel was being established, to the modern terror from both sides. There has been little improvement over 60 years. One thing that has happened elsewhere and will no doubt happen someday in Israel and Palestine, is that today's terrorists will become those involved in negotiations in the future. The killing must stop and the discussions must start again. A two state solution with both sides accepting the existence of the other, within secure borders, is the only way forward. This photo is of a police station bombed by the Israelis, supposedly to kill a prisoner who was being held there. He escasped when the building was destroyed. If this was not a matter of life and death it would be a farce. You could not make it up.
5 January 2009
Back to work
Back to work after the Christmas and New Year's break. Although Parliament does not sit until next Monday this is a good opportunity to get out and about, to catch up with correspondence and the backlog that has built up over the last two weeks. Although I was able to keep on top of the urgent emails there is much left to do. This morning was spent with Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade discussing current issues and seeing their control centre in action. During the break, sad to say, there was no break in hostilities in the Middle East, with renewed bombings in Gaza and now an Israeli ground force moving in. The number of deaths of civilians is rising by the day and there is no sign of a ceasefire, although the international community, (except the USA), is calling for one. The daily news coverage makes for a bad start to the year. The other news continuing to dominate the headlines is the economic situation, with a string of major retailers on the verge of collapse or having already gone into administration. Job losses in the year ahead look likely to continue to rise.