This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.

Barrett’s Blog

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.

October 2008

31 October 2008

Last minute substitute

 MPs are often invited to openings of events and buildings and today I was contacted at the last minute by the Co-op as they had just completed the refurbishment of their Drumbrae store and they had arranged for it to be opened at lunchtime today. Unfortunately their plans had fallen apart and they were looking for a substitute to stand in at the last minute. As there store is right next door to my Edinburgh office where I was working at the time, I was glad to step in and help, as the store is a real asset to the community, which cannot be said for their plans for a hot food outlet on the same site.

By-election candidate Sanne Dijkstra-Downie in Muirhouse

26 October 2008

Campaigning in a monsoon

Campaigning is not only in the home straight in the elections for the US Presidency on 4th November, The Glenrothes by-election and the Forth ward election in Edinburgh are also due on 6th November. It will be an interesting week. While in the States all the polls show Obama moving into a clear lead the same cannot be said for either of the other elections. I have a poor track record of predicting results in by-elections and am not going to start now. Over in fife the SNP bandwagon looks like it is not having the smooth ride it had in Glasgow East and now that a rejuvenated Gordon Brown has joined the campaign it has become more interesting. At a local level, out campaigning in the Forth ward I met the Labour, the Socialists and Greens in Muirhouse. At least today it stopped raining. Campaigning in a monsoon on the top floor of a multi-storey block of flats is not much fun.

22 October 2008

Sarah Palin

In recent weeks my mailbag and email inbox have both been bulging with people contacting me on the abortion issue. This is always something that triggers lots of correspondence. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill generated hundreds of letters when it was last debated, as many amendments related to abortion issues were tagged on to the Bill. More were expected this week, but the Government used a tactic to avoid any debate on the subject and effectively stopped every amendment being debated. When the Bill reached the Commons there were very few amendments and it passed without the expected heated exchanges that abortion issues always generate.

Prime Minister's Question Time was particularly interesting today as the entire media pack are currently trying to dig up stories relating to the visits by Peter Mandleson and George Osbourne on to a luxury yacht owned by a Russian billionaire. The Shadow Chancellor has gone from being the blue-eyed boy to the Sarah Palin of the Conservative Party. A week is a very long time in politics.

21 October 2008

Where's Alex ?

As usual, one person missing at Westminster is Alex Salmond. Still an MP, but rarely, if ever, spotted in Parliament. With the current banking crisis continuing, one issue that is now being discussed is whether or not the Lloyds TSB takeover of  HBOS should go ahead. At the time of the original proposal, it was described as the only game in town. Now that the government has offered billions of pounds to other banks, many are questioning whether this is the best option. In order to allow the take-over competition rules were suspended and we are asking for the information relating to this to be made public so that the advice can be scrutinised. So far, we are still waiting. A vote was held today on this important issue that Alex Salmond has been commenting on regularly. When the vote was held, once again he was missing in action.

20 October 2008

Tours of Westminster

Was delighted to be able to meet up with a family of constituents this morning as I am not normally in London on Monday mornings, but having spent the weekend in London with family, it meant that I was in the office for 9am. I was particularly keen as the son of the family was my first constituent in seven years to make it for a tour of Westminster while also being in a wheelchair. He was interested in history and was taking it as one of his higher exams. At the end of the tour we all went for lunch. One question many visitors ask me is about the working day at Westminster. It started 11 hours ago and is not finished yet. Tours of Westminster are becoming more frequent for a number of reasons. Many more families are finding that they are in London for work or leisure and can fit in a visit. Got advance notice of tomorrows announcement about Post Office closures in Edinburgh West. Full details for the city will go public tomorrow.

15 October 2008

RNIB Lobby

Today there was a large lobby of Westminster organised by the Royal National Institute for the Blind. I was invited to speak to the lobby at the Methodist Hall, which is only five minutes away from the Houses of Parliament. The main purpose of the lobby was to get a fair deal for those who are blind and to end their unfair treatment when they claim Disability Living Allowance. This is something I have campaigned on and hope that in the not too distant future we will get a result. At the hall there were over 1,000 people and the Labour Party speaker was David Blunket, who was the star turn. I was delighted to get a very warm response from the crowd, although I could not meet up with the lobby in Westminster as I would be speaking in a debate in the afternoon. Their visit was definitely worthwhile. At the end of the day I joined with others at the Scotland Office for the launch of the Scottish Poppy appeal. This year they hope to raise £2million.

13 October 2008

Nationalisation of the banks

Once again today the crisis in the banking system has dominated everything at Westminster. The Government has effectively taken control of the Royal Bank of Scotland and 40% of the new Lloyds TSB, HBOS takeover. Along with Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley, half of all banks and mortgages are now owned by the British Government. Fred Goodwin at RBS is going and Andy Hornby the chief executive along with the chairman at the top of HBOS are also going. There has been a clear out at the top and an end to large city bonuses for top executives. The entire banking system as we have known it for all our lives ended today. This also has potentially disastrous consequences for Scotland and Edinburgh in particular if in the following shakeout job losses follow. Predictions of up to 36,000 lost jobs in Scotland have been made with Edinburgh particularly badly hit. Whether people will see Gordon Brown as the cause of the problem or the man who saved the day will become evident at the next election. This is truly a historic event and the 13th will be lucky for some, but not for many. I will discuss this problem tomorrow at a range of meetings with the financial sector and the new Secretary of State for Scotland.

11 October 2008

Breakfast in Glenrothes

In the morning Ed and I campaigned in the village of Markinch, in the Glenrothes by-election. Door knocking in the sunshine, a perfect way to start the day. We had to be back for the conference in Edinburgh by late morning as Tavish Scott had told me that he would mention me in his speech and it would be good if I was present in the hall at the time. We were up too early for many locals and I met a number of people who were impressed by our enthusiasm, but did not want to be canvassed so early on a Saturday and wanted to return to their bacon rolls or corn flakes. From the people I met, there is clear evidence of the shine on the SNP begining to tarnish. I would be really surprised if they mamaged to repeat the swing they delivered in Glasgow East.


10 October 2008

No smoke without fire

Back in Edinburgh, in the late afternoon, I picked up Ed Davey from the airport. Ed is the MP for Kingston and Surbiton and was speaking at a dinner and the next day at a conference. Before going to the Liberal Club dinner that evening, we spent some time campaigning in Muirhouse and Pilton to help in the local council by-election. The dinner was in the Members House at Edinburgh Zoo and went off very smoothly, unlike a previous year when our table went on fire, after a paper napkin was discarded and landed on a tea light. This was not long after Lord Watson tried to set fire to Prestonfield House Hotel, when I was there for the Politician of the Year Award. Fortunately he was caught or people might have started to get suspicious!

Idyllic Iceland - where many of Britain's investments are tied up

8 October 2008

You could not make it up

After the early morning statement about a £50 billion or £500 billion rescue package for the banks (the difference between the morning newspapers and the Evening Standard's headline) was announced to the markets, the Chancellor gave a statement to the House of Commons immediately after Prime Minister's Questions. The PM has never looked so happy recently and David Cameron had a bad day. In the afternoon it was revealed that Councils up and down the country had tens of millions of pounds in Icelandic banks, which were going to collapse and the Government then moved to use anti-terror legislation to freeze their assets. It feels like the system had gone mad. The political fortunes of all the parties are also staring to change.

7 October 2008

Royal Bank and HBOS in deep trouble

Following my previous briefing with RBS, today I had a briefing from HBOS. As both were confidential, I cannot reveal any details here, but the news in days ahead will reveal how bad things are. I was left feeling that the person who gave me the briefing might not be there in the near future. Rumours around Westminster that a major statement will be made soon. With the banking, insurance and financial industry employing so many in Edinburgh, the future currently looks grim. At the end of the day emailed the parent of a young autistic boy to let them know I had mentioned him in a debate today. Will send them a copy tomorrow. The flood of emails is relentless and I hope the new intern we started in London will free up some more time to deal with them.

6 October 2008

Financial markets in melt-down

Am looking forward to a busy week at Westminster, but I expect the collapse of the world's financial markets to dominate the week. I was asked at the weekend why the blog does not allow people to post their thoughts on the site and for discussion to take place. Firstly this one is more of a record of what I do outside Westminster, as many people ask about this and is not a discussion forum. Secondly, following the experience of one colleague, which cost them several thousand pound in legal costs, because a posting was libellous and as the host they were responsible for the site's content. I do not intend to do the same. If anyone reading this blog emails me, I will answer them on a one to one basis. How I vote, questions I ask and all the other aspects of Westminster life are covered elsewhere on the Internet. This blog is for what is not covered anywhere else.

4 October 2008

From Burma to Barney

Recent publicity about the noise levels at Edinburgh Airport meant that today started with an interview and discussion on the local talk radio station about all things happening at Edinburgh Airport. Then the discussion moved on to Gordon Brown and more political issues. My next stop was in to the Kirk Loan hall where the local Geographical and Literary Society was having a fundraiser. I was informed that the plant Carol had bought was commonly known as "mother-in-law's tongue". It was long, pointed and sharp. No further comments from me as the mother in law is currently visiting us. I had declined the "Run for Burma" offer to run round the Meadows a few times today, but went in to Charlotte Chapel afterwards to meet up with the runners, some former Burmese refugees and people who had worked with them. It was good to hear first hand evidence of what is happening on the ground, as it is such a closed society and news and information from inside the country is very restricted. The experience of living for years in what was described as a human zoo, without clean water or sanitation, must have been a nightmare. The way our development aid often misses out smaller local organisations was also highlighted and is something I will raise with the Secretary of State for International Development at Westminster. The final visit of the day was to support the Scouts at a fundraiser. I felt I had contributed before it started, as we were able to clear out lots of stuff  from our house to donate. This year I would not make the mistake of buying matching food containers to go with the ones in our kitchen. Arriving home, only to find out Carol had earlier donated the ones I had just bought. This time my prize purchase was a large purple dinosaur, Barney, as this is a favourite with my little grand-daughter. Walking home with a purple dinosaur under my arm........a normal Saturday.

This website was established while I was a Member of Parliament. The site content is being kept online as a source of information, but all forms / email have been disabled.