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.

November 2009

30 November 2009

Roy Thomson

Got the sad news today that a good friend and colleague, Roy Thomson had passed away. I sat on the Party Executive with Roy and had recently had a long conversation with him, as I was concerned that he should be taking things easier. I offered to take on the task of attending Federal Executive meetings in London from him, to lighten his load. He would normally travel from Aberdeen to London for each of these meetings and he was not in the best of health. He would hear none of it and said he would do it for one final year. He had been the Party President, Party Chairman, Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Aberdeen and much more. For as long as I can remember, Roy has been around and he contributed much more to the Liberals, and then the Liberal Democrats, than most will ever know. He will be missed by many.

Central heating broken - house like an ice-box!

29 November 2009

The Ice Age

Yesterday's optimism about the prospects of having some heating, on what felt like the coldest weekend of the year, proved to be unfounded. The gas man came and went, promising to return on Monday with spare parts. In the meantime the house became an ice-box and I spent as much time out of it as possible. The end result is that by Sunday night I am feeling under the weather and have developed a wheeze. Wonder if I picked it up while visiting a relative in hospital. It may have been full of germs, but at least it was warm! Hopefully it will be gone soon, but am not feeling great. Hope the sun shines tomorrow - or at least the spare parts arrive. Got a text from the Baroness (Ros) to say she had arrived back home in Suffolk only to find that her heating was not working. I told her to singe Mark's beard if things get desperate.

Visiting St Ninian's Xmas Fair with Ros Scott and Mike Crockart

28 November 2009

One Way to Keep Warm

It was a freezing start to the day with ice on the windows and of all days for it to happen - the central heating system broke down. Fortunately the first event of the day with Ros and her husband Mark was for mulled wine and mince pies in Edinburgh North and Leith, so this melted the ice which had formed on the Baroness. Then it was on to the East Craigs and Corstorphine primary schools for their Christmas fairs. Met up with Margaret Smith MSP and Mike Crockart at the St Ninian's Church fair, my fourth event of the day, where we all won bottles of wine - a good omen for the future. On the walk back home we noticed a sign saying, "a warm welcome to Edinburgh West" and Ros and Mark commented that it had actually been anything but! On the way home Mark stopped at the Turk's Head barber shop and experienced a new way of trimming his hair, when they set it on fire, or maybe it was just singed. He said it was the only time all day he had felt warm. As their taxi arrived to take them to the station, the engineer from Scottish Gas turned up to hopefully get the heating system working again. 

The Pentlands Dinner

27 November 2009

Baroness Ros Scott

Started today at 9am with a sixth form school Question Time at Craigmount High. The teacher adopted his David Dimbleby role and the questions were flying from all directions. What surprised me was that not one was about MPs expenses. Maybe people are fed up with it, or hopefully they are quite happy with what I have been saying and doing. After the advice surgeries it was in to town to pick up the Party President, Baroness Ros Scott, who is speaking at an Edinburgh South dinner this evening. Ros works tirelessly for the party and mentioned that she had not yet had time to stop for a mince pie - hopefully this weekend in Edinburgh she will have time for some local award-winning mince pies and mulled wine. Rhod Gilbert's DVD, of the same name, might be on her Christmas list after this weekend.

26 November 2009

BAE Systems

Was contacted today by BAE Systems today with some bad news. They are significant employers in the constituency and are planning to announce over 600 job losses, some in Edinburgh. Today they are going to start consulting with the unions about options for the future, but it looks like bad news in the run up to Christmas for many families. One year on from the collapse of the Woolworths chain, at present there is still no end in sight to the recession. Hopefully the New Year will see the start of an upturn in the economy.

Former Liberal Democrat Chief Executive Chris Rennard

25 November 2009

Chris Rennard

After a manic day at Westminster I went to the National Liberal Club for a celebration with Lib-Dems from all over the country to say thanks to Chris Rennard, who recently stood down as Chief Executive of the Party. Chris was the party's campaign guru for many years and the man behind by-election victories in Leicester, Cheadle, Brent, Romsey, Dunfermline and many more. He has given over 25 years of his life in service to the party, often at the expense of his own health. It was good to see him and his wife Ann looking relaxed and one gift he was given was a voucher which would give them both a long well deserved holiday.

24 November 2009

John Pugh MP

One aspect of being an MP and travelling so much by all forms of transport is the increased chance of being involved with an accident. Looking at my diary for the month ahead I have an early morning visit to a Post Office sorting office planned and it made me think back to some years ago when David Penhaligon, a Liberal MP was killed in a road accident coming back from such an early morning visit. This week one of my colleagues, John Pugh, was nearly killed in a motorway collision while heading from his constituency to London. The car was in a serious crash and was a complete write off. He and a number of others were injured; fortunately nobody was killed and everyone should make a full recovery. http://www.johnpughmp.com/in-touch/a-brush-with-death.html

ECAS

23 November 2009

ECAS

Met up with Ecas this morning. They are a voluntary organisation dedicated to giving friendly and practical help to physically disabled people. Ecas does everything from running classes through to providing individual grants for holidays and equipment and supporting initiatives to bring greater freedom to physically disabled people. I was very impressed by their positive approach and listened to a number of their concerns for the future of disabled people in Edinburgh.

Scottish bloggers' conference

21 November 2009

Bloggers

Spent the morning with a number of bloggers at my first bloggers gathering. I was presenting a session on my use and experiences of blogs and explained why I do what I do. It was good to meet up with the some of the most productive and well known Lib-Dem bloggers in the country, not only from Scotland, but further afield. I started blogging to let people know the other side of their MP's life outside Parliament, as every word spoken and every vote made in Westminster is on public record. Will have to decide whether or not to continue to blog after I stand down.

Lunch venue - South Queensferry

20 November 2009

The C.P.A. and the Banks

The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) exists to improve links between Parliamentarians of Commonwealth countries. To increase understanding and to learn from each other and to build links across the Commonwealth. Today I met a group of Commonwealth MPs from Canada, Pakistan, Malaysia and Zambia, who wanted to hear more about how my office worked and then we discussed a wide range of issues that I deal with as a UK Member of Parliament. I then took them out for lunch to South Queensferry. fortunately the monsoon rain and gale force winds hitting Scotland just now did not blow any of them away. In the afternoon, as well as my usual advice surgeries, I met up with the representative of a major high street bank regarding the problems of small business and their access to finance. Considering how much money has been pumped into the banking system, many small businesses are struggling to get access to finance and despite record low base rates many are still paying a high price for their loans and overdrafts. As I was leaving the office a local businessman came up to me with a piece of paper in his hand. It was from the Bank of Scotland saying his loan interest rate would be 25.1% APR. The bank might need this high rate to pay some bonuses this Christmas !

19 November 2009

Trams

Last Friday I met up with the boss of the Edinburgh tram company and we discussed the positive impact of the trams on business when they will eventually be up and running. I raised the issue of local businesses that might not last until then, adding that it would be rough justice if some of those who struggled through the upheaval of the tram-works and the recession might not be there to reap the rewards at the end of the day. Today I met up with some traders in the Haymarket area, who are exactly in that position. While they will be close to a busy major transport hub in two years time, for many it is a real struggle at present. Hopefully the pre Christmas spending spree will provide some respite from what has been a tough year for many Edinburgh retail businesses.

Shilpa Shetty

18 November 2009

Shilpa Shetty

The State Opening of Parliament is the grandest event of the year at Westminster especially in the Lords with ermine robes and tiaras. The Queen arrives in her horse drawn coach and the entire event is the ceremonial highlight of the Parliamentary year.. Met one ermine clad Lord in the gents. It brings a new meaning to the word "Peer". As I waited in line to join the procession I was joined by Keith Vaz, the Labour MP, dressed in a white traditional Indian outfit. I pulled his leg about him being sponsored by Persil and we chatted as we waited. We had been to India together before and we jointly sponsor the Tiffin Cup awards for the best curry house nominated by MPs. He invited me to Shilpa Shetty's wedding in India this weekend. So that's two wedding invitations in one week.

Award-winner Frank Gardner

17 November 2009

The AMI Awards

Went to the AMI awards. These are the Ability Media International Awards organised by Leonard Cheshire Disability to celebrate the talent in the creative industries; dance, drama, film, TV, advertising and more. It was a really enjoyable and professional event of the highest quality, hosted by Moira Stewart. Both disabled performers and those tacking related issues left me feeling quite humbled. At the end of the event, two fellowships were awarded. One to Frank Gardener, the BBC journalist who was seriously injured in a war zone and ended in a wheelchair, while his camera man died. The other went to Sue Townsend, author of Adrian Mole's diaries and much more, who is also in a wheelchair and with failing sight. They each accepted their awards with humour and dignity and left the stage to thunderous applause. Following on from yesterday's story - I received an invitation to the wedding in Edinburgh.

The happy couple

16 November 2009

A Christmas Wedding

I was delighted to hear today that a visa problem my staff and I had been working on had come to a successful conclusion. The Scottish groom was planning to marry his American bride next month, but problems with her visa looked like the wedding planned for 30th December in Edinburgh could be at risk. The father of the groom walked into my office with a copy of the Edinburgh Evening News, which had a front page story about the plight of the couple. I was able to reassure him that I had just successfully dealt with the American Embassy in London to sort out problems for a Scottish groom who was marrying a bride from the USA and I would do my best to get his problem sorted out as well. After many emails, phone calls and faxes, the visa arrived. A happy ending in time for Christmas.

Muirhouse, Edinburgh

14 November 2009

Murrayfield to Muirhouse

Spent today in two contrasting parts of the constituency. Muirhouse has the highest unemployment rate in Edinburgh West, problems of urban regeneration, high flats, housing issues and much more for the locals to deal with. A complete contrast is Murrayfield. Under the shadow of the Scottish international rugby stadium are some of the most attractive properties in the city, where money has not only been spent buying them, but with a constant level of activity from builders and others, they are always being improved.  The wealth gap may be wide, but with redundancies in the banking sector, both areas are being hit in different ways by the credit crunch. I am now meeting people from many different areas in the city who have never experienced unemployment in their lives and who are now having to adapt to a new lifestyle.

Norman Baker MP - Lib Dem Transport Spokesman

13 November 2009

The Liberal Club

A busy day from 9am to 11pm started with advice surgeries. One tragic case stemmed from a minor cut on a young fit man, which led to poisoning, then to serious illness, to redundancy, to a breakdown and in the end to the benefits system letting him down. It is good to be able to help such tragic cases. In the afternoon I picked up Norman Baker MP and we met up with Richard Jeffrey, the tram company boss, for an update on the trams in Edinburgh and a site visit. After that is was off to the Edinburgh University Politics Society and in the Evening the Scottish Liberal Club Annual Dinner. As Vice President I gave the vote of thanks and being aware that Norman had not mentioned his excellent book about the Strange Death of David Kelly and that he had a few copies of his book with him. I gave it a plug and he promptly sold every last copy he had. He then asked if I would be his literary agent after I have stood down. At 11pm I dropped him at the station to get the sleeper to London. It was a long day but had been a really good one. As we parted, I thought that without a doubt, Norman is a terrier - must stop this now. 

Charles Kennedy MP - former Liberal Democrat leader

11 November 2009

Charles Kennedy

At the end of the day I had agreed to attend a fundraising dinner for Katy Gordon, our Glasgow North candidate. Charles Kennedy was the guest speaker and in fine form. He even mentioned that for a Glasgow candidate to be supported by friends and family in London, including a paid up member of the Conservative party, was one thing, but even more of a shock for a Glasgow candidate he joked - an Edinburgh MP was supporting her - now anything is possible he added. Having shared my animal story from a few days ago with friends at the dinner, two more colleagues have now been allocated, the bird of paradise and the secretary bird, as their animal equivalents. Unfortunately the official secrets act stops me naming the MPs or giving any more information.  Freedom of Information requests on this will be rejected.

Let's hope my sculpture doesn't reflect any Spitting Image characters!

10 November 2009

Spitting Image

Met up today with a Thalidomide campaigner, Mikey Argy, who came in to discuss the latest developments in their campaign for justice from the Government. It was only by a stroke of luck that my own brother was not a victim, as my mother was offered thalidomide to stop morning sickness when she was expecting my younger brother - fortunately she said no. Mikey was full of energy and explained how she, and others affected by the drug, coped with a range of problems. Everyone affected is now around 50 years old and starting to develop a range of health and other issues that are quite different from when they were all much younger. In the months ahead I am planning to do all I can so they get a fair deal. We should all thank every one affected, as they are the reason we have a much stricter regime now in place, which avoids the same mistakes affecting us all today. On a lighter note. Also got my head measured by an artist who wants to make a 3D model of every MP standing down at the next election, hopefully not like spitting image. She had better buy a lot of clay as there will be quite a few going.

The haar rolling in before Nick arrived

9 November 2009

Mist Photo Opportunity

Started the day in South Queensferry for a photo-call with Nick Clegg and Tavish Scott. The background was to be the Forth Bridge, recognisable worldwide. There was only one problem, as you can see from this photo. We ended up in the High Street. Arrived at Westmister at 5pm, just as the office workers were heading off home. Only five and a half hours to go before the end of the day and to then do some late night shopping at the most expensive convenience store in town. £3.99 for one litre of Tropicana orange juice - can anyone beat that?

8 November 2009

Remembrance Sunday

Spent part of this morning at the Corstorphine war memorial for the service of remembrance. I have noticed in recent years that the numbers attending has been increasing. Along with representatives of the armed forces and the local community, there were the young and old side by side remembering the fallen from many wars. The oldest person there was a founder member of the Green Party who will be 100 years old next year. The youngest was under ten. It was a very moving service with poetry and other readings. Afterwards, the local minister, Moira McDonald, said she was looking forward to seeing more of me without my suit on. A reference to me standing down, she added after a moment's thought. In the afternoon there was another moving remembrance service in Davidson's Mains. Sadly one old soldier I usually speak to, who has attended every year for the last ten years, was not there for the first time. An evening meeting ended after 10pm and there was still work to do before calling it a day.

David Howarth MP

7 November 2009

Another One Bites The Dust

I have always enjoyed watching fountains and other cities of the world often leave Edinburgh behind when it comes to these large scale ornamental jets of water. However, this morning got off to a soaking wet start for me, when a radiator sprung a major leak and the indoor Dovecot Fountain sprung into life. Water was everywhere - it was not the hot shower I had planned.  Fortunately an engineer came to the rescue before too long and saved the day. Like many other Lib-Dem MPs, this weekend I will call my friend and colleague David Howarth, the Cambridge MP, who has just announced he is to stand down at the next election. An academic and one of brightest and nicest people you could meet. He is our Justice spokesman and one of the few MPs who did a commute late every night back to his constituency. He claimed no living allowances for being in London at all and in relation to his expenses was described as one of "the saints" in Parliament. I have no doubt that after one term at Westminster he has decided that there is a far higher quality of life back as an academic in Cambridge, rather than in the bear-pit at Westminster. I am sure, that like me, he will have few regrets at standing down.

6 November 2009

The State of Me - The Documentary

Was contacted today by a television production company, who had read on my blog about Nasim Jafry, who had written The State of Me, which I had mentioned and reviewed a while ago. They asked if I could give them her contact details as they were keen to film her for a documentary on the subject of ME. I sent their details to Nasim and by the end of the day they had arranged to get together for some filming. Another colleague who reads the blog had said that it had quite a lot of sad news on it recently. Sorry - more to come today. Two good people I knew died this week. Sir John Crofton, the pioneer in the battle against TB and Nancy Nicol, a friend and supporter. Both had good and long lives, but they will be sadly missed by family and friends all over the world.

Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem meerkat

5 November 2009

Animal House

During environment questions one Labour MP asked "why are expensive new nuclear developments advancing at the speed of a striking cobra while good value, clean marine developments are moving at the pace of an arthritic sloth?" I mentioned to David Heath, our Shadow Leader of the House that he would have to be our "mongoose" known for its fearless ability to attack the cobra. He said to me that he thought he was more of a grizzly bear lookalike. At his side was the energetic and enthusiastic Simon Hughes, head held high, ready to spring into action and looking for every opportunity that might come his way - without doubt - a meerkat. Often when looking across at some of the massive girths on the Labour front row, hippos come to mind, I wonder why?

Guy Fawkes Night

5 November 2009

Guy Fawkes Night

Flew back to Edinburgh early, as I was the guest speaker at the South Queensferry Rotary Club. It was Guy Fawkes Night. I spoke about Parliament and whether people today would think that it would be a good idea if he had the same idea now. I mixed in the bad press coverage of MPs expenses and the low regard many are held in, along with the good work that many others from all parties do. The real threats of terrorism today and the security at the Houses of Parliament, often described as the number one terrorist target in the UK. The London bombings, torture - which was used on Guy Fawkes and is clearly still used today around the world. Why it does not get the real truth and how it will produce whatever confession the torturers want. This was graphically detailed last Saturday when I met Craig Murray, the ex-British ambassador to Uzbekistan, who has put his job and life on the line to expose the Uzbekistan and British government's complicity in torture. Much more detail can be found in his books on the subject - well worth a read.

Ziggy Stardust

4 November 2009

Ziggy Stardust

After a read through of the Kelly Report, Prime Minister's Questions and a statement on the report, where I was able to Question Harriet Harman on it, it was good to get out of Westminster in the evening for a breath of fresh air. I headed to the Barbican to see something completely different - some modern dance by the Michael Clark Dance Company. This new work evolved from Clark's admiration for the music of three of rock music's greats, David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. All people I can remember from the 1970s. It was hard to describe, but very enjoyable. The music brought memories of seeing David Bowie play live in the Empire Theatre in Edinburgh, during his Ziggy Stardust era, and then meeting up briefly with some of his band after the concert, felt like only yesterday.

Chris Kelly produced the latest report into MPs' expenses and allowances

3 November 2009

The Kelly Report

With the final day of the committee stage of the Child Poverty Bill it was time to return to the outside world. Many colleagues had heard that my successor had been selected and were keen to find out more about him. Most MPs are braced for another wave of press and media tomorrow, with the production of the Kelly report into MPs expenses and allowances. This will be launched in the Commons at the same time as the 2008/2009 expenses are given to members to go through and check them for errors before they are published. It looks like it will be another interesting day tomorrow with most people reading the report in the morning.

In Ethiopia it's 2002

1 November 2009

Which year is it ?

One problem about being an MP is not having enough time to write to friends at home and abroad as constituency work always takes priority. I used to be a prolific letter writer, to friends in the Ukraine, the USA, India and Africa, but since my election, with the advent of email and the lack of time, this has suffered badly. Today I did find time to write a letter and send an illustrated book of photographs of Edinburgh to Hosanna in Ethiopia, where I keep in touch with a family I met some time ago.  The one thing I can never remember about Ethiopia is - which year it is. As they use a different calendar and they celebrated the millennium long after we did. Knowing that we have our postal dispute I decided to write and to send my Christmas present early this year. Hope it gets through. For those who want the details of how to work out the year in Ethiopia - the current year according to the Ethiopian calendar is 2002, which began on September 11, 2009 of the Gregorian calendar. The year 2003 will begin on September 11, 2010. Confused ? - I am.

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.