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.
18 December 2008
Happy Christmas - War is over.
At long last, it was announced today that the troops will be coming back from Iraq next year. Nearly six years ago the war in Iraq was started and the reason given by the Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, was that there were weapons of mass destruction, that could be used with 45minutes warning, and that we were in real danger. I remember well, voting against military action, while the government were not only supported by the Conservatives, but they were encouraged to act more quickly. At the time we were shouted at and given all sorts of abuse, as if we were letting the country down. How times have changed. The justification for the war is now often given as the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, but I can remember clearly when he was told he could stay in power, if only he would give up his weapons. His removal was never the reason for military action at the time. It later became the standard excuse. I78 of our own troops have died in that bloody conflict, along with an estimated 100,000 deaths of men, women and children, who were civilians. The number will never be accurately confirmed and to their eternal shame the USA/British coalition did not even try to count all the innocent people who died in that war. At this time of year, the words of John Lennon, Happy Christmas - War is over, have never been more appropriate.
16 December 2008
The Christmas Bonus
Normally I do not put Parliamentary business in this blog, as it is well documented elsewhere. Every word that is said in the Commons and every vote that is made is recorded and open to public scrutiny in a variety of ways. One aspect of Westminster that never gets any coverage is for those who sit on committees to deal with delegated legislation. Today, I was on one of these committees to facilitate the Christmas Bonus, which will be paid to pensioners, the disabled, (including 300,000 children), some carers and others. All in all this will cost £900million pounds and was passed by this all party committee this morning. Unfortunately at the same time, many pensioners are also set for a not so good surprise, when they are sent details from the Government that their pensions have been overpaid for years and that many will have the pension they receive, cut in the New Year. Much will be made of the £900million being given out, although I did point out to the Minister, this is only half of the unclaimed benefit pensioners are actually entitled to, but not receiving. Playing a small part in a £900million payment to those who deserve it most was well worthwhile.
12 December 2008
Bank of Scotland - no more
I was back in my old school today (Forrester High), speaking to the Head Teacher and then the students of the debating society about the life and work of one former pupil. It was interesting to hear of the current issues affecting the school and then to be questioned by the students. As usual time was against me, but it must have been ok as I have been asked back for another more specific talk in the New Year. At lunchtime the annual volunteers’ party is always a good opportunity to say thanks to some of the many people who help me throughout the year. Following this, I had an in depth interview about disability issues and welfare reform proposals.
The not unexpected news today was that the HBOS shareholders have accepted the Lloyds TSB takeover proposals. Job losses are predicted and they are expected to be in the thousands. The bank has gone, in ten years, from one of the most respected financial institutions in the world, which had been around for 300 years, to a wreck, destroyed by people who have lost all sense of the part they played in its downfall. While the bank's shares have dropped by 90%, Andy Hornby, the Chief Executive, who presided over this demise, is retained by Lloyds on a salary of £60,000 a month. At the same time HBOS are sending 200 people on a shopping trip to New York to congratulate them for doing a good job. It beggars belief. It would come as no surprise to read of large Christmas bonuses being calculated soon. While all this happens and the banks are being bailed out with public funds, an ever increasing number of businesses and individuals are contacting me with serious concerns that the banks are not helping at present and are in fact part of their current problem.
11 December 2008
The importance of the NHS
This evening I was under the surgeon's knife in St. John's Hospital to have a minor operation to remove a small cyst from the bridge of my nose. Since I have started wearing reading glasses the little lump has caused a problem and I am glad to say it has now been sorted. When I arrived at 7.30pm for an evening surgery I was really impressed by how well everything went. There was no wait and before I knew it I was having a local anaesthetic and the surgeon was doing his work. It was a strange sensation listening to chat and hearing him ask for a scalpel, but feeling nothing. There was very helpful advice from the nurse before and after the operation, then I returned home two hours later. Many of us never think for a second about the fact that money is not mentioned here and therefore we often take the NHS for granted. What a contrast to what happens elsewhere, such as in the USA, where I have a friend, who did not have health insurance, who was hit by a car and now cannot work. Because of the need for health insurance in the USA, which is often too expensive for the low paid, and the lack of a social security safety net there will no doubt be many more without healthcare cover in the year ahead, as the credit crunch bites further.
10 December 2008
It is always a real pleasure to welcome constituents and groups to Westminster. Today St. George's School for Girls and some friends were visiting. Following a tour of the building and Prime Minister's Questions, I spoke to the group and answered questions on a range of subjects. Unfortunately they witnessed PMQ degenerating into a bear pit. It is no wonder the public are disconnected with politics at Westminster and party politics generally. While answering a question the PM made a gaffe and the chamber erupted. Later the same thing happened to the leader of the Lib-Dems. Since my election I have never joined in the barracking of other MPs and I never will. Many see it as good fun and all "part of the game". Games like this should be for the kids. Two calls today were from people who had read the blog. One was from the Evening News, who wanted more information about Charlie Kelso, as they thought it would be good to pay a tribute to him in their Real Lives section. The other was from a group involved with autism, who had read about my experience on the day of the Queen's Speech. It confirms, along with other feedback, that it is being more widely read. When people ask about posting comments, I say they can email me directly rather than posting comments on the blog.
8 December 2008
Westminster to Stockwell is not far
Today saw Westminster at its worst. The debate on what should be done following the raid on an MP's office, constituency office and home, was hard to believe. Following an amendment put forward by Ming Campbell from the back benches of the Lib-Dems, to form a committee to set up an enquiry, from all parties. To then start work right away and which was supported by big hitters from the Conservatives, such as Ken Clarke, Michael Howard, Ian Duncan-Smith as well as others. All the Labour speeches of any quality supported the amendment and many others said it was the only option. Loyal government supporters urged their front bench to back the all party compromise and withdraw their motion, but the government would not move. It wanted to have a majority of its own people on the committee and to not start doing anything for months, or kicking it into the long grass as it is known. At the end of it all, Labour MPs poured into the voting lobbies and the Government won by 4 votes. An absolute disgrace. At least nobody was killed, unlike the Stockwell shooting and that enquiry where the jury has been told they cannot return an unlawful killing verdict. I passed the tube station at Stockwell a while ago and the events that unfolded there will always hang like a dark cloud over the law enforcement system in this country. The verdict from the enquiry will do nothing to restore trust in the system. Statements from the top police officers that "nobody did anything wrong" when an innocent man is shot dead, mystify most people, including me.
7 December 2008
Following the sadness of Friday it was good to get out and about to a number of Christmas events on Saturday; at Clermiston school, where I was invited to go back and speak to the pupils, at Cramond Kirk, where we were able to take Maria to meet Santa and down to Queensferry in the evening for the Christmas light switching on ceremony. It was good to meet up with many of the people from throughout the town that I have played a part in the "Ferry" throughout the year. Everyone was in good voice for the carol singing. Sunday plans were changed at the last minute when the BBC Politics Show asked me to go in to speak about the current issues facing parliament, following the arrest of a Conservative MP and the forthcoming debate on Monday about what happens next. There is a good case for many changes to the way Parliament is run and this current episode adds urgency for an update of how outdated procedures are still in place in the 21st century.
5 December 2008
Charlie Kelso was a friend, neighbour and fellow Community Councillor for many years. Over 20 years ago we were on the Corstorphine Community Council when the idea of starting a local Fair or Gala Day was raised. After much work, and thanks to Charlie's commitment it got up and running. It is now the largest community event in Scotland. My first job was to put up the bunting on lamp-posts, then I was the Fair photographer, then as a local Councillor I worked to smooth out the licence applications problems, finally as the local MP I can actually enjoy the Fair along with everyone else. Charlie was also a good friend, close neighbour and great family man. Sadly in recent months he also became another victim of cancer. Today is his funeral and his wife Liz asked if I would do a reading. I will keep it short, but want to capture the spirit of one of the nicest people I have had the pleasure to call a friend. The service will be a celebration of his life and Liz has asked that we wear bright colours. It will be a real tear jerker.
3 December 2008
State opening of Parliament
The State opening of Parliament is at the start of each Parliamentary year when the Queen reads out her Government's programme for the coming year. This is the most colourful and formal event of the year. The Queen arriving by state coach with all the pomp and ceremony imaginable. Part of the tradition is that while the Queen is in Parliament one MP is held "hostage" in Buckingham Palace to ensure the Queen's return. Not the normal day for a hostage. The programme for the year ahead and the speech were short, but there are some substantial Bills promised including further powers for the police. The opening was in danger of being overshadowed by events of previous days, when a Conservative MP was arrested and his offices and computers cleared out by the police, which caused outrage in the Commons and the press. This was increased when it was revealed by the Speaker that no search warrant was used and questions are now being asked about the role of the Speaker and the police in the entire event.
My day started at 7am travelling across London to take part in a "Walk in my shoes" campaign organised by Tree House in London to encourage decision makers and influential people to spend time with families who have autistic children, to see at first-hand what life is like first thing in the morning as they get ready for the day. As planned I arrived at 8am to meet a mother and her two autistic children aged 13 and 18, both with different degrees of autism. The daily struggle faced by some families living with this problem is hard to describe. I left at 9.30am feeling drained but glad I was able to give some advice about available support she was not receiving. Hopefully one day when the children are being cared for the mother and a friend will be able to have a break and come in for a tour of Parliament - she deserved much more.
As expected, the real drama of the day was when the Speaker read out his statement about the events leading up to and including the arrest of the MP. The House erupted when the facts were revealed and some MPs are calling for the resignation of the Speaker. Nobody is saying MPs are above the law, but the Government and the police need to be held to account on this issue. I have little faith that the proposed enquiry will do either. Most government enquiries reveal little or nothing that is not already known. During the debate I was glad to be able to remind Gordon Brown that when he was in opposition, he leaked information about the Conservative Government's plans to tax invalidity benefit, which was leaked to him.