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.

April 2009

MP expenses

30 April 2009

A Small Step Forward

After the good result yesterday I feared that today might be step backwards as the MPs' expenses issue came back to the Commons for debate. Another frustrating debate as once again more speakers wanted to be called that were actually called - on all sides of the house. After a day in the chamber attempting to be called to speak, another good speech goes into the bin. In the end decisions were taken to end the second home allowance for London MPs, to insist on receipts for all expenditure and to declare the time spent on outside jobs. I supported these changes and raised in the debate my particular concern that those with grace and favour home should stop claiming "additional costs" immediately for their second homes in the constituency, as these are not additional costs and should not be paid for by the taxpayer. The existing proposals for change do not deal with this and few raised it in the debate. Fortunately the press the next day picked up on this and the Daily Mail ran with it.

29 April 2009

The Gurkhas

It is not often than an issue at Westminster unites people from all backgrounds and all parties as being one based a sense of fairness and common decency. The thought that a group of people who were prepared to lay their lives down for this country would be then denied the right to live here, was just such an issue. The group of people involved were the Gurkhas, who have fought on behalf of Queen and country for decades. The campaign was given added media interest as it was being led by the actress Joanna Lumley, whose father had fought alongside the Gurkhas for many years. The vote went right to the wire and at the last minute nobody was sure if we would win. It was a great result, when it was declared and a new set of arrangements will be put in place in the near future to ensure a fair deal for those brave men.

27 April 2009

Unemployment

Visiting an Edinburgh Jobcentre this morning I was able to see at first hand the facilities the growing number of unemployed in Edinburgh are having to experience. This increase has resulted in 100 extra temporary Jobcentre staff being taken on throughout the city. The offices are now much more welcoming and have professional staff available to assist. Gone are the old grim surroundings with printed cards detailing available jobs and the information is now in electronic format ready for printing. As well as the expected job losses in traditional areas, which usually feel the financial crunch early, such as the construction and retail industries, there are now signs that even those in the legal profession are really feeling the pinch, with an uncertain future ahead for some. Edinburgh is now experiencing a 70% increase in unemployment since last year, thankfully from a very low base.  

Edinburgh's City Chambers

25 April 2009

Team Meeting

Met up this morning with the City of Edinburgh Lib-Dem council group and Edinburgh MSPs for an update on wider Edinburgh issues, and to allow Parliamentarians to feedback. Everything was covered, from schools, trams, housing, social services and planning at a council level to the budgets in both Parliaments, the wider economic crisis and more. The Council group have grown in confidence and ability in the last couple of years but still have to make tough choices in difficult circumstances. This is also coming through at Westminster, where it looks like major cutbacks will have to be made in the years ahead in order to deal with the mounting level of debt and the financial crisis. Spent all afternoon on Parliamentary emails - nice to have another Saturday off!

John at the top of the Reichstag in Berlin

23 April 2009

The Reichstag

A visit today to the Bundestag, (the German National Parliament in Berlin), for a series of meetings with German MPs and advisors, including Dr. Guido Westerwelle, Chairman of the FDP Parliamentary Group. The Reichstag building includes a stunning dome designed by Norman Foster, where the public can access and see their MPs at work. It is now the most visited Parliament in the world. Discussions ranged from relations with Eastern European countries, foreign affairs to domestic issues and the forthcoming elections, both to the European Parliament and in Germany later this year. If ever anyone doubted the importance of Europe, they should look at what Berlin was like and how it has transformed, from a city divided by a wall and land-mines, to being at the heart of a modern democracy.

Alastair Darling and his budget box

22 April 2009

Things can only get better

Today, on Budget day, unemployment hit 2.1 million and there is now growing evidence that the economy is in a much worse state then the Chancellor has previously admitted. While the Government is predicting the GDP, (which is a measure of all the goods and services produced by a country), will shrink by 3.5% in 2009, the International Monetary Fund predicted a 4.1% decline for this year. This was much worse than had been expected and was the biggest three-month decline in GDP since 1979. Borrowing has hit a record high £175bn and the country faces its worst year since the Second World War. One interesting development was the introduction of higher top rate 50p tax on high earners. We have come a long way since the election of this government. They were right when they said "things can only get better." Surely they can't get any worse - or can they?

John at Cramond foreshore with Lord Provost George Grubb and the sculptor of the Cramond fish

18 April 2009

Cramond - looks fishy to me !

Cramond is one of the old historic villages, which, along with more modern areas, now make up the west side of the city of Edinburgh. This weekend there was a lot going on there and the Saturday started with a beach clean, organised by the Marine Conservation Society. A crowd of people cleaned the beach and surveyed the type of waste washed up on the shore. Not always the most pleasant way to start the day! Then it was off to the Cramond Heritage Trust for their start of season gathering in the Maltings, which hosts an exhibition of local history and details the history of the Roman Fort and other local landmarks. On Sunday it was back again for the handing over of the Cramond fish - a massive fish carved out of granite. What more can I say.

The mock tram that can be visited on Princes Street

16 April 2009

Edinburgh Trams

Met up with a journalist from the Edinburgh Evening News for a discussion about a wide variety of issues, from Westminster issues to local issues. With no sign (at present) of an early election, we discussed the political scene, the likely battle-grounds in Edinburgh and which parties would be challenging where. We also discussed the changing fortunes of the Governments in Edinburgh and London and also the City Council. For the first week ever there has been some positive news coverage of the trams. Including a detailed opinion piece in the Evening News from the Labour party Council group in Edinburgh confirming their support for the project, improved performance from the contractors and more positive survey results being published about the public's opinion on trams. Bertie Ahern, the former Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister) and former Lord Mayor of Dublin was guest speaker at the first Lord Provost's Banquet in Edinburgh yesterday. He rounded of his speech with a story of the endless complaints about road works, when Dublin decided to build a tram system and of the stories of those who had complained the loudest being on the very first tram. "It was so popular, when it was opened that many more people than expected were using it. The complainers were still complaining - saying that the carriages were not big enough", he added.

15 April 2009

The Commonwealth Games

Was brought up to speed today on the progress towards the Commonwealth Games in 2014, in Glasgow, by Michael Cavanagh, Chairman of the Commonwealth Games Council. Michael was a wrestler in his younger days and has gone from being a junior competitor, when the games were held in Edinburgh, to being at the top of the planning for the next Scottish Games. Edinburgh will play its part by hosting the diving competition and we hope Scotland will be able to deliver in terms of medals as well as in the provision of facilities for the games. The next Commonwealth Games will be held next year in New Delhi. With all the fuss about the 2012 Olympics in London it would be easy to overlook this and it will be the start of our build up here, when the baton is passed on from India to Scotland next year.

The ME Association

14 April 2009

The ME Association

Back to work today after the Easter weekend and I noticed when checking my emails that some had come from ME sufferers, who were glad to see that an MP had raised their plight on his blog. The contents of this blog had made its way on to the front page of the ME Associations website, which had then provide a link to this blog. For those who would like to find out more about ME and the Association, visit their website www.meassociation.org.uk where there is information about support, help, local groups and much more. It was good to read about more first hand experiences of what day to day life is like for those affected and one book recommendation I was given is now on my reading list.

13 April 2009

The Gallery Art Club

It was good to meet up with many local artists and other visitors at tonight's opening of the Gallery Art Club's annual exhibition in Corstorphine. Over the years the quality of the work has steadily improved and when I reached the front of the queue to make my purchase, one of the two paintings I had my eye on had already gone. At least I got one - a landscape. I noticed one painting of the trams in Edinburgh set around 1954. I mentioned to Cllr. Phil Wheeler, who is in charge of the current project to bring trams back to the city, that he might like that one, but he resisted. No event is complete without a raffle and, as ever, the MP came in handy to draw the winners out of the hat.

12 April 2009

More second home revelations

Following all the publicity about MP's second homes, including the recent Alistair Darling, Jacqui Smith and Tony McNulty revelations, a number of constituents I have spoken to over the Easter weekend have asked me, where I stay when working in London. The answer is in a block of flats next to Waterloo Station. It was unfurnished when I moved in and consists of one bedroom, one living room, a small kitchen and toilet. As I have said before, it is no "second home" and could never be described as one. I have never published its exact address, because, as with other MP's London accommodation, it is empty most weekends and it would be an invitation to burglars to publish the address of empty properties. This is a greater risk for female MP's who live alone and who travel unaccompanied. Some years ago one colleague fell victim to a mugger on her way home from Westminster late at night.

It is not surprising that constituents expect full details to be published and are shocked when they read the latest revelation about MPs. I have always voted for full transparency on expenses, while this has been opposed by both the other major parties. Since I have been elected there have been some shocking abuses, as well as those currently under investigation. I can remember when one Conservative MP, Michael Trend, was found guilty in 2003 of claiming more that £90,000 expenses for a London home he did not own and had to repay £90,277. He did not stand again at the following election. More recently, the Conservative MP, Derek Conway was found guilty of using his staffing allowance to employ his son, who was studying full time at Newcastle University at the same time. He had to repay £13,161 and was suspended from the Commons. No wonder many have lost faith in elected representatives, although I am still convinced that the vast majority of MPs, from all parties, are decent and honest individuals.

9 April 2009

You win some - you lose some.

Today was the last day at work before the Easter weekend and although Parliament is not sitting for two weeks it is business as usual this week, up to Thursday night. As well as the usual meetings and surgeries, today I made a number of last minute phone calls to avoid a real miscarriage of justice for one constituent who was being forced into court, when the case should have been dismissed. Sadly no last minute reprieve was given and I will hear next week what transpired. When the system lets down individuals and they become helpless victims, it makes me mad. Hopefully her experience will result in a change to avoid similar problems for others, as I have ensured that the Minister responsible is aware of her case. There was a real change of pace in the evening, when I met up with some friends for a film night, a glass of wine and where I had the good fortune to meet up with an exceptionally talented musician, who played the Celtic and electric harp. A real contrast to Westminster.

RBS

7 April 2009

More job losses announced

Bad news - 9000 more job losses announced today by RBS, on top of the 2,700 previously announced earlier this year. It looks like my comments about more job losses and this being the start of a long hard year for many are coming true. Hopefully the predicted three million total will not be reached, but along with the increased numbers of unemployed there is also a frightening increase in the number of homes being repossessed. Repossessions have hit a 12-year high with homebuyers losing 40,000 properties in 2008 and the number is predicted to soar this year -to an estimated 75,000 repossessions in 2009. Normally the budget, later this month, would be a time for some good news on the financial front. This year nobody is expecting very much from the Chancellor as it looks like the lucky ones are those who might still have a job and a home at the end of the year.

 

Second homes

6 April 2009

Ministers and Second Homes

While Parliament is not sitting it is another good opportunity to visit some community groups. This evening I went along to the Drumbrae Community Council to hear what was happening in the neighbourhood. As they had not arranged a guest speaker I was asked if I could fill in and was happy to do so. After a run through of what had been going on in the constituency and at Westminster over the last month, the floor was open to questions. It did not take long for the question of MP's expenses to crop up as it has been in the news every day for weeks. There was general agreement that one change that cannot come too soon is an end to the current "second homes" system where Ministers who are given housing in London can also claim allowances on their constituency homes. The problem goes right to the top, with the Prime Minister and Chancellor charging the public purse for the constituency homes, while they live in Downing Street.

www.g20.org

3 April 2009

The G20

The G20 is over, the riots on the streets of London have subsided, world leaders are heading home and a $1 trillion boost to the global economy has been agreed. We now have to wait and see if it makes any difference to the economy and the future of the banking system. Unemployment has hit an all time high as interest rates have hit an all time low. The housing and construction industry are grinding to a standstill and need a real boost, yet many are still homeless. While the richer nations worry about keeping their wealth, the poorer nations struggle to survive and were rarely mentioned this week. At a time when people are losing their jobs in his former company, one man is receiving a "pension" of £700,000 a year. It was no wonder that the shareholders of the RBS were less than pleased at their Annual General Meeting today at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. The bank has already announced 2,700 UK job cuts. In February RBS reported it made a loss of £24.1bn in 2008 - the largest annual loss in UK corporate history. Hopefully the G20 agreement will start to work - too many people have lost enough already, however I fear the job losses have only started.

www.meassociation.org.uk

2 April 2009

ME

For most of us, ME and the experience of those who suffer from it is hard to understand, but this description, by Rachel Miles, which was given to me by a friend today, opened my eyes. She said,

"The only thing I can think to compare to, is living with an abusive and unpredictable partner.

  • He tells me what I spend my day doing.
  • He makes me cancel on friends, and cancel appointments.
  • He decides whether I can read a book, or listen to music.
  • He gives me false hope; lets me think that I can achieve an unprecedented step forward, then pulls me back down to his level.
  • He tells me what I can eat and drink.
  • He's indecisive, sometimes he lets me do something then changes his mind midway.
  • He plays tricks on me, and punishes me when I read his mood incorrectly.
  • He makes me feel sick in the same day that he let me be happy.
  • He makes me feel weak when inside I know I'm strong.
  • He controls how long I sleep, or if I'm allowed to sleep at all.
  • He makes me feel pain for no reason.
  • He makes me afraid of what will happen if I defy him.
  • He knows I dream of leaving him, and reminds me that I'm foolish for doing so.

But what I don't let him know, is that I will one day be free of him, and that his power over me will slowly diminish.

ME is a hugely complicated illness, and like abusive people, each form has its own tricks and tortures. It lets you appear capable and healthy, but inside you're constantly physically and mentally exhausted. Remember, next time you see a sufferer, that in energy terms, he or she may have just climbed a mountain. But all they've done is sat and smiled at you. That's what ME does. It fools the body into thinking that it's just run a marathon, climbed a mountain, built a house, gone a week without sleep, but all it's actually done is made lunch. When a sufferer tells you he or she is a little tired, they sometimes mean is they are so exhausted they could weep. It's a trickster, that sleep won't stop. Whether it's got you in a weak or strong hold, it's still powerful. So please, when you see your sufferer friend, remember that they are fighting a constant battle with their oppressor. If you can't imagine it yourself, don't try. Just support them. They'll need it."

Often the first hand experience of one individual can remain in the mind long after the national statstics on any issue have started to fade. I can feel another campaign coming on.

The horrifying evidence of the Rwandan genocide

1 April 2009

15 years on

Fifteen years on from the genocide in Rwanda, some survivors came to Westminster today for a memorial service and to share their experiences with MPs and others. Fifteen years on from the mass killing, over 100days, of an estimated 800,000 people, it was moving to hear evidence from survivors and from one girl who was a newborn baby at the time and although she had no memories of the actual event, she was able to tell how it affected her life and family from then up to this very day. Often we hear the words, "never again" in relation to genocide, yet there is a real danger that in the Sudan that is exactly what is happening now. The Darfur region is about to descend into chaos with the humanitarian and aid agencies now struggling to carry out their work against all the odds - to keep many innocent people alive in places like the Kalma camp, which had 100,000 people when I visited it some time ago. Closer to home - this afternoon I was the host of RADAR's (the disability group) parliamentary reception. People had travelled from all over the UK, many with severe disabilities, and it was good to welcome visitors from Edinburgh West to Parliament and show some around parliament. As we entered the House of Lords, Lord Myners was explaining what he had been doing in relation to Fred Goodwin's pension. It was the perfect time to see the Lords at work, with all the old war-horses like Geoffrey Howe, Nigel Lawson and Joel Barnett in action.

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.