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.

May 2008

John meeting his holiness, the Dalai Lama

25 May 2008

Meeting the Dalai Lama

After two solid days on the Human Fertilisation and Embryo Bill, with further amendments on abortion, it was good when Wednesday evening arrived and Carol (my wife) visited me in London. The plan is to have a weekend off every few months and we thought that staying in London now and again would mean that I actually did not do any constituency work on that weekend. It has not quite worked out like that and this was no exception. Wednesday evening was a refreshing change when we met up with Dr. Laurie Marker, founder and Chief Executive of the Cheetah Conservation Fund based in Namibia. Carol has worked with them before and we had a very enjoyable evening with other conservation minded people.

I was delighted to meet the Dalai Lama as he arrived at Westminster on Thursday morning before clearing my desk so that Carol and I could start flat hunting. My current lease expires at the end of July and I have to find alternative accommodation soon. MPs expenses hit the headlines again with the details of some MPs London costs being declared in full following the Freedom of Information court case. I suspect this will run and run. Nobody is ever going to write a good headline relating to MPs and the cost of keeping them. One thing I think will be a major mistake and a real danger for some, is if the decision is taken to publish the London addresses of MPs whose main home is some distance away. This will give burglars a list of empty properties at the weekend and for female MPs, who live on their own, it could be a real danger.

The value of screening all the mail at Westminster with the installation of expensive equipment to detect explosives, will also be questioned if packages can be posted to MPs published addresses. Looked at nine flats between Friday and Saturday, costing on average £350 to £400 per week for a one bedroom flat near Westminster. Checked out hotel costs at the City Inn, the closest hotel to the Houses of Parliament - £155 per night. London is extremely bad value for money as far as housing goes. I normally fly between Edinburgh and London because of the time. It takes about four hours door to door. On Saturday I decided to return by train. The train journey itself took five hours and the overall journey six and a quarter hours. My ongoing campaign for a high-speed rail link between Edinburgh and London is as urgent as ever.

Giant Panda An'an in Ocean Park, Hong Kong; Photo taken by SI

18 May 2008

Pandamonium

This week has been dominated by issues relating to the Bill that is due to come before Parliament next week on Human fertilisation and Embryology. This will deal with stem cell research, human/animal hybrids, the need for a father, saviour siblings and abortion. The Parliamentary debate will be next week, but the lobbying was last week. This has meant a real flurry of emails, letters and meetings about all aspects of the Bill. More people have contacted me about this than on any other issue for years. Moral, ethical andscientific issues all rolled into one - add the Catholic Chuch and it makes for an interesting week ahead.

Partly because of the Bill and for other reasons, including my role as Disability spokesman, I had meetings with a range of groupls this week that made me feel very fortunate. The first was a meeting with a group of deaf people with a  wide range of hearing problems. I had known that there were some in the deaf community who wanted the right to be able to have deaf children, using gene selection, and of others who considered certain operations to deal with deafness so wrong that they would have nothing to do with those who had gone through the operation. Disability issues are more complicated than I could have imagined. The second group included many children who suffered from Muscular Dystrophy and would be confined to wheelchairs for the duration of their shortened lives. At this meeting a heartfelt plea for parliamentarians to support stem-cell research was made. The third group was as the Vinter's Hall, where I met up with people from many African countries who worked with Sightsavers, to prevent blindness and cure the many in poorer countries who suffer from sight problems. At the end of those meetings I was left reeling at the struggle that many have just to get through each day and of how lucky I was.

On the Friday I had my regular meeting with Councillors from Edinburgh West, the Council leader, the Lord Provost and Margaret Smith the MSP. As well as a number of regular issues that affect us all, we discussed the one unexpected issue that was about to enter the political debate. Whether or not to have pandas at Edinburgh Zoo. Different groups are taking positions on this. The Zoo, the business community, animal rights groups, political parties and more. Pandamonium is breaking out.

Darfur refugees

11 May 2008

After reading through correspondence and emails, (the largest number on any one issue relate to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill), it was time to catch up with the Sunday papers and a few jobs about the house. The saga of Wendy Alexander's referendum stance is dominating the Scottish political press but the big issue of the day is the lack of aid being delivered to the people of Burma and the lack of action by their military government. Three countries: Sudan, Zimbabwe and Burma are now witnessing different forms of genocide, because of the actions of their own governments. The rest of the world looks on as the death toll mounts in all three. Back to the Scottish referendum issue on lunchtime TV - what a shambles. Time to tackle the garden and time for the first barbeque of the year. I would not say my cooking skills are highly regarded by anyone. Everything was "well done" - hope I have not given the family food poisoning.

John with one of the pygmy hedgehogs

10 May 2008

Is this the smallest hedgehog in the world ?

Out with Carol and the Saturday delivery team early on, to get out some literature. Stopped off by the fundraising book stall at the TSB in Corstorphine, to confirm that I would be on duty in the afternoon. After the deliveries, we went to the summer fair at St. Ninians Church and met up with loads of people. Lots of good feedback from the night in the public hall when we had organised a fundraiser with illustrated talks and a visit from some exotic animals. People were amazed that we had scorpions, snakes, giant rats and spiders overnight in our house - luckily none escaped. Many people also mentioned that they had seen the Evening News article about Simpsons Neonatal Unit featuring Sarah and family. It took ages just to get past the front door. Sun still shining. It was while I was staffing the bookstall that the rumbling of thunder and streaks of lightning lit up the sky. Could summer be over or had Boris's honeymoon ended ?

9 May 2008

Veterans

Flight north in the morning then off to meet a student who was working on an environmental project as part of her final year presentation. After that, Friday surgeries. I have met up with quite a few veterans over the years. In a homeless shelter some years ago in the USA and in Edinburgh in recent years. Veterans sound like they should be old men, but dealing with veterans in their forties and younger is another matter. Meeting another young man today, whose life has been badly affected by his time in the military makes me more determined then ever to make sure all veterans, young and old, get a fair deal.

8 May 2008

Another scorching day in London. I have noticed that it has been perfect weather every day since Boris was elected Mayor. It can't last. Had to stay  in London for an evening event which was later cancelled so went out with Alistair Carmichael for a pizza. Talked about travelling to Ray Michie's funeral, which will be on Saturday in Oban. Alistair is going, I have decided not to.

7 May 2008

It's all going pear shaped for the Labour party on the Scottish referendum issue. Wendy Alexander in Holyrood has managed to get Gordon Brown into a real fix over her "bring it on " comment about the SNP's referendum pledge. Between the 10p tax issue, the opinion polls, the local election result, Boris becoming Mayor of London and potentially disasterous by-elections looming. This could be the beginning of the worst period for Labour I can remember in recent years.

Edinburgh International Film Festival launches its programme for its first ever June event in its long history. London launch tomorrow. Contacted Ginnie Atkinson (Director) and the team to wish them well. As a member of the Film Festival advisory board, am keeping my fingers crossed. Monthly meeting of the all party film group at the BFI in the evening. Watched "manufactured landscapes", a documentary about industrial China.  Not a fun night out. Got back to see the unfolding disaster in Burma with the dead now reaching the tens of thousands and the military government still not letting in aid agencies in on the ground. Every natural disaster in recent years has hit the poorest hardest.

6 May 2008

Royal High School

Normally I do not cover what goes on in Westminster on this blog, as votes, speeches and everything else said or done is covered elsewhere, but as these visits are not, and I would like to see more schools doing the same, it gets a mention here. Westminster is open for any constituent to visit and I am happy to arrange a tour or meet up with constituents whenever parliamentary business allows. School visits take some more advance planning, because of the size of the groups and I usually book a committee room to give a short talk about the work of an MP before answering questions. The Royal High school group were spending part of the week in London and are regular visitors to Westminster - all other schools in Edinburgh West are welcome.

5 May 2008

Monday ‘holiday’

In theory a Monday holiday. In practice an opportunity to get out and about delivering some newsletters and meeting constituents in the morning. Everyone is much more positive when the sun is shining - maybe summer has arrived at last. The best part of the day was a visit from my daughter and her children who are 3yrs old and 3 months old. Had to fly south in the evening as 90 pupils from the Royal High school are visiting Westminster first thing on Tuesday morning. With flights unpredictable it would be too risky flying down early in the morning.

4 May 2008

Knowing that tomorrow is a Monday holiday I had planned to have a relaxing day. This plan vanished when I had to spend part of the day under the floorboards of the house searching for a leak in the heating system. Dirty and dark with no room to move. It reminded me of the time I spent working on the documentary, "This Mine is Ours" in Monktonhall colliery, which later went on to win a Scottish BAFTA for best documentary. Working over 3,000ft underground, breathing air contaminated by coal dust and working in hot, and dangerous conditions, with blasting and the risk of a roof collapse was all part of the daily routine for the miners and the three man crew making the documentary.  Experiencing this over a period of weeks is a memory I will never forget and puts issues about difficult working conditions in perspective.

3 May 2008

Cramond Heritage Centre

Busy morning. Radio interview on the possible introduction of Local Income Tax, down to the Cramond Heritage Centre to meet lots of locals, advice surgeries at Muirhouse and then to my wife Carol's exhibition of paintings, previewing today at the Di Rollo gallery. They looked really good and despite being hung near the floor, most of them sold. Fortunately the sun was shining and I spent the rest of the afternoon cutting the grass, before going out to see "Elephant" in the Festival Theatre. Felt that there had been to time to wind down and relax before going out - did not really get into the show until the second half. 

2 May 2008

Child Support Agency

Another normal Friday with advice surgeries, including yet another case of the CSA failing to deliver. There are now so many cases of self employed ex husbands not paying the due amount to their ex-partners, that I am planning to have a meeting again with the Minister to see how action can be taken to get a fair deal for these women. Home at 5.30pm - back out at 7pm to introduce the Queensferry Lecture. An excellent talk by Willis Pickard on the subject of the role of the serious press. He hit the nail on the head on so many issues. Waited up at the end of the night to hear that Boris had become the new Mayor of London. Good speech from him and Ken on the night.

1 May 2008

Polling day

Polling day in London. Voted on my way into Westminster. As a part time London resident I can vote in local elections. After asking a question to Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs I flew back home to Edinburgh - no delays - avoiding Terminal 5 is making sense. Watched the local election results until very late. It was the Tories' night - although we did well in a number of areas. Looks like Ken's days as Mayor will be over if this carries on.

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.