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.
29 June 2008
The resignation of Wendy Alexander as leader of the Labour MSPs shocked many and is dominating the political news today. I feel she has been shabily treated and has understandably given up the will to continue to fight, over issues that have little to do with why anyone enters politics. The continuing concentration on who raised what money for an election that did not happen, when she stood to become the Labour leader, have been dragged out so long that the end product is the loss of one of the most able MSPs in Holyrood to what was only one step away from a witch-hunt. I have no doubt that as she spends more time with her young twins she will reflect that the entire episode does no credit to the political establishment in Scotland. David Marshall's announcement that he is resigning as an MP for Glasgow East on health grounds was another shock. I have known David for some years and wish him a speedy recovery. One by-election that is not planned, but should be happening soon, is in Jack McConnell's constituency. If he is going to accept the position of High Commissioner to Malawi, he should go now and prepare for the job, so he will be ready when the current incumbent steps down next year. The fact that important posts like this are in the gift of the Prime Minister, who can reward old friends for past service if he wants, is wrong. What that country desperately needs is the best man or woman for the job, not just whoever happens to be an old pal of the PM. Having visited the country a number of times to investigate the effectiveness of UK aid and witnessed both the corruption and the queues for food, they need all the help they can get. I have mentioned before how many African nations have been let down by their leaders. We are as bad, if we then appoint people this way.
28 June 2008
from Muirhouse to Movies
Spent the morning out and about in Muirhouse with the team delivering and meeting the residents. It was good to have such a warm reception in the area. The shopping centre is needing a visit by the street cleaning task force and I will contact them first thing Monday. The new school structure is making good progress, but there are stll more problems to be solved in this area than in any other part of the constituency. While many residents of Edinburgh West live in very comfortable surroundings, I expect many still have no idea what life is like only five minutes away from the leafy suburbs of Cramond. Attended the closing film of the Film Festival in the evening, the premiere of the comedy "Faintheart", which reminded me of when the Film Festival premiered the Full Monty years ago, which then went on to international success. Faintheart had lots of similar ingredients, good script, great acting and a relatively low budget production - hopefully similar success will follow. Spoke to John McCormick, the former head of BBC Scotland, who chairs the Festival board, about the move of the Film Festival to June and we agreed that all indications were that it had been a great success. I pointed out the one obvious problem of the new date being that with Westminster sitting until the end of July, that as a member of the Film Festival Advisory Council I would now have to miss most of the event for the first time in years.
27 June 2008
The Royal High School
Every year it is a great pleasure to attend the prize-giving at the Royal High School in my constituency. The guest speaker this year was former pupil, record holding athlete and Lord Provost of Edinburgh George Grubb. His speech was followed by an excellent speech by the school dux and, as ever, the highlight of the event was the passing through the large doors in the main hall, into the outside world, all those pupils who were leaving on that day. The day had started early with the Henley by-election result and my prediction was correct. Held by the Tories with the Lib-Dems second (no change) but with the Labour Party in fifth place behind both the Greens and the BNP. Looks like melt-down for Labour.
25 June 2008
Voting at Westminster
One of the strange aspects of Westminster is the system of voting. Members must physically go through voting lobbies, unlike in the Scottish Parliament, where everything is electronic. Traditionally this is a time when MPs can meet up with Ministers and lobby them on issues of concern. It is unusual to meet up with the Prime Minister as he does not vote too often and is often hurried through. Today was quite different and I met up with him in the lobby for a very brief conversation. He looks thoroughly exhausted and not like a man enjoying life. I suspect that the by-election result due later in the week will not help him. My own prediction was that Labour would come behind the BNP. Wednesday, being the one early finish at Westminster (7pm) I managed to see the "Black Watch" performed at the Barbican Centre. It was spectacular and the best night at the theatre I have had for ages. It reminded me of the campaign to retain the Scottish regiments and marching through Edinburgh to Princess Street Gardens as part of that campaign. At the end of the evening it struck me, that having voted against the war in Iraq, this play reminded me that I had indeed done the right thing. How those who voted for the war must feel following the non existent weapons of mass destruction and as the daily death toll mounts, I cannot imagine.
24 June 2008
Although the purpose of this blog is to include non parliamentary information about the life of an MP, as that is well covered in Hansard and elsewhere on my web site, one issue is unfolding that I fear I must mention, as it will soon have ramifications outside Parliament and worldwide. That is the continuing deterioration of life in Zimbabwe. Following the first round of Presidential elections it was clear that Robert Mugabe was in trouble. Now we are seeing daily intimidation and brutality on a scale that only a madman would perpetrate against his own people. There can be no free and fair elections under these circumstances and action by other governments in Africa, the UN and the rest of the world are now long overdue. Once again the people of Afirca have been let down by their leaders and, with the notable exception of Nelson Mandela, the leadership in South Africa has let down the region more than most. Some time ago a constituent visited me who had suffered from torture and the threat of execution in Zimbabwe, for distributing leaflets for the opposition MDC. He escaped and was being threatened with expulsion by the UK Government, back to Zimbabwe. He told me he would rather kill himself than return, as at least that way his death would be relatively painless and speedy. He did not want to be tortured to death. If nothing is done, there must be a danger that civil war could break out and that a bloodbath could follow. It has happened in too many African countries already - let us hope it does not happen here, as the victims will once again be the most vulnerable - including many children.
23 June 2008
Why Dolly Parton ?
A number of people have asked my why there is a photograph of me with Dolly Parton on my most recent report. It has clearly been eye catching and has triggered a lot of response. I met with Dolly Parton and representatives of the Dollywood Foundation to explore the possibility of their "Library of the Imagination" expanding to include parts of my constituency. The foundation has distributed over 12 million books in the USA and is looking to expand to the UK. The idea behing their library is to send a regular supply of books to children who live in homes that might not be able to supply books themselves, usually in the more deprived areas. This requires partners from publishers and distributors to funders and organisers and I have had initial meetings with potential partners to explore funding options. Hopefully this will produce results before too long.
22 June 2008
In days gone by afternoon tea was a part of every day life and is something our parents were better at doing than we are. So organising an afternoon strawberry tea for helpers and supporters was something much better done by experts in home baking, although I was happy to help with the welcome and to spend some time with each of the guests. It was good to provide an afternoon where those who have given up much time over the years could sit back and enjoy themselves. The volunteers are at the backbone of our success in Edinburgh West and have an enthusiasm that keeps them going above and beyond the call of duty. In the evening it was back to the Film Festival to catch film director Cedric Klapisch introduce his latest film, Paris with excellent performances by all the cast. He spoke about the film and did a Q & A afterwards. Although I supported the move of the Film Festival from August to June, one problem for me is that with Parliament sitting until the end of July, I am unable to see most of it and will not be back until the closing film, next weekend.
21 June 2008
Mid Summer's Day
Another sunny Saturday for the final Gala in the constituency, The Davidson's Mains Gala Day, which I have been attending for the last 10 years or so. It was good to meet up with lots of local residents again and to see all the children enjoying themselves. Met up with The Lord Provost George Grubb, who was presenting prizes and he mentioned the large number of events he had on at the weekend. He is an excellent civic leader and was the right choice for Edinburgh. The City is lucky that he and Elizabeth, the Lady Provost are so dedicated. In the afternoon we supported the Myasthenia Gravis fundraiser in Kirkliston and we were able to do a little to help those involved to raise funds for this excellent charity. There is an end of term feeling as the schools reach their final week before the summer holidays, as they break up much earlier than in England. Parliament has another month before the summer recess. Scottish MPs who have children at school only have a short window after Parliament breaks up, to take their children on holiday, before the Scottish schools go back.
20 June 2008
School visits and sleepless nights
I regularly get asked to speak to school classes about my work as an MP and to take any questions the pupils might want to fire at me. Today's visit to speak to the 4th year modern studies class at Craigmount High followed an invite from one of the pupils. I think I stunned some of them when I turned the tables and threatened to ask them about everything from breaking the law to smoking and sex. The class and teacher went very quiet and all were relieved when I did not press this forward and moved back to safer ground. The afternoon was filled with advice surgery appointments with constituents and one from a company that plans to end Edinburgh's pothole problem - we shall see.
Leaving the office at six o'clock, the most important part of the day was ahead of me. We offered to keep our grand daughter Maria at our house overnight and she is not sleeping much. We are ready for a new experience. She is great fun and copes with her disabilities well. We went to the park where she loves the swings and if she could walk, she would be able to join in with the other children and have much more fun. We met up with a friend walking his golden Labrador. Maria enjoyed its company, but was very wary of its tail and teeth. After a bubble bath and snack we thought she was ready for a night's sleep - how wrong can you be. Although she is very young and cannot say much, she always makes me feel good inside - in a way that defies words.
19 June 2008
The Royal Highland Show
The Royal Highland Show at Ingliston is the largest agricultural event in Scotland and is held in my constituency each year in late June. Originally just for farmers it has expanded into a major showcase for livestock, agricultural equipment, foodstuffs, crafts and much more. Over 40,000 people attend each day and the expansion of Edinburgh Airport over their land has meant that moving to a new site has been a big issue for the show and its future. I usually attend the President's lunch and go for a tour of the event. Today's lunch was addressed by the First Minister, Alex Salmond. I have known Alex from his many years sitting behind me in the Commons. A dark cloud was thrown over the lunch as I was quietly informed that an accident on the perimeter of the showground had left a young 3-year-old child seriously injured. As I said my farewell to the First Minister he let me know that the young child, who is the same age as my daughter's own child, had died in hospital. Details of the accident were unclear, but I could only think of the family and of how I would feel under similar circumstances.
18 June 2008
Edinburgh International Film Festival
I have been involved with the Edinburgh International Film Festival (EIFF) for over 10 years. Originally on the board and now as a member of the Advisory Council, of the longest continually running film festival in the world. This year the EIFF has decided to move from August to June for a variety of reasons and this week saw the opening of this year's festival at this new time, with the world premiere of The Edge of Love, starring Keira Knightly and Sienna Miller. It was a red carpet affair, lots of TV and photographers and with a dress code of "1940's glamour" many had put in the effort to dress for the occasion. I invested in a new hat and a Clark Gable (stick on) moustache to complete my outfit. Carol provided the glamour. At the premiere Sir Sean Connery and other famous faces joined us. The Film Festival has provided me with a good list of interesting people to have met - much more interesting than politicians, especially when speaking to school children. They are far more likely to want to hear what Kylie or Pierce Brosnan said that what Tony Blair or Gordon Brown did. At the opening night party the highlight was the performance by a young female singer called Beth Rowley - she was excellent. Watch out, you heard it here first.
15 June 2008
Sundays are meant to be for families and this weekend, being father's day, was the perfect opportunity to enjoy being a dad. But before having some time off, Carol and I had to get to Queensferry, where I was the guest of honour at the Parish Church, which was hosting the "Big Parade" of uniformed organisation of boys and girls from the Ferry. All the Queensferry churches were represented and I was surprised when the catholic priest thanked me for the time I had spent dealing with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill issues. He did not agree with every thing I had said, but mentioned that he was impressed by the time and considered way I had dealt with the many difficult issues involved. I was delighted to be asked to speak at the church about the future visit of the scouts to Kenya and to give the congregation an insight into what might lie in store for them. I was able to describe what it was like to live in a slum without water or drainage and explained the concept of the "flying toilet" (plastic bags of waste thrown as far as possible from the home) which brought some whoops of laughter from the younger children. I was also asked to choose the charity to receive the collection and decided on Sightsavers, who do excellent work in much of Africa. The collection taken during the service today was enough to protect over 200 people from river blindness for the next 20 years - thanks to the everyone who contributed.
After the service I had to make a quick dash to Armstrong's in the Grassmarket to pick up some 1940's gear to wear on Wednesday on the red carpet at the opening of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Enjoyed a family barbeque in the evening with my daughter and her children and was delighted to be given a series of the West Wing for a father's day gift. I missed it on TV and am catching up on DVD.
14 June 2008
Summer Fairs and Gala Days - Dancers and Vultures
Much to everyone's delight the summer fair and Gala season has been blessed with excellent weather on each of the last two weekends. The largest community event, the Corstorphine Fair on the 7th June basked in bright sunshine all day. As this is a huge event I spent most of Saturday there, but also managed to visit the Ratho Gala Day before it closed. Ending the day in the Bridge Inn at Ratho for a cool drink. This was followed the next week by the Kirkliston Gala day and parade, again in perfect sunshine. Both events show the local communities at their best and only happen because of countless hours given up by volunteers before and on the day. It is a real pity that red tape, insurance and other regulations make life really difficult for the organisers. I am continuing to work to make life less complicated for the organisers of these events. At Kirkliston the bird of prey display had a slight problem when a vulture decided to make a short bid for freedon and headed off into the village. It returned soon after leaving the locals to count their pets.
On 10th June a number of colleagues met up to celebrate 7 years in Parliament, as it was the anniversary of the 2001 election. The one colleague missed by all was Patsy Calton, MP for Cheadle, who was re-elected in 2005 but sadly died shortly after with cancer. I remember pushing Patsy into the Commons in her wheelchair to take her oath after that election - her last appearance in Parliament.
Following the vote on anti-terror legislation Westminster was shocked at the resignation of David Davies the Tory Shadow Home Secretary to force a by-election in his constituency. Strange behaviour indeed. It is not clear as to whether any other party will put up candidates. This will be one to watch. While there is no date set for that election, I have been at the Henley by-election caused by the resignation of the new Mayor of London. Getting a very positive feedback from voters in a very lovely part of the country. Thatched cottages in small villages make a real contrast to other recent by-election locations.
The one mistake of announcing his resignation quickly was that David Davies distracted the media from the absolute disgrace, which was to watch the Government arm twisting and offering "bribes" to those who would support it in the "42 day" vote. This was the most shameful and desperate action I have seen by the Government since parliament was misled in the lead up to going to war in Iraq. This looks as bad on the inside as it did on the outside of Parliament and will be to the eternal shame of the Prime Minister.
Back to Edinburgh on Thursday 12th June to meet up with leaders of the financial community in Edinburgh and Vince Cable, who presented his own perspective on the state of the financial sector, taxation and energy supplies. Speaking with authority, he was open and honest about the many challenges we will all face in the years ahead.
Friday and Saturday were busy again with advice surgery appointments and meeting people at events in Drylaw Church coffee morning and Kirkliston Gala. Also picked up some of Carol's new designs from the printers - they look great.
14 June 2008
Thought it was worth adding one example of Carol's work so that my comment about it looking great were understood. At Queensferry Carol was asked if it was an unusual life being the wife of an MP. On the way back we discussed what was unusual about it and agreed that most people see the MP's wife at events with the MP where as the most unusual aspect of the job is that for the majority of the week the MP's wife is left at home on their own - while the MP is at Westminster. This is the Siberian Tiger painting completed by Carol when she was artist in residence at Edinburgh Zoo. It sold - I wish we still had it.
3 June 2008
John Barrett MP with 2 ice creams and Margaret Smith MSP with only one!
This past week Parliament was not sitting and spending the week in the constituency was a good opportunity to do the things that cannot be done in Westminster. One day included a visit to St George’s School to speak to the modern studies class about the work of an MP and to answer their questions. Fortunately they had a computer wired up to a large interactive white board. This allowed me to show my newly redesigned web site to the class and to open up pages on everything from election results to the “have your say” polls. Many of the students had looked at the site and read the blog before my visit, while others in the younger class I spoke to just stared at this strange man who had come to visit. They were also able to take a look at my wife Carol’s website, as she was a former St. George’s girl and they were interested to hear about what she had been doing and to see her work as a wildlife artist. The school had just finished a production of the Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and I told them that Carol had appeared for a few moments in the movie of the same name as a young extra alongside Oscar winning Maggie Smith and Gordon Jackson. This is also the week when the summer fair and gala day season starts. Fortunately the weather for the first ones was excellent and I met up with lots of people at the Gylemuir Primary Fair and then spent the afternoon at the Clermiston and Drumbrae Gala. The sun shone from start to finish, which I hope is a good omen for the rest. Next Saturday is the Corstorphine Fair, which has grown to become Scotland’s largest community event, with over 15,000 people expected to attend. The Fair was revived as a local event by a few of us, when I was a community councillor, and in the early days my job was to put up the bunting on the lamp posts. I was promoted to Fair photographer and as the years have passed my involvement has changed. This year I will be with the Lord Provost at the opening and meeting up with many locals enjoying a hopefully sunny day out. Part of my time I will also be on the fundraising bookstall.