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.

June 2009

Tanzanian-based film Crimson Wing

30 June 2009

Tanzania

Had a very interesting dinner with an old friend, who is a philanthropist and funds some of the new academies in England. I arranged for him to meet one of my colleagues, who has real concerns about the development of academies. I thought I was just going to "hold the coats" as they got stuck into a heated debate, but it ended with them having much more in common than either could have predicted.  We both have a common interest in Tanzania and agreed to go and see the London screening of Crimson Wing, later in the year, which will have a live orchestra playing the score.  We agreed that the fragility of the Tanzanian eco-system needs as much publicity as possible - as well as increased tourism to boost that very poor country. This film will do Tanzania nothing but good, when it goes on general release in a few months time.

The Cramond dinosaur

27 June 2009

Dinosaur Discovered in Edinburgh West

While the rest of the country basked in bright sunshine, the coastline around Edinburgh was covered in Scotch Mist, that well known local condition. This did not deter a doughty band of volunteers organised by the Marine Conservation Society getting out on to a number of beaches for a beach clean this morning, including at Cramond. The find of the day was a dinosaur - even if it was only a small plastic one. Later in the day I was able to do home visits to people who could not make normal surgery times or who have mobility problems. One visit to a young ME sufferer, who needs help, reminded me exactly why it is worth doing what I do. The closing film of the film festival, Adam, featured the problems of another young man, this one with Asperger's  Syndrome and the difficulties of life for him and those around him. It was moving film with a great leading performance by Hugh Dancy - he deserves an award for this.  This was another example of the cinema playing its part in contemporary life - as described by David Puttnam last week. Hopefully people who see it will be more understanding of the condition and of those who suffer from it.

Michael Jackson

26 June 2009

Michael Jackson

The death of Michael Jackson has dominated today's news. The "King of Pop" is for many what Elvis; the "King" was to previous generations. Without doubt he was one of the most talented entertainers who has ever lived, and like royalty, he did not appear to have much control over his own life from a very young age. He has been performing for the public and working since the age of five. As a singer, dancer and song-writer, much of what he achieved will live on long after his death. His troubled life should not overshadow the pleasure he gave to millions. My own favourite was the Man in the Mirror original video, which features clips of everyone from JFK to Martin Luther King Jr. and many more and is on you tube. The words and images say it all. Also received a nice email from the father of the soldier I mentioned in Wednesday's blog, saying, "keep up the good work". That put everything else going on, into perspective.  

25 June 2009

The EIFF

Normally, every year I attend the Royal Highland Show President's lunch at the RHS, which is the largest agricultural show in Scotland and held in my constituency. Unfortunately, today circumstances conspired against me in that my flight from London was delayed and as there was a Royal present at the lunch, so everyone had to be in early and go through tighter security, where ID was inspected. The protocol is that no late arrivals are admitted, so I had to miss out on the lunch - no bad thing for the waistline, as it always consists of the very best quality Scottish produce and no doubt today it would have been something extra special. In the evening, out at the Film Festival, to see The Crimson Wing, a Disney documentary about the life cycle of flamingos in Tanzania. It was excellent and I had a brief discussion with the film makers, after their Q & A session, about the making of the film. It took six years from start to finish, including one year of filming and a year in the edit suite. The score and the narration all welded together - it made me hark back to the days when I worked in the industry and how enjoyable it was. Met up with Ginnie Atkinson, the Festival Managing Director, at the Filmhouse later on. It ends on Saturday and looks like it will have been another successful year for the Edinburgh Internationa Film Featival.

24 June 2009

Why?

Sometimes MPs are surveyed by opinion poll organisations, to find out their views on a range of issues. In order to encourage them to participate, the organisation then sends a cheque of about £100 to the charity of the MPs choice. In the past I have chosen the local youth club and other Edinburgh based charities. This year I asked them to send a cheque to a charity which is raising funds to help build a hydrotherapy pool for disabled children in Edinburgh. Having never received a penny of this money, under the new rules from 1st July, I will either have to declare this as work and income and then keep a note of exactly what was done and declare exactly how much time was spent doing this and send in the appropriate declarations or not do the survey. While it makes sense to publish details of MPs second jobs and income from them, it looks like the new rules will be as inefficient as the old ones. In the survey, two of the boxes I ticked for best speakers in the House were for George Galloway and William Hague. They were both in action and united in the afternoon in their condemnation of what has been proposed for the Iraq inquiry. It was interesting to hear both in action and I was reminded of the parents of the 100th soldier who died in Iraq contacting me the following day to ask, "Why?" - Like many others, they deserve a truthful answer.

23 June 2009

Morgan Tsvangirai

Today it was a real pleasure to meet with the Prime Minister of  Zimbabwe, Morgan Tsvangirai and to question him about what his plans and hopes for the future of his country.. He was in Westminster to update MPs about the current situation in Zimbabwe. I was able to ask him about when he thought there would be open and free access for the media and foreign correspondents. This will be necessary before anyone outside the country will be confident that what the Government there is saying to the rest of the world is actually being delivered on the ground. If Zimbabwe can begin its reconstruction it will not only be to the benefit of its own citizens, it will help the entire region of Africa and allow millions of Zimbabweans to return home. Years of struggling against Robert Mugabe's regime were etched on his face - it was an honour to meet him and shake his hand.

Film Classic: Chariots of Fire

21 June 2009

David Puttnam

Without a doubt the highlight of today was listening to David Puttnam deliver a keynote lecture this morning as part of the Edinburgh Film Festival. As well as his history in film making, from Chariots of Fire and Bugsy Malone to the Killing Fields, he is one of the most socially aware individuals I have ever met, who is able to pinpoint the important issues of the day and what will be the dangers of sleepwalking into the future if we do not tackle them.  He covered the Orange revolution in the Ukraine and why it did not descend into violence, the rise of the BNP in recent elections, the Cuban missile crisis and the day he and his wife brought their child into bed one night - because they honestly feared they would not wake up the next morning. He was brilliant and I felt fired up for the battles ahead. One minor skirmish will be with the Sunday Herald, who printed totally misleading information today, saying a printing and property firm had a room in my publicly funded office.  The journalist who wrote the article knows this is not the case and when I spoke to him today he had little to say in his defence. Had he checked the basic facts he would have discovered they are not even at the same number in the street, far less in the same office.

20 June 2009

A Nice Day for Ducks

Two of today's events were outdoors, including a book sale and the Davidson's Mains Children's Gala. Both had bright sunshine early on and were then soaked by rain later in the day. One of the star attractions at the Gala was the exhibition of duck herding by two border collies and their master from Loch Lomond. In what he described as an, "adrenalin packed show", we were treated to ducks and dogs working as a team and involved in almost "death defying" challenges such as crossing the Bridge Over the River Quack facing duck eating crocodiles. As the show began, the heavens opened and it actually was nice weather for ducks. Meeting up with lots of locals, groups and supporting organisations at the heart of the local community every year, is what I always enjoy at these events. I am sure that it is because I have spent more than a decade supporting many such events, and in some cases two decades, that it is always nice to receive a very warm welcome - even in present circumstances. In the early evening had a long phone call from John Bercow who is keen to become the next speaker. Had to tell him to keep it short, as he never uses two words when twenty will do. He is a front runner for the job, but if elected we will have to place a time limit on him, or no speakers from the floor will ever get in on any debates. Half an hour later he was still going....

Take That

19 June 2009

Take That

Following the BBC News appearance last night, "Good Morning Scotland" the BBC radio programme asked if I could be in their Edinburgh studio early the next day. This meant setting the alarm for 6am to make sure I was there in plenty time. I was asked about Nick Clegg's view on these issues and was able to say I was seeing him later in the day as MPs and MSPs were having an away day together to discuss a wide range of issues. Both Tavish Scott and Nick Clegg were on good form and the entire day was really worthwhile.  The evening provided a complete contrast as it was through to Hampden Park in Glasgow to see Take That in concert. There were 50,000 people there each paying £50 per head, £2.5 million pounds spent to see one of three shows in Scotland. It struck me that even in a recession some parts of the economy are thriving. It was a spectacular event and set as a circus - with trapeze artists, high wire walkers, clowns and even an "elephant". The band was also better for being older than during their first incarnation. The only problem was the traffic on the way home. Getting to bed at 2am was 20 hours after the alarm was set. I will need an early night soon.  

18 June 2009

A Black Day for Parliament

The publication of the redacted, or censored, expense claim forms and associated receipts has been a complete disaster.  A black day for Parliament, in more ways than one. Anyone could have seen that publishing over a million documents with large areas blacked out on most of them, was never going to do anything other than convince the public that the truth was being kept from them. Everyone accepts that bank and credit card details should not be made public, but months have been spent  blanking out completely innocent information, which is already in the possession of the Daily Telegraph and some of it published. Originally I had also believed that publishing addresses of flats in London would be wrong, as this would be a burglar's charter, as most are empty for three days most weekends. The answer is to publish the street or part of postcode, which establishes where someone lives without giving the exact flat or street number. In my own case this would be SE1, which would confirm my London address is in Lambeth without confirming which address is normally empty on certain dates or times. Points which I was able to make when asked to appear on the BBC news in the evening.

John's parliamentary staff with Tinchy Stryder

16 June 2009

Tinchy on the Terrace

It is surprising who you can meet in the House of Commons. Today I was having lunch with my team when we met up with my colleague Norman Lamb MP, his son Archie and Tinchy Stryder. Archie is the manager of Tinchy, a young rap artist, who was recently at number one in the singles chart with the aptly name song  "Number 1". Norman has been their great supporter and has been the only MP regularly spotted at urban grime events. Tinchy was being interviewed by the press and was happy to pose for this photograph with the team. It was all in a day's work for Venetia, who is on the right and is down from Edinburgh for a week on work experience. Later in the day at, an event related to launch of Digital Britain, we met Simon Bates, the former Radio 1 disk jockey, who is now with Classic FM.  Simon was most famous for "our tune" on his radio show, which basically involved a listener detailing their love story, a following disaster or tragedy and the music which reminded them of the event. Many a tear jerker at the time. It was a sign of how times have changed from when every Radio 1 DJ would know who had been at number one, that he did not know who Tinchy was.

contentious banknotes

15 June 2009

It's Legal Tender

Many Scots have at some time had trouble in England with Scottish bank notes being refused by shopkeepers, although I have not yet experienced this. Travelling up and down to London and in the Houses of Parliament, I often use Scottish notes and have never had to argue the case to get my money accepted. Today was the exception to the rule, when I was told the coffee shop could not accept my money. Looking at the £10 note, I expected it to be a Scottish one, but it was a Bank of England old style note, which had been give to me over the weekend and is no longer accepted in England. No need to cry "It's legal tender", as apparently it was not. On a more serious note, the announcement was made today in the Commons, by the Prime Minister, that there would be an inquiry into the war in iraq - at last. Unfortunately it will not report until after the next election and will be held in private - so much for open government. All of this followed an aborted landing attempt at Heathrow, when we were just about to hit the runway. Having been at Heathrow on the day of the last crash landing there I did not care how many attempts the pilot took to land - as long as it was successful in the end.

John at the Saughtonhall Fair

14 June 2009

Fun in the sun

What a difference a day makes. The sun was blazing down, the Saughtonhall Fair was buzzing with people, music and dancers. The  barbeque, stalls, ice cream sales and donkey rides well all busy.  Clearly the word had got around that the MP had arrived a day too early and quite a few people had a joke with me about this. There was a good fun day atmosphere, with everyone enjoying themselves - what a difference the sunshine makes. It was exactly what a Fair should be with dozens of local people enjoying their own community and raising money for good local causes.  I was asked if I could do the same next year and bring the good weather.

13 June 2009

Gala Day Weather

After a morning out in South Queensferry speaking to locals about the proposals for the new Forth Bridge, I visited George and Elizabeth Grubb, the Lord and Lady Provost, to see how he was recovering from a minor eye operation. As we were having a cuppa the heavens opened and monsoon weather struck.  I might have known that this might happen as summer fairs and gala days are often victims of the weather. I continued on to Kirkliston and Ratho, where both villages' gala days fortunately had a morning of sunshine, but were now battling against the rain. Finally, the last event of the day, or so I thought (not having my diary with me), was the Saughtonhall Fair. It was pouring with rain when I arrived and there was nothing at all going on outside. There were a few people in the hall sorting out books and prizes and it looked like the day had been a washout. When I walked in they thanked me for coming, but it had not been washed out, I was a day too early, it was on tomorrow.  I said I would be back on Sunday - I was told to bring the sunshine.

Edinburgh Council Logo

12 June 2009

Council Services

Spent this morning with the Council's West Edinburgh Neighbourhood Senior Management Team to get an update on all that is going on and to feed back issues and concerns that have been raised with me in the local area. I was very impressed by the manager and her team, not only in what they are delivering and have planned for the future, but also by the positive approach and upbeat way in which they are developing real improvements in council services. This is such a change from what had been the norm from the previous administration and was an excellent example of good local government in action. Credit also goes to Cllr. Paul Edie who is responsible for much of this improvement. From road and park maintenance to the provision of library and housing services, and much more, the team was firing on all cylinders. Lots of good news that the public often do not hear about. The one long time problem that is being tackled, has been tackled and will forever need to be tackled is the problem of dog fouling. Whoever sorts that out will deserve a medal.

Robin Cook

10 June 2009

Robin Cook

Had a most enjoyable visit by two constituents and their daughter who lived in London. Over lunch it was good to have a longer discussion about how Westminster worked and they gave me good feedback from an unbiased perspective. What they want to see from Parliament is it sorting itself out and getting on and dealing with the big issues of the day that are facing the country, not MPs spending their time with their marigold gloves on cleaning their flats because they are worried about the reaction to them claiming for a cleaner on expenses. They made a very good point. Later in the day there was the move to dissolve Parliament and force a general election. It was supported by all opposition parties, but defeated by the Government - no surprise there. It was also interesting to hear the latest proposals on reforming Parliament from the Government, including electoral reform. I wonder why the late conversion to a fair electoral system? I have always believed that the make up of Parliament should reflect the way people have voted throughout the country. The current electoral system simply does not do this and gives any one party a massive majority based on a minority vote. There has got to be a better way to elect a government. More and more MPs from all parties have said to me they are moving towards this point of view. It is a pity that Robin Cook is no longer with us as few were more respected and were able to argue this case more passionately.

First Lady Michelle Obama

8 June 2009

First Lady at Westminster

There was a surprise visitor to Westminster today, when Michelle Obama and her girls came to the Houses of Parliament. Visitors will always see policemen with automatic weapons guarding the building. Today this was increased when some large vehicles arrived below Big Ben with armed security for the first lady. The visit had not been announced and it was a surprise to many. The Parliament's police had asked everyone to step back while the mystery visitors and their security team passed through. It was no surprise to some when one pompous MP announced that he was a member and tried to force his way through, only to be stopped by some large men who were probably about to reach inside their jackets, just in case there was any risk. In the end nobody was in any danger, but it was a reminder to always do what the police in the building ask, as they are the ones who will be in the front line if anything ever does happen.

7 June 2009

European Election Count

The count of the European elections will go on for much of the night, with the Scottish result being declared tomorrow from the Mercat Cross in the Royal Mile in the city centre. From the Edinburgh Westminster Parliamentary constituencies, I was pleased that out of all the sitting Edinburgh MPs I was the only one whose party won their own seat. It was a good night for the SNP throughout Edinburgh and elsewhere in Scotland, with it being a very bad night for Labour. In Edinburgh West the SNP were third behind the Liberal Democrats and then the Conservative party, with Labour in fourth place. Looks like it will be a long night in front of the TV watching results coming in. Even with the change in the votes cast and the number of Scottish MEPs reducing from 7 to 6, it will probably mean that the MEPs returned from Scotland will be very similar in number for each party as was the case before.

6 June 2009

Edinburgh Zoo

For the first time in a while I made an early morning visit to Edinburgh Zoo, before the crowds get in and often when the animals are more lively. There are some really good visitor attractions and new facilities, although the zoo is going through lots of changes and has moved out some of its stock to the Highland Wildlife Park, where there is much more space. The koala bears once again did not move an inch and appear to spend their entire live snoozing. After hunting for a few lamp-post posters that had been left up and cutting them down, I met up with a friend for lunch who managed to do something that gave a stranger a shock. Jumping into the wrong car, the one that was the same colour as my one, but parked immediately behind me, the driver and his children looked as if they were about to be hi-jacked. This is becoming a habit. An elderly lady I drove to the polling station some time ago did the same, when she jumped into the car parked next to my one and then handbagged the driver, who did not want to take her home.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown

5 June 2009

Brown Still Standing

Bristol was a good result, taking control of the council, but there were very mixed results elsewhere in England. Overall we were neither up nor down. It was a good day for the Conservatives and a bad day for Labour. The local elections have been completely sidelined by the resignations from the Cabinet and plotting to get rid of Gordon Brown, with the plotters failing to get their act together. No doubt the drama will continue if the European election results on Sunday are as bad for the Government. Some predictions have them in third or fourth place. Life returned to normal on Friday evening with the visit of an old friend from Canada, who now lives out in the wilderness with bears and cougars visiting their neighbourhood. It all sounded so much more peaceful than life at Westminster where it is the press that hunt in packs. The Brown Bear is wounded but is still standing while the pack continues to snap at his heels. Can he last another week?

4 June 2009

European Election Day

Back in Edinburgh for the European elections and out on the doorstep in an attempt to encourage voters to vote. The European elections have never set the heather on fire here and have a tradition of a very low turnout in Edinburgh. With no local elections in Scotland, the strong feedback on the doorstep indicates that many voters will be staying at home today. Whatever the result locally, one regular feedback from all the canvassing in my constituency was that our vote at European elections is well below that for the party at local, Scottish and Westminster elections. This has been true in the past and it will be that same again today. At the end of the night we ended in the pub for a well deserved cool drink and the prospect of a busy weekend removing posters from lamp-posts. With no count at the end of the night to go to, for once it was an early night on polling night - usually it is a 4am or 5am finish, but up early to hear the first election results for the English local elections. I will be watching out to see what happens in Bristol.

3 June 2009

Cabinet Resignations

Resignations from current and former Ministers in advance of the expected cabinet reshuffle and more MPs declaring that they are not standing at the next election have taken the prospect of tomorrows election results to a new level. With local elections in England, as well as the European elections, there is a real prospect of Labour being pushed into third place. At PMQ today Nick Clegg announced that the choice was now between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives to form the next Government. When the results start to come in on Friday we shall see. Many MPs are back in their constituencies today campaigning in the elections, but I am speaking today in debates and have also stepped up to cover for my colleague Mike Moore, whose wife has just given birth to their first baby. He has got his priorities right and is at home with Ali and their new daughter. Had a quick word today with David (Lord) Puttnam, who is coming to the Edinburgh International Film Festival later in the month to deliver a lecture. He is one of the best examples of why people with outside experience can make a contribution to the country in the Lords. From Midnight Express and Chariots of Fire to Bugsy Malone and Local Hero - his talk will be worth listening to.

2 June 2009

Advisory Boards

Visiting the RBS offices in Bishopsgate made me wonder how many jobs would be lost there by the time the current problems of the banking industry were over. This is now effectively a publicly owned business and hopefully in the months and years ahead the public will see things turn round from the present position of that industry. Attending a board meeting that is linked to Mumbai and Washington by video conference was an experience and the only thing I can add, for those who are concerned about MPs outside earnings from second jobs, is that I do this on the same basis that I am on the Advisory Board of the Edinburgh International Film Festival in that I take no payment for either and that it does not restrict in any way my ability to be critical of the organisation. Also, that the 2- 3 hour meetings for each are on top of my normal working hours, not instead of them.

1 June 2009

Unemployed ex-servicemen and women

At Defence questions today I asked the Secretary of State about how well former servicemen and women were prepared for life back as civilians and whether their military training would be transferable for civilian use. This reminded me of an interview I did some years ago in a homeless shelter in the USA, where the young former paramedic told me that no hospital would employ him, as his military training was not acceptable to them. He was bright, able, trained and in his late 20's. He was prepared to die for his country, yet he had been let down and was now living in a homeless shelter with all his possessions in one bag. At a time of rising unemployment, we must not let that happen here. I have also been reading through the papers for tomorrows Royal Bank of Scotland Microfinance Advisory Board meeting. This is the first meeting of this new group and RBS have asked me to join this advisory board which will deal with the RBS Foundation, the Prince's Trust and a number of other issues. The board has a wide variety of able and talented individuals and I am delighted to be alongside them. I will see how this develops and it looks like it will be a really worthwhile project to be involved with. For the record, this is unpaid and I have also checked today where to declare this as an interest.

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.