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.
31 July 2008
Although Parliament is now in recess, I still have to clear up my desk in my office in London and pack up my belongings in my flat to put into storage until I find new accommodation. Things are looking up and a one bedroom flat has become available from late August. Back home to Edinburgh at the end of the month and delighted not to travelling down to London every week for a while.
21 July 2008
The final week in Westminster is a short one and so I decided to accept an invitation by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to visit Tanzania for a few days to discuss a number of issues and to develop ties between our countries. The CPA arrange a packed itinerary of visits and meetings and having never been on one of their trips, I accepted this one, as there were a number of issues I wanted to raise with the Tanzanian Government, their MP's and our Department of International Development. A full report on the visit is available. I was able to raise the issues of the privatisation of water supplies that many NGO's felt the Tanzanians were forced into by the UK government in partnership with consultants and others. Another issue I raised was the purchase of a military air traffic control system, much of which was paid for with aid money, some of which ended up in the bank account of certain individuals who are being investigated for corruption. Many other issues were raised which will hopefully help the Tanzanian people get a fair return on their own natural resources in the longer term. Currently they are the victims of exploitation by many outside companies and governments. I will be following up some of these issues on my return to Parliament.
18 July 2008
A late night visit to Glasgow Airport to pick up family on their return from holiday at 4am. The new arrangements for parking and picking up passengers at the airport reflect the effect of the bombing of Glasgow airport last year. All airports are potential targets, but with little or no protection, the London underground or other mass passenger terminals will always be potentially soft targets. Having been in London on the day of the tube and bus bombings on 7th July and also at the time of the failed bombings two weeks later on 21st July, when I was heading into Victoria Station and the police turned me away, it is always a real pleasure to return at the end of the week home to a peaceful Edinburgh.
17 July 2008
2 Jags Prescot - 4 Jags Barrett
Opposite Westminster on the other side of the river Thames is St Thomas's Hospital, where MPs are whisked off to if anything happens to them in Parliament. The story is that we would not be declared dead in Parliament, as it is a Royal Palace, and the declaration would be made from the hospital, or we would be entitled to a state funeral. I'm not sure how true this is, but it's another tale for the tourists. Today I visited the hospital as I was having my vaccinations topped up. Select Committee visits required me to have Hep A, Typhoid, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio, and Meningococcus vaccinations as well as taking anti malarial drugs. A short Commonwealth Parliamentary Association visit at the end of the month meant 4 more jags today.
15 July 2008
A three legged dog called
One of Edinburgh's twin cities is San Diego in California and some years ago, when I visited California, I learned about their equivalent of Greyfriar's Bobby, a three legged dog called "Bum". There is a statue of Bobby in San Diego and this year plans were finalised to install a statue of Bum in Princes Street Gardens, next to the gate into King's Stables Road. Two friends from San Diego, Chrissy and Wendy, who were part of the sister city group who had organised the funding and commissioning of the statue were coming over for the unveiling and on their way to Edinburgh stopped for a visit to Westminster. It was interesting to hear their take on the race for the White House and they were stunned by the history of Parliament in London. I was able to report that their plan for a life-size statue of Bum was in hand and as they had wished, the statue is in a place where children could sit on it, as they used to do with the original dog in San Diego.
12 July 2008
Strawberry Fair at Corstorphine Hospital
The League of Friends of Corstorphine Hospital has organised a Strawberry Fair for many years with funds going to support the hospital. I have been glad to support this each summer and once again the regulars organised the food and entertainment, although not the weather. It looks like a lack of helpers will mean the League might be forced to fold, in the not too distant future, if more volunteers cannot be found. Following this I was back to the book sale for another soaking. Global warming is not improving the weather in Scotland.
11 July 2008
Politics and Pizza
I usually try to keep Friday nights free, as an afternoon of surgery appointments can be draining. However I am also keen to support a relatively recent initiative to stimulate political discussion amongst Liberal Democrats in Edinburgh, with discussion over a glass of wine or beer and some pizza. Tonight's guest speaker was forced to cancel at the last minute and I was happy to fill in and led a lively discussion on the direction of the party. It was good to hear a range of views and heated debate, with no holds barred.
10 July 2008
The Tiffin Cup
Every year the “Tiffin Cup” competition is organised to select the best South Asian restaurant nominated by an MP, who can choose one from their own constituency. The ten finalists are invited to bring a chef to Westminster, where they prepare their own choice of food and their dishes are judged by a celebrity panel. The winner gets the Tiffin cup trophy. The purpose behind the event is to raise money for the ROKO cancer charity who provide mobile breast cancer screening units in India and who have screened over 16,000 women to date. Also to celebrate to contribution of the South Asian community to this country. This is one event where MPs from different parties work together for an outside good cause. Along with a Labour and Conservative MP I am the Liberal Democrat involved. As one of the organisers I did not nominate a restaurant this year, as my own nominee won second prize last year.
9 July 2008
Prime Minister's Questions
Prime Minister's Questions are held at 12 noon every Wednesday. MPs enter their name into a ballot and a computer shuffle determines which ones are called, (in addition to the party leaders, who are called every week). With 646 MPs, being called is something that happens rarely. This week I was question number 10 and all being well should be called, as the Speaker usually get to number 10 most weeks. On Tuesday I thought of all the issues I could raise, which ones might have been used up by the time I was called, what were important national and constituency issues and what could be restricted to the 30 seconds available. In the end I settled on Post Office closures, as I have been campaigning on this issue for many years. When Wednesday arrived the Prime Minister was in Japan at the G8 meeting and I was left to ask my question to his number two, Harriet Harman. Next time !
7 July 2008
By elections have been called with what feels like increasing regularity in recent years. Whenever possible, I like to visit and help the campaign team. In recent years the ones I have worked in have ranged from, Leicester, Hartlepool, Birmingham, Brent, Cheadle, Dunfermline, Henley and more. Now it is the turn of Glasgow East following the resignation of the sitting MP on health grounds. The first Monday of the campaign coincided with a visit to the campaign by the First Minister, Alex Salmond and the leader of the Conservatives, David Cameron. By-election broadcasting rules govern the TV coverage, and as every station was covering the campaign I was suddenly the voice of our campaign on a variety of TV stations. At the end of the day I was also invited into the BBC studios for a live debate on the campaign. We have an excellent candidate and a great campaign team in place. The highlight of the day was meeting an Asian shopkeeper who was a member of the Labour party, but was supporting us.
6 July 2008
Wimbledon finals and the anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster today. Two very separate events provide a real contrast and a pause for reflection today. While the public is quite rightly enjoying the sporting event and the national news gives it lots of coverage, tucked away in the corner is a brief mention of the 167 men who died 20 years ago in that inferno, working to bring oil ashore. I remember it clearly. When people complain about the price of petrol for their car, they should give a moment's thought to the real price paid to fill our tanks. I was glad to be able to also make a short speech in Parliament this week to mark this event.
5 July 2008
A quiet Saturday !
Returning to the constituency on a Thursday evening should be the opportunity to catch up with what I can’t do at Westminster from Monday to Thursday, but in fact it never quite works out like that. Friday morning provided an opportunity to go through to Glasgow to kick-off our by-election campaign and the afternoon was full of advice surgery appointments. Saturday was very productive, with two visits to sheltered housing complexes, followed by a special Scottish Executive Committee to agree a leadership election timetable. In the afternoon I met up with the ministers and a number church members at three separate churches. They were all stops for tea and home baking as well as getting to hear what everyone was involved in and concerned about. Following the churches I met up with the committee of Forrester Rugby Club to see how best we could tackle the issues and problems at the new site. Seven different groups in all and still time to go out in the evening to celebrate my wedding anniversary.
3 July 2008
Resignation of Nicol Stephen
The news that Nicol Stephen has resigned as the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats was announced today. This is another case of the pressures of family life and politics clashing. Few people understand the strain and stresses that those who are elected and have young children have to endure. I have known Nicol, his wife and children for many years and have watched as he juggled Ministerial responsibilities and the duties of an MSP with the responsibilities of being a father to four young children. I can totally understand his desire to change his work life balance and spend more time with the family. I wish him, and his family, all the best and hope they find time for a well earned summer holiday. As a member of the Scottish party's executive committee I expect to be called to a meeting this weekend to agree a timetable to select a new leader.