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.

July 2009

31 July 2009

In the News

The first full week back in the constituency has been an eventful one with something new happening every day. It is the perfect opportunity to catch up with things that are impossible to do while Westminster is sitting and at the end of an afternoon of advice surgery appointments I have the "delights" of a Friday evening party meeting this evening. Hope it does not go on too long as I am looking forward to the later part of the evening off and a birthday party to go to. I suspect it will not be a quiet weekend, as I have been told by a friend that the news of my standing down is featured in the party newspaper, the Lib-Dem News, which will go out to every member this weekend. Lots more calls to come, I suspect.

30 July 2009

Working 9 to 5

Working 9 to 5 feels like being on holiday after the Westminster routine. Have also become the most popular boy in the class, with many people phoning for a chat and to see how I am doing. The fact that a number are potential candidates for Edinburgh West must surely be a coincidence. Have now had loads of cards, letters emails and texts, all very supportive and those who are elected at one level or another have been tinged with a shade of "green" as they have a particular understanding of what is involved doing the job. I am feeling particularly relaxed, although the arrival of the mother-in law tomorrow, who is staying for a month, might put an end to that !

28 July 2009

38 Degrees

After signing off at 10.50pm tonight, after an evening meeting, driving someone home and then checking my emails. It made me smile as one of the emails I had sent was to 38 degrees, an organisation that has been set up to monitor what MPs do during the summer recess. I told them that while there is a real problem with what some MPs have done, their plans were not going to provide a solution. Encouraging people to photograph MPs who might be on holiday or at the beach with the kids so that they can be accused of wasting tax payer's money, as this will be what happens, will only result in MPs keeping out of the way on holiday, rather than mixing with what are called real people. Not all my day was at work, I cut the grass in my back garden, which was long overdue. No doubt, had it been my front garden I might have been snapped and reported as an MP who was not working during the recess. The only thing a photo of an MP on holiday says, is that they go on holiday like everyone else who can. Is there any wonder that while out door-knocking last night one message that came across loud and clear is that not one person I spoke to would ever want to stand for election anywhere. Speaking to people who know you are standing down is like being in a honeymoon period, with everyone very appreciative of my track record and wishing me well for the future.

27 July 2009

MPs Holidays

The nonsense talked about MPs holidays knows no bounds. Having returned to Edinburgh from Westminster on Saturday and worked late on Sunday night on Parliamentary emails and correspondence as usual, I was back into the office at 9am today for a packed morning of advice surgeries. After a busy day at the office it will be out on the doorstep this evening and I will continue to be as busy in the constituency in the weeks ahead. The one extra and very pleasant task I have had to deal with is the constant flow of supportive emails from constituents, supporters and colleagues. The best without a doubt was a poem, which I will keep for purely personal consumption. Most MPs take two or three weeks holiday in the summer. The Scottish MPs with young children usually have to go away right away as the schools go back in Scotland in a few weeks time, others are more flexible. At present I have a one week holiday planned but hope to arrange something more.

The Gathering 2009

26 July 2009

A Day Is A Long Time In Politics

It used to be said that a week is a long time in politics. I can now confirm that, at times, a day is a long time in politics. Yesterday started at 5am, when I got up to get to Heathrow, for an early flight to Edinburgh. Arriving in Edinburgh late morning gave me time to phone those who had sent apologies for the 2pm meeting. Earlier, I had managed to contact the Lord Provost and Leader of the Council who, as part of their civic duties, had to attend a massive clan gathering of 30,000 people in the city centre and this morning there were more calls to make. Fortunately my wife, who had been travelling back from work in Botswana, managed to catch an earlier flight and would now be at the meeting too. There was a very moving speech of tribute from Margaret Smith MSP and I spotted a few tears being shed all round. I was able to go though the developments in Edinburgh West over the last 25 years, from the early 1980's when I was first involved, through to winning Council seats, the Scottish Parliamentary seats and my own seat at Westminster. Looking, to the future we were all enthused by the challenges ahead. By 4pm it was all over and as planned we picked up our grand-daughter little Maria and headed to South Queensferry in the sunshine. Later in the evening I checked my email and was flooded by emails from friends and colleagues. Every single one was really nice and completely understanding, but there were too many to deal with immediately. I stopped replying to them at midnight, 19 hours after I had started, feeling quite drained. It had been a long day in more ways than one. Over the weekend I will reply to the rest of them. On Monday it will back to work with a packed morning of advice surgeries and the start of my final year as an MP.

25 July 2009

Standing Down

Today I will be meeting the local party at 2pm to announce that I will be standing down at the next election. After a lot of thought and discussion with family, close friends and colleagues I was left in no doubt that the time was right to make a change in my life. After representing the party for over 25 years; on the Community Council, the Edinburgh City Council and at Westminster, the time is right for a number of reasons. While I am still fit and healthy, I am aware that if a stand for another term I will be too close to retirement age to start any new job of significance or substance. The constituency results have been excellent, with a 13,600 majority at Westminster, the second largest Lib-Dem majority in the UK, only beaten by Charles Kennedy at the last election at the height of the Iraq War debate. At the recent European elections we had a great result in Edinburgh West and I would have been the only Edinburgh MP to have held his seat based on those results. This will now be the task for my successor. The opportunities to do another job in a year's time range from going back into business, to standing for election in Edinburgh, to working in the field of Overseas Aid and Development and many other options. I have nothing lined up and am ruling nothing out, except that I want to reclaim my weekends to enjoy the grand-children while they are around. This week I had a discussion with some young documentary makers to see if I could use my contacts to help them and having been part of an award winning documentary crew many years ago; working in that field again is also an option. In the meantime I am going to continue to work flat out in the constituency for the next 12 months as there is still much work to do as the MP. The decision to stand down was confirmed as being absolutely right when I landed in Edinburgh this morning only to hear that my grand-daughter is having to go into hospital for emergency surgery. I know that in a cynical age many might doubt my reasons for standing down, but I know what matters in life and their views do not matter at all. This weekend I will be around for her.

24 July 2009

The Big Picture

The final day at Westminster has been an interesting one, with the last few colleagues meeting up for the final time before they all head back to our constituencies. One colleague, who I have not seen for a while, had contacted me to say how his two year old son was progressing with his chemotherapy for a malignant tumour. Hopefully all will go well over the summer for them. We agreed that with all the issues that politicians have to deal with, it is stuff like this that's puts everything into perspective. With the exception of one party meeting at the weekend I will be spending the rest of the time this weekend with my grand-children, and the phone will be off.

23 July 2009

Australian visitors

Most of my visitors to Westminster are constituents, but today it was a real pleasure to welcome family from Australia to visit Parliament and to show them around. My niece Lucy, who I had not seen for ten years and her boyfriend were on a gap year visit. They went into the House of Commons and the House of Lords as well as going out on the Terrace overlooking the Thames. They were spellbound by the place.  Unfortunately, while they were here, the weather was not quite so kind and they were soaked through, more than once.

Nick Clegg with April Pond, Lib Dem candidate in Norwich North

21 July 2009

Beyond Biba

After a day campaigning in Norwich in the rain, friends who were involved in the production of the documentary, "Beyond Biba", about the founder of the Biba fashion store in the 1960's invited me to its premiere in the actual store, which is still famous for the roof garden which has real flamingos in it. The setting was spectacular and after the screening, which had been sponsored by Mini cars and Agent Provocateur, it reminded me of when I used to be involved with documentary production some time ago. Another friend sat at the grand piano and played in the background and I thought this was the perfect way to end the day. It felt a million miles away from life at Westminster, but it would be back to the office for the rest of the week for a range of meetings with everyone from Nick Clegg, to the new Speaker, John Bercow.

20 July 2009

Child Povery and Swine Flu

Back to Westminster for the final week before the recess. Today's debate was on the Child Poverty Bill and as I was keen to speak in the debate I changed to an earlier flight. The debate itself was delayed as a statement on swine flu updated the house on the pandemic and the Government is coming under pressure to reassure people that it has a grip on it as the numbers of those infected in the UK continues to rise. By early evening I was eventually called to speak and was able to raise a number of issues relating to the Bill and the links between disability and poverty. The business of the day went on into the wee small hours but most of the important votes did not go on too late. Congratulated on my speech by the Conservative spokesman.

19 July 2009

Thanks British Midland !

After watching Tom Watson crumble in the play off in the British Open Golf Championship it looked like I was going to have a Sunday evening off, thanks to British Midland losing my case on the London to Edinburgh flight. Inside it was my chip, which allows me access to the Parliament's computer system and without it my evening email routine would have to be cancelled. It was too good to be true. The suitcase was then delivered, everything was in it and it was back on to the Parliamentary emails. I discovered this week how many emails some MPs have in their inbox and it was reassuring that compared to them, my ones are well under control. Called some constituents to reschedule surgeries set for Monday as the Child Poverty Bill will get its second reading tomorrow and I will have to fly south early, then be in the chamber all day up to 10pm. Tomorrow is one of those days which goes on until any hour to finish business, so it could be the wee small hours before it finishes. Got a text to say "mission accomplished in Paliament Square" so it looks like world peace could be on its way. 

World Peace

16 July 2009

World Peace

I am use to unusual requests and today was asked to see if it would be possible to get permission for a harpist to play outside Westminster on Sunday 19th which is when Harpists from all over the world will play for an hour at 2pm (local time) near important public buildings, town squares, places of political significance etc, to promote World Peace. Harpists of all ages and all standards, professional and amateur, are encouraged to take part, and can sign up for this event. For anyone outside the Houses of Parliament on Sunday 19th July in Parliament Square, they will be able to hear the excellent Scottish harpist Phamie Gow playing at 2pm. Am not exactly sure how this promotes world peace, but, as nobody else has managed, it is good when anyone takes the time to highlight a serious issue in whatever way they can. Too often we get obsessed by the small problems in life and lose sight of the wider problems many suffer from every day. With the bodies of soldiers are now returning from war zones weekly it looks like world peace is still a long way off. Maybe the harpists have got it right.

Forces in Afghanistan

15 July 2009

Afghanistan

Today was the last Prime Minister's Question Time before the summer recess and although I have one more week in London before the recess, this would be the final PMQ. Unfortunately it did nothing to increase the standing of Parliament in the eyes of the public, with the usual Punch and Judy show between the PM and leader of the opposition. The issue of Afghanistan was at the centre of many questions and following an increasing number of deaths there in recent weeks, a serious session of probing questions and detailed would have been in order. Instead there was 15 minutes of point scoring by both parties. It was a disgrace. Hopefully the changed Parliamentary business to allow a debate on the subject tomorrow will see a higher standard of contribution. The soldiers serving there and those living an Afghanistan under the nightmare regime of the Taliban deserve better.  

Buckinham Palace Garden Party

14 July 2009

Buckingham Palace Garden Party

In complete contrast to last week's experience was a visit today to Buckingham Palace for a garden party. Normally I nominate people from my constituency to go to the Holyrood Palace garden Party in Edinburgh, but this year I decided to go along to the one at Buckingham Palace myself. The sun was shining, and for two hours it was a nice break from the normal routine. As I arrived, the first thing I recognised were the corgis wandering around and being let back into the Palace. The sunshine, the garden, the military bands, the tea and cucumber sandwiches, the ice cream and a glimpse of the Queen all made for a perfect break in the day. For the rest of the day I was also being shadowed by a young person who was interested in finding out more about life at Westminster - it was good to see a number of MPs participating in this event.

A destroyed township in Lebanon

10 July 2009

Palestinan Towns or Refugee Camps

A visit to the south and what are called Palestinian refugee camps. The name is totally misleading as they are actually towns and the one we visited used to have 27,000 people living in it. Created by the Palestinians who lost their homeland when Israel was created in 1948 it could literally be described as a bomb site. Destroyed by the Israeli Government it looked more like a wartime film set than a real town. The UN team working to rebuild homes for the refugees explained their task of clearing unexploded bombs and grenades as the buildings were being demolished - a very risky job. We visited the temporary accommodation the refugees were living in and it would break the heart of any human to see so many men, women and children, suffering like this. The heat, the flies, the rats and reports of scorpions. The one common view from every politician (bar one) that we met was that they wanted rid of the Palestinians. Again this put the issues we deal with in the UK on a daily basis into perspective. I though that I should never complain about anything again when I get home.

Handshake

9 July 2009

Serious Politics

The first meeting of the day was with a former President who had lost five close relatives to assassinations, including his son. Life for such politicians was in a gilded gage. Nice homes, but they could not walk the streets without armed guards. Meeting up with the elected representatives of Hezbollah led to wider discussions about security in the region. The Arab/Israel problem and issues relating to Syria and a homeland for the Palestinians were discussed in detail. Speaking to elected representatives of every group is important, but when they have a terrorist link there are other problems. It reminded me of the discussion that had been going on with the IRA and the UK Government in order to advance the peace process many years ago although at the time the government denied they were in any talks. The final meeting of the day was with Walid Jumblatt, who was a party leader and familiar face on our TV screens in the 1970s and has been in the centre of Lebanese politics ever since. He was another politician who had a relative killed and before leaving he presented me with a small medal of his father who had been assassinated. He said, "The hardest thing I ever had to do was to shake the hand of the people who murdered my father". It made me think that no matter how difficult live becomes for UK MPs, it is nothing compared to this. This was all deadly serious stuff.

John witnessing a mine clearance operation

8 July 2009

M.A.G. (Mine Awareness Group)

Out in the countryside, one visit today was to see the work of MAG, a Manchester based Mine clearing group partly funded by our Department of International Development. We were able to see there work close at hand and see close up the range of unexploded cluster bombs and other devices they were clearing. Most of the unexploded cluster bombs which now act like mini land mines, blowing off the limbs of children and adults were manufactured in the UK and the USA. It looked like they were manufactured to leave unexploded bomlets on the ground and thousands remain to this day waiting for innocent victims. MAG have had to stand down two dog teams through lack of funding. I will contact the DFID Secretary of State on my return, to report back on this.

National flag of Lebanon

7 July 2009

PM Hariri

Having read through a number of briefings on the current situation in the Lebanon, I was up to speed with the facts, but knew that the visit would open my eyes to the reality on the ground. The first full day of meetings included meeting up with the Ambassador at the British Embassy, the former Prime Minister Siniora, President Sleiman, the Speaker and the Prime Minister Designate Saad Hariri. The very young Prime Minister Designate sat amongst a number of large portraits of his assassinated father, the previous PM and was surrounded by armed guards. A theme that would be repeated for the rest of the week. This was a country steeped in a violent history and the present tensions were just below the surface, with automatic weapons on the floor of a number of cars, some of which were armoured. The young PMs first task was to create a Government of National Unity - easier said then done.

National flag of Lebanon

4 July 2009

Lebanon

With Edinburgh still basking in the sunshine, I went to the Bridge Inn, in Ratho, for lunch and a walk alongside the canal, through the countryside and to enjoy the sunshine. Passing some of the most stunning countryside in the area and watching the rippling grass like a green sea in the wind, it was hard to believe that right on the doorstep of the city and still in my constituency is so much to enjoy for free. The canal, upgrading, known as the The Millennium Link, was a massive engineering project to reopen the link between the West and East coasts of Scotland with fully navigable waterways for the first time in many years. It also has the only canal tunnel in Scotland. It will be the last calm period for a week as I have been asked to step in and save an all-party visit to the Lebanon, which can only go ahead if all three parties are represented and the Lib-Dem who was going had to drop out. It's not often both the other parties ask me to save the day. No doubt we will all see some shocking sights in the week ahead. It was not long ago that the country appeared to be constantly at war, with the Lebanese Civil war lasting from 1975-90 and almost non-stop conflict ever since. I hope we see some light at the end of that tunnel.

John being interviewed on College Green

1 July 2009

BBC News

Started the day on College Green outside Parliament, being interviewed by BBC TV about the east coast railway franchise, as a statement would be made to Parliament later in the day. Like most statements, the substance is usually broadcast on the early morning news, so by 8am I was up to speed on what would only be announced in the Commons at 7pm that night - what a completely mad system. During the current heat wave in London, the early morning is the best time to be grilled by a journalist, as it easier to remain looking relatively cool. Later in the day we were treated to another round of claim and counter-claim by Brown and Cameron at PMQ over spending figures. I thought Nick Clegg made a good joke at the expense of both the other parties, when he suggested that it was about time George Osborne and Peter Mandelson went on another cruise round the Greek islands together - as they clearly have a lot in common. He is getting into his stride.

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.