Even in the refugee camps, Barbara Follett manages to keep her lipstick looking immaculate

It's approaching midnight and I'm jolting across northern Greece en route for Macedonia. A last-minute visit by MPs to the refugee camps is going ahead, despite stiff opposition from the government, and - as part of a BBC crew - we are going with them. What's really happening to the Kosovars burned and bullied out of their homes?

Clare Short has tried to stop the trip - the spin to the newspapers has been that the old dunderheads on this International Development Select Committee will just get in the way of people who have a real job to do out there. So there's a slight feeling that we're disobeying the teachers. My producer and I fight over who's going to stick closest to the Tory MP Andrew Robathan - a former SAS officer - in the event of any trouble.

We head straight for Brazde camp, just a few miles from the Kosovo border, home now to 30,000 refugees. The stench is unbelievable - it's hard not to be sick. We're immediately surrounded by scores of refugees, all desperate for money, help and news of their relatives. The aid workers we meet are clearly disgusted by Britain's parsimonious attitude towards taking in the refugees. Our translator, a Kosovar Albanian student with a degree in chemical engineering, is desperate to come to Britain for temporary respite.

To hear of the Kosovar Albanians is one thing: to meet them quite another. The human misery, the stories of terror, the overcrowding, the squalor, the smell, the queuing - it's just like on the news, only much, much worse. We are all in tears hearing the latest tale of horror: a young boy who saw his sister raped in front of him, then his parents killed. To top it all, we hear from official briefings that Macedonia is now a tinderbox. Too many refugees, too little help. The day we arrive in Skopje, the British ambassador there tells the MPs the Macedonian government could collapse that night.


At the border with Kosovo, all thoughts of personal safety are forgotten - it's in easy range of Serb snipers, but we are overwhelmed by the row upon row of refugees waiting in the pouring rain to be allowed over the border. Ann Clwyd, who has been the driving force behind the trip, is incandescent: the government must do more. But Andrew Robathan disagrees - to take more refugees would be doing Milosevic's work for him; and anyway, it wouldn't go down well back home in the leafy suburbs. Nor, he adds pointedly, would it in Cynon Valley, Ann Clwyd's constituency - not that that's where they'd go, he adds.


The most glamorous member of the delegation is Barbara Follett, who manages to keep her lipstick looking immaculate, thanks to numerous applications throughout the entire trip. She amazes us with the contents of her suitcase: each garment vacuum-packed in freezer-bags, and a large folding toiletries kit containing a cornucopia of pills, creams and medical supplies. When Bowen Wells tucks his trousers into his socks, explorer-style, to cope with the mud, Tony Worthington remarks that he's just been Folletted.


The MPs touch down at Heathrow and head straight to Westminster for a spiky interchange with Clare Short. She's been criticising the visit while they've been away. They in turn are livid at her refusal to listen to what they have to say. She's patronising and grumpy. Really, we've heard all this before, she tells them: Macedonia has been whingeing on from the start. She's particularly tart with Ann Clwyd, who had the overseas development portfolio when Labour was in opposition. Ann, your views are well known, she growls (in other words, you've been touting yourself all over the media), and really, that's not how policy is made (ie, I'm in government and you're not). Short herself is hot off a flight herself. But this is not her finest hour.

Two days later, Tony Blair appears at Brazde camp himself, blue shirt damp with sweat and sleeves rolled up (well done, Alastair). Surprise, surprise, Britain is now to take thousands more refugees and is doubling its aid to Macedonia. Though it's by no means their work alone, who says select committees have no power any more?


I get home and enjoy the most wonderful picnic of my life: it consists of one ham roll, slightly creased; half a bag of crushed crisps; and a stale jam tart. They were shared, during a hazy hour in the local park, with my younger daughter, who is four and enjoyed every morsel. After hearing the accounts of rape and murder of the past few days, it seemed like the ultimate self- indulgence to be normal again, to do normal family things. So lucky to be safe. Not perhaps to find William Blake's eternity in a grain of sand. But heaven, certainly, in a small girl's chatter and a cake from Mr Kipling.

While I've been away in Macedonia my husband, Andrew Marr - a Scot - has been zooming up and down to Scotland and is positively fizzing with enthusiasm for the impending Scottish Parliament. I feel left out, jealous of that sense of national identity which the Scots and the Welsh are so vocally reasserting. I was raised in the south-eastern suburbs - despite the best efforts of Teresa Gorman and Simon Heffer, I just can't get excited about being English. Or may- be it's just that, this week, I'm a little off nationalism generally.

Jackie Ashley's film about the MPs' visit to the Kosovo area, "Who Cares in War?", is shown on Sunday 9 May on BBC2