Thursday, 30 September 2010

Conference winds down (and so do I)

The Leader’s speech has been delivered; a number of visitors have left Manchester; and there is a much thinner fringe programme. Apart from the speculation about David Miliband’s future, there has been a less fevered atmosphere than previously. Yet while it has been more relaxed, I’ve probably done more. With the pressure off to rush from event to event, more time has been available to chat with friends – and to talk about the future. So while the anticipated announcement about DM came – he will be stepping back from the frontline of British politics – at least for a while – I have been exploring a return to a more active role.
By the end of the day I had consumed more coffee than was probably good for me – but had enjoyed some good company and progressed with planning activities for future months. I also was able to pop into the conference hall to hear an impressive speech by Ed Balls. The hall outside also had many TV screens so it was possible to watch some of the floor debate – I particularly enjoyed a short speech by Stephen Pound – a serious looking man – who uses humour to devastating effect. In the afternoon session Eddie Izzard and Ed Miliband did a double act, while new members spoke of the reasons why they had come to Labour.

In the evening I went for a random walk around the great city of Manchester. It really is worth a visit. There is a vibrant shopping area – and a wide range of restaurants. Some of its magnificent Victorian buildings remain – and they are worth seeing. I passed a number of restaurants – but didn’t go in. Then on a whim I decided to eat at a Chinese buffet close to the Chinese Arch. It was a good choice – as a couple of friends from Milton Keynes were sitting in there (I’d love to know the probability of such a chance meeting!)

Packing also had to be done – as conference finishes this lunchtime. I shall be heading out soon to upload this post; read some news and have a couple of coffees. By this afternoon I should be home. First task – to book accommodation for next year’s conference in Liverpool. Then, to catch up on all the reading - I'm bringing home some excellent food for the mind!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Speech Day

Highlight of Annual Conference is the Leader’s Speech, and the day surrounding it is usually one of the busiest of Conference. I had videoed much of the breakfast fringe, and will post the results when I return home. The rest of the morning was spent talking to friends; visiting exhibitors stalls and watching the Crime & Justice, Citizenship and Equalities debate.


At lunchtime I attended the Hansard Society’s fringe meeting, “Jack of All Trades: how can MPs fulfil all their roles?” It was well attended, with a number of new MPs in the audience. The panel consisted of the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, Jon Cryer, Stella Creasy and Jack Straw. Many contrasts were made with the so-called Golden Age (when MPs rarely rebelled; held down other jobs and attended Westminster just for drinks and the 10pm vote; occasionally visited their constituencies (if at all) and received a handful of mail). Much was made of the tyranny of “They Work for You” – a website which produces data about MPs “activities”, sadly it measures quantities rather than quality – and stresses activities which in reality misrepresent the effectiveness and impact of an MP’s work. There are indications that parliamentary time is wasted in order to manipulate the figures produced. [Meetings with constituents; civil servants & ministers are not recorded; neither is the quantity and quality of correspondence; and thoughtful and effective questions in committee are ignored – but pointless interventions in debate or question time are.]

Once the meeting had finished we headed to join the queue for entry to the hall. Sadly our standing in line, despite having tickets, was to no avail. I had to watch the speech on the giant TV screen by the Unite (the Union) stall. Even some delegates – the 650 (actually a few less as some constituencies hadn’t sent anyone) representatives of their constituency parties, were unable to get into the hall to be seated. The speech went down well with people in the hall and those watching on screens around the rest of the complex. The speech is available to view here.

After the speech there we discussed our opinions with friends we bumped into – many of us eventually taking our conversations in the cold, into coffee shops and the bars. After a meal – and a fascinating discussion with a steward from a rally outside Manchester calling for electoral reform I made my way to my hotel (via the local branch of the bookshop, Waterstones – where I bought a copy of Bob Woodward’s new book “Obama’s Wars” – much of the evening was spent reading it.

Conference continues until Thursday, but at a gentler speed now that the Leader’s Speech has been delivered. Once again I am writing this in my hotel room, but uploading it as I drink a coffee in Starbucks. Next I will be reading a selection of newspapers then heading for the conference complex.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Morning Fringe

I'm currently attending the "Europe in the World: Actions to match Ambitions" meeting organised by the European Parliamentary Labour Party and Brussels Labour. There are a number of breakfast fringes going on around the city. Food for the body is served, then food for the mind. Speakers at this fringe will be Lord Kinnock, former Labour leader and European Commissioner; Richard Howitt MEP and Shadow International development secretary, Douglas Alexander.

delegates and visitors are now arriving, and picking up various information leaflets - and then the breakfast - which is what I am about to do....

History; Law; Diversity & Journalism

Monday afternoon was spent at the People’s History Museum, Left Bank, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3ER. There’s an excellent permanent exhibition about Labour (in the wider sense of working people). The Peterloo Massacre (which happened on the site of the conference venue) is described, as is the history of the Trade Unions, the Labour Party and other centre-left and left wing political groups. The handwritten minutes of the first ever Parliamentary Labour Party are on show. It’s an excellent place to take children – and many key political concepts are defined – but will keep adults fascinated. It’s only a short distance from Manchester City Centre, and well worth a couple of hours. There is no admission charge. There is a gift and bookshop. I bought a number of fridge magnets, all with notable political quotes.


In the evening I attended a reception organised by the Law Society, the body which regulates solicitors (the more numerous branch of the legal profession) and their training (including qualifying law degrees). I thoroughly enjoyed “Diversity Nite”, a fun evening with excellent food – which most of the key players in the Labour Party attended. The night finished at the Guardian Reception – at which I had some interesting conversations about whips (the parliamentary type).

Tuesday is the day of the Leader’s Speech.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Monday Morning

Timing is everything in politics. My arrival at the entrance to the secure area around conference coincided with that of David Miliband. He went on to make a superb speech - not just a unifying speech from a closely defeated candidate for the party's top job - but but foreign policy and what can and should be achieved. I shall be reading the text carefully - it had great substance.

I've escaped from the conference for a couple of hours. I'm hoping to call in at the Labour History Museum - I used its archives for a paper I presented in the summer on the first Labour Group in the House of Lords (1924 - formed as Labour entered overnment for the first time). They have the original minutes of the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party); copies of the conference reports (which always include a parliamentary report) and books of memoirs not generally available. I will be depositing a copy of the paper that the staff at the archives were so helpful in assisting me with. [If you are interested in a copy, drop me a line at info@washminster.com. I will email a copy as soon as I return home - where my PC's hard drive has the file.

Tonight I am attending a Law Society reception (which as a law lecturer at a couple of universities, I have a great interest in training which the Law Society oversees) - then Diversity Night at an Indian Restaurant. Finally I'll be going to the Guardian's late night reception.

First Day of Conference

Conference opened at Noon, but the day at Manchester Central began much earlier. Personally I had opted for a relaxed morning. After uploading the Washminster post for Sunday, I continued reading the excellent “Tip O’Neill and the Democratic Century” by John A Farrell. Later I stopped at a Starbucks en route to the Conference where I read the Observer. I arrived at the conference centre over an hour before the first session began. It was a very useful time as I met up with friends; discussed the meaning of the leadership results – and made arrangements for future videos and posts for Washminster. By the end of the day I had fixed up some interesting interviews and material which will appear on this blog in the next few months.


Noon was meant to be the starting time, but timekeeping is not one of Conference’s strengths. The new leader entered with the Conference Chair and other guests and officials. After an address from the Chair formal business began. One of the highlights was the tribute to former leader, Michael Foot. A video was shown and Neil Kinnock gave a moving and warm oration. We then stood in silence to remember all those who had worked for the Party – be it at the highest or the grassroots level – who had passed away in the last year.

The rest afternoon was spent meeting up with old friends, and making new ones. The activity now referred to as “networking”. I also made a visit to the bookshop – so I have plenty of reading to keep me busy in the weeks ahead.

Sunday evening is traditionally a time for receptions – which are toured by the leader. Over my lifetime I have built up many roots in a number of regions – growing up in the West Midlands and returning there for seven years at the start of this century; the East Midlands where I served as a County Councillor and ran twice for Parliament and once for the European Parliament; the South East where I currently live – and Yorkshire and Humberside – where I studied for my Law Degree (Sheffield) and where my studies for the doctorate are based (Hull). I attended all the regional receptions for these areas. My local government roots (and future) enabled me to attend the local government reception. Ed Miliband’s speech improved with each delivery. He is clearly focused on reflection and learning from experience.

While social (read networking) events continue, the “fringe” now turns to discussing policy matters. Today I set out with a list of meetings I hope to attend. My hope is, that as with previous conferences, I will have gained much food for thought to develop upon in the months ahead.

I have noticed that my tweets to “jdavidmorgan” seem to be failing, but the ‘newsfeed’ of “WM_Alert” is working. My facebook account (jdavidmorgan) also seems to be working. I hope you can follow these between the Washminster posts.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Arrival in Manchester

Some of my friends complained to me afterwards that it was delivered like the results in X-Factor. They had made their way to Manchester to hear the result of the Labour Party leadership, but in the conference hall the announcement was dragged out. It was almost five o’clock before the crescendo was reached – and all the other “contestants” had been “voted off” that Ed Miliband was proclaimed as the new Labour Party leader.


I had already arrived in Manchester, having spent most of the day with my Open University students preparing for their forthcoming exam. The train from Milton Keynes had arrived at Manchester Piccadilly and I had taken a taxi to my hotel. Whilst checking on, the final moments of the leadership election played out on the TV in the adjacent bar.

Half an hour later I was in the conference centre listening to the accounts of friends who had spent the afternoon in the Hall. The first reception began at 6pm, hosted by the European Commission. It was an interesting reception. We were addressed by the Head of the Commission’s office in London and the leader of the Labour group in the European Parliament. Some interesting conservations with people working with the European institutions.

The second big event saw the arrival of the new leader. Ed Miliband was touring the various receptions – and the European Parliamentary Labour Party reception in the Midland Hotel was packed. He spoke about the challenge ahead – and paid tribute to the candidates he had competed with for the last four months. I had the opportunity to congratulate him in person as he worked his way around the room. The evening was also a wonderful opportunity to catch up with old friends: meet interesting new people and most of all to discuss the significance of political developments.

I was back at the hotel at a reasonable hour. I’m posting this at a local wifi hotspot – and look forward to updating you as the Annual Conference opens this afternoon.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Manchester

Some delegates for the Labour Party Conference (strictly, conferences - since today's is a special conference - purely for the announcement of the new leader - and their address to party members - and the world) have already arrived. Manchester Withington CLP [Constituency Labour Party - the party for a particular parliamentary electoral district] held an Eve of Conference dinner last night. Most delegates will be travelling up today - and some tomorrow.

Outside the conference hall itself - held on the site of the Peterloo Massacre - there is an exhibition area - at which various bodies and groups will be trying to get their messages across to the delegate & visitors. There is a busy "fringe" - some inside the security zone (which incorporates the Conference Centre; the Midland Hotel and the Radisson Hotel) and others at various venues in Manchester City Centre. The Town Hall is a major venue - where "think tanks" like the Fabian Society will be based.

I already have my planner for the week - there's so much on that I have selected the meetings of greatest interest to me - and listed them in order of preference for each time slot. Which I turn up to will depend on circumstances at the time. I will be posting during the conference - longer pieces on Washminster - and shorter notifications on facebook and twitter (jdavidmorgan - facebook/twitter - and WM_Alert - twitter)

Friday, 24 September 2010

Labour Party Conference

The focus now shifts to Manchester - where a special conference tomorrow (Saturday 25th) will see the announcement of the results of an election held to select the new leader of the Labour Party.

The Annual Conference opens at 2.00pm on Sunday. To keep delegates and visitors busy, there are plenty of fringe events planned running from Friday through to the close of the Conference at 12.45 on Thursday.
The plenary sessions will be held at

Sunday 12.00 - 17.30 (Opening: Renewing Party Democracy: General Secretary's report: General Election report)

Monday 10.45 - 12.45 and 14.15 - 17.30 (Britain in the World: Prosperity and Work: TUC report: 2011 Elections in Scotland & Wales)

Tuesday 09.30 - 12.45 (Northern Ireland Report: Other internal reports; Crime & Justice, Citizenship & Equalities)
14.15 - 16.00 Leader's Speech

Wednesday 09.30 - 12.45 (International Speaker: Health & Education - Progressive Public Services)
14.15 - 16.00 Leader's Q & A

Thursday 09.30 - 12.45 (Creating Sustainable Communities - Campaigning for Strong Communities: Closing Speech by Harriet Harman.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Carl Albert

I'm reviewing the historical background for my study of majority/government whips and whip organisations in the UK Parliament and US Congress 1974-2010. As part of that, I've spent some of today reading about the Speakership of Carl Albert (1971-77: the 92nd; 93rd & 94th Congresses). I discovered on the C-SPAN Archive - a superb resouce for so many purposes! - a programme about Carl Albert which can be accessed from here.
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Born in 1908 - this short man from Oklahoma (he was 5 ft 4 ins tall - and had the nickname the "little Giant from Little Dixie") - was brought up in a log cabin - studied in the US - and gained a Rhodes Scholarship which brought him to Oxford University (just 37 miles from where I am writing this). He served in World War II and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1946 for the 3rd district of Oklahoma.

In 1955 he became Majority Whip - and succeeded John McCormack as Majority Leader in 1962. When McCormack left the House and relenquished the Speaker's Chair - it was Albert who again succeeded him.

Ronald M Peters has written a short essay abot Albert's tenure as Speaker - which is available here.

Back in 2009 I did a post about the Carl Albert Center.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Following A Debate



Resolution 1620 (read here) makes provision for consideration of the bill (H.R. 4785) to amend the miscellaneous rural development provisions of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 to authorize the Secretary of Agriculture to make loans to certain entities that will use the funds to make loans to consumers to implement energy efficiency measures involving structural improvements and investments in cost-effective, commercial off-the-shelf technologies to reduce home energy use.

The debate concerns the Special Rule which the Rules Committee has proposed. Details of the rule's background can be found on the Rules Committee website. The report on the rule can be accessed here.

In future posts I will look at the procedural steps involved. If there are questions you would like answered - please email them to info@washminster.com

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

The First Day of A New Congress

In just over three months a new Congress (the 112th) will come into existence (in the UK the new Parliament mets a few days after it is elected. In 2010 the election was held on 6th May; the first day of meeting was 18th May - and this was regarded as a long interval!).

The Constitution (as amended states that "The Congress shall assemble at least once in every year, and such meeting shall begin at noon on the 3d day of January, unless they shall by law appoint a different day." Art I Section 4.2)
In the House of Representatives there are certain things which must be done. The main stages of the day's events in the chamber include

1.The Clerk of 110th Congress calls the House to order
2.The Chaplain of the House offers a prayer
3.Members repeat the pledge of allegiance
4.A Roll Call vote is taken - to establish that a quorum exists. Members vote electronically
5.Certain announcements are made - about delegates; and deaths or resignations of former Members
6.The Speaker is elected - both parties nominate for this (and other posts), but the majority party - the Democrats in 111th Congress - win the viva voce roll call vote. [A 'viva voce' vote involves each member stating his vote after his or her name is read out]
7.The newly elected Speaker is sworn in
8.The Oath of Office is taken collectively by all Members in the Chamber. In the afternoon individual oath taking is repeated for the benefit of photographers.
9.Each party announces its leaders
10.Officers of the House are elected (usually each party has agreed its own list, but the majority party prevails)
11.Resolutions regarding messages between the twn Houses; and also with the Presidency, are passed
12.Rules of Procedure are adopted

For a fuller account of first day activities - read Mildred Amer's excellent CRS (Congressional Research Service) report " The First Day of a New Congress: A Guide to Proceedings on the House Floor"



You may wish to skip from 08-35 to 41-55 (Quorum Call) and 51-35 to 02-00-30 (Election of Speaker)

Monday, 20 September 2010

Party Conferences

Today the Liberal Democrat conference continues in Liverpool. It opened on Saturday and will run until Wednesday. Further details are available here. The conference directory - which details the sessions and fringe meetings can be accessed here.

There are two Labour Party Conferences next week. The first conference will be held on Saturday, for the purpose of announcing the result of the election of the new Leader of the Labour Party. (you can sign up to get the results texted to you here.  The Annual Conference begins on Sunday.  Details of fringe events are available here. The Conference is being held in Manchester.

The final conference (of the major UK parties - smaller & regional parties also have their conferences around this time) will be that of the Conservative Party in Birmingham on October 3rd to 6th. Their fringe programme can be accessed here.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Senator Specter introduces a Bill

Last week Senator Arlen Specter introduced a Bill on Stem Cell Research to the Senate. You can watch the specch he made - note that he "sought recognition to introduce" the bill.



The Bill has been given the number S.3766. It has two co-sponsors, the Senators from California Senator Boxer and Senator Feinstein. The Bill was read twice and referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

The Bill can be read here

The stages in the legislative process are set out in a Senate "flowchart"

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Conventions

...Not the ones that are held by political parties (in Britain we call them "Party Conferences" - the first one starts today) - or the preparatory meetings held in order to write a Constitution, but the ones which are an important source of the British Constitution.

Washminster posts on "conventions" - which may be useful for revising "Constitutional Law", as many of my Open University students are doing now! include -

Conventions
Conventions relating to Hung Parliaments
The Queen's Private Secretary
Checks and Balances
The Monarchy

The key things to know about conventions are

1 Definition - non-legally binding (in other words they would not be enforced by the Courts) - but which the political actors regard themselves as bound by.

2 Examples - (1) that the Queen always gives the Royal Assent to bills passed by Parliament (2) the Queen appoints as Prime Minister, the person most likely to command a majority in the House of Commons (3) the Prime Minister is a Member of Parliament (4) Judges do not play an active part in political life.....

3 Their relationship to the Royal Prerogative - conventions apply to many of the uses of the prerogative.

There is an excellent section on conventions in Hilaire Barnett's book - "Constitutional & Administrative Law" (pictured)

Friday, 17 September 2010

Erskine May

In Parliament "Erskine May" is a book - though he was a real person. The book's full title is "Erskine May's Treatise on the Law, Privileges, Proceedings and Usage of Parliament". It is the most authoritative book on parliamentary practice at Westminster. A short BBC film is available here.

The next edition (24th Edition) is due to be published on 31st March 2011. The pre-order price is £267. Details are available here.

Thomas Erskine May (later Lord Farnborough - though sadly this was the 2nd shortest peerage in British history - he died a week after his peerage was created) started work in the House of Commons aged 16 as an assistant librarian. After becoming a barrister he worked his way up as a parliamentary official until in 1861 he was appointed Clerk of the House of Commons. His "practical treatise" appeared in 1844.

In addition to his most famous work, he wrote a constitutional history (which can be downloaded as a free book here).

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Tours of Congress

Tours of the US Capitol can be booked through the US Capitol Visitors Center. If that involves a trip to Washington you might find the Washington DC; the District and Capitol.net  and Washington Post websites useful.

If you can't make that trip right now (and sadly Milton Keynes is 3638 miles from Washington DC - otherwise I'd be over there now!) - virtual tours are available

Senate (elements of this tour maintained by the house no longer work)
House of Representatives

There are a series of resources - including virtual tours and videos available on the C-SPAN "The Capitol" website.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

House Democrat Groups

Within the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives there are a number of groupings which represent the different ideological and racial strands among the party's congressmen and congresswomen. There are currently 255 members of the Democratic caucus.

The main ones are -

The Blue Dog Coalition - made up of fiscally conservative democrats. Currently it has 52 members.

Progressive Caucus - the 'progressive' group which has 78 members. Their positions are set out here.

New Democrats Coalition [NDC]-  the moderate, pro-growth group which has 64 members.

Membership of these ideological groups is not exclusive - Andre Carson; Jim Moran; Jared Polis and Laura Richardson are members of both the Progressive Caucus and the New Democrats. 21 Blue Dogs are also members of the NDC.

There is also the

Congressional Black Caucus - with 41 members.

Congressional Hispanic Caucus - with 23 members.

Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus [CAPAC] - with 12 members (one of whom is a Republican) and a number of associate members.

These groups do have some members in the Senate.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Political Humour

I have mentioned "Yes Minister" and "Yes Prime Minister" a few times in this blog (for example see here). It is one of my favourite TV comedies - and alsoI rate it highly as a tongue-in-cheek guide to the workings of British government. Many of the the episodes and incidents were grounded in real events and practices.

The writers have recently started a blog in "Sir Humphrey's" name - although he should be retired now (a little like Bart Simpson, time has no effect).

I thoroughly recommend signing up for this blog. The link is here.

An explanation of Foreign Policy from the original series

Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority Committee

A number of written questions have been put down - and the answers are attached
Mr Liddell-Grainger: To ask the hon. Member for Broxbourne, representing the Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, how many staff are employed by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to work on public relations; what the total cost to the public purse of employing staff for public relations work has been since it began operation; and which (a) agencies and (b) Government departments have provided staff to undertake such work for IPSA in that period.

Mr Charles Walker: IPSA currently employs two members of staff in its communications team. One person has responsibility for external communications, including the media, and one person has responsibility for internal communications and website management. A director of communications will soon be joining IPSA to provide strategic oversight and direction to its communications activities.

Since IPSA began operations on 7 May 2010, the total spend on employing staff for all aspects of communications activities has been £37,840. This includes the associated expenditure of national insurance and employer pension contributions and VAT on contracted staff supplied by GovGap.


No Government Departments have provided staff to IPSA's communication team in this period. IPSA received communications advice and support from Apex Communications during the initial phase of operation as it was recruiting and establishing its in-house communication team, but does not any more.

Mr Liddell-Grainger: To ask what the (a) value and (b) length of contract is for the computer system used by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority; and with which organisation the contract is made.

Mr Charles Walker: The Contract is with Calyx (UK) Ltd. The length of the contract is five years from February 2010.

The scope of the contract covers infrastructure and enterprise software support as follows:
Infrastructure support covers:
Server hardware, desktops and laptops, network hardware, office infrastructure, firewalls, anti-virus, web proxy and hosting services, WAN link, security solutions, email, telephony.

Enterprise software support covers:
Software support for financial accounting, online expense system, payroll, HR, customer management system.

The annual value of the contract including both infrastructure and enterprise support is £194,000 in the first year and £252,000 per year in subsequent years.

Glenda Jackson: To ask how many (a) full-time and (b) part-time staff work for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority; and if the Authority will publish its standard employment contract for staff.

Mr Charles Walker: As of 19 July 2010, IPSA has 83 staff of whom:
(a) 82 are full-time; and
(b) one part-time.
IPSA will send the standard employment contract template to the hon. Member.

Mr Liddell-Grainger: To ask how many full-time staff each department of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority employs; and what the staff turnover has been in each week since 1 May 2010.

Mr Charles Walker: As of 27 July 2010, there are 78 full-time members of staff working at IPSA, broken down as follows.
 (Unit / Permanent / Temporary
Chief Executive's Unit   1   1
Operations   16   35
Finance and Corporate Services   4   11
Policy, Communications and Secretariat   6   4

There has been no turnover in our permanent staff since 1 May 2010. Due to the nature of temporary employment, there are no figures available for turnover in temporary staff.

Mr Liddell-Grainger: To ask if he will list each of the changes made to the rules and procedures implemented by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority since its inception.

Mr Charles Walker: A small number of changes to the MPs' Expenses Scheme were introduced in July 2010, following the consultation required by the Parliamentary Standards Act. The changes are detailed
in "The MPs' Expenses Scheme: Second Edition", which has been made available to all MPs and is available on: http://www.parliamentarystandards.org.uk/

In addition since 7 May 2010, IPSA has introduced a number of changes to procedures to help MPs, including:
- the introduction of a £4,000 advance for MPs and advance payments on production of invoices for a number of high cost items;
- a facility for proxies to process expenses for MPs who are not their employer;
- the extension of the 90 day deadline for claims until 1 October 2010;
- the introduction of the "grace period" until early September, under which claims submitted over the summer which are outside the rules will not be published.

These and other changes have been documented in the IPSA MPs' Bulletin, which is sent to all MPs each week and available on: http://www.parliamentarystandards.org.uk/

Ann McKechin: To ask how many refusals of claims had been communicated to hon. Members by means of (a) the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority website and (b) by email for the period to 7 September 2010.

Mr Charles Walker: Where a claim is refused in full or in part, MPs are provided with summary details of the refusal via the online system under heading 'Refusals'. By close of business on 9 September, 25,872 claim lines had been approved and 1,574 claim lines had been refused.

Currently refusals are not communicated via e-mail.

Ann McKechin: To ask what proportion of claim refusal decisions communicated to hon. Members by 7 September 2010 were accompanied by accurate written accounts of the reasons for which claims had been refused.

Mr Charles Walker: IPSA does not currently communicate refusal decisions by e-mail. MPs are provided with summary details of the refusal via the online system under heading 'Refusals'. IPSA is developing a process to provide MPs with an automated e-mail alert informing them of the status of claims and to enable Members to view detailed refusal reasons.

Ann McKechin: To ask how many Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority staff are authorised to make claim refusal decisions on claims; and what procedures are followed in circumstances in which such staff make an error in communicating such a refusal decision to an hon. Member.
Mr Charles Walker: Currently seven senior members of IPSA staff are able to make final decisions on MPs expense claims. Where a claim is refused, MPs are able to request a review within 14 days on the grounds that the rules have been applied inconsistently or that IPSA has made an administrative error. If the review finds that the claim should have been paid, the claim is revisited and processed. Individual members of staff are informed of the review and further training is provided where required.

Ann McKechin: To ask how many documents submitted to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority by hon. Members in support of their claims had been lost in the period to 30 August 2010.

Mr Charles Walker: IPSA does not record numbers of documents which are thought to have been lost.

Ann McKechin: To ask what procedures are followed by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to record the receipt of supporting documents submitted in relation to claims made by hon. Members; and whether the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority plans to review those procedures.

Mr Charles Walker: Post deposited in the drop box in Portcullis House is collected by hand and, together with the mail posted directly to IPSA, is sorted every morning. MPs' expense claims and accompanying receipts are placed in individual, transparent pockets with all staples and paperclips removed. Each claim is then logged using documentation tracking software and scanned directly to the online expenses system for validation. The documents are then filed immediately to Members' records. Currently all post received is sorted, logged, scanned and filed within one day. All IPSA processes during this initial phase of operations are kept under review.

Mr Meacher: To ask how many and what proportion of telephone calls to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority from hon. Members were not answered within 15 minutes in the latest period for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement.

Mr Charles Walker: It is not possible to provide the requested statistics at this time. IPSA intends to provide MPs with information on its performance against its call handling and other service targets shortly.

A Record Breaker

The longest session since World War two began on April 18th 1966. It was the first meeting of the new parliament which had been elected on March 31st 1966 (trivia point - the myth that a World Cup win helped Labour, the party in power to a massive election victory - is exposed, the World Cup Final was on 30 July 1966 !!!). As with most parliaments elected in the middle of the year, the first session ran until prorogation on 27th October 1967.

Sir George Young announced, in a written ministerial statement, that "the Government have decided that the current session of Parliament will run until around Easter 2012. The next state opening of Parliament will therefore take place shortly afterwards." The first meeting of the current Parliament was on May 18th. The record of 1966-67 will not only be broken (that will happen on 27th November 2011) - but SMASHED.

For information: Easter 2012 will be celebrated on Sunday 8th April 2012. - a little over four months later (a session usually lasts 12 months, save for a slightly longer first session).

Denis MacShane yesterday said in the House of Commons - "It cannot be acceptable that a decision to abolish next year's Queen's Speech was not made in person to the House. Will he confirm that the Government have not discussed this constitutional change with Opposition parties via the usual channels, but that instead that he made his announcement in a wholly unilateral manner? This represents a major shift of power to the Executive at the expense of the people. Time is power in this or any democratic Parliament. This constitutional change allows the Government two years to extend their legislation, unlike the normal constitutional convention that a Bill not made into law within the year falls. Yes, there are carry-over provisions, but pushing the Queen's Speech back to 2012 is a major power grab by the Executive"

Written PQ on the cost of the AV Referendum

Pete Wishart: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister how much the Government will spend promoting their planned referendum on the alternative vote system.


Mr Harper: There are clear restrictions on Government activity around referendums, and the Government do not plan to spend any money specifically on promoting the referendum on the alternative vote. The Electoral Commission, under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, will give positive consideration to taking forward public awareness activity.

Report Stage

When a bill has completed its committee stage, the whole House of Commons considers the bill at "report stage". The name can cause confusion - there is no report from the committee (as happens in the US Congress). The bill as amended is re-printed.

There is no set period between the committee stage and the report stage. This stage according to Erskine May "is an opportunity for the House to consider afresh the text of the bill. The rules of debate and procedure differ somewhat from those for the committee stage: in particular no question is put for the successive clauses (which become the 'sections' when the bill becomes an Act) and schedules to stand part of the bill"

It is usual in the Commons (but NOT the Lords) for the House to move immediately to the Third Reading. That is why in the details of business before the Commons this appears as "remaining stages".

Monday, 13 September 2010

NFL (American Football)

The new NFL season began last night for the Washington Redskins (or at a disgustingly early hour for their UK based fans). I hasten to add that I did not stay up to watch it. Because I check the Washington Post headlines at breakfast (an iPhone app), I knew of the good news about the result in the game against Dallas.

I will be watching the game this evening on my computer, thanks to NFL Gamepass. The Washington Redskins website (which has news, interviews & lots of short videos) is available here.

And to brighten you day up - listen to this

Executive Privilege

Presidents have claimed the right to withhold information from Congress - the first time that the issue arose was in 1792 when Congress sought to inquire into the disastrous expedition of General St Clair in Ohio. An entire division of the US Army was lost. President Washington called a cabinet meeting at which the issue of how much information should be provided was discussed. Although there are no cabinet minutes, Jefferson (Secretary of State)  described the discussions in his diary - and that the cabinet concluded that the President "ought to communicate such papers as the public good would permit and ought to refuse those the disclosure of which would injure the public".

The issue of Executive Privilege has been of importance in the latter part of the Twentieth Century. This reflects both the increased importance of the President within Government generally and national security in particular - and moves towards greater openness.

In the 1953 Supreme Court decision of US v Reynolds it was held that national security could be a valid reason for the Executive withholding sensitive information. Richard Nixon attempted to use the doctrine in his efforts to stave off investigation of Watergate. Two important recent cases are
Espy and Judicial Watch. Claims of Executive Privilege were particularly controversial in relation to Harriet Myers and Josh Bolton.

A CRS paper on the subject is available here. Emily Berman has written a report published by the Brennan Center which argues that this doctrine needs to be rolled back. She proposes an Executive Privilege Cofication Act.

Her paper is available here.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Committee Stage

Once a bill has passed its Second reading in the House of Commons - it is considered in committee (this is referred to as 'commital'). Standing Committees for bills are now known as "Public Bill Committees" and the procedures are different, allowing a limited amount of evidence taking.

Unlike the position in the US Congress, there are no permanent, subject based committees in the legislative process. [There are subject based Select Committees - like the Defence Committee or Home Affairs Committee, but they are not (though they could be) used in the passage of a bill.]

The House of Commons website describes the committee stage

"Most Bills are dealt with in a Public Bill Committee.


If the Bill starts in the Commons the committee is able to take evidence from experts and interest groups from outside Parliament.

Amendments (proposals for change) for discussion are selected by the chairman of the committee and only members of the committee can vote on amendments during committee stage.

Amendments proposed by MPs to the Bill will be published daily and reprinted as a marshalled list of amendments for each day the committee discusses the Bill.

Every clause in the Bill is agreed to, changed or removed from the Bill, although this may happen (particularly under a programme order) without debate.

A minority of Bills are dealt with by a Committee of the Whole House (takes place on the floor of the House of Commons), with every MP able to take part."

This website is worth visiting - particularly for the guide to the stages of legislation - which includes videos illustrating the various stages. You can access it here.
 
There is a more detailed factsheet produced by the House of Commons Information Office which you can read.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Donald A Ritchie

A couple of days I posted a video clip of Senate Historian, Donald Ritchie. He has been the official historian of the Senate since 2009, but was associate historian from 1976. He has written a number of book, of which 'The US Congress: A Very Short Introduction' is the latest.

His other books are -


Electing FDR: The New Deal Campaign of 1932 (University Press of Kansas, 2007)
Our Constitution (Oxford University Press, 2006)
Reporting from Washington: The History of the Washington Press Corps (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Doing Oral History: A Practical Guide (Oxford University Press, 2003)
American Journalists: Getting the Story (Oxford University Press, 1997)
The Congress of the United States: A Student Companion (Oxford University Press,1993)
Press Gallery: Congress and the Washington Correspondents (Harvard University Press, 1991)
James M. Landis: Dean of the Regulators (Harvard University Press, 1980)

A book he has edited, The Oxford Handbook of Oral History,  is due for publication in November 2010. He also also contributed many articles for handbooks related to American
He gave a very interesting interview to Verusca Calabria about oral history, which can be accessed here.

The Senate Historical Office "conducts oral history interviews with retired senior Senate staff and keeps extensive biographical and bibliographical information on former senators. A collection of more than thirty thousand Senate-related photographs and other illustrations is available for research and publication use. The Historical Office and its staff has also produced numerous publications through the years, covering all aspects of Senate history.". It's website can be accessed here.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Angry MPs

Rosie Winterton made the following remarks in the Commons yesterday -

With regard to the allocation of time for the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, can the Leader of the House tell us whether he thinks there will be adequate time to put right the abject failure of the Deputy Prime Minister to explain why public inquiries into parliamentary constituency changes are to be abolished? It was fairly clear on Monday that the Deputy Prime Minister has employed the services of the Tory grandee, "Sir Gerry Mander", as his special adviser, but surely even he must realise that removing the right of local people to have a say in constituency boundaries is not only wrong in principle, but will also lead to endless expensive judicial reviews in the courts.


We now have clear advice from the Clerk of the House that the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill is similarly ill thought-out and will also end up being challenged in the courts. Those two Bills are prime examples of the betrayal of the promise of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government to have pre-legislative scrutiny wherever possible. Worse than that, they are in the first case anti-democratic and in the second case unworkable. The only thing the Leader of the House should do is withdraw those Bills, go back to the drawing board and come back with legislation that respects our democracy and respects Parliament. I urge him to do so.

On another matter - Tom Watson spoke of  "the tawdry secret" see the clip posted on Washminster yesterday.

Are MPs getting angrier? I it synthetic or are there real issues at stake? Now that the tea party organisers have crossed the Atlantic to advise on tactics, and public sector unions are gearing up to fight the coming cuts - are we about to set politics becoming angrier in Britain?

Your comments please - either via this page or to info@washminster.com

Tours of Parliament

It is possible to tour the Palace of Westminster. Details of arranged tours can be found here. It may also be possible for your MP to arrange a tour (group or individual). Contact details of MPs are available here.

If a visit to London isn't possible (and because of the sitting times - most tours need to start at a time when rail companies charge their peak fares) you can do a virtual tour.

There are a number of guides to Parliament available - the ones I use most often (for revision purposes before I take a tour round) are - The Houses of Parliament: A Guide to the Palace of Westminster (Fell; Mackenzie & Natzler - 15th Edition, 2002 TSO - currently out of print); Westminster Hall: Nine Hundred Years of History (Gerhold - James & James); The Story of Parliament in the Palace of Westminster (Field - James & James) and Dod's History of Parliament.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Tawdry Secret

Tom Watson spoke in Parliament today about the power of the media - and the threat posed to democratic institutions. Your thoughts and comments please to info@washminster.com

Advice?

Article II Section 2 of the US Constitution says that the President "shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States..."

This blog has recently discussed consent - in the form of confirmations. {see also June 11th 2010) - but what about advice?

In August 1789 (during the first session of the First Congress) the President came to the Senate chamber in person to seek the advice of the 22 Senators on the terms of a treaty to be negotiated with the southern Indians. He posed a series of questions which he expected the Senators to work with him on reaching some answers. Both the Senate and the President were disappointed with the day's work. It was a hot day - and in order to keep the temperature in the room down the windows were open - allowing outside noise to make listening difficult. Senators were concerned about relying purely on the information that the President had permitted. One account says "But because the senators felt uncomfortable discussing these matters in the imposing presence of George Washington, they decided instead to refer the questions to a committee for further study. “This defeats every purpose of my coming here!” Washington exclaimed."

It was the first and last time that the President came in person to the Senate to seek advice in person.

Senate Historian Donald Ritchie explained what happened on a C-SPAN Q & A programme

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Academic Journals about the British Parliament

If you are lucky enough to have access to a University Library (physically - or to their electronic journals) there are a number of Journals which you can use. Of course a personal subscription is an alternative [and members of the Hansard Society can get a discount subscription to Parliamentary Affairs - further details here] and Membership of The UK's Political Studies Association brings subscriptions to six of their publications. The American Political Science Association produces three journals as part of its membership subscriptions - and Members of their Legislative Studies section receive Legislative Studies Quarterly.

Parliamentary Affairs - published by the Hansard Society
Parliamentary History - covers Westminster and other parliamentary institutions which have existed in the British Isles and the pre-independence legislatures of the colonies.

Journals frequently containing articles about the British Parliament (or articles about issues for legislatures generally) include

Journal of Legislative Studies - published by the Centre for Legislative Studies at Hull University
Parliaments, Estates & Representation - the journal of the International Commission for the History of Representative and Parliamentary Institutions
Government and Opposition - an international journal of comparative politics.
Representation - a publication of the McDougall Trust
British Journal of Political Science -  a respected journal which has been published for over 40 years
The Political Quarterly - a British publication dating back to 1930
Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties - journal of EPOP  
Legislative Studies Quarterly - mainly US focused, but some articles on other legislatures, including particular issues facing legislatures generally.
American Political Science Review - has occasional articles about the British Parliament. Published by APSA.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Second Reading

One way of getting a better understanding of the legislative process is to analyse the speeches during the different stages of a bill's progress.

On September 6th the House of Commons gave a Second Reading to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill.  You can follow the debate in Hansard here - the column numbers appear in the text.

The Deputy Prime Minister begins - "I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time".

As is the usual practice in the 2nd Reading speech for the Minister - he begins by setting out the problems that the Bill is a response to.

He says (col 35) "There are two major issues that we have to face. The first [1] is the big difference between the sizes of many parliamentary constituencies, which has the effect of making some people's votes count more than others, depending on where they live. The second [2] is the widespread concern about first past the post as the means by which MPs are elected. " He expands upon these two major problems by outlining subsidiary issues -
(1) the degree of variance in sizes of constitutencies
(2) the fact that the information used in deciding the makeup of constituencies is long out of date, even before the boundary revisions come into force
(3) there are too mant constituencies
(4) the process by which boundaries are drawn is cumbersome. (Cols 36-37) 
(5) the First Past the Post electoral system no longer enjoys the confidence of many voters and this is undermining the legitimacy of elections (Col 40)

The speech deals with how the proposed legislation addresses these problems.
[1] is dealt with in col 37 - "The Bill seeks to address each of these problems....."
[2] is dealt with from col 40 "I now turn to the referendum on the alternative vote...."

Towards the end of the speech he gives a brief description of the substantive clauses (Col 43) "I would now like to outline briefly the effect of the substantive clauses. I know that many Members want to speak in the debate so I do not intend to describe the Bill clause by clause; there will be plenty of opportunity for that in Committee. For the moment I hope it will suffice to say that there are three main parts to the Bill: provisions for a referendum to be held, in clauses 1 to 5 and schedules 1 to 5; provisions for implementation of the alternative vote system in the event of a yes vote in the referendum, in clause 7 and schedule 6; and provisions to reform the setting of parliamentary boundaries, in clauses 8 to 11.

This basic three part structure can be seen in other 2nd Reading speeches by the person who is responsible for the Bill.

The Opposition spokesperson then moves an amendment. Note how the amendment process works

[1] The original motion is "That the Bill be now read a Second time"

[2] The amendment reads "to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and add:


"this House, whilst affirming its belief that there should be a referendum on moving to the Alternative Vote system for elections to the House of Commons, declines to give a Second Reading to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill because it combines that objective with entirely unrelated provisions designed to gerrymander constituencies by imposing a top-down, hasty and undemocratic review of boundaries, the effect of which would be to exclude millions of eligible but unregistered voters from the calculation of the electoral average and to deprive local communities of their long-established right to trigger open and transparent public inquiries into the recommendations of a Boundary Commission, thereby destroying a bi-partisan system of drawing boundaries which has been the envy of countries across the world; and is strongly of the opinion that the publication of such a Bill should have been preceded by a full process of pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft Bill."

If successful (and Governments VERY rarely lose on 2nd reading) the new motion would be

[3] "This House, whilst affirming its belief that there should be a referendum on moving to the Alternative Vote system for elections to the House of Commons, declines to give a Second Reading to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill because it combines that objective with entirely unrelated provisions designed to gerrymander constituencies by imposing a top-down, hasty and undemocratic review of boundaries, the effect of which would be to exclude millions of eligible but unregistered voters from the calculation of the electoral average and to deprive local communities of their long-established right to trigger open and transparent public inquiries into the recommendations of a Boundary Commission, thereby destroying a bi-partisan system of drawing boundaries which has been the envy of countries across the world; and is strongly of the opinion that the publication of such a Bill should have been preceded by a full process of pre-legislative scrutiny of a draft Bill"

The debate continued - some speeches are reasoned statements of why the amendment is supported, or why the original motion hasm the support of the person speaking. Some speeches and interventions highlight specific concerns that attention is drawn to.

At the 'moment of interruption' the question was put "That the amendment be made". This was lost by 347-254 votes. Then the unamended motion "that the Bill be now read a Second time" was put. This was carried by 328 to 269 votes. The change in the voting numbers reflects that fact that some members of the Government parties either voted against the motion or abstained. There were further votes on the Programme Motion (which limits the time for further stages) and the Money Resolution.

Presidential Gravesites and Funerals

C-SPAN interviewed Richard Norton Smith about the book he contributed to "Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb: A Tour of Presidential Gravesites"

Monday, 6 September 2010

Labor Day

A Happy Labor Day to all of Washminster's American readers. (and Happy Labour Day to our Canadian readers) We Brits have already said goodbye to the summer - last Monday was our final Bank Holiday before Christmas.

Labor Day was, according to the US Department of Labor - "a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country." The first Labor Day parade was held in 1882 - and the Library of Congress describes it - "After marching from City Hall, past reviewing stands in Union Square, and then uptown to 42nd Street, the workers and their families gathered in Wendel's Elm Park for a picnic, concert, and speeches. This first Labor Day celebration was eagerly organized and executed by New York’s Central Labor Union, an umbrella group made up of representatives from many local unions."

The day is treated as the symbolic end of summer - and is followed by the start of the political season (when was the 'close season' this year?) and the NFL American Football Season (the first regular game of the season is between the Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints at 8.30pm ET this Thursday)

Hope you'll be following Washmister in the new political season - and do pass on the link to your friends

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Constitutional Reform returns

The House of Commons, but NOT the House of Lords, return for two weeks on Monday. I will be watching closely the activity on constitutional reform.

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill is due to have its Second reading on Monday. On Tuesday at 10am the Political & Constitutional Reform Committee will take evidence from Malcolm Jack, Clerk of the House; and Professor Robert Blackburn Professor of Constitutional Law at King’s College London. This session will concentrate on the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill. This Bill is due for its Second Reading on Monday 13th September.

The committee will meet a second time on Thursday at 10.15. In this meeting they will consider the Government's proposals for voting and parliamentary reform - which is contained in the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. The first set of witnesses will represent the Boundary Commissions for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. At 11.00 they will take evidence from Ipsos MORI and Dr Stuart Wilks-Heeg, Director of Democratic Audit - which is based at the University of Essex..

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Parliamentary Sovereignty

Law students are inducted into the mysteries of "Parliamentary Sovereignty" as part of their Constitutional Law studies. It's a favourite (for those who set them at least!) exam subject. There have been a number of Washminster postings on the subject -

11 Sept 2007

21 June 2009

29 Sept 2009

14 Jan 2010

Key to understanding the topic are -

* Dicey's teachings on Parliamentary Sovereignty
* the challenges that membership of the European Union has for Dicey's traditional view of the doctrine
* how the Human Rights Act 1998 attempts to recognise the doctrine - but how its application (interpretation under s3 widely used, rather than Declaration of Incompatability - s4)

Particular issues to reflect upon

- is the doctrine one of substance or procedure? - Edinburgh and Dalkeith Rly Co v Wauchope (1842) 8 Cl & Fin 710, 8 ER 279, Lee v Bude and Torrington Junction Rly Co (1871) LR 6 CP 576 and BRB v Pickin [1974] AC 765 - all uphold the principle that what parliament says is the law is accepted by the Courts as such - the "Enrolled Bill Rule"

- what do cases on the doctrine of Implied Repeal say that is relevant? - and in particular Thoburn v Sunderland City Council [2002] 3 WLR 247?

Tom Bingham (Rt Hon Lord Bingham of Cornhill) has some very useful remarks on the subject in his book "The Rule of Law".

Friday, 3 September 2010

Twitter Service

As part of my daily routine, I look through tweets coming from news and other organisations associated with Congress and Parliament. I then retweet some of the most interesting. If you'd like to use this service sign up (it's absolutely free) at http://twitter.com/WM_Alert.

If you have any comments about what you like (and what you don't like) about the Washminster Blog and WM_Alert please email me at info@washminster.com

NY 15 - the Democratic Party Primary

One of the raft of primaries to be held on Tuesday 14th September is attracting particular attention. NY15 (New York's 15th Congressional District) is currently held by Charles Rangel - currently coming to the end of his 20th term. [he was first elected in 1970 - and is now over 80]. It is not his age which has made him vulnerable. The ethics charges which he is facing are the reason that this major player in US politics is facing a serious challenge.

There is a certain irony that the most most likely to topple him is the son of the long serving Congressman that Rangel himself toppled in a closely fought primary in 1970. Adam Clayton Powell was a prominent civil rights leader and pastor who was elected in 1944. A website about him can be accessed here. Rangel's main challenger on 14th is [Adam Clayton Powell IV] the son of Adam Clayton Powell by his third wife. [His half-brother, the son of Clayton Powell and his jazz (and classical) singer & pianist wife, Hazel Scott, is Adam Clayton Powell III].

Charlie Rangel's website can be accessed here and Adam Clayton Powell IV's here.

NY15 covers Harlam and northern Manhatten. In 2007 the district was 28% Black and 46% Hispanic - Powell is  the son of the most famous black of his time, and the daughter of a mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico - and was raised and educated in Puerto Rico after his parents separated.

The New York Times website is accessible here.


Thursday, 2 September 2010

British Politics in Film (and TV)

Britain has never had as large a film industry as the USA, but it has its own collection of political films. Earlier this year the Yorkshire Post published an article by Tony Earnshaw about Politics and British film

"There is something wan and feeble about British politics on film. Not for the Brits the stench of corruption that permeated the Watergate affair, or the gift of a wonderfully bent White House politico such as Richard Nixon.


No. The best Britannia can come up with is elected members fiddling their expenses, liars like Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken, a murky restaurant-based arrangement that led to a fractious partnership between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, and long-forgotten MPs engaging in tawdry toe-sucking rumpy-pumpy dressed in their favourite football strips.

Admittedly, British politicians do sex scandals rather well, though it's hardly the heady stuff that creates world-class drama in the mould of Mr Smith Goes to Washington, The Manchurian Candidate or Seven Days in May. Hollywood has the monopoly on that."
 
The only film Earnshaw merited worthy of mention was Scandal, about the Profumo affair of the early 1960s. There are plenty of films (and made for TV movies) about incidents in British history. Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I's reigns and the English Civil War struggles are a frequently revisited subject. [Cromwell was my favourite]. British Prime Ministers are subjects of many films - from Disraeli in 'The Prime Minister' to the many films where Tony Blair is a key player - a role which Michael Sheen has excelled in.
 
 "V for Vendetta" is an excellent film, though personally uncomfortable - the final scene portrays the Palace of Westminster being blown up - as I work there, those are pictures I'd rather not watch! My favourite comedy is Passport to Pimlico, a clever film based on the idea that Pimlico (an area to the south of London's Victoria Station -and close to Westminster) - is discovered not to be part of the UK. In the aftermath of World War Two (with rationing) the inhabitants reassert their independence.

On TV there are two excellent series - 'Yes Minister' (which became 'Yes Prime Minister') and 'The Thick of It'. The latter is closely related to the film 'In The Loop'. There is an excellent website dedicated to Yes Minister accessible here.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Who will be Leader?

Ballot papers are due to be despatched today to Labour Party members - to choose a new leader for the party. There are many different views about who would be the best person for the job. What will members be considering when they make their choice? I suggest that - even if not outwardly expressed - members are weighing up the following questions -

Which candidate is most likely to enhance the Electoral success of the party?

That is likely to include considerations of the personality of the leader - but what are the most important characteristics? likeability? toughness? ability to get on with colleagues?

A second issue is the perceived effectiveness of each candidate as a campaigner. This has featured in much recent comment. Who is most likely to attract the largest vote at a General Election? A member's view of this will be affected by their own views as to the best strategy to win the next election - whether boosting the core vote or reaching to a wider audience will translate into most seats won.

Which Policies being offered are the most attractive?

A key question here is which will be the greatest influence - policy positions shared with the members voting? or the perception of the attractiveness to potential voters? How far will members be prepared to weigh their own preferences againgst "electability". Underlying that decision will be members beliefs about what motivates voters towards (or against) giving their support to the party. Some argue that a more 'robust' socialist policy will attract current non-voters, whilst other believe that more centrist positions gain greater votes.

Who has (or has the potential to develop) the greatest Leadership skills?

which of course begs the question - what do we want from a leader.
 
What are your view? I'm happy to pass on comments and observations explaining why attributes of particular candidates are attracting your support. Email me at info@washminster.com