Thursday, 30 October 2014


The UK Parliament has a regular opportunity to quiz the "head" of the Executive branch of government - the Prime Minister. For half an hour each Wednesday when the House of Commons is sitting, Members have the opportunity to put any question to him. This contrasts with the ordinary question times, at the start of business on Mondays to Thursdays, when questions must relate to the relevant departmental minister's responsibilities.

But how much in-depth scrutiny is actually achieved? Judge for yourself. Could "PMQs" be improved? and if so what changes are necessary?

Monday, 27 October 2014

Worth watching

Chris Cillizza writes in today's Washington Post

"For an election that few people are paying attention to, it’s turning into a pretty exciting one. There are at least 11 Senate races in which the outcome is far from certain, with about a week left before voters go to the polls Nov. 4.

That’s an unusually high amount of uncertainty this late in an election. Typically, the playing field winnows with every passing week as party committees (and candidates) are forced to make fish-or-cut-bait decisions on races that just don’t look winnable. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan handicapping service, had just seven “tossup” races in 2010 and six in 2008. Today, it rates 10 races as tossups."

Indeed this is an election in which anything could happen. There have been many reports that voters are slightly more likely to turn out to vote for Republican candidates - which could mean that the House of Representatives will remain in GOP hands - and the Senate could see a Republican majority. But neither result is a foregone conclusion. No particular issues seem to have galvanised voters. So we may have to wait to see what the mood is next week.

While there may be little apparent interest in the election campaigns (I loved the depiction of this election as "the shiny object election" - the latest thing to come along excites the pundits - but there is no great theme or issue to engage voters for any length of time) - the results WILL be important. The direction of the USA will be set for the next two years - and just drifting will be bad for that country, and the world.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Dicey - Hero or Villan?

This morning I'll be discussing the British doctrine of "Parliamentary Sovereignty" with my Open University W201 class in Oxford. It's an interesting doctrine (some writers refer to it as "Parliamentary Supremacy"). We'll be looking at where the idea came from; what it means; and whether it is valid in the 21st Century.

It's impossible to ignore the contribution of A V Dicey. He was a significant writer on the workings of the British Constitution - but first and foremost a teacher. He knew how to impress an idea on his students minds - and keep it there. Any student of constitutional law would spend their limited time wisely if they searched their textbooks for summaries of key UK doctrines - the Rule of Law; Parliamentary Sovereignty - by Dicey. He recognised the value of "three points". I'll talk to my students this morning about his three points on Parliamentary Sovereignty. I won't even have to glance at my notes. They are instantly memorable.

But was Dicey right? Do his three points accurately represent the doctrine? Is it a useful doctrine anyway? Is it in fact a hindrance to the development of modern constitutional law - and at the heart of Britain's problematic relationship with the EU; and various international treaties that we are subject to?

I personally think it is outdated; and the cause of unnecessary problems - BUT Dicey's three points are an excellent way of explaining - and setting out the grounds for debate. His clarity is useful for revision - and a good framework for undertaking critical analysis.

So over the next few posts I'll use the three points to explain the doctrine.