Representative Tom Davis announced that he would not contest the 11th District of Virginia in this month's elections. As a result, the Northern Virginia seat which he represented for almost 14 years, became an open seat, which was won by Gerry Connolly for the Democrats.
Last Friday he announced that he would leave Congress immediately, in order to start his new career at Deloitte Consulting in their federal government services division. Representative-Elect Connolly will not take his seat until the 11th Congress begins at noon on January 3rd. In the meantime the Clerk of the House will manage Davis’ former office .
He points out that the US Supreme Court delivers decisions which usually involve all nine justices - wheras in the UK panels consisting of five out of the 12 Law Lords are the norm. He points out that this can lead to a lottery, the result depending upon whether one or another Lord Lord is part of the panel hearing a specific case. The argument he advances in his piece is worth considering.
Comments about the appropriate size of the top court in a country would be welcomed on this blog.
The oldest legislature in the new world is considered to be the Virginia House of Delegates. It can be traced back to 1619 when the Virginia House of Burgesses first met in Jamestown. Chairman of the Minority Caucus, Brian Moran, explained the role of the House
Further details of the House and the Senate - which together make up the Virginia General Assembly - can be found at http://legis.state.va.us/
Once a year the Chancellor of the Exchequer presents his budget. This is normally done in March. In the United Kingdom the tax year runs from 6th April to the 5th April the following year. The Budget speech is delivered in the chamber of the House of Commons - and usually follows the structure of
1 a review of how the UK economy is performing 2 forecasts of how the UK economy will perform in the future 3 details of any changes to taxation.
During the latter part of the twentieth century, as governments struggled to control the economy, many years saw an additional "mini-budget". In 1997 the Labour Government began the practice of having an annual "pre-Budget Report". This allows the Chancellor to update the Commons on the performance and forecasts for the economy, as well as giving an opportunity to make mid year changes to taxation and to signal future changes.
Today Alistair Darling will give his Pre-Budget Report - which most commentators believe will be the most significant in a long time. Various tax changes are rumoured as a response to the current crisis. The speech can be viewed live at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Live.aspx. BBC News 24 will be providing a live feed plus commentary afterwards at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7459669.stm. The speech is due to begin soon after 3.30pm GMT.
It is still 58 days until Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States. Since 4th November details of the administration and its likely policies have been emerging. One of the best sources of information is the official website http://www.change.gov/. This includes details of the presidential agenda as well as news updates. [It is also the site for applying for jobs in the new administration].
There is a major contrast between the British and American changes of government. In the UK a General Election is held between the hours of 7am and 10pm, in recent history - on a Thursday. Once the polls are closed the ballot papers are counted in each constituency and results announced. In most modern elections the "winning party" is known by the early hours of the day following the election. If the result involves a change of Government - the existing Prime Minister will resign that day and the Queen appoint the new PM on that day. The new administration starts work immediately.
In the USA there is a transition period. Originally the new President took office on 4th March - which could be over 4 months after the election, but this was changed by 20th Amendment to 20th January.
How do you assure that investigatory and surveillance powers are only used for the purposes intended when the powers were granted - and not for other, including trivial, purposes? This issue was addressed at a meeting of the Lord's Constitution Committee this week.
Vernon Coaker (Minister of State for Policing, Crime & Security) both addressed the committee and answered questions.
Other issues raised were the extent of the UK's national DNA database; and the number of people arrested but not charged or convicted, but who are now on the database - who were subsequently linked to serious crimes.
It was agreed by the Minister that the UK had the largest database relative to the size of its population. 5% of UK citizens are on that database - compared to only 0.5% of US citizens on their database.
....in the House of Lords. Wearing a suit is not enough (see 19th November). To be really effective, a sense of humour is required. A Peer who uses gentle humour can go a long way to win the support of the House. For example on Oct 16th Lord Adonis deftly answered questions about cycling. It is an issue which can raise tensions - as supporters of cycling are countered by Peers who see cyclists as dangerous threats to public safety.
He was asked by Lordf Krebs - "What does the Minister intend to do about local authorities such as Oxfordshire County Council which are removing cycle lanes and footpaths to make more space for cars and buses? Does the noble Lord agree that this is contrary to government policy, and what does he intend to do about it?"
a politically charged questioned (implicedly criticising the Conservative administration; and a pro-cycling question) . Lord Adonis won the House by beginning his reply
"My Lords, I am at one with HG Wells, who said: “Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race”.
Later in the questioning the following exchange took place
Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, a lot has been said about cycling but not as much has been said about walking, although all the evidence shows that the amount of walking that people do is declining. I know what keeps me walking: it is my dog. Perhaps the Government should consider encouraging more people to keep dogs.
Lord Adonis: Perhaps or perhaps not, my Lords; there are pros and cons. Of course, it is absolutely vital that people feel safe when they are walking but Her Majesty’s Government have not seen it as a priority to teach people how to walk, so we give more emphasis to policy promoting cycling. If I were to publish a walking strategy document, it might be thought to be the ultimate example of the nanny state.
...when visiting the House of Lords. In a written answer, the Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara) explained -
The dress code in the Prince’s Chamber is the same as in the main catering outlets for Members: men should wear a jacket and tie, and women should be suitably attired. This dress code applies equally to Members, guests, staff and officials. The code is enforced by the Doorkeepers, who rely on the co-operation of Members. I take this opportunity to remind Members that they should adhere to this dress code at all times and ensure that their guests and staff do likewise.
Over last weekend I was able to follow Gordon Brown and his entourage as they arrived in New York, visited the UN, then moved onto Washington for the G20 summit. This was possible because I had signed up for "10 Downing Street" on twitter. You can do this at http://twitter.com/DowningStreet. I also find it useful to get updates on new documents published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) from http://twitter.com/opencrs
The three main sources of the British constitution are - Statutes; Caselaw and Conventions. The latter have been defined as “certain rules of constitutional behaviour which are considered to be binding by and upon those who operate the Constitution, but which are not enforced by the law courts (although the courts may recognise their existence), nor by the presiding officers in the Houses of Parliament.” [Marshall, G., and Moodie, G.C., Some Problems of the Constitution, 5th edn., London Hutchinson (1971), pp. 17–18.]
Examples include the convention that a Monarch will always sign a bill passed by both Houses of Parliament; and that Ministers will sit in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords.
The final figures are not yet available - but it is estimated that almost $2 billion (that's a B!) was spent by candidates in the 2008 Presidential election. A blog on the New York Times website recently stated "the debate over how future campaigns will be financed is set to begin in earnest. The outcome promises to have a profound impact on future presidential runs, either upping the fund-raising ante irrevocably or forcing sweeping changes to prevent such large amounts of cash from coursing through campaigns again. But just as it has in this election cycle, it is quite likely that politics, as much as principle, will shape the jockeying."
Campaign Finance reform has had a chequered history in the USA - the main stumbling bloc has been the constitutionally guaranteed Free Speech Rights (First Amendment)
In the UK, the amounts of money are much smaller - but the issue is still of great concern. There are now legal limits on how much individual candidates can spend; and on the national expenditure of parties. A paper prepared by the House of Commons Library can be read at http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/notes/snpc-03413.pdf.
At Westminster Parliament continues to move towards the conclusion of the session by debating the final stages of a number of bills. On Tuesday the Lords will debate the Constitution Committee's report and follow-up on Relations between the executive, the judiciary and Parliament. Thursday will see a Commons debate on organ donation.
Yesterday I attended a meeting at Leicester University which was addressed by two former Congressmen, George Hochbrueckner (NY, 1987-95, Democratic Party) and Dick Schulze (PA, 1975-93, Republican Party). It was a very interesting session - and the congressmen spoke about the work of Congress and the political situation in the US after last week's elections. Students and Staff had an opportunity to put questions - and a lively debate ensued about healthcare.
The "Congress to Campus" programme was by created by the Association of Former Members of Congress. Former members visit universities in pairs - one Democrat and one Republican, to explain and discuss Congress with students. The programme began in the USA, but has been extended overseas. In the United Kingdom the programme has been supported by the British Library.
The House of Lords is due to consider the Third Report from the Procedure Committee, which deals with proposed new arrangements for nominating members of; and debating reports from the Intelligence and Security Committee. Unlike other select committees this one is appointed by, and reports to the Prime Minister.
The main recommendations are -
that in future the Usual Channels should agree on a member or members to nominate, and that the Leader of the House would then seek the approval of the House by tabling a motion in the following terms:
"The Lord President (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon) to move that this House approves the nomination of Lord/Baroness [name] as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee."
The final appointment would then formally be made by the Prime Minister, in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, in accordance with the Intelligence Services Act 1994.
that there should in future be a presumption that ISC reports will be debated, subject to a decision of the Usual Channels in each case; and that the presumption should be that annual reports should be debated in Grand Committee and that special reports should be debated either in Grand Committee or in the Chamber.
Actions by the Executive (Ministers) derive their authority from either Parliament - [Statute or delegated legislation] or from the Royal Prerogative. Dicey once described the latter as "the remaining portion of the Crown's original authority, and is therefore...the name for the residue of discretionary power left at any moment in the hands of the Crown, whether such power be in fact execised by the Queen herself or by her Ministers"
During the last few days of the US election campaign, Brian Moran, the Minority Caucus Chairman in the Virginia House of Delegates - and the son of a football coach - drew out lessons from American Football for those involved in political campaigning.
Baroness Cohen is due to ask in the House of Lords today - "what responses the [British Government has] received to their distribution of the Consolidated Statement of the Use of EU funds in the UK to European Union finance ministers."
Each year the Prime Minister is invited to the Lord Mayor's Banquet, held the Monday after the Lord Mayor's Show (second Saturday in November, the day after the new Lord Mayor of the City of London - not to be confused with the Mayor of London - who covers a much larger area of Britain's capital, and is currently Boris Johnson - takes office). Traditionally this is the opportunity for the Prime Minister to make a major speech on Foreign Policy.
One of the most interesting battles on 'The Hill' is for the chairmanship of the House of Representative's Committee on Energy and Commerce. The current chairman, John Dingell, is being challenged by Henry Waxman, currently Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
John Dingell is a House veteran, being the longest serving current Member of the House and second longest serving Member in our US history. He is now 82 years old - and served in World War II. He has represented Michigan (the boundaries of his district have changed many times) since 1955. He retook the chairmanship of Energy & Commerce in 2007, when the Democrats gained a majority in the House, having previously served as Chairman from 1981-1995.
Roll Call reports that "House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) on Friday sought to put more weight behind his bid to hang on to his gavel, releasing the names of 26 lawmakers making up the “first round” of his whip team." Representative Dingell's House website can be found at http://www.house.gov/dingell/
This battle of the Titans is attracting much interest on the Hill. The committee is one of the most important in the House. Its website is http://energycommerce.house.gov/. It has a very wide remit and has been in continuing existence (albeit with name changes) for 213 years.
Congress is due to return for its "lame duck session" on 17th November (though it won't happen if there is no agreement with the Bush administration over a stimulus package - see http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/11/07/dems-wont-hold-lame-duck-session-without-bush-stimulus-deal/). In the meantime there will be much jockeying for positions in the 111th Congress. There will be major changes in the Republican Conference (the term used for the Republican group within the House) in the House of Representatives. Roy Blunt has already announced he is standing down as whip. In the Democratic Party a major battle is developing over the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. John Dingell is being challenged by Henry Waxman.
Both Houses in Westminster are sitting. Monday will see opposition debates initiated by the Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons. There will be a Commons debate on Heathrow Airport on Tuesday. Both Houses will be completing the final stages of legislation as the end of the session approaches. Full details can be found at - http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/2008/11/10/week.html
After a short break - during which I flew home via Amsterdam and Birmingham - Washminster returns. Yesterday was the much anticipated by-election (special election) in Glenrothes. Much to everyone's surprise Labour held the seat comfortably.
My favourite quote of the day came from an Independent story about the tensions between McCain's aides and Sarah Palin - "They badly need scapegoats for everything that went wrong and Ms Palin comes to their minds faster than a moth to light."
Thank you for visiting this blog during the US elections. I've very much enjoyed writing the brief pieces on key races - and particularly interviewing people for the videos of the last few days. My visit to Virginia has been a fantastic experience for me - and I hope you have enjoyed my English perspective on what has been happening.
This blog will continue to describe and explain the ways of Washington and Westminster. I very much hope that you will keep coming back to Washminster - interesting times lie ahead. Do send me your comments - or just get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The result is now clear - this has indeed been an historic election. Congratulations to President-Elect Obama, and all those who helped elect him. It has been a real privilege to spend the last few days with people who worked so hard to achieve this victory - I will forever treasure the memories - and look forward to continuing the friendships formed and deepened over the last week.
Television coverage of the results will focus on the State level - who will win the electoral votes for the Presidency; Senate and District (House of Representatives) races and so on. But if you want the detailed figures - at the precinct (uk equivalent - "ward" or "parish") level the results will be posted by the appropriate election board.
The first question expected in the Lords today will be put by Lord Bradshaw. His question to the Government is "what steps they are taking to ensure there is sufficient rolling stock available to the railways to meet demand". It's an interesting question - and as a frequent user of the train services to London from Rugby, I'll be watching the answer with interest.
Lord Bradshaw is a frequent questioner on rail matters. he worked for British Rail (the then nationalised company providing the rail infrastructure and services in the UK) from 1959 to 1985, starting as a management trainee in the Western Region and rising to the post of Director Policy Unit in 1980, and General manager of British Rail's Western Region 1983. His interest in railways may be in his genes - my understanding is that he is a descendant of George Bradshaw, the publisher of the famous 'Bradshaw Railway Timetables'.
Currently he is the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Transport in the House of Lords.
Monday will be a frantic day - for all the volunteers across the USA - and for the candidates themselves. Obama will hold major rallies in Jacksonville, Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; Manassas, Virginia (yes, I should be there!!!!); and finally in Chicago.
John McCain starts in Florida and makes his way to Arizona - via Tennessee, Indiana, New Mexico and Nevada.
Saturday Night Live has a two hour special (many thanks to the team for all the laughs I've had over the last few weeks!!!) at 9pm ET - http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/. The big Monday night football game is the Washington Redskins against the Pittsburgh Steelers http://www.redskins.com/gen/index.jsp (with fans concentrated in two key states - Virginia and Pennsylvania). It's ironic that, as a strong Redskins fan, the only time I've been in Washington when the Redskins play, is the day I'm otherwise engaged - next time perhaps?
Lest we forget, with so much attention being directed towards the United States, there is an important by-election taking place in the UK on Thursday. Labour is defending a normally rock solid Labour seat. In an editorial in today's Independent, the following comments were made - The by-election... "will be important in a British context as a test of the Government's standing and of the strength of the "Brown bounce".
Weeks ago, many were predicting a reprise to the Glasgow East by-election, in which the SNP overturned a thumping Labour majority. A similar defeat in Glenrothes was being described as a possible trigger for a Cabinet revolt against Gordon Brown – the long-awaited denouement to a calamitous year for the Prime Minister.
How long ago that seems. While all bets are still off concerning the results of Thursday's vote, the tide is flowing Labour's way for now. Mr Brown must believe Labour has a good chance of winning, or he would not have risked a second visit to the seat last Friday, hammering home his message that an independent government in Edinburgh would have lacked the resources to shield Scotland from the world financial crisis.
Like the Tories, Alex Salmond's SNP has had a bad few weeks in "narrative" terms. Talk of an arc of prosperity running through Iceland has been held up to ridicule. It did not help Mr Salmond that a government minister in Oslo has asked the SNP to stop dragging Norway into arguments over Scottish independence.
But voters are unpredictable, and Glenrothes electors may yet revolt against the idea that the London establishment is patronising the Scots. If so, the SNP will be encouraged and all the old familiar question marks hanging over Mr Brown's leadership will return. After all, if Labour holds on, it will hardly rank as a political miracle. Labour held the seat in 2005 with a majority of more than 10,000, while the SNP needs a swing of 14 per cent to win. But in these febrile times, any victory achieved by Labour now – even in such a rock-sold Scottish seat – is bound to be hailed as proof of Mr Brown's political resurrection."
British newspapers and broadcasters will be covering the last days of this campaign - and the results in the early hours of Friday morning - but for the next few days, these will be eclipsed by the US elections.
I took the video camera with me as we drove through Stratford Landing - the area I'm staying in, which is about a mile from Mount Vernon, the estate of George Washington
Today I've been out in Alexandria - trying (successfully each time!) to persuade supporters to let us replace their yard signs (16 inches by 26 inches) by bigger ones - eight foot by four foot! Later we went along the medians (central reservation) of one of the main streets putting up ordinary size yard signs. A deposit is required for the licence to put signs there (which is forfeited if any of the rules - and they are quite precise and complex in terms of size of sign and how many feet from official signs). I helped make Eisenhower Avenue very decorative.
The Eighth District of Virginia includes Alexandria; Arlington and extends westward to include Reston. It has been represented by Congressman Jim Moran since 1991. His House website can be visited at http://moran.house.gov/. During an election meeting in Alexandria he explained the historic significance of this election -
When I visited the morning market in Alexandria - I met a number of campaigners who were part of this last weekend's push to get out the vote. There were a number of stalls at different parts of the market. I asked two campaigners why they were out at an early hour on a - refreshingly cool - Saturday morning.
Many states now allow voters to "vote absentee in person", sometimes referred to as "early voting". In Virginia this is permitted if there is a valid reason why a person might not be able to turn up to vote on election day. More details of the Virginia rules can be found at http://www.sbe.virginia.gov/cms/Absentee_Voting/Index.html. Other states do not require a reason - and as in the United Kingdom - absentee voting is a right (In Britain this can only be achieved by voting by post or by voting by proxy).
This morning I went to the farmers market in the old town of Alexandria. I recorded this video at 8.30 am.
A friend drew my attention to the following quote which appeared in the current edition of the local library newsletter - "Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?" ~ Henry Ward Beecher. As I was in the Borders store in Pentagon City yesterday afternoon I can confirm the truth of this. I bought a copy "Change We Can Believe In" - Barack Obama's Plan to Renew America's Promise. There were so many books about the election and the various candidates (I already have every book written by both Obama and McCain).
On my way back to the home of my friends - I stopped at the table set up by the Democrats at Huntington Metro. In fact there were tables set up at every Metro station I went to! This morning we are off to the Farmers' Market in Alexandria - and I'm told a heavy political presence is expected.
Yesterday I spent time ringing up undecided or infrequent voters - still a success rate (that is - actually talking to the person rather than their answering service) of one in six. When I did get through responses were very positive for Obama - I even signed up volunteers - which in years of 'telephone canvassing' in the UK has only happened once - it happened 3 times yesterday!
One of the most important changes made to the structure of Government in Gordon Brown's recent reshuffle was the establishment of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. It was created out of BERR (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) - which had its Energy Group and DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) - where the Climate Change Group was established.
I am a tutor for the Open University and have practical experience of working in the UK and European Parliaments.
Until May 2010 I worked at Westminster as Political Secretary to Lord Bach and to Lord Hunt of King's Heath. Previously I had worked as Research and Policy Director in the Office of Sir Peter Soulsby MP. In 2001 and 2005 I stood for Parliament in the South Leicestershire Constituency of Blaby. In 2009 I was a candidate for the European Parliament in the East Midlands Region.
I have a keen academic and practical interest in the workings of both the UK Parliament and the US Congress. I have made a number of study visits to Washington DC - and monitor proceedings, procedure and practice in the four chambers [House of Commons, House of Lords, House of Representative and the Senate]
Over the years I have broadcast on both UK & US Politics for BBC local radio including Radio Northampton; BBC Three Counties and BBC Radio Oxford.