Thursday, 31 December 2009

Seeing 2009 Out - and 2010 in

Today sees the exit of a year few have loved. It has been a difficult year for Congress - where business has been slow to move - and for the Westminster Parliament - which has seen scandal shake both the Lords and Commons. The European Parliament saw a quieter year - though for MEPs who lost their seats in the June election, they had their own traumatic year.

During a year we lost a number of political figures - including

UK Parliament
- Lady (Nora) David
- Lord (Ralph) Dahrendorf
- Lord (Peter) Blaker
- Lord Kingsland (Sir Christopher Prout)
- David Taylor
- Clement Freud
- John McWilliam

US Congress
- Ted Kennedy
- Claiborne Pell
- Jack Kemp

- Robert McNamara
- Walter Cronkite
- Jack Jones
- Jody Powell
- Ron Silver

What will 2010 bring? The New Year will be seen in at my home in Milton Keynes; in London; in Washington DC; and in Brussels. Follow the links for more details.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The Questions - Europe 2010

Washminster is extending its coverage to "Europe" in 2010. Not only will transatlantic issues be considered - but the working of the institutions of the EU and other European bodies (NATO, Council of Europe, OSCE) - and particularly the European Parliament (the only directly elected institution within the EU) - will be discussed.

The Lisbon Treaty has now come into force. This gives a greater role to the European Parliament within the EU legislative system. (Further details here). The Parliament began life as a talking shop - it was the Council of Ministers which was the legislative body. The Commission would propose legislation, and the Council (made up of members of national Executives) who decided if the proposed legislation would be passed, amended or blocked. Over a series of treaties the Parliament increased its role - so now - for almost all matters - the Parliament is co-legislator. This year will see how the Parliament rises to the challenges of its increased powers.

In January the Parliament will hold hearings with the nominees for the new Commisssion. This will be held between 11th & 19th January. A vote on the Commission will be held around 1pm (noon, GMT - 07.00am) on Tuesday 26th January.

While it was elected in 2009 for a five year period - national elections will impact the makeup of the Parliament. MEPs who are appointed to ministerial office at home must resign their seats. The list systems in operation mean that by-elections (special elections) are not required, the next available person on the party list takes over. [Hence, theoretically, I could become an MEP before 2014 - should Glenis Willmott stand down (and Roy Kennedy and Kathy Salt either be unable to take her place - or themselves subsequently stand down from the parliament) - a very unlikely scenario!].

As with parliaments around the world - the economy; energy security and consumer rights are likely to be key issues in 2010.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The Questions USA 2010

General Elections are less frequent in the UK than the US (may be famous last words if the forthcoming election is inconclusive!). 2010 will see mid term elections at the Federal level in the USA. All seats in the House of Representatives are up for election (though not all may be contested!) - and a third of Senate seats. In addition there will be state and local elections. Unlike the UK, election day is already set - it will be on Tuesday November 2nd.

What will the key questions be for followers of the US Congress?

111th Congress - the battles of the first session will continue into 2010 - with the added effect of an election looming ever nearer. Will the Republicans intensify their policy of obstruction? Will there be renewed attempts by some to promote bipartisanship, or will partisan strife intensify? What will the effect of the last year be on the unity (or otherwise) of the parties?

Congressional Elections - who will the voters punish? Will there be more successful third party candidates? How will the results affect the working of Congress? (as we have seen this year the need for supermajorities is important in order to progress with and pass legislation).

The Relationships between the different branches of Government - a system based on the separation of powers depends upon those relationships for its effectiveness. How will the relationships work in 2010?

Washminster will be be publised in Washington for part of January. I hope you will regularly visit this blog as the answers to these questions are considered here in 2010.

Monday, 28 December 2009

The Questions - UK 2010

Welcome back to Washminster after its Christmas break. I hope you had an enjoyable holiday - and are geared up for the coming new year!

2010 promises to be a very interesting year in British politics. Thanks to the Septennial Act (yes only the British could base their five year limit on Parliaments on a statute named for Seven years - the Act passed in 1715 which limited Parliament to 7 year terms was amended (rather than repealed and replaced) by the Parliament Act 1911 - which says in s7 "Five years shall be substituted for seven years as the time fixed for the maximum duration of Parliament under the Septennial Act 1715") - there will be a General Election, with a new Parliament elected. The high number of announcements of retirements at the election will mean that the new Parliament will have a very different cast of characters from those we have known to date.

So what are the key questions for followers of the British Parliament?

The General Election Campaign - what will be the defining issues? Will this be fought on policy issues? or personalities? Will the campaigns include real discussions of positive ideas and policies - or will we see throwing of dirt and personal insults?

The Election Result - what will the makeup of the new House of Commons be? Will we finally get to see a hung Parliament? (In 1974 although no party got an overall majority, a new minority Labour Government was formed - and a second election held seven months later - a small majority was gained but soon the Government was dependant upon support from minority parties)? Will Labour fight back to win a fourth term in Government? or will the Tories return to power after 13 years? How much will each of the parties change withinn 2010? (being in Government or Opposition after the election could have a major impact on the parties - would Cameron survive failing to win the election? (would we be asking if the Tories had become unelectable?) or will warfare erupt within a defeated Labour Party?

New MPs - what will the class of 2010 be like - and how will it change the atmosphere and ethos of Westminster?

Parliamentary Reform - will the aftermath of the catastrophic events of 2009 lead to reform - or will they die a death? What will happen to Lords reform? Will the method of choosing members of both the Commons and Lords change?

Much to think about - I hope you'll continue to follow Washminster as the answers emerge.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

David Taylor MP

It was with particular sadness that I heard of the unexpected death of David Taylor, Member of Parliament for North West Leicestershire. David was a good friend, and an MP for whom I had the greatest respect. He was a extremely hard worker for his constituents - and always stood up for what he believed in. I will miss him greatly. My condolences to his family - and to all those who will be very upset at the loss of our friend.

Gordon Brown paid tribute to Mr Taylor, describing him as "one of the most hard working MPs locally and nationally".

Other tributes to him include

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Christmas Recess

Parliament has now gone into recess for Christmas. I too will be taking a few days break to celebrate with the family. Washminster will return on 28th December. May I wish you an enjoyable holiday.


Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Why the Norman Porch?

The State Opening of Parliament is a grand occasion. Driven in a Coach from her residence at Buckingham Palace, the Queen is met at the Sovereign’s Entrance by the Earl Marshal and the Lord Great Chamberlain. After ascending the Royal Staircase she crosses the Norman Porch before entering the Robing Room.

I usually invite visitors to tell me why this area is known as the 'Norman' porch. It is hard to work out. The architectural style is clearly not Norman. There are no paintings of the Norman Kings - or even their coats of arms (the coats of arms of the saxon Kings are on the wall alongside the Royal Staircase). The busts are of Prime Ministers who were or became Peers.

The answer is that the original plan was to place busts of the Norman Kings in this area. It was never done - but the name remained.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

New Washminster

In the New Year Washminster will be increasing its coverage. At the moment the main theme is "Practice and Procedure in the UK Parliament and US Congress". The European Parliament - and Europe generally (especially with an eye to transatlantic relations) will be added to Washminster's scope.

In January Washminster (which is usually written at my home in Milton Keynes or at Westminster) will for a short period be written in Washington DC. I will have my trusty videocam with me - and hope to share with you insights into Congress as well as the great city itself.

While this blog is designed to be non-partisan - I do welcome contributions which can be posted on this site arguing for specific proposals (particularly, but not exclusively) on parliamentary or congressional reform ['Guest Pieces']. You can submit a guest piece via email.

House Armed Services Committee

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 – 2:00pm – HVC 210 – Open

The Full Committee will meet to mark up H. Res. 924 - Directing the Secretary of Defense to transmit to the House of Representatives copies of any document, record, memo, correspondence, or other communication of the Department of Defense, or any portion of such communication, that refers or relates to the trial or detention of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid Muhammad Salih Mubarek Bin 'Attash, Ramzi Binalshibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, or Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi

Monday, 14 December 2009

The Robing Room

Last week I attended a Hansard Society meeting held in the Robing Room of the House of Lords. This magnificant room is where the Queen is robed before she walks through the Royal Gallery, the Princes' Chamber, and into the Chamber of the House of Lords. There she delivers the 'Queen's Speech' which marks the start of a new session.

We were asked to arrive early, which gave me an opportunity to enjoy a longer appreciation of the room than I usually have when escorting visitors to the Palace.

At the eastern end of the room is the throne upon which the Queen sits whilst the Imperial State Crown is placed on her head. A fireplace adorns the western end.

The paintings (in fact 'frescos') dominate the otherwise wood panelled room. William Dyce was responsible for these. They show scenes from the legend of King Arthur to illustrate the Christian virtues (hospitality, generosity, mercy, religion and courtesy). The scheme to fill three sides of the room (the fourth has windows looking towards Victoria Tower Gardens) with such frescoes was never completed. It is said that due to the dampness in the winter (the Palace lies alongside the Thames) Dyce was only able to paint directly onto the walls in the summer months. As a result the frescoes of fidelity and courage were never done - Dyce died! The panels are instead filled by framed paintings of Victoria and Albert. Below the frescoes are dark wooden panels, again illustating events from the Arthurian legends.

After the House of Commons was destroyed by bombing in 1941, the Chamber of the House of Lords was used by MPs. Their Lordships moved into the Robing Room until the new Commons Chamber was opened in 1950.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Oh Christmas Tree....

From the US Congress (via The Hill)

And from Parliament (sadly the 2008 tree - no videos yet of the 2009 tree)

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Congressional Retirees

Yesterday Washminster linked to the current list of British MPs standing down in the UK's General Election due in 2010. The November elections in the USA will also see a number of retirees.

Roll Call magazine regularly publishes its "Casualty List". This weeks list has the following statistics -

9 Congressmen (4 Dems & 5 Repubs) are standing down from the House to run for the Senate.
9 Congressmen (2D, 7R) are standing down to run for other offices - plus 1 Republican Senator.
3 Congressmen plan to retire (all Democrats) and 7 Senators (3D, 4R)

Running for Senate

Roy Blunt R-Mo
Mike Castle R-Del
Paul Hodes D-NH
Mark Kirk R-Ill
Kendrick Meek D-Fla
Charlie Melancon D-La
Jerry Moran R-Kan
Joe Sestak D-PA
Todd Tiahrt R-Kan

Running for Other Office

Neil Abercrombie D-Hawaii
Gresham Barrett R-SC
Artur Davis D-Ala
Nathan Deal R-GA
Mary Fallin R-OK
Jim Gerlach R-PA
Pete Hoekstra R-Mich
Adam Putnam R-Fla
Zach Wamp R-TN
Senator Sam Brownback R-Kan


Dennis Moore D-Kan
John Tanner D-TN
Brian Baird D-Wash
Senator Kit Bond R-MO
Senator Jim Bunning R-KY
Senator Roland Burris D-Ill
Senator Judd Gregg R-NH
Senator Ted Kaufman D-Del
Senator Paul Kirk D-Mass
Senator George Voinovich R-Ohio

Friday, 11 December 2009

MPs Standing Down

The latest list of MPs who have announced their intention to retire at the coming General Election can be found here. This list is regularly updated. Michael Crick has also written on the issue - and he is responsible for the graph showing retirees at each General Election since 1945. That year was exceptional since the 37th Parliament of the United Kingdom had lasted 10 years (extended because of World War Two). It now seems likely that the 2010 Election will see more retirees since that date.

Many well known names will be absent from the 55th Parliament - some as a result of the Expenses scandal, but many are choosing to stand down after long service. 1997 held the previous post 1945 record for retirees - at the end of 18 years of a Conservative Government.

Washminster will be looking at some of the probable new intake during the coming months.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The House of Lords

Yesterday evening I attended a lecture by the Lord Speaker, Baroness Hayman, entitled "Ermine, Ethics and Engagement: Evolution in the House of Lords".

The background to the challenge faced by the House of Lords as a result of the dramatic loss of confidence in Parliament during the last year was set out. The new code of conduct; rules on Peers expenses and procedures were described.

An important point was made by Baroness Hayman "We do not want a House of Lords in which only the retired and privately wealthy are able to participate". She said later that putting the House in order is necessary but not sufficient. The House must find ways of doing its job better AND engaging with the public.

Many proposals for reform were raised. This is a speech which anyone interested in the House of Lords - and its future - should read. BBC Parliament plan to broadcast the speech at 9pm UK time on Saturday (further details) The Hansard Society who organised the lecture have previously placed audio of earlier lectures on their website. I hope that they will do the same for this speech shortly. The text is available here.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Written Ministerial Statements

It's worth keeping an eye on Hansard - not just for what was said in the Chamber - but for the Written Ministerial Statements. You can see the details of last Thursday's WMSs here.

It was practice before 2002 for written questions to be used for important, but not major,statements to be made. The most important were, and still are, made to the Chamber itself - allowing the opportunity for further questioning. A government backbencher would be asked to put down the written question - which became the vehicle for the statement. Such "planted" questions became unnecessary when a new system was introduced which gave a special section in Hansard to Written Ministerial Statements.

In the Order Paper which appears on the day the WMS is to appear - notice is given. This appeared at the end of Tuesday's Order of Business

Written Ministerial Statements to be made today

1 Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills: Financial support to students.
2 Mr Chancellor of the Exchequer: Northern Rock plc.
3 Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government: Local government.
4 Secretary of State for Defence: Afghanistan—Aircraft deployment to ISAF.
5 Secretary of State for Health: Healthy Children, Safer Communities: A strategy.
6 Secretary of State for the Home Department: Justice and Home Affairs Post-Council statement.
7 Secretary of State for the Home Department: Autumn Performance Report 2009.
8 Secretary of State for Work and Pensions: Making choice and control a reality for disabled people: Government response to the consultation on the Right to Control.

According to Parliament's website: WMS are often used to provide or announce:

Detailed information and statistics from the government.
The publication of reports by government agencies.
Findings of reviews and inquiries and the government's response.
Financial and statistical information.
Procurement issues.
Procedure and policy initiatives of government departments

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Milton Keynes

It’s not by design – but I have always lived in key marginal seats. I spent my teenage years in Aldridge- Brownhills, a seat that was held by Labour with a tiny majority. As an adult I have lived in Northampton North (whichever party won that seat formed the government) and Rugby (the 15th most vulnerable Conservative seat after 2005 – after they took it from Labour). This year I moved to Milton Keynes – where both seats are highly marginal.

The Unitary District of Milton Keynes contains two parliamentary seats. Both were won by Labour in 1997, but the North East Division was taken by Mark Lancaster for the Tories in 2005 with a majority of just 1,665 (3.3%). The boundaries will change for the coming election. It is estimated that if the 2005 election had been fought on the new boundaries, Labour would have had a majority of 848 (1.71%). Central Milton Keynes – which includes the shopping centre; Snowdome; Railway Station (which doubled for the UN Building in the film Superman IV) and the theatre district are in this constituency. It includes the railway town of Wolverton; the historic town of Newport Pagnell and the rural area bordering Northamptonshire. It is reported to have the lowest proportion of pensioners outside London. It is more middle class than MK South – and there is much wealth in the rural areas – but some of the urban areas have great diversity. This is a seat that Mark Lancaster would hope to hold. His Labour rival is Andrew Pakes. The Liberal Democrats have performed well in recent local elections. Their candidate is Jill Hope.

Labour is stronger in the South Division, where the Chair of the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, Dr Phyllis Starkey won with 4,010 in 2005. However the boundary changes deprive her of Campbell Park, Middleton and Wolverton. Her notional 2005 result would have been a wafer thin 1,497 (3.0%). The Open University is based in the seat. Bletchley is the main older area – and home of Bletchley Park – the codebreaking centre in World War Two. The Tory candidate will be Iain Stewart and the Lib Dems will no doubt put up a candidate - but I have been unable to find any details of a selected candidate.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Westminster Whip

Lord Davies of Oldham, the Government's Deputy Chief Whip in the House of Lords contrasts the role of whips in the two chambers of the Westminster Parliament - and describes his work.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Parliament in an anti-politics age

The Speaker of the House of Commons gave this year's Hansard Society/Political Studies Association Lecture. Sadly I missed it, due to my teaching commitments at Leicester University. However, the Hansard Society recorded the speech and an audio recording is available here. The House of Commons has released the text which can be read here.

Towards the beginning of his speech he says - "It is a cruel paradox that at a time when MPs have never worked harder, their standing has rarely been lower. Let me be brutally honest about the scale of what has occurred.

I cannot think of a single year in the recent history of Parliament when more damage has been done to it than this year, with the possible exception of when Nazi bombs fell on the chamber in 1941.

The difference is that the physical wreckage then was done by dictators whereas responsibility for the reputational carnage inflicted this year lies with the House."

The speech contains both a diagnosis of the problems - and suggestions for the way ahead. As with yesterday's post I would appreciate any comments you have to make.

Further information is available about the sponsors of this annual event.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Time Magazine - The Diagnosis

If you haven't yet read Andy Serwer's excellent article in Time Magazine, I recommend that you buy a copy & read it. It's a thought provoking piece for reflection upon.

Below I reproduce part of the article - which highlights our collective responsibility for the troubles that have arisen in this decade. The question I pose is - how should Congress and Parliament respond? With important elections coming in 2010 this question needs answering. I'd be happy to share your comments through this blog - either use the comments link or email to me.

"In large part, we have ourselves to blame. If you look at the underlying causes of some of the most troubling developments of the decade, you can see some striking common denominators. The raft of financial problems, our war with radical Islam, the collapse of GM and much of our domestic auto industry and even the devastation brought about by Katrina all came about at least in part or were greatly exacerbated by:

Neglect. Our inward-looking culture didn't heed the warning signs from around the world — and from within our own country — that Islamic terrorism was heading for our shores.

Greed. Our absolute faith in the markets, fed by Wall Street, combined with the declawing of our regulators to undermine our financial system.

Self-interest. The auto industry disintegrated while management and labor tangoed from one bad contract to the next, ignoring their customers and their competition, aided and abetted by their respective politicians.

Deferral of responsibility. Our power grid needs an upgrade and our bridges are falling down because we have not mustered the political and popular willpower to fix them. New Orleans drowned because authorities failed to act before Katrina busted the inadequate levees.

It was almost as if we as a nation said in previous decades, "Why do today what we can put off until the first decade of the 21st century?" But we didn't rise to those challenges. What we just lived through, then, was the chickens coming home to roost.

Take the vexing and costly war we are waging against al-Qaeda and its ilk. This is a conflict that was barely on the radar in the 1990s — which is exactly the problem. By most accounts, Osama bin Laden founded his organization sometime between 1988 and 1990. The U.S., in part, helped create this loathsome band itself by funding the mujahedin, who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s and provided much of the training for bin Laden's foot soldiers. But our friendly freedom fighters turned into foes. In 1992 al-Qaeda bombed a hotel in Yemen, hoping to kill American Marines bound for Somalia. Then came the first World Trade Center bombing, in 1993. Three years later, the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia killed 19 U.S. Air Force personnel. In 1996 and 1998, bin Laden issued fatwas calling for Muslims to rise up and kill Americans. Making good on bin Laden's word, al-Qaeda blew up U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in synchronized attacks on Aug. 7, 1998, killing almost 300, including 12 Americans. In October 2000, terrorists struck again, bombing the destroyer U.S.S. Cole in Yemen and killing 17 service members.

After all that, should 9/11 have been a surprise? There were those who saw what was coming, most notably FBI agent John O'Neill, who perished during the attack on the World Trade Center and whose story is eloquently told in Lawrence Wright's masterly book The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Time and time again O'Neill warned his superiors that al-Qaeda was readying a big strike, only to be marginalized, causing him to leave the bureau. Another prescient voice was that of Harvard professor Samuel Huntington, whose book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order suggested that culture and religion would be the sources of conflict in the post–Cold War world. Huntington didn't limit this to war between the West and Islam, though he did single out "Islamic civilization" as potentially having significant friction points with the West because of its population explosion and the rise of religious fundamentalism.

Our economic narcissism was certainly the culprit in the devastation wrought by financial markets, which have subjected us to an increasingly frequent series of crashes, frauds and recessions. To a great degree, this was brought about by a lethal combination of irresponsible deregulation and accommodating monetary policies instituted by the Federal Reserve. Bankers and financial engineers had an unsupervised free-market free-for-all just as the increased complexity of financial products — e.g., derivatives — screamed out for greater regulation or at least supervision. Enron, for instance, was a bastard child of a deregulated utilities industry and a mind-bending financial alchemy.

Historian H.W. Brands of the University of Texas points to the demise of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 as an unfortunate tipping point of deregulation. Glass-Steagall, passed in 1933, separated investment banking and plain-vanilla banking, which some experts argued made markets safer. (Certain restrictions of Glass-Steagall were repealed to allow the merger of Citicorp and Travelers. Let's just say that didn't end well.) "That was the single moment when the seeds for the bad stuff were planted," says Brands. "There was a belief that technology, the Internet and financial instruments had changed things, and the ones selling this idea and these instruments were making a lot of money."

Another proximate cause were new loosey-goosey borrowing rules (if they can be called that) that allowed the likes of Bear Stearns and Lehman to pile $30 of debt onto each $1 of capital. The chief executives of these firms argued vociferously for the right to greater leverage and vociferously against regulating derivatives because, they claimed, unfettered markets were more efficient. Yes, it was the unfettered use of leverage and derivatives that destroyed their companies and wreaked havoc on the rest of us.

Companies go belly-up all the time, but in this decade there were an inordinate number of bankruptcies. The creative destruction of the Internet had a part in this. While the Web opened up new worlds and created thousands of jobs at Amazon, Google and the like, it displaced workers at travel and government agencies, at newspapers and magazines and at stores like Circuit City and Tower Records — traditional distribution points for services, information and goods. Economists call that disintermediation.

But when we're talking about auto giants GM and Chrysler, both of which imploded after years of complicity and ineptitude by GM management and the United Auto Workers (UAW), it's more like disintegration. The UAW organized both GM and Chrysler in early 1937 — Henry Ford famously held out four more years. For decades, particularly under the leadership of Walter Reuther, who headed the union from 1946 until his death in 1970, it was able to win concessions from the automakers, bringing its members into the middle class. As long as demand for autos grew in the post–WW II halcyon days, relations between the unions and the automakers were basically quiescent.

And therein lies the problem. For years the UAW and the Big Three — now dwindled to the Detroit Three — operated an unholy alliance. Management would pile on wage hikes and perks, and in return (wink, wink) the union would keep the peace, i.e., rule out strikes, even though both sides must have realized that the amount being paid to workers was unsustainable, particularly if the industry hit any downdrafts — which happened with increasing frequency starting with the 1973 OPEC oil embargo.

Just as embarrassing was the colossal ineptitude of the big car companies: Ugly, low-quality cars with shameful gas mileage. Layers of redundant management that relied on amateurish financial controls. Insular thinking reinforced by decades of outsize market share. It was as if Detroit had drawn a road map for Toyota and Honda. And the Japanese drove right in, decimating the U.S. companies. In 1979, GM's U.S. employment peaked at 618,365. Today it's at 75,000 and falling fast. GM's U.S. market share, once about 50%, has fallen to about 20%. True, the quality and efficiency of American cars have improved dramatically, but it may be too late.

And what about the Hurricane Katrina debacle? An act of God, right? Not really. When the storm raced toward New Orleans in late August 2005, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration feared the worst. For years they had been warning the Army Corps of Engineers, which oversaw the city's 350 miles of levees, that its system was inadequate. The scientists wanted the Corps to revise the Standard Project Hurricane, a model that determines how extensive the levees should be. For instance, the Corps did not consider the tendency of soil to sink over time, and it excluded the possibility of a highly powerful storm hitting the city because that was unlikely, which violates sophisticated principles of statistics and just plain common sense. On Nov. 18, a federal judge ruled that the Corps was directly responsible for flooding in St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward. "The Corps' lassitude and failure to fulfill its duties resulted in a catastrophic loss of human life and property in unprecedented proportions," the judge said. The government is expected to appeal.

Besides the Army Corps, mismanagement by the local levee boards contributed to substandard levees. Katrina wasn't even as bad a storm as had been feared, but the levees weren't as good as had been hoped. Some fact-based decision-making could have saved hundreds of lives and billions of dollars. Here, too, years of complacency were the rule, not the exception. The price was paid this decade."

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Congressional Service

Senator Byrd spoke last month about his service in the US Congress - which has covered a longer period than anyone else in US history.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Unparliamentary Language

Earlier editions of Erskine May (the authoritative handbook of Parliamentary Procedure - new editions are published every few years and written by the Clerk of the House of Commons) used to include a list of word ruled to be "unparliamentary". Sadly the current issue doesn't have such a list. Last week there was the following exchange -

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): In the light of today's Daily Mirror report, and that of The Independent last week, about the buying of influence in the Caribbean and in Britain, can we have an early debate on that monster from the Caribbean deep, namely Lord Ashcroft, and his influence on politics- [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I say very gently to the right hon. Gentleman, who is an immensely experienced parliamentarian, that moderation in the use of language in the Chamber is always desirable. Whatever he thinks about the noble Lord, he should not call him a monster.

Mr. MacShane: If "monster" is now an unparliamentary term, Mr. Speaker, then we are limiting our vocabulary. May we have an early debate on this gentlemen, who forces right hon. Members on the Opposition Benches to dissemble on his tax status and uses gagging writs to intimidate newspapers. It is only in the House of Commons that this man's corroding and, I believe, corrupt influence on Caribbean and British politics can be debated and explored. [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Gentleman has put his views very firmly on the record, but I urge him not to use the word "corrupt"-I do not like it.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Nora David

The House of Lords was yesterday informed of the death of Baroness David - Nora Ratcliff David, who was one of the oldest peeresses. She was born on 23rd September 1913. In 1935 he graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge in English. She married her busband Richard William David in the same year. He died in 1993.

Nora David was created a life peer in 1978, after serving as a Councillor and magistrate in Cambridge. Her service in the House of Lords included

Government Whip 1978-79;
Opposition Whip 1979-82;
Opposition Spokesperson for Education 1979-85;
Opposition Deputy Chief Whip 1982-87;
Opposition Spokesperson for:the Environment 1985-87 and Education 1987-97

Private Members Bills for 2009/10 Session

The list of the 20 successful backbench MPs who have an opportunity to bring forward a private members bill was published last week. In view of the fact that this will be a short session, few are likely to get their bills completed. In a normal session 13 Fridays are set aside for consideration of Private Members Bills. A Factsheet on the success of 'PMBs' can be found here. We should know shortly what bills the lucky 20 propose to introduce. The 20 bills will be presented (1st Reading) on Wednesday 16 December 2009.

The 20 MPs selected (in order) are -

Dr Brian Iddon
Mr David Chaytor
Andrew Gwynne
Albert Owen
Julie Morgan
Mr Anthony Steen
Alistair Burt
John Smith
Chris Grayling
Mr Nigel Dodds
Dr Richard Taylor
Simon Hughes
Mr Nigel Waterson
Mr Douglas Carswell
Bob Spink
Mr Mark Hoban
David Cairns
Mr Richard Shepherd
Mr David Heath
Mr Mark Field