Saturday, 29 May 2010

Coming up in the Lords

Of particular interest -
  • Appointments to Committees - June 2;
  • Question on appointments of special advisers - June 7 Q3
  • Question on Barnett formula - June 7 Q4
  • Question on membership of Lords Reform committee - June 8 Q2
  • Question on electoral registration & avoidance of fraudulent registration - June 14 Q1
  • Question on Post Legislative scrutiny - June 14 Q4
  • Questions on review of parliamentary boundaries - June 15 Q2; June 24 Q3
  • Question on savings in the administration of Government - June 24 Q1

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath has requested a Question for Short Debate [QSD] on the government's approach to reform of the House of Lords. Lord Grocott has requested a QSD on the operation of proportional representation for elections to the European Parliament. Arrangements for QSD are made through the Whips Office.

For full information go to "House of Lords Business"

Friday, 28 May 2010

Constitutional (& related) Issues

Yesterday the House of Lords had a full day's debate on "Home, Legal and Constitutional Affairs and Local Government" matters arising from the Queen's Speech. I sat in the gallery (and apart from two short breaks for a drink) sat through the seven and a half hours of the debate - it was worth watching - many of the key arguments which will be discussed in the session were rehearsed. You can read the speeches in Hansard, which is available here.

In the Queen's Speech there were 23 bills announced. Of particular interest in the fields of Constitutional and Administrative matters & Human Rights are bills on

  • Parliamentary Reform
  • Defence of Parliamentary Privilege [Draft]
  • EU
  • Public Bodies Reform
  • Local Government
  • Decentralisation & Localism
  • Freedom
  • Identity Documents
  • Terrorist Asset Freezing Bill

To follow these bills (which may aquire slightly different titles) you can follow via the Parliamentary Website, which is accessible here.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

How Accurate?

Already the political analysts and activists have been poring over the detailed statistics about the UK Election. If you've been missing out, can I recommend the preliminary analysis by the House of Commons Library [yes, there's more to come!] available here.

One figure that will be frequently mentioned is turnout. The Turnout percentage is the number of votes cast {times 100} divided by the number of people eligible to vote on election day. That figure comes from the Electoral Register.

The trouble is that the electoral register is not entirely accurate. Some people have died since the register was prepared (sometimes when canvassing, I ask for a person on the register - only to be told that they died - occasionally the death occured years ago). Also not everyone is on the register.
That is important for electoral purposes. Inevitably during an election you find people who should be able to vote - but cannot, because they are not on the register. It is also important for other reasons. Members of juries are selected (at random) from the Electoral Register. Evidence suggests that certain groups are much less likely to be registered - which distorts the representativeness of juries.

In 2005 a Commons Select Committee published a detailed study into electoral registration. Chapter Three on "Encouraging Registration" begins with consideration of "the problem of non-registration". It is worth reading - whether your interest is in politics or the functioning of the legal system.

The report states "The most recent estimate we have is that in 1991, 93% of those eligible to vote in Britain were registered, but beneath this headline figure, there is a more worrying picture where “non-registration rates appear to vary by geographical area, by age, ethnicity and property ownership/tenure”. Of course, several factors will apply in some individual cases but in general those less likely to be registered are: men; those living in London; those living in urban areas and areas of economic deprivation; those aged 17 to 24; those in privately rented accommodation; and those from black and minority ethnic communities."

A report carried by the BBC in March 2010 said "The Electoral Commission said more than 3.5m people may not be registered. Its research suggested 56% of 17-25 year olds were not on the electoral roll."

The Commons committee report is available to read and download from here.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The State Opening - from the inside

Whilst awaiting the arrival of the Queen at the Palace of Westminster, I asked Baroness Thornton, a former Government Whip [In the House of Lords the government whips have the title "Baroness in Waiting" or "Lord in Waiting", they are members of Her Majesty's Household] - about her role in a previous State Opening of Parliament.

View of the State Opening

The Queen's Speech was delivered a little after 11.30, but the lead up began hours before. Many Peers were taking breakfast in the Lords cafeteria just after eight. By ten guests were being shown around the corridors surrounding the House of Lords - believe it or not, it is extremely unusual to see many women wearing tiaras around the building yet on this day there were many.

At 10.20 I saw the French Ambassador's car arrive. Other distinguished guests arrived - some in cars, others - a few in fine uniforms - arrived on foot.

I heard the first band at 10.33. The volume increased as it came nearer - finally drowning out the sound of the helicopters flying above. Over the next half hour or so I had the opportunity to watch the events from a balcony on the West front.

Once the procession had arrived I joined a few peers who were watching the events on a television. The Queen delivered her speech, which sets out the Government's legislative agenda for the session ahead. I returned to the balcony to see the procession return towards Buckingham Palace.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Ministerial Code

A must for all students of British Government or UK Constitutional Law - the Ministerial Code. Lots on the practical application of individual and collective ministerial responsibility - and an interesting sight of how 'government' works.

It is available here to download.

Framlingham Castle

On Saturday I spent a couple of hours exploring Framlingham Castle in Suffolk. Here is the story

Friday, 21 May 2010

A Short Break

A Speaker has been chosen; oaths have been taken; the Coalition Agreement has been published in its full form - now we await the State Opening of Parliament on Tuesday. For me this gives an opportunity for a short break - and the weather is terrific! So I shall be enjoying some walks; the odd glass of wine (or two), and a little light reading.

Washminster will return on Tuesday.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The Demonization of Obama

I found this on the Internet - there are lots of similar pages which can be found - some are by "birthers" (who deny that Obama was born an American citizen - and is thus ineligible to be President); others by people who see conspiracy everywhere -

"The United States now has a Communist president as of January 2009. I was saddened on November 5th, 2008 to see Obama's supporters proudly waving Communist flags after the election. Can you imagine? What happened to this once great society in which we live? The saddest part is that most of the American people actually want Communism, because they've only seen it's friendly side thus far. The dark side of Communism will soon come upon us in America. Sadly, the average American citizen won't wake up until it directly affects them adversely. Communism is not an ideology; but rather, a secret weapon of THE ILLUMINATI intended to enslaved the human race.

Some have questioned whether Obama is a Communist or not? I can tell you by definition of the word “Communism” that HE IS. One of the definitions of the noun Communism is “a socialist who advocates Communism.” Obama is an Anti-American, God-hating Communist wrapped in a smile. Obama was not elected; he was chosen and placed into office. I am not saying that Barack Obama is the Antichrist, but it is a Biblical teaching that high political positions will be given by Satan in the End Times... Revelation 13:2b, “and the dragon [Satan] gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority.” The Antichrist will have great authority. It is very interesting that President Obama is the FIRST U.S. President to ever be made chairman of the United Nations Security Council (a violation of the U.S. Constitution). CNN reported that Obama has been called "The President of the world.” Certainly, the overwhelming international public support of Barack Obama is arguably a form of worship.

Even now our economy is faltering, being bolstered up by deficit spending and a mass flood of illegal immigrants willing to work for peanuts. The only people saying we're not in a depression are the people who still have jobs and a home. Communism sounds great in theory; but in reality it always leads to an oppressive form of tyrant government and a failed economy. Communism is synonymous with atheism, anarchy and a brutal police state regime."

How come such things are believed? How have some of his opponents been so successful in demonising him?

Gary C Jacobson sought to answer these questions in a paper he presented to the conference at the University of Westminster last Friday. There is a fertile field because
  1. Americans were polarised about Obama from the beginning - by election day many McCain voters had become convinced that Obama was a dishonest, radical, moslem, non-American

  2. Anger and anxiety about the economy opened opportunities for all kinds of conspiracy theories to flourish

  3. Stimulus money didn't help those who had lost their homes and jobs - but those who didn't lose their jobs and home haven't seen how the money had protected them

  4. the Republican leadership made a strategic decision to back extremists, such as the Tea Party activists - the focus on opposition worked for them. The Minority Leader in the House of Representatives resorted to emotive language - Fox News reported that "The next 24 hours are "armageddon" because the health care bill proposed by Democrats will "ruin our country," House Minority Leader John Boehner said Saturday, a day before a crucial vote on the bill in the House."

Robust debate is one thing - but do these kind of allegations and untruths strengthen democracy?

Hitler analysed (and coined the phrase) the idea of "the big lie" - "the principle--which is quite true within itself--that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously."

There should be no place in a democracy for "the big lie"

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The 55th Parliament

The British tend to identify their Parliaments by the year in which they were elected - unlike the Americans who refer to each Congress by a number. The first Congress sat from 1789 to 1991. The current congress is the 111th. What we will know as the 2010 Parliament is the 55th Parliament of the United Kingdom - the first met in 1801, after the Union with Ireland (the previous 18 parliaments are referred to as Parliaments of Great Britain - from the Union of England and Scotland). The earlier Parliaments of England are oftened numbered today by the number of parliaments summoned by each monarch - so the 29th Parliament of Edward I sat from 27th November to 4th December 1295 (but is better known as the "Model Parliament" - regarded as the traditional start of the regular participation of the Commons in Parliament). "The Long Parliament" which sat from 1640 to 1660 - began as the 5th Parliament of Charles I.

Lists of all members of the 55th Partliament (MPs in the House of Commons: Peers in the House of Lords) and the members of the government can be found here .

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

New Parliament - from the beginning

This afternoon I watched the first acts in this new Parliament from the gallery of the House of Lords. The House was packed by the time that the Lord Speaker entered the chamber at 2.30pm precisely. Lord Strathclyde, the new Leader of the House rose and said -

My Lords, It not being convenient for Her Majesty to be personally present here this day, She has been pleased to cause a Commission under the Great Seal to be prepared in order to the holding of this Parliament.”

He then left the Chamber by the door on the spiritual side near the Throne, the Mace remaining on the Woolsack, followed by the other Commissioners (Baroness Hayman [Lord Speaker]; Baroness Royall [Leader of the Labour Peers]; Lord McNally [Leader of the LibDem Peers]; and Baroness D'Souza [Convenor of the crossbenchers] The Lords Commissioners re-entered in their red robes, and the Commons were summoned with the instruction to Black Rod (who had entered bowing as he came in) “Let the Commons know that the Lords Commissioners desire their immediate attendance in this House to hear the Commission read.” At 2.35 he marched off. The doors of the Lords were closed - and two doorkeepers kept a watch for the representatives of the Lower House.

The Commons arrived with Black Rod and the Father of the House (Sir Peter Tapsell) in the front. Behind them were William Hague; Nick Clegg; Prime Minister David Cameron; Harriet Harman; Jack Straw; and the new Lord Chancellor, Ken Clarke. As the Commons advanced towards the Bar of the House of Lords, they bowed three times, the first time at the step, thesecond time midway between the step and the Bar, the third time at the Bar. Each bow is acknowledged by the Lords Commissioners. The two Male Commissioners raised their hats; whilst the three women Commissioners bowed.

Lord Strathclyde then spoke - “My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, We are commanded by Her Majesty to let you know that, it not being convenient for Her to be present here this day in Her Royal Person, she has thought fit by Letters Patent under the Great Seal to empower several Lords therein named to do all things in HerMajesty’s Name which are to be done on Her Majesty’s Part in this Parliament, as by the Letters Patent will more fully appear.”

The Reading Clerk then read the Commssion. Whenever he mentioned a particular member of the Commission they either took off their hat & raised it (men) or bowed (women). Once this had been completed lord Strathclyde said -

My Lords and Members of the House of Commons, We have it in command from Her Majesty to let you know that, as soon as the Members of both Houses shall be sworn, the causes of Her Majesty calling this Parliament will be declared to you: and, it being necessary that a Speaker of the House of Commons should be first chosen, it is Her Majesty’s Pleasure that you, Members of the House of Commons, repair to the place where you are to sit, and there proceed to the choice of some proper person to be your Speaker, and that you present such person whom you shall so choose here for Her Majesty’s Royal Approbation.”

The Commons then left - and john bercow was re-elected as the Speaker. The Commissioners then left to disrobe. Members of the public, such as myself, were then told to leave the gallery, A few minutes later the House resumed and prayers were read. [In Britain the public are excluded from parayers - which are read by one of the bishops who sit in the Lords].

When prayers had finished we were readmitted. The new Chief Whip (Baroness Anelay of St Johns set out the procedures for Members to take the Oath of Allegiance to the monarch. The Lord Speaker went first, followed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Some took the oath in the form -

I (name and title) do swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God.”

Others affirmed -

I (name and title) do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, Her heirs and successors, according to law.”

A piece of card had the oath on one side and the affirmation on the other - it was turned the appropriate way for the preference of the peer who took it. The Code of conduct was signed; then the Test Roll. As members walked to the end of the chamber they shook hands with the Lord Speaker (while Lord Barnett kissed her hand). The oath taking continued for some time.

I left for a meeting - but the new Parliament is now up and running. Next week the Queen will make her way to Westminster to open the new Parliament.

Obama's Decision Making Process

At the conference I attended last Friday on the Early Obama Presidency , Stephen J Wayne of Georgetown University summarised the deliberative process that the President tends to take.

  1. Assemble experts on the issue
  2. Listen carefully
  3. Encourage debate - Obama tends to force all people at a meeting to speak and share their views.
  4. Ask detailed questions - The President (as befits a lawyer) cross-examines participants
  5. Move discussion towards a resolution
  6. Act - only when a consensus has been reached

Observations on this would be appreciated - whether you have information about how the Obama White House works - or on the advisability of such an approach. I would be particularly interested in evidence or observations on Obama's negotiating style.

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Power To Persuade

Did President Obama over estimate the power of persuasion? George C Edwards II, Professor of Political Science at Texas A & M University argued that Obama thought he would succeed in achieving his agenda by persuasion. Republican opponents and the public could be won over by presenting the arguments for his policies and decisions. Edwards sought to explain that this was an error.

Edwards has argued in the past that the traditional power of Presidents deriving their main source of power from the "bully pulpit" (unlike British Prime Ministers they have no powers to control the legislature) is mistaken. Instead successful Presidents recognise opportunities and employ the appropriate strategies to realise them. Obama's persuasion strategy was doomed to failure because
  • A growing proportion of the American public was identifying itself as "conservative". There has been a trend of falling support for larger government - and greater polarization against the Democrats in a band of States across the continent - from Mississippi & Louisiana; and west Virginia - to Idaho. These people were not going to be persuaded. They had strengthened their views and cut themselves off from other opinions. Apparently 63% of republicans say that Fox News is their SOLE source of news.

  • The first actions of the Obama presidency were to save the economy. This involved using "public money" and so offended and provoked the people Obama wanted to persuade. This had the knock on effect of narrowing the liklihood that they would support later actions in other areas.

  • Polarization increased in Congress. All out opposition to Democratic initiatives was a strategic decision made by the Republican leadership. The "Old Confederacy" increased its significance within the Republican caucuses (as Democrats made gains outside the South). Communications networks enabled conservative activists & supporters to pressure their Representatives and senators more effectively. Appeals to bipartisanship were doomed to failure.

When Obama won - it was not by persuading those who had voted against him - but by mobilising those already pre-disposed to support him.

If Edward's is correct - that has important implications for the future conduct of politics within the USA. I fear that his conclusions are correct - but the USA would be a stronger place if openness to argument and bipartisanship played a greater role.

Earlier books by George C Edwards III include -

The Strategic President: Persuasion and Opportunity in Presidential Leadership (2009).
The Oxford Handbook of the American Presidency (2009), co-editor.
The Polarized Presidency of George W. Bush (2007), co-editor.
Governing by Campaigning: The Politics of the Bush Presidency (2006; 2nd Ed 2007).
Presidential Politics (2005), editor.
Why the Electoral College Is Bad for America (2004).
New Challenges for the American Presidency (2004), co-editor.
On Deaf Ears: The Limits of the Bully Pulpit (2003).
Presidential Approval (1990).
At the Margins: Presidential Leadership of Congress (1989).
The Public Presidency (1983).
Presidential Influence in Congress (1980).

Presidential Leadership: Politics and Policy Making, co-author. Textbook - now in 8th Edition(2009)

Sunday, 16 May 2010

The Early Obama Presidency

On Friday I had a short break from British Government & Politics - through attending a conference at the University of Westminster entitled "The Early Obama Presidency". It was sponsored by The Eccles Centre and the Cultural Office of the US Embassy in London.

While the last few days have been tiring ones (and I had to get up and drive from Huntingdon in order to be at the BBC studio in Northampton to do an interview on the length of fixed term parliaments by 7.00 before travelling down to London), I kept fully awake for this very interesting conference.

The keynote address was given by George C Edwards of Texas A & M University. He spoke about the strategic assessments made in the first months. I hope to do a post on his comments later this week. Other papers given were

Stephen J Wayne - Presidential Character and Judgement. Obama's Afghanistan and Health Care Decisions.

James P Pfiffner - Organizing the Obama Presidency

Gary C Jacobson - Obama's Evolving Public Support

John E Owens - Obama and the Democratic Congress

Richard M Pious - Prerogative Power in the Obama Administration

James A Thurber - Changing the Way Washington Works? Obama, Congress and Lobbyists.

Much food for thought - and I hope to make further posts on the matters raised - and develop my own thoughts further.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The Oath

MPs must take the following oath (they may affirm).

"I (...name...) swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God." - certain variations are allowed (see here for more details).

This oath of allegiance does of course present problems to those who believe that Britain should be a republic, or who do not acknowledge allegiance to the United Kingdom. For this reason Sinn Fein MPs do not take their seats. A member who fails to take the oath cannot take their seat & participate in the work of the House of Commons.

Various devices have been used by MPs who believe in a Republic, but do not wish to disenfranchise their constitutents (and themselves), to "overcome" the words they object to. Some have whispered additional words, but this is frowned upon - and may be illegal. Others cross their fingers while taking the oath. This device became less effective when cameras were allowed in. The photograph with todays post shows Tony Banks using this device - and in 1997 it hit the front pages (he was a Minister).

A facinating House of Commons Research Paper on the history and rules relating to the oath can be read here. I hope to publish a post on Charles Bradlaugh, who was the MP for Northampton, in the near future.

Friday, 14 May 2010

First Days of the New Parliament

The membership of the new Parliament was elected a week and a few hours ago. Many made their way quickly to Westminster. Returning MPs came back to their offices and staff, while new Members were allocated temporary laptops and tables to work from. Orientation programmes were already in place. Meetings of the parliamentary parties have already been held.

Next Tuesday is the official start of the 2010 Parliament. (The 55th Parliament of the United Kingdom). It is from Tuesday that the five year period runs - so if Parliament has not been dissolved by 18th May 2015, it will be automatically dissolved as a result of the Septennial Act 1715. [Five Years was substituted for the original seven years by the Parliament Act of 1911]. Of course this will be a moot point within a few days as the coalition intends to introduce a binding resolution to name the 7th May 2015 as the next General Election date - and probably amend or replace the Septennial Act for future parliaments.

The first business on Tuesday will be to elect a Speaker. Both Houses will have assembled - and the Lords Commissioners will send Black Rod to summon the Commons. When they have congregated at the Bar of the House of Lords they will be told "We have it in command from Her Majesty to let you know that, as soon as the Members of both Houses shall be sworn, the causes of Her Majesty calling this Parliament will be declared to you: and, it being necessary that a Speaker of the House of Commons should be first chosen, it is Her Majesty's Pleasure that you, Members of the House of Commons, repair to the place where you are to sit, and there proceed to the choice of some proper person to be your Speaker, and that you present such person whom you shall so choose here tomorrow for Her Majesty's Royal Approbation."

The process for choosing the Speaker is as follows:

When Parliament meets, the Father of the House - the backbench MP with the longest continuous service - presides over Commons proceedings. As the Speaker in the previous Parliament, John Bercow, has been returned at the general election, if he is willing to be chosen as Speaker, he will make a short speech to the House.

Another MP is called to move a motion that the former Speaker take the chair as Speaker-elect. The Father of the House then puts that question to the House. The motion is not debated. If anyone objects a division, or vote, is held.

If MPs agree, the Speaker-elect takes the chair.There would be speeches of congratulation from the party leaders, and the House would then adjourn. The next afternoon the House would go to the Lords for the Royal Approbation of the Speaker, and return for the start of swearing-in.

If Members do not re-elect the former Speaker, the House is adjourned until 2.30pm the following day when it will elect a new Speaker by secret ballot. The procedure would be the same as that used in 2009 - which is that
  • MPs are given a list of candidates and place an x next to the candidate of their choice
    if a candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the votes, the question is put to the House that he or she takes the chair as Speaker

  • if no candidate does so, the candidate with the fewest votes, and those with less than five per cent of the vote, are eliminated in addition, any candidate may withdraw within 10 minutes of the announcement of the result of a ballot

  • MPs then vote again on the reduced slate of candidates and continue doing so until one candidate receives more than half the votes
Further details can be found here.

Oath taking by all MPs will follow. Similarly Members of the House of Lords take the oath.
(full details of the proceedings in the Lords can be found here)

Thursday, 13 May 2010

How Long?

I might not endear myself to political activists (of whom I'm one - and whose feet still are a little tender after the recent campaign) - or indeed voters who have been bombarded with leaflets and blanket coverage on the TV & radio (to say nothing of emails; facebook & twitter messages...) - with my concerns, but is Five Years too long a period between elections?

I am not opposed to fixed term Parliaments - in fact I strongly support the idea. Yesterday's Coalition Agreement document states "The parties agree to the establishment of five year fixed-term parliaments. A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government will put a binding motion before the House of Commons in the first days following this agreement stating that the next general election will be held on the first Thursday of May 2015". An earlier dissolution is possible if more than 55% or more of the House of Commons votes in favour.

The current position is that Parliaments can last up to five years from the date of first meeting. Unless Parliament passes an Act to temporarily extend the term (as it did a number of times during the two world wars), Five years (and about a month) is the MAXIMUM length of a Parliament.

The coalition agreement would make a five year term the norm, which is considerably longer than the average length in the last hundred years. Would this be too long?

The Chartists argued for annual elections. They were concerned about accountability. In the Seventeenth Century for a short period after the Glorious Revolution - Parliaments were limited to three years. Many countries have Four Year terms (and that is the period of office for local government in the UK). In the USA Members of the House of Representatives have to seek office every two years.

I worry that five years is too long a term. Annual elections - or even a general election every other year are probably not good ideas. Four years seems to me to be about right - not too frequent, but allowing the public to hold their representatives to account without inordinate delay.

On a related matter, an elected House of Lords, the agreement says "It is likely that this bill will advocate single LONG terms of office." Again I have my concerns - the need for re-election is a powerful source of accountability to electors. People who don't have to face re-election for a very long time can afford to lose touch with those who put them there. No chance of re-election might weaken accountability even further.

What do you think? Let's open the discussion - whatever your view, or your experience (what's the view from people who live in the USA; or other European countries; or elsewhere?) - air it here.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Coalition Agreement

The agreement between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats can be read in full here

Of particlar constitutional significance are -

6 - Political Reform
- fixed term parliament of 5 yrs (next General Election 7th May 2015) - unless 55% or more of MPs vote for an earlier dissolution
- referendum on Alternative Vote (which in all likelihood will fail, as most of the Tories want to keep 'First Past the Post'; and the Lib-Dems want a proportional system - so the final result will be no change)
- power of recall of MPs found to have engaged in serious wrongdoing (defining that is going to be fun!) where a petition calling for a by-election is signed by 10% of the offender's constituents

10 - Civil Liberties
- scrapping of ID cards
- a "Freedom Bill" (may be called "Great Repeal Bill")
- defence of trial by jury
- other 'civil liberties' measures

- apparent weakening of the doctrine of "collective responsibility" to allow Lib Dem MPs to abstain (on certain budget resolutions; on funding of Higher Education) and make the case for alternative policies (Trident) and to campaign on different sides in the AV Referendum. (Question is do these rights apply to Lib-Dem Ministers)

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Battles past

An exciting few days for watchers of the British scene - and the promise of an interesting period ahead. Watch this space!!!

On Saturday I visited Middleton Hall in Central Milton Keynes - they often have exhibitions there. In the middle of a "wargaming" exhibition - there was a table which set out the developments and plans for the Naseby Battlefield in Northamptonhire.

Naseby was a (some say 'the') key battle in the English Civil War. It was a crushing defeat for Charles I - see http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_naseby.html for more on the significance of the Battle.

I used to live in Northamptonshire - and was distressed that the site of such a key historic battle was not properly promoted. There was a private exhibition in the village - but little on the battlefield itself. What a contrast with the treatment of American Civil War sites. I'm happy to report that thanks to the determined efforts of some volunteers (with help from sympathetic County Council staff) this wrong is being addressed. The "Naseby Battlefield Project" has already achieved much - and now is working to have a visitors centre established. You can find out more here.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

What Day is it?

The last few days seem to have merged with each other. My first post on election day was written before I set out to deliver the last few leaflets. Later posts came from the committee rooms on "Coffee Hall", an estate in Milton Keynes, where I was based for the 15 hours that the polling stations were open.

I went straight from there to the count at Milton Keynes Stadium. It was a long night - and I only got to leave at 8am (Friday). I was back for 9am to be ready for the start of counting in the local elections.

It's a pity that the cameras can't record what happens as the count is proceeding. Staff (many of whom will have been working at polling stations from before 7am) first open the ballot boxes and sort the ballot papers into bundles of 25. This is known as verification. Ballot Papers which have been put in the wrong boxes have to be taken out. (There were two ballot boxes at each polling station - one for the parliamentary and one for the council - but some people didn't separate the papers as requested). Postal votes also had to be added in. Then the number of ballot papers needed to be reconciled with the number of ballot papers given out. On the other sides of the tables representatives of the candidates sat. At this stage most were noting the way people had voted. For each box opened it was possible to "sample" the votes - I was noting how the votes were cast by threes - so if I noted 2 Conservative & 1 Labour - I noted that on a printed sheet. the next sample might show 1 Lib-Dem 2 Labour - and so on. By the time the box had been emptied, I had a fair sample showing how the votes were distributed. So we knew fairly early on what the likely result would be.

Only when the verification had been completed could the counting begin. The unsorted bundles of 25 were now sorted into piles for each candidate. The party observers were watching to see that no votes accidently ended up in the wrong piles - and that when these were counted there were 25 in each new bundle.

Finally the votes were added up - and finally a result was announced.

During the night, the political staff would pop out for a break and to watch the national results coming in. It can be an emotional time - as one learns of the loss of personal friends.

Now the focus has moved to the national scene. I arrived home a little after 2pm on Friday. I had a nap of about 20 minutes - but spent the rest of the time watching the news channels (and prepping for a live-to-air interview I was due to do after 5pm. I finally went to bed about 9.30pm. On Saturday I bought a huge bundle of newspapers - and spent some time watching the TV - but joined my daughter for a relaxing morning in central Milton Keynes (and a couple of coffees at Starbucks as we read and discussed the results). I had another snooze in the afternoon - then lots of chats with friends over the telephone.

Today I am relaxing. In a few minutes I will head off for the Stables at Wavendon, for Jazz Matters. Then Milton Keynes City Pathfinders will be playing American Football in Bletchley. Tomorrow it's back to work - and I hope that the regular pattern of Washminster posts will resume - but who knows what the next few days will bring?

I often put up news stories on Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

What conventions apply?

The Cabinet Office has a paper on conventions which may be relevant in the event of a hung parliament. It is available at -


Election - the last hour

Polls close at 10pm. Already we have reports of long queues at certain polling stations - which is very unusual in the UK. Darkness has now fallen - so campaigners are now returning to committee rooms. Those who will be "counting agents" (representatives of the parties, who are monitoring the counting) are preparing to make their way to the conference centre at Milton Keynes Stadium.

Political Humour

There have been some very amusing pieces satirising the election - much of it very partisan. Facebook has many collections of rewritten posters. A friend pointed out this video. Very funny, terribly partisan - and I'm afraid some of the language is "inappropriate" - but I hope you enjoy

Committee Rooms

This video shows Cllr Steve Coventry, who is running the Labour Party's committee rooms in Coffee Hall, Milton Keynes [Milton Keynes South], explaining what happens during the day.

Election Day

The dawn is breaking on election morning. Polling Stations throughout the country open at 7am (in 100 minutes) and close at 10pm. Already political activists are up and ready for "the longest day". Many including myself, will go straight from Get Out the Vote activities to "the Count" - with the results being declared in the middle of the night.

I will spend the day in Milton Keynes - where there are two key battleground seats. There has been intense activity for some time. Next door, in Buckingham, John Bercow, "the Speaker seeking re-election" is, contrary to traditional practice, fighting for his seat. UKIP have broken the convention that the Speaker does not face a concerted campaign to unseat him. Most of the buses in Milton Keynes carry (paid for) adverts on their rears for the UK Independence Party.

The results will be counted for the two Milton Keynes seats, in the new Milton Keynes Stadium - which if England win their bid for the 2018 World Cup - will be one of the stadiums used (I hasten to add that we will be counting in a conference room - not in the middle of the pitch! It has been rather windy of late - and the ballot papers - though long by historic standards - are small and flimsy. All candidates and their counting agents spend election evening in the same place - and will be there when the result is announced - unlike the American practice of candidates waiting at separate locations.

Well - I have to get ready, and go out to deliver the last few "eve of poll" leaflets - before turning up at the "committee rooms" where I will be based until polls close. I expect to spend the day encouraging our supporters to come out to vote - by telephone and later on the doorstep. Last night the lists of "promises" (voters who indicated that they would vote for us) were delivered to each of the committee rooms set up in homes around the constituency.

So here goes.....

Results will be published on the BBC website, available here.