Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The one session in the Manchester APG conference that I didn't write about yesterday was Professor Richard Pious' keynote speech on Thursday evening. It needs a post of its own!

In an entertaining and informative tour de force lasting an hour - Professor Pious (Columbia University) looked at the influence of British politics on US politics and the reverse trade. He highlighted six main areas.

The first was the influence of Alexander Hamilton - and his emphasis on the prerogative powers that the President should enjoy. The work of Blackstone on the prerogative was heavily relied upon by Hamilton in his speeches at the Constitutional Convention. Pious pointed out that it was Hamilton's ambition to be the "Prime Minister" to Washington.

In the late 19th Century there were attempts made to graft many of the developing features of Westminster onto Congress. At this time the UK Parliament was seen by many influential Americans as more effective than the congressional system. Woodrow Wilson (as an academic, before he became President) was one of these men -and Professor Pious was able to list a number of Westminster practices which were proposed.

The third influence was the work of Lord Bryce, and his critique of the US Political class.

While many of the ideas which surfaced in the late 19th Century came to naught, the concept of "responsible government" resurface in the mid 20th Century. After WW2 APSA made an influential proposal for importing this concept. (more details here). Pious pointed out that there has been greater polarisation - particularly with the Goldwater campaign of 1964; Nixon & the Republican revolution in the 1990s - but thios has tended towards "irresonsible" rather than "responsible" government.

The fifth influence has been Beveridge's ideas on the welfare state that were imported into the US by American academics who studied in Britain. Daniel P Moynihan was cited as an example by Professor Pious.

The final influence was the much repected British academic Richard Rose (his CV is worth looking at if you are unfamiliar with him). Amongst the many things he has done, he has compared the Premiership in Britain and the American presidency.

After this study of history - Professor Pious then drew some key lessons about (1) the emphasis on prerogative powers; (2) the appearance of an informal parliamentary system when the Presidency wasn't working (he suggested Kissinger under Nixon and Weinberger under Reagan as 'Prime Ministers' who enjoyed congressional confidence) and (3) a continued lack of "the best" reaching the presidency.

There was so much there - and lot's to explore further. I hope that you will find sufficient in my review to take you further!

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