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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

I'd rather be in....

....well the famous quote by W C Fields was "Philadelphia" - but of course today, with an important Primary taking place there, "Florida" would be the chosen place. [Having said that I love Philadelphia - it has so much history - I could (and have) spent hours exploring the sites associated with the American Revolution and the formation of the republic: I'd also rather be in Washington DC; and after starting my day with a cup of Pike Place Roast coffee - I wouldn't say no to a visit to the Seattle home of Starbucks.]

But, my attention will be on Florida today. Sadly at a distance of 4,338 miles (Great Circle distance) I will have to rely on the computer - useful internet addresses for today are

Miami Herald - http://www.miamiherald.com/
Bay News TV - http://www.baynews9.com/
CNN - http://us.cnn.com/POLITICS/
MSNBC - http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/3032553/ns/politics/
Fox News - http://www.foxnews.com/politics/index.html

Monday, 30 January 2012

But politics is boring.......

I often hear this comment - not only on the doorsteps when out canvassing; but from students. Of course I disagree (it would have been difficult to be me - and to have done the things I've done, if I hadn't discovered a fascination for politics!!). Yes it can be tedious, and sometimes depressing - Yes, it can be a challenge to keep up with developments or understand all the issues that arise - but it is no accident that politics has proved such a rich source for novelists & playwrights.

It can provide first class entertainment - but more seriously, as citizens, it is about how we shape the world around us. In a democracy - we have both the privilege and DUTY of choosing our own leaders.

Lord Acton wrote (and I make no apology for repeating what I have quoted in numerous blogs; lectures; tutorials and speeches) - "Power tends to corrupt, Absolute Power corrupts absolutely".

The role of legislatures in particular, is to hold those who exercise power, to account. MPs can question Ministers about their policies and actions in the daily question time. [PMQs - Prime Minister's questions are just one half hour on a Wednesday, the first hour of business in the Commons on Mondays through Thursdays is set aside for oral questions. The House of Lords has a 30 minute Question Time]. Select Committees can conduct detailed inquiries. The Public Accounts Committee is charged with examining "the accounts showing the appropriation of the sums granted to Parliament to meet the public expenditure, and of such other accounts laid before Parliament as the Committee may think fit"  - their website is accessible here.
The US Congress is given extensive powers.

Many decry the amount of argument in Parliament or Congress - but this is central to their purpose. Many different opinions are held within a nation. Parliament and Congress are the forum for the differing ideas and solutions to problems to be discussed. While Athens was small enough to allow direct democracy (and the telecommunications revolution opens up new opportunities today and in the future), Representative Democracy will have to do. [ Churchill - "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time"].

Do you know how to get your voice heard?, or how to make your representative work for you? - a challenge for 2012 is to empower more people to use the democratic powers they should enjoy.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Congressional Jokes

There are some wonderful jokes about Congress - many told by Senators and Congressmen themselves. One Senator known for his encyclopedic knowledge of such jokes is Bob Dole, Presidential Candidate for the Republican Party in 1996 - who served in the Senate from 1969-96 was was Majority and Minority Leader.

He has collected many of those jokes in his book "Great Political Wit" (Subtitle: 'Laughing (Almost) All the Way to the White House")



Some of my favourites -

Eugene McCarthy "Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game....and dumb enough to think it's important"

Adlai Stevenson "An independent is someone who wants to take the politics out of politics"

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Joe Martin

The answer to yesterday's trivia question was "Joseph William Martin Jr" - the ONLY Republican to be Speaker of the House of Representatives between 1931 and 1995. His two terms as Speaker were both preceded and succeeded by the legendary Sam Rayburn.

Originally from Massachusetts - he played semi-professional baseball and rosé from being a newspaper delivery boy to an Editor and Publisher. He served in the Massachusetts House and Senate before becoming US Congressman for the 15th (later, after redistricting the 14th then 10th) District of Massachusetts. Born in 1884, he served in Congress for 42 years. He led the Republicans in the House of Representatives (as Speaker/Minority Leader) from 1939 to 1959.

His congressional biography can be found here. One day late - so I should call it "Yesterday in History" -

Jan. 27, 1939



The first U.S. government officials to appear on a live television broadcast were four Members of the U.S. House of Representatives: Speaker William Bankhead of Alabama, Majority Leader Sam Rayburn of Texas, Minority Leader Joe Martin of Massachusetts, and Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts. The group was interviewed in front of the Department of Agriculture along the National Mall. Images and sound were transmitted one-half mile away to the National Press Club where members of the press and Washingtonians gathered on the top floor in front of several television receiving sets.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Why Newt is scary...

It's been an interesting few days in US politics (and apologies for Washminster's absence - a mixture of a trip to Norfolk; parties in Northampton; family visits to my home - and filing returns to the taxman!). With the Florida primary a few days away - some who want a Republican victory in November's presidential election have been panicked by the thought that Newt Gingrich might be gathering enough momentum to seize the nomination. So what are they worried about?

Newt is a former Speaker of the House of Representatives. Significantly he was the FIRST Republican Speaker for 40 years (Trivia Question - who was the previous Republican Speaker? - I will publish the answer just after 5am GMT tomorrow morning). That amazing victory owed much to the work of Newt. He changed the mindset - and the tactics of House Republicans. So why are many Republicans so ungrateful?

David Frum wrote this week "It's striking that almost none of Gingrich's former colleagues in the House has endorsed him for president. Striking that nobody associated with a past Republican presidential association has done so. He is a candidate of talk-show hosts and local activists -- and of course of Rick Perry and Sarah Palin -- but not of those who know him best and have worked with him most closely. Gingrich may raise more money after his South Carolina win. But prediction: Romney will raise even more, among the great national network of Republicans who recognize that to nominate Gingrich is to commit party suicide."
I have to admit that I think Newt is brilliant - he has an understanding (partly academic - but also an amazing instinctive feel) for what works in MASS seduction. He has learned & deploys all the tricks and techniques to motivate and mobilise people for his agenda. A word of warning - admiring someone for their brillance is NOT the same as endorsing that person or finding his actions at all acceptable. I am also in awe of Hitler for a similarly high level of brillance in the same area. I wholly reject his philosophy and his actions. [by the way today is Holocaust Memorial Day]

Anyone interested in political communication should study Newt - and citizens need to protect themselves by studying the techniques he uses. He puts a lot of emphasis on the use of language - his memo to Republican candidates (the 1996 GOPAC) on Language as a key mechanism of control is very important.
It can be read here. His use of C-SPAN (unwitting collaborators) to frame viewers impressions of Congress and his opponents was masterful. As Newt himself is reported to have said "My ability to organize and orchestrate things would be vastly greater than a normal politician."-- (CBN News). Gingrich understands (and many politicians don't) that you can't persuade everyone to love you. Gingrich will never win the support of committed lerals and progressives. He has his "targets" and seeks to mobilise them.
Jon Meacham wrote this week in an article 'Why Newt is Like Nixon' "The analogous elements are obvious. Like Nixon, Gingrich is smart, with a wide-ranging and entrepreneurial mind. Like Nixon, Gingrich is a striver who seems insecure around traditional establishment figures even though he has achieved much more than nearly all of the politicians, editors and reporters he seems to at once loathe and fear. Like Nixon, Gingrich is fluent in the vernacular of cultural populism, brilliantly casting contemporary American life in terms of an overarching conflict between 'real' people and distant 'elites' bent on the destruction of all that is good and noble about the United States."

As Frum highlighted, the fear amongst some Republicans is that he could win the nomination - and while he has a strong following - he also will provoke an angry reaction. Like Goldwater (1964) and McGovern (1972) the party may suffer a humiliating loss in the Presidential election. Worse still for the Republicans, his candidacy could sink GOP congressional candidates - Bob Dole (Republican Presidential Candidate in 1996) issued a statement this week saying - "I have not been critical of Newt Gingrich but it is now time to take a stand before it is too late. If Gingrich is the nominee it will have an adverse impact on Republican candidates running for county, state, and federal offices. Hardly anyone who served with Newt in Congress has endorsed him and that fact speaks for itself. He was a one-man-band who rarely took advice. It was his way or the highway." He added: "In my run for the presidency in 1996 the Democrats greeted me with a number of negative TV ads and in every one of them Newt was in the ad. He was very unpopular and I am not only certain that this did not help me, but that it also cost House seats that year. Newt would show up at the campaign headquarters with an empty bucket in his hand -- that was a symbol of some sort for him -- and I never did know what he was doing or why he was doing it, and I'm not certain he knew either."

So should supporters of Obama be backing Gingrich in Florida? A few months ago no one thought he could ever be the most popular candidate amongst Republican voters (A Gallup tracking poll this week shows Gingrich six points ahead on the rest of the Republican field!) - is Newt clever enough to win a national race? (remember his achievement in the 1994 congressional elections).

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Contenders

I've mentioned in a number of recent posts how interesting and informative I have found the C-SPAN series "The Contenders" to be. Having finished listening to (I've received them as podcasts - but the full television programme can be viewed on the internet) the programme on Barry Goldwater - I have gone on to listen to the ones on Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern. As a result I've added the 1968 and 1972 "Making of a President" to my short term reading list.





(Both are also available as Kindle ebooks)

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Trouble

During supplementaries on a recent oral question about Grammar Schools, one intervention came from a former Lords Whip

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Does the Minister accept that there are those who attended selective schools who did not find them helpful? I ask him to remember that when, at the age of 13, I was asked by my careers teacher in a girls' grammar school about my ultimate aim in life and I said, "To become a Labour politician", I was asked whether I was being deliberately insubordinate.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Around Westminster

A little late today - my apologies. I've spent the morning doing a tour of the Palace of Westminster. There is so much history here - and much of it "accidental". By this, I mean that many of the revered practices at Westminster have arisen through an accident of history.

Members of the Commons go through the division lobby, bowing before their vote is counted. The reason is not some obscure courtesy to a person; office holder or place, but because when Cavaliers in the 17th Century approached the door of the lobby, they had to duck to avoid their huge hats being knocked off. Similarly MP's bow to the Speaker's Chair. The reason can be found below - the Chair replaced an earlier piece of "furniture".

Even the shape of the Commons Chamber and its layout results from an accident of history. MPs were thrown out of the Chapter House in Westminster Abbey - because they were too rowdy!!!. They hired rooms, but these were some distance from the Palace of Westminster - and petitioned the King for a permanent meeting room. They wanted the then redundant St Stephen's chapel. It was in the very centre of the Palace - and it was "available". The Speaker's Chair was placed on the site of the Altar - and MPs sat in the choir stalls - which faced each other - perhaps the two party system would have developed without it - but some are convinced that the layout influenced our style of government.

Monday, 16 January 2012

American Elections

I am increasingly using e-books rather than physical hard- or even paperbacks. They are easier to carry around (Usually the have an advantage in both volume and weight), and space is running out in my library. An excellent book that I am using at the moment is "Presidential Elections: Strategies and Structures of American Politics". This is now in its 13th Edition. It's original authors - Nelson Polsby and Aaron Wildavsky have passed away - but the quality and detail we had come to expect from them has been maintained. The Structure of the book is

Part One - The Strategic Environment
C1 - Voters
C2 - Groups
C3 - Rules and resources

Part Two - Sequences
C4 - The nomination process
C5 - The campaign

Part Three - Issues
C6 - Appraisals
C7 - American Parties and Democracy




If you need the physical version - further down the page is a link to the hard and paperback versions.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Fabian New Year Conference

Today in London, the Fabian Society is holiday its annual "New Year Conference". It is being held at the Institute of Education, fairly close to Euston Station. The keynote speech is being given by Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor. The title of the conference is "The Economic Alternative" - and the full programme is available here.

The Fabian Society has been influential in the Labour Party throughout the party's history. The "Fabians" played a key part as one of the organisations which set up the Labour Party. Originally formed in 1884, it was a "think tank" long before the term became fashionable. It takes its name from the Roman General Fabius Maximus, whose strategy was to avoid the immediate headlong attack - but to adopt a longer term "gradualist" approach - which delivered ultimate victory more effectively. That describes the political strategy of the Fabians. They oppose violent revolution - but the establishment of social democracy through persuasion. I once owned their tie which was a succession of the phrase "the inevitability of socialism".

The photograph is of George Bernard Shaw, the playwright, one amongst many influential Britons who have been involved in the Society. A book he wrote on the early history of the Society is available here.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Private Eye


I once walked into an MP's Westminster office carrying a copy of "Private Eye" - with short, sharp "Anglo-Saxon" words he inquired why I was even touching that magazine (It would not be approriate on Washminster to quote directly - but it was fairly clear that he did not approve of my choice of reading material). Perhaps his strongest objection came from the column "HP Sauce" which highlights alleged misbehaviour (or sometimes a little hypocrisy) on the part of members of the Westminster Parliament. One of the functions of "Private Eye" is to highlight misbehaviour ('investigative journalism') - the regular columns include

Street of Shame - about the British newspaper industry (it used to be known as, as some still refer to it as "Fleet Street", but almost all the newspapers have moved elsewhere)

Rotten Boroughs - about local government

Signal Failures - about the railways

Other areas of British life are covered elsewhere in the magazine. But is also a satirical and cartoon magazine (the UK equivalent of "The Onion" - though probably a bit more 'grown up').

My daughter and son in law have given me annual subscriptions as Christmas presents for the last few years. A very good present, which keeps on giving! An online version is available at http://www.private-eye.co.uk/. I recommend taking a look (but be discreet, not in front of anyone who may be offended!)

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Barry Goldwater

Recently C-SPAN ran a series about presidential contenders, who had run for the presidency, and despite failing (sometimes repeatedly), had still made a permanent impact upon American politics and history.

The 1964 campaign was a particularly significant election. Lyndon Johnson won with a landslide victory - but its long term significance resulted from the candidacy of Barry Goldwater. He was definitely NOT the establishment candidate for the Republicans. Nelson Rockefeller, the Governor of New York and a moderate "enjoyed" that status, at least initially. However his family life led many "social Conservatives" to shy away from him. Other potential candidates mainstream candidates failed to inherit the establishment mantle. The Republican Party had become bitterly divided - and Goldwater fired up more hard line Conservatives. He won the nomination, but was vulnerable to charges of extreism - which LBJ exploited. The result, as stated above was a landslide.

The conservatives learned much from that defeat - and began a slow, but very effective comeback. While Nixon (and his un-elected Vice President, Gerald Ford, who succeeded him in 1974), were moderates (certainly by today's standards, though Nixon was certainly not portrayed as such at the time - the conservatives who had organised effectively had succeeded in achieving a revolution - which culminated in the succesful election of Ronald Reagan. His speech in 1964 supporting Goldwater and his conservative agenda can be viewed below.



The C-SPAN programme can be accessed at

http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Contender

Below are a series of books relevant to Goldwater; the 1964 Election and the "conservative revolution"









Right Star Rising (esp p21 - 33)

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Healthy Learning

One of the privileges of living in Milton Keynes is that talking a walk is so easy. I live in Furzton, just a couple of minutes walk away from Furzton Lake - which is 1.8 miles to walk around, and has wide enough pathways to allow walkers, joggers and cyclists to peaceably co-exist. Similarly the network of  "Redways" and linear parks allows pleasant and motor-traffic free walks - either to a specific place (I often walk the 2 miles from my home to Milton Keynes Central Rail Station - purely through parkland) or on a 'circular' route.

As well as being pleasant - and physically healthy - these walks offer an opportunity to learn more. I subscribe to a number of podcasts. The walk in the morning to the station gives sufficient time to listen to the overnight version of "Today in Parliament", and some of the previous evening's "Washington Today". During my walks around the lake I either listen to an audio book (from Audible - recent purchases have included "Master of the Senate"; Dallek on the American Presidency; Schrecker on McCarthyism "The Modern Scholar: American Inquisition) or one of the many C-SPAN podcasts .

Walks are also fantastic opportunities to think things through. Many ideas for Washminster posts arise and are developed on one of these walks. Minor episodes of "writers block" can also be ended that way.

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!





Monday, 9 January 2012

Richard Nixon

Today would be the 99th Birthday of President Richard Nixon - one of the most controversial, and interesting, Presidents. Follow this link to C-SPAN for resources on his life.

Thought Provoking

I've returned from an excellent conference held in Manchester by the American Politics Group. If you are a teacher of American politics or a postgrad researching the area (and it is not confined to just one approach - members represent those who rely heavily on statistical analysis [whilst I do some, I wouldn't count myself among their number]; those whose emphasis is on historical studies; Congressional and Presidential scholars; and lawyers doing comparative studies) - it is worth joining. Details are available on the APG website.

It was a real feast (and I'm not only referring to the dinner in the Midland Hotel on Thursday night and the informal meal at a Chinese restaurant on Friday).

The first panel looked at Health Care. Alex Waddan (Leicester University) presented a paper on "Health Care and the Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act". It considered the background to the passage of the Act and its significance. Carmina Serrano of Complutense University of Madrid then gave a very interesting paper on the use of anti-trust law in reforming healthcare in the United States. It highlighted the exemptions which had allowed a number of anti-competitive practices to thrive within the pharmaceutical industry in the US..

Our second session was on the Tea Party. Michael Bailey of Georgetown University presented a paper giving a very detailed statistical analysis of the impact of four different activities associated with the Tea Party. He looked at the impact of Tea Party activists; the level of Tea Party support within districts; Group endorsement activity and the activities of people within the political elite (Congress and Party leaderships) who identified themselves as "Tea Partiers". The impact of the four upon electoral outcomes and rollcall votes was considered. Clodagh Harrington of De Montfort University gave a very interesting paper on the Tea Party movement(s) - looking at the background; the sources of the anger and the differing agenda. I had read the paper prior to the conference and was prompted to buy an ebook of essays by Richard Hofstadter, including his famous 1964 essay on "The Paranoid Style in American Politics". I read them over the weekend. Many thanks to Clodagh for prompting this - and I will be writing a post specifically on those essays within the next few days.

The third session looked at some of the history behind the development of the Right. Alf Tomas Tonnessen looked at the significance of events in 1978. His will be a paper I will be using as a starting point for further research. Tom Packer, who has just submitted his Ph.D. thesis at Oxford University gave a fascinating presentation the Jesse Helms. Luca Trenta (Durham University) gave an excellent paper about Risk versus Risk trade off in Foreign Policy. It was very strong on theory, then went on to apply it to the presidency of Jimmy Carter.

The final panel on Friday included a paper by Onawa Lacewell and Annika Werner (WZB, Berlin) which considered the impact of state party autonomy on Electoral success in the 2008 and 2010 elections - which highlighted the contrasting nature of presidential and mid term elections. They are continuing their research and have already drawn out some important conclusions. Marco Morini (Padua) then looked at the impact of the economy on presidential approval ratings.

John Berg of Suffolk University (Massachusetts) considered the Tea Party; the union protests which began in Madison, Wisconsin and the Occupy movement. A very useful background to each was given and he drew out the potential electoral implications of each. A very interesting paper! Eddie Ashbee of Copenhagen Business School also provided some thought provoking material in his paper "The Obama Presidency, the Left and Narratives of Failure".

The Final session of the conference looked at an important "institution" - the Office of Management & Budget (OMB) - and how it had developed. It was a great historical study - and Andy Rudalevige has found some real gems amongst the memos and documents produced within the Office and the Executive Office of the President. Christine Harlen of Leeds University spoke about her research into the Small Business Innovation Research Programme - and how it developed despite some strong opposition (and some surprising Congressional alliances).

A great start to the year for me - and the conference has stimulated a lot of thought. The papers are not available online - but many are due for publication in the coming months. Some will be contained in a forthcoming book which John Dumbrell of Durham University is editing, and others are early drafts of papers which will appear in the academic press. I will be passing on details when they are published.

[I used the photo of Starbucks, 1-5 Oxford Road, Manchester because - after the conference had finished - I spent a couple of hours there reading my newly downloaded ebook of Richard Hofstadter's essays]

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Quiz Answers

The answers to the quiz were (see 2nd January) were

Q1 C - California & Texas (93 Electoral Votes)
            A (84) B (84) D (58) E (67)


Q2 B - Correze
            (A is Martine Aubry’s; C is Segolene Royal’s)

Q3 D - Nebraska (with Ben Nelson announcing that he will not stand)

Q4 B – Axelle Lemaire
A is UMP candidate; C is Mouvement Républicain et Citoyen candidate & E is the former Speaker of the House of Lords(troisième circonscription des Français établis hors de France)

Q5 E – Bob is currently resident in Washington DC, which does not have a Member in the House of Representatives. Eleanor Holmes Norton is the delegate for the District of Columbia.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Quizlet

Law Students in particular, but many students in general, have a tradition of using "revision cards" to assist in the final stages of revision. Of course they are even more useful if prepared earlier during the course of studies.

Case cards are a particularly useful tool for law students. It's useful to have a VERY brief outline of the facts and key legal points established by a particular leading case. (A word of warning - volume  is the enemy of the student who wishes to be effective - don't do too many cases, concentrate on the cases that you are likely to need for the exam - a thousand case cards looks impressive, but may not concentrate the mind! Similarly, don't try and write as much as you possibly can - in the smallest writing. Condensing the information is the key to successful recall)

One of my students introduced me last year to "Quizlet" an internet based tool for creating cards; revising & testing oneself; and sharing with colleagues. He, and some other Open University students collaborated in developing some revision cards which they then shared and tested each other on. I strongly commend such activities - it makes learning more fun & discussion can (and does) arise which enhances every participants understanding of the subject matter.

Revision cards are useful not just for learning cases - but definitions, or quotations, for dates & translated words. I've started using them for my own leisure and professional use. Quizlet allows you to make your own cards - and if you choose, to share them with everyone - or with a defined group of colleagues. It also allows you to find existing card sets.

So if you are taking an exam in 2012 - make your resolution to improve your results by using revision cards. The ones you make yourself are the most useful (because you are forced to condense information - a key to successful memory). Using cards made by others can be useful, but less effective (I for example found on Quizlet a set of cards, each of which has the name; state and photograph of a member of the current US Senate - and use it to improve my recall of faces (not my strongest point) and linking Senators to their States. I am developing myself some MindMaps which link together other pieces of information (Committee assignments; dates of birth; other political achievements and interests).

If you want to try Quizlet out - go to http://quizlet.com/.

I have set up groups to share course related cards for my Open University Students on the W200 and W201 courses. If you'd like to join one of the groups
- English Legal System (for W200)
- UK Constitutional Law (for W200 and W201)
- UK Law of Obligations (for W200)
- EU Law (for W200)
- UK Admin Law (for W201)
- UK Criminal Law (for W201)

please drop me an email at jdavidmorgan@googlemail.com and I'll add you to the groups you wish to join.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Jeanne D'Arc

It's not a big story in the British press) it probably doesn't get a mention! - but today is the 600th birthday of Joan of Arc.

California

The largest state in terms of population - with 55 Electoral Votes. As 270 votes are needed to win, it's a useful state to win. Since 1992 it has always given its electoral votes to the Democrats, but post-war the Democrats have won the state only twice - in 1948 and 1964. In 1948 and 1960 the results were very close - Nixon beat Kennedy by a margin of just 0.55% (35,623 votes) and Truman beat Dewey by just 17,865 votes (0.44% margin). The State produced two post war Presidents - Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.

The interest in 2012 will probably not be in the presidential result. Cook regards the state as "Solid Democrat", but he lists 7 Democratic and 5 Republican seats as competitive. Redistricting has had a major impact - forcing incumbents to fight each other (for example Laura Richardson (D-37th) and Janice Hahn (D-36th) are likely to face each other in the new 44th). Some retirements have already been announce, and more are expected. Once the fields become clearer, Washminster will profile the individual districts and candidates.

Maps of the old and new House seats can be accessed at http://wedrawthelines.ca.gov/maps-final-draft-congressional-districts.html

As of the beginning of this month - the following districts were regarded as competitive (Cook)
Nominally Democratic - 3rd, 9th, 16th, 24th, 26th, 41st, 47th
Nominally Republican - 7th, 10th, 21st, 31st, 52nd

Dianne Feinstein is up for re-election in the Senate. That rate is currently regarded as "Solid Democrat"

Thursday, 5 January 2012

American Politics Group

Today in Manchester, the annual conference of the American Politics Group begins. The APG was founded in 1974 and "is the major professional organisation for the researchers and teachers in the UK whose work concentrates on the government and politics of the USA." Details of the conference can be found here.

I'm particularly looking forward to the sessions which look at the Healthcare issue, (and to an updated version of Dr Alex Waddon's paper which was initially presented at the annual colloquium  at the British Library in November) and to the session on the Tea Party movement. There's a session on development of the Right in America, upon which I have a particular interest, and some sessions on recent political history.

I will give a report after the conference and review some of the papers presented.

For me, this is going to be a year for visiting Manchester. Apart from kicking off the year with the APG, I'll be back for the Labour Party Conference in September/October. The city hosts the People's History Museum, which is both a fascinating museum and has important archives which I have used in the past - and will probably do so again this year - for my historical research into Parliament.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Clowance

I spent the last two weeks of 2011 in Clowance, Cornwall - a welcome break after a busy year - and a chance to recharge the batteries for a very exciting & busy 2012. But even in the remote location we were based in, there were links to Parliament (No, I didn't spend the two weeks reading old copies of Hansard - actually that's not entirely true - one evening I spent reading on the archive site speeches and questions relating to Milton Keynes - on Saturday how I wished that the proposed route from Swindon to Milton Keynes to the East Coast ports had actually come to fruition!! - and the history of the Open University).

Our "apartment" was in the old coach house next to the main house at Clowance. (hyperlinks take you to the National Heritage List for England - and the relevant entries). Clowance was the home of the St Aubyn family. From April 1554, when William St Aubyn was returned for Helston (a town we visited a couple of times during the holiday) until Sir John Aubyn, Liberal Unionist MP for St Ives (a town we spent even more time in) was made Lord St Levan in 1887 - the family has had MPs in most parliaments. In my post of 9th December 2008 (we spent the week before Christmas in Clowance that year), I described one of these MPs Sir John Aubyn who  has his own little place in history. While Lord St Levan was a Liberal most of his ancestors were Tories. The 3rd Baronet (profiled in my 2008 post) has been described as "an extreme Tory" and "one of the Tory leaders in the House of Commons under George II". Colonel John St Aubyn (MP Tregony April 1640; Cornwall 1656; St Ives 1659 and 1660) sided with the Parliamentarians in the Civil War, but in 1659 called for a free Parliament and served in the Convention Parliament of 1660.

It is possible now to access "The History of Parliament" via the internet. While some parts remain to be published - it is possible (yes, I was that sad on holiday) to research constituencies and members - or even families of MPs.

The coach house is at the top of the picture - the main house at the bottom right. Between the two is the leisure complex.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Iowa

The world's attention will of course be focused on Iowa today - as the caucuses are held - the first time that real voters get to make their choices known for the Presidential election. While interest is centered on the Republican caucus - there are also similar meetings for Democratic supporters. President Obama is hot favourite there! As the polls suggest - the result of the Republican caucus is less clear cut.

As I wrote four years ago -

Party supporters will meet across the state to select their nominees for the candidacy of their party. Party meetings are held in each Precinct (the equivalent of a ward in the UK). These may be in 'public' buildings such as schools, public libraries or churches - or may be in a particular person's home. Each precinct contributes towards the county convention, of which there are 99. These county conventions then select delegates for both Iowa's Congressional District Convention and the State Convention—these eventually choosing the delegates for the National Convention.


The process for selecting nominees differs in each party. The registered Republicans who turn up for their meeting listen to arguments for candidates put forward by other caucus participants then write the name of their chosen candidate on a previously blank piece of paper - voting by secret ballot. The results are then sent to the Iowa Republican Party who release the final totals.

The Democratic caucus this time will focus more on preparing for the final stages of the Presidential race (which of course, with an incumbent President facing no serious challenger from within his party, starts now).

But Washminster's interest in Iowa will not end tonight. During 2012 I will be paying special attention to 15 states where there are wider electoral interests. Some will be key states which could tip the Presidential race either way. Others have a number of key House or Senate races. Iowa is one of those states. It has 6 Electoral College Votes for the Presidential - and is currently regarded as a toss up. All four of its House races are regarded as competitive. The redistricting following the census leaves Iowa with one less seat.

Districts 1 (Bruce Braley D) and 2 (Dave Loebsack) are regarded as 'likely Democratic'; 3 (a merged seat is 'toss up' Leonard Boswell D, the member for the current 3rd district will face Tom Latham R, the Member for the current 4th district) and 4 is 'lean Republican' (Steve King R). [Cook's Political Report 28th December]. Rothenberg concurs over IA03, but regards the other seats as safer than Cook does.

As with the other states that Washminster will be following (and a few additional House and Senate races) - we'll be looking at the candidates and the issues in more detail as the campaign progresses.

Monday, 2 January 2012

The Quiz

This is the round of our family quiz that I set yesterday. All answers are multiple choice. I will publish the answers tomorrow.

Q1 Which Two States will have the highest number of Electoral College Votes in 2012?


A – California & New York
B – Florida & California
C – California & Texas
D – Florida & New York
E – Texas & New York

Q2 In which département does the Parti-Socialiste’s Presidential Candidate François Hollande have his political base?

A – Nord
B – Corrèze
C – Deux-Sèvres
D – Paris
E – Charente

Q3 Which Democratic held Senatorial seat this week was moved by the Cook Political report from “Toss Up” to “Likely Republican”?

A - Pennsylvania
B – Ohio
C - Virginia
D - Nebraska
E – Florida

Q4 Who is the Parti Socialiste candidate for the Assemblée nationale constituency which includes the United Kingdom?

A – Emmanuelle Savarit
B – Axelle Lemaire
C – Bruno Guillard
D – Ségolène Royal
E – Hélène Hayman

Q5 Which of the following represents Bob Carr (former Member of Congress & friend & contributor to Washminster) in the House of Representatives?

A – Gerry Connolly
B – Debbie Stabenow
C – Fred Upton
D – Ron Kind
E – none of the above

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Bienvenue 2012 - et bonne annee!

2012 has finally arrived - and it promises to be an exciting year (at least for those who share the interests of Washminster). The French elections are due in the first half of the year - with the two rounds of the Presidential preceding the two rounds of the legislative elections. Then there are the US elections - which seem already to have been going on for months - but move up a gear with the Iowa caucus this week, and onto the Presidential & Congressional elections on November 6th.

Washminster will follow the twists and turns of the various campaigns - whilst also providing an insight into how the processes work.

Even without elections - this is likely to be a momentous years within the legislatures that Washminster is dedicated to following.

In Britain,  while the Olympics may distract us, real conflict is expected in the Palace of Westminster. The coalition will face new pressures - and the 'loyal' opposition will be challenging a Government agenda it has fundamental disagreements with. Expect to see heightened conflict between the parties; and between the two chamber of Parliament. With the constitutional changes made earlier in the session - we'll see how Parliament itself is developing.

The 112th Congress will exist throughout the year (the 113th, elected at November's elections) will come into existence next January. Don't expect love and peace to break out between (or within) the warring tribes on Capitol Hill.

With negotiations and a European Council on treaty changes due this month in Europe, be assured that the European Parliament will be fighting its corner.

In the French Parlement, power rests with the Right in the Assemblee nationale, but now with the Left in the Senat. With multiple elections, expect the battles to be reflected in Paris.

I have just returned from a restful fortnight in beautiful Cornwall - all fired up for the year ahead! Sensibly, I took a few days off keeping up with the news & reading about politics and legislative affairs. Instead I researched some Roman History (Britain in general, the Milton Keynes area in particular). A change is as good as a rest - particularly when accompanied by some great walks around Lands End; the Lizard and St Ives. If you've never been to the south west tip of Cornwall - you should visit - it's a great place.

In the latter days I was able to reindulge my passion for elections; US & French politics - plus catching up on some reading about events in the UK. Isn't the internet a wonderful thing? Today we have a belated family Christmas party (with the Nicholson branch), the Morgan branch gets together later in  the month.

Enjoy the rest of New Years Day - and tomorrow the in-depth coverage from Washmnister resumes (and I'll also post my questions from today's family quizz - my round is on "Elections 2012").