The new academic year is about to begin for the Open University Law courses. I'll be teaching W200 and W201 courses in Birmingham and Reading. If you have just become one of my students - welcome to the Washminster Blog. One of the objectives of this blog is to explain how the subjects in the law courses relate to what happens in the real world. As someone who works in Parliament (and has worked there for a number of years & has other experience of the academic subjects we will be studying), I can apply theory to practice - and that's what this blog seeks to do.
Of course if you are not one of my OU Students - you are welcome too. I do put in a lot of material related to law, but that is far from the exclusive interest of this blog - as a look back over the last eight years of entries shows.
I like to brighten up posts with pictures, and occasional videos. That may not be possible for the next few days - because of limited access to computing facilities - but there should be some posts reflecting matters in the news.
As yesterday's post highlighted - Conference season is upon us. If one is going, what planning is involved? These are my thoughts - after many Labour Party conferences, the first being back in 2000.
Planning ahead is essential. This week there will be people booking their accommodation for the 2016 Conference in Liverpool. Accommodation can be hard to find - particularly as conference gets closer. The numbers involved in a major party conference are immense - delegates, party members, party officials, exhibitors - and most need overnight accommodation during the conference.
Applications for the various tickets are usually required during the late spring and summer. Constituency Labour Parties & affiliated organisations choose delegates to send during this period. "Balcony Passes" are available to party members who wish to attend.
Train tickets also need to be bought in advance.
At the beginning of September, the Conference Magazine is sent out. I immediately get out my conference planning grid - which has evolved since I first attended a conference - in Brighton - back in 2000. Using the conference Magazine I choose which events I hope to attend. The problem is that there is always so much on - so my excel file allows me to put order of preference for each event at the same time. Circumstances change - a really interesting event requiring a long walk in horrendous weather may be sacrificed if I'm running rate (or don't fancy the awful rain and wind outside).
Below are photos of my grid for last year's conference in Manchester.
I'll be printing out my final version for this year's Brighton conference - and armed with any required tickets, will be ready to set off at the weekend. But first, the packing...
We are already into the swing of "Conference Season". As long term readers of this blog will know, I have frequently written about conferences - and attended Labour Party Conferences, many times since this blog began. This Blog has a couple of search facilities - if you want to go back and see what has been written in the past.
There is a dedicated search engine - "SEARCH THIS BLOG" to the right of the page, just above my picture. Alternatively you can search by Month and Year, under "BLOG ARCHIVE" (also on the right of the page).
Public sector spending, also referred to as government spending or public expenditure, refers to the money that the government spends. It can be spent on a range of different things – from central and local government, to public sector pensions and welfare.
Government expenditure can be broken down and understood in different ways. This guide outlines the basics behind the breakdown of public spending, and explains some of the terms that you may have heard used to describe different areas of the government’s budget.
2. Total government spending
The total amount that the government spends is also known as Total Managed Expenditure (TME). This is split up in to:
departmental budgets – the amount that government departments have been allocated to spend; this is known as Departmental Expenditure Limits, or DEL.
money spent in areas outside budgetary control – this is all spending that is not controlled by a government department and includes welfare, pensions and things such as debt interest payments.; this known as Annually Managed Expenditure, or AME.
3. Departmental Expenditure Limits (DEL)
The government budget that is allocated to and spent by government departments is known as the Departmental Expenditure Limit, or DEL. This amount, and how it is split between government departments, is set at Spending Reviews.
Things that departmental budgets can be spent on include the running of the services that they oversee such as schools or hospital, and the everyday cost of resources such as staff.
The government controls DEL by deciding how much each department gets.
4. Annually managed expenditure (AME)
Annually managed expenditure, or AME, is more difficult to explain or control as it is spent on programmes which are demand-led – such as welfare, tax credits or public sector pensions.
It is spent on items that may be unpredictable or not easily controlled by departments, and are relatively large in comparison to other government departments.
5. Resource and capital spending
Money within both Departmental Expenditure Limits (DEL) and Annually Managed Expenditure (AME) can be further split into resource spending and capital spending.
Resource spending is money that is spent on day to day resources and administration costs. Capital spending is money that is spent on investment and things that will create growth in the future.
The breakdown of both DEL and AME in to resource and capital spending means that sometimes people may refer to ‘resource Departmental Expenditure Limit ‘resource DEL’ or ‘RDEL’, for example.
The setting of resource and capital budgets within DEL and AME is also sometimes known as Resource Accounting and Budgeting, or RAB.
6. The role of the Treasury in controlling public spending
HM Treasury has a constitutional role in controlling public expenditure. Government departments need Treasury consent before undertaking expenditure or committing to spending.
All legislation that affects spending must have the support of the Treasury before it is introduced. Policy decisions with financial implications must be cleared with the Treasury before they gain approval by the Cabinet.
The Festival of Freedoms continues. As this blog records, I went to a talk at Conway Hall last week, on Charles Bradlaugh. On Saturday I headed for St Mary's Church in Putney, where in October and November 1647, an extraordinary series of debates took place.
The "Festival of Freedoms" website says "It was a pivotal moment in our nation’s democratic past, as men came to discuss the rights of the people, and the fate of the King."
Professor Justin Champion outlined the history and significance of these debates. Some very modern ideas were discussed at the debates. Geoffrey Robertson has written that "The civil war years, 1641-49, first established what today are regarded as universal values - the supremacy of parliament, the independence of the judiciary, the abolition of torture and of executive courts, comparative freedom of speech and toleration of different forms of religious worship." The Putney Debates were informed by, and discussed, ideas from a group which has come to be known as the Levellers.
There are some excellent books about the debates. I've been reading the book "presented by" Geoffrey Robertson (as opposed to written - he has written a superb introduction. but the bulk of the book is material written by the levellers themselves).
I also picked up Dorian Gerhold's book at the church.
More events are planned in the coming days - see the pdf of the Festival Guide here.
On Friday evening I went to the Old Vic to watch "Future Conditional". Starring Rob Brydon, it is enjoyable - at points hysterically funny - but with some important issues about Education to think about. As I am currently researching scrutiny of Education in the House of Commons, and take a keen interest in education policy (as well as being a fan of Rob Brydon), it was a must see play. Having now seen it - I would thoroughly recommend it - you will laugh - as well as be forced to think. Writer Tamsin Oglesby takes aim at many aspects of Education, no one is spared - but a key message is the domination of those who have power over those who don't. It has met mixed reviews, but I liked it! (and Quentin Letts absolutely hated it - which in itself is a good reason for going to see it!)
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N’oubliez pas de nous suivre sur les réseaux sociaux pour rester connectés avec nous. Merci à tous pour votre fidélité et bonne rentrée !
Every day, catch your favourite songs and programmes, each one different from the next. Stay up to date with our breaking news bulletins, every 30 minutes from 6am to 10pm in French and English. FRL brings you past and present Pop, Rock and Electro music: C2C, Daft Punk, Calogero, Telephone, Zaz, Gaëtan Roussel, Alain Bashung, Indochina, Julien Doré, M, Phoenix, Mylène Farmer, Etienne Daho, Rita Mitsouko, MC Solaar, Cats On Trees, Stromae. And also, the biggest international hits.
FRL is for French fans all around the world, Francophones and Francophiles. Join us in the celebration of the French language and the French art de vivre - Listen live ,on demand via www.frenchradiolondon.comor on your smartphone by downloading our free app, available now for iPhone and Android.
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I listen in to FRL on a fairly regular basis - it's a useful, but relaxing way to accustom my ears to the French language.
We elect MPs to Parliament to legislate on our behalf and ask the questions we would want asked of those who take the decisions which affect our lives. Select Committees are increasingly reaching out to the public to put questions forward.
In addition many Committtees are keen for members of the public to submit questions through social media. Nicky Morgan faced such questions (through Twitter) when she appeared before the Education Committee this week.
The Education Select Committee held its first evidence session yesterday. The Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, faced questions which ranged across the breadth of her responsibilities. The session lasted for over 90 minutes.
These days, Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) gain much of the coverage on TV news. Sadly this can give a misleading impression of the work done in Parliament to hold the Government to account. Each Government department has to live with a cross-party select committee which has the power to hold enquiries and to question Ministers and others at length. The "clever" answer which can disarm the House in PMQ's, can lead a minister into deep trouble - and Government backbenchers can be brutal in dealing with a Minister who is evasive.
Today's session will be followed next Wednesday by a session with the Head of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw. Already enquiries are being undertaken into
- The work of Ofsted
- The work of Ofqual
- The role of Regional Schools Commissioners
Select Committees play an important role in scrutiny - and the evidence they receive and reports they publish are increasingly important in the work MP's do to get answers that previous generations of Ministers could have avoided answering. A little more light is being shed.
Charles Bradlaugh provoked many controversies, and many myths have grown around him. Last night, Deborah Lavin demolished the myths, and presented an absorbing story of a persistent man, who attracted some very powerful enemies. The talk (which will be repeated at 11.00am and 2pm on Sunday 25th October - as part of the Bloomsbury Festival - and I would thoroughly recommend attending) covered the life of the MP for Northampton. I had always understood it to be case that Bradlaugh was kept from taking his seat by the parliamentary manoeuvres of the Tories, who seized an opportunity to embarrass the incoming Liberal Government of Gladstone. But Lavin made a persuasive case for Gladstone himself being the culprit, eager to be rid of a "supporter" he detested.
It was an ugly fight. As an atheist, he sought to affirm rather than take the oath on a Bible. That had been allowed in courts as a result of legislation - which Bradlaugh had used as a Solicitor's clerk, prior to the change in law he had complied with the requirement to take an oath. He made it clear that he was prepared to take the oath in Parliament if required, but his enemies denied him that, on the grounds of his atheism. He was sued for voting before he had taken such an oath, in an attempt to disqualify him from parliament - by bankrupting him (the fine was £500 for each vote). His seat was declared vacant a number of times, but he succeeded in winning re-election each time. But as a result of one attempt to enter the chamber he was imprisoned in the Clock Tower beneath the bell of Big Ben. It was Tory pressure that led to his release.
As suddenly as the controversy arose - it died. Lavin asserts that it was because Gladstone now needed Bradlaugh's vote, in a more tightly balanced House of Commons.
An interesting subject - in an engaging presentation. Don't miss it in October! (for more details, and to book - press here.)
Labor Day has passed in the USA and the House of Representatives is back at work. This is the schedule sent out by the Majority Leader. (Times are of course those in Washington DC - add on 5 hours if you are in the UK. (GMT +4 during EDT)
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 8TH On Tuesday, the House will meet at 2:00 p.m. for legislative business. Votes will be postponed until 6:30 p.m. Legislation Considered Under Suspension of the Rules:
1) H.R. 1344 - Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Brett Guthrie / Energy and Commerce Committee)
2) H.R. 1462 - Protecting Our Infants Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Katherine Clark / Energy and Commerce Committee)
3) H.R. 1725 - National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Authorization Act of 2015, as amended (Sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield / Energy and Commerce Committee)
4) H.R. 2820 - Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Authorization Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith / Energy and Commerce Committee)
5) S. 1359 - E-Warranty Act of 2015 (Sponsored by Sen. Deb Fischer / Energy and Commerce Committee)
WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 9TH AND THE BALANCE OF THE WEEK On Wednesday and Thursday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for morning hour and 12:00 p.m. for legislative business.
On Friday, the House will meet at 9:00 a.m. for legislative business. Last votes expected no later than 3:00 p.m. H. J. Res. 64 - Disapproving of the agreement transmitted to Congress by the President on July 19, 2015, relating to the nuclear program of Iran (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Ed Royce / Foreign Affairs Committee)
The House of Commons Calendar for the week can be found here and the House of Lords here.
Expect it to be a fiery week - as MP's get their first chance to question the Government about the events of the summer. First major item of business in the Commons is the 3rd Reading of the European Union Referendum Bill.
I'm looking forward to the first public meeting of the Education Select Committee - which I am continuing to follow for research. Earlier this year I presented papers to the Political Studies Association on the committee in the final year of the 2010 Parliament and to the 12th Workshop of Parliamentary Scholars and Parliamentarians, on the scrutiny in the House of Commons of Education. I hope to present further academic papers, focusing on the Education Select Committee, in future months. Secretary of State, Nicky Morgan (no relation), is appearing before the committee on Wednesday.
As noted in earlier posts, the Festival of Freedoms takes place - and I hope to attend a number of events.
On Saturday the announcement of the result of the Leadership elections for the Labour Party is announced. sadly I won't be at the special conference for that announcement - but I'm sure it will dominate my conversations at Westminster this week.
Regular readers of this blog will already know that I live about a mile from Bletchley Park - and I am both a big fan of the place (and the tremendous work that has been done there to save, then turn it into a first class place to visit (I thought of using the term - 'museum', which it is - but that word has connotations of dry sterile exhibits - and Bletchley Park is warm, alive and engaging)) and a regular visitor. I'm reading through the many books that have been published about BP - some by the key players themselves.
Tomorrow evening (Monday 7th September), BBC2 are broadcasting - "Bletchley Park: Code-Breaking's Forgotten Genius". It's not about Alan Turing - who, we have come to understand in recent years - played a, once over-looked, key role in code-breaking, Mathematics and the development of computing. Instead it is about another of the fascinating characters who were brought together in Bletchley Park - Gordon Welchman.
Welchman too was a mathematician - and in 1950 he wrote a book, "Introduction to Algebraic Geometry". The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (in a piece written by the son of the Head of BP) recognises that "he made a SIGNIFICANT contribution to the solving of the Enigma machine cipher...he instinctively grasped a whole range of problems, possibilities, and solutions which included two vital mathematical constructs as well as a concept of the total process required, from the intercepted German ciphered traffic to passing on significant intelligence implications to the commanders in the field...the task of converting the original breakthrough into an efficient user of the material was one for which Welchman should receive much of the credit"
While Turing headed up Hut 8 (which dealt with naval codebreaking), Welchman headed up Hut 6 (army and air force codebreaking) .
I'm looking forward to the programme - I hope you do too (and tell your friends)
While Washminster is intended, BBC style, to be politically neutral (though I make no secret of the experience which lies behind this blog) - I have set up a website for those who consider themselves to be 'progressives'.
It includes information about the UK Labour Party, the US Democrats and the French Parti Socialiste - and has links to my jdm_progressive twitter feed and a dedicated YouTube channel. I value feedback - so please let me know what you think.
There is a feast coming up - in the Palace of Westminster - and elsewhere - of events that are part of the Festival of Freedoms. I've booked for a number. Do let me know if you have tickets and are going - it would be nice to meet up. (and the events themselves are quite interesting!). For more information, follow the link here.
Thomas E Mann is an academic specialising in the US Congress, whose work I have great respect for. Of particular note (but there is so much more that he has done) is the joint writing he has done with Norm Ornstein - The Permanent Campaign and its Future (2000); The Broken Branch (2006); It's Even Worse than it Looks (2012).
In a recent Brookings Post he wrote - and it is worth reading!
Donald Trump and the Amen chorus of Republican presidential aspirants may have appeared to monopolize the capacity to make fantastical claims about what’s wrong with America and how to fix it. But a rival has appeared on the scene, outlining a very different fantasy plan to run for president on the Democratic side of the aisle.
Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig looks meek—a dead ringer for Mr. Peepers—yet is anything but. Lessig built an impressive career in legal scholarship on the regulation of cyberspace, and the mild-mannered, soft-spoken academic became a cult hero among libertarians fearful of increasing legal restrictions on copyright, trademark and the electromagnetic spectrum. But Lessig’s transformation into a political activist was spurred by his personal revelation that money in politics is the root of all our governing problems. Eliminate the dependence of elected officials on private donors and the formidable obstacles to constructive policymaking will crumble. Simple but searing truth, or a caricature of a complex governing system shaped by institutions, ideas/ideologies, and interests?
Lessig became a whirlwind of energy and organization to promote his new values and beliefs, leading efforts to “Change Congress,” convene a second constitutional convention, raise awareness of corruption in politics through the “New Hampshire Rebellion,” and start the “Mayday PAC,” a super PAC designed to end all super PACs. He wrote the bestselling book Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress—and A Plan to Stop It, delivered a series of popular TED talks, and tirelessly traveled the country with his PowerPoint.
With none of these enterprises yet bearing fruit, Lessig has decided to raise the stakes. He has announced that if he receives $1 million from small donors by September, he will seek the Democratic presidential nomination, running as a “referendum candidate.” His single-issue platform, built around the concept of “Citizen Equality,” consists of “true” campaign finance reform supplemented by electoral reform (to weaken the influence of gerrymandering) and voting rights. His goal is to use the election to build a mandate for political reform that will cure our democratic ills. Lessig will apparently have nothing to say about anything other than political reform, insisting that his issue should be and can be the number one priority of voters in the 2016 elections. If nominated and elected, President Lessig will serve in office only long enough to enact the Citizen Equality Act and then resign, turning over the powers and responsibilities of the office to the vice president. Recently he generously informed the Vice President that he would happily enable a third Joe Biden term by selecting him as his running mate.
The hubris of the Harvard Professor is breathtaking. In virtually every respect, his strategy is absurd. Lessig’s political reform agenda is stymied by Republicans, not Democrats. Why not direct his energies where the opposition resides? All of the current Democratic presidential candidates support the thrust of these reforms. But saying that this is their highest priority is likely to harm, not boost, their candidacies. Why would even the most ardent supporter of the three pillars of Lessig’s reform agenda cast a ballot solely on this basis? Big and important issues divide the two parties today and the stakes of public action or inaction are huge. We don’t have the luxury of using the election to try to build a mandate for a set of political reforms that would have no chance of passing in the face of GOP opposition and would be of only incremental utility if they did.
Campaign finance does play a corrosive role in our democracy and I have invested much of my career grappling with it. There is no doubt that money in elections facilitates the transfer of economic inequality into political inequality, and the spectacle of several hundred plutocrats dominating the finance of our elections should be a target of serious reform efforts in the courts and the Congress. At the same time it is foolish to imagine that campaign finance is the only route for private wealth to influence public policy or that its reform will dramatically transform the policy process. Money did not prevent the major legislative enactments of 2009-2010—including the stimulus, student loans, the Affordable Care Act, and financial services reform. Nor is it likely to be the critical factor on climate change, immigration, infrastructure or jobs and wages; which party wins the White House and whether control with Congress is unified or divided is key. If anything, the Lessig campaign is likely to weaken the forces for political reform by demonstrating just how small the relativepriority for this action is.
Trump offers the country his outsider status, success in building his personal wealth, an outsized personality, a brashness in asserting how easily he can solve the country’s problems, and a hearty appetite for and skill in stoking the anger and fears of a segment of the country. He feeds the notion that a strong, fearless, wily leader, inexperienced and mostly uninformed in politics and governing, can be the man on a white horse saving a great country losing its exceptional status. His claim that all politicians are bought by private interests—a claim Lessig eagerly embraces—fits well with his grandiose claims that he alone can fix what ails the country. A significant segment of Republican voters, presumably not well versed in the American constitutional system are attracted to him, at least enough for him to be a factor in this election campaign.
Lessig is a far less commanding presence but his ambition burns no less than that of Trump. The notoriety, celebrity, and adoring audiences are heady stuff, even if on a much smaller scale. Lessig told Bloomberg that Trump’s candidacy is evidence that his reform message is taking hold. Lessig said, Trump “strikes people as credible when he says all these people (politicians) are bought—I used to buy them …Trump is saying the truth.” Lessig will be a minor figure in this election and the causes for which he fights are unlikely to advance from it. Both Lessig and Trump, despite their differences in visibility and importance in the election, will have contributed to the dumbing down of American politics, a reality that will bring tears to the eyes of civics teachers and political science professors across the country.
It is well worth signing up for Brookings newsletters - which can be done here.
The summer is over (if you have been in Milton Keynes this last weekend, you'd know how true that is - it has rained, and rained, and rained - and I have been wearing a jumper!). Yesterday was the "Late Summer Bank Holiday", the last Bank Holiday here until Christmas Day.
Next week Parliament returns, and on the following Saturday the result of the Labour Party leadership election will be announced. It's time to put away the summer reading and get back to day to day politics.
Washminster returns - and this is the 2200th post. This blog has been running since March 2007. Do please free to look at some of the previous posts. They can be accessed in date order - or through the search function.
Autumn 2015 looks interesting - in the UK (where the major opposition party chooses a new leader, but faces an uncertain future) - This blog will follow the results - and (as in previous years) report directly from the Labour Party Conference at the end of this month. Parliament will be more closely monitored, as I do further research into the evolution of scrutiny. In the USA the long march to the 2016 elections continues - and who knows what further surprises are in store.
As part of my work, I monitor political stories (particularly relating to the work within legislatures - the UK Parliament; US Congress; French Assemblée nationale and the European Parliament) and teach Constitutional Law. Having twice run for the UK Parliament and once for the European Parliament (and participated in numerous elections - from local councils in the UK to three US Presidential elections) - I maintain a keen interest in the 'nuts and bolts' of elections.
So - whether you are studying Constitutional or EU Law or Political Science - or enjoy viewing politics on a comparative basis - or want to pick up anecdotes about history and politics - do become a regular, and welcome visitor to the Washminster Blog.
...and do tell your friends. Posts you like (or which infuriate you - I love a vigorous debate!) can be posted on Twitter and Facebook.
An experienced lecturer, tutor & researcher with practical experience of working in the UK and European Parliaments.
I have a keen academic and practical interest in the workings of both the UK Parliament and the US Congress.
Over the years I have broadcast on both UK & US Politics for BBC local radio stations.