We are into the season of reviews of the year - I suspect that viewing figures may be down, as many people don't wish to relive the misery. If the curse is "may you live in interesting times" - in 2016 we have seen it visited upon us in many ways. Although it is often cited as an old Chinese curse - little evidence has been found of either an early date or Chinese origin. A website called "Quote investigator" found one of the earliest examples of its use in 1936
"Sir Austen Chamberlain, addressing the annual meeting of Birmingham Unionist Association last night, spoke of the “grave injury” to collective security by Germany’s violation of the Treaty of Locarno.
Sir Austen, who referred to himself as “a very old Parliamentarian,” said:—
“It is not so long ago that a member of the Diplomatic Body in London, who had spent some years of his service in China, told me that there was a Chinese curse which took the form of saying, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ There is no doubt that the curse has fallen on us.”
“We move from one crisis to another. We suffer one disturbance and shock after another.”
... so modern!
Well 2016 is almost over - but 2017 doesn't promise any respite. We can predict follow-ups to the events of 2016. Brexit will loom large for the UK and the EU - and Article 50 may even be triggered (watch this space....). Donald Trump is due to be inaugurated in January - and the workings of the American government look to continue to be interesting. There will be national elections in France and Germany. But as 2016 highlighted - it is often the unpredictable which will dominate the news.
Washminster will seek to follow and explain events as the new year unfolds.
Washminster has been silent for a while - too much going on, too little time. But now it is back - to a very different world.
We've had Brexit at home (I am a Milton Keynes based UK (and for the moment EU) citizen) and now the transition begins from the Obama presidency to a very different kind of Presidency, that of Donald Trump. I campaigned in both the referendum and the US elections - and after my track record , I am considering volunteering for Marine Le Pen's campaign in France - in order that my curse can descend on that - and a good result is obtained.
Interesting Times lie ahead - and Washminster will be following, explaining & discussing what happens in the USA, the UK, France & then the next big Election - Germany.
Do send your comments and questions. The next twelves months will be interesting!!!
We live in interesting times! - and frankly, worrying times. My nightmare scenario involves
Trump winning the US Presidency (though losing it may bring its own problems - he's already talking about a conspiracy to 'steal the election' from him!)
The Labour Party in Britain opting for purity over power, and re-electing Jeremy Corbyn as leader of a dysfunctional opposition. That might increase the chances of the Scots moving closer to independence as Tory hegemony over Westminster extends beyond the short term.
Sarkozy or Le Pen winning the French Presidency....
Today I will summarise the state of play in the various UK party leadership elections.
Owen Smith is challenging the incumbent Jeremy Corbyn for leader. Edible voters (Labour Party members; Registered supporters (who signed up and paid during a brief window in July) and Affiliated Supporters (members of affiliated trade unions, socialist societies and other affiliated organisations who individually sign up as affiliated supporters before next Monday) - will be sent ballot papers (Members only) and an email with instructions on voting electronically - from 22nd August. Ballot papers must be returned (or online voting completed) by noon on 21st September. The result be be announced immediately prior to the start of the Labour Conference the following weekend.
The favourite to succeed Nigel Farage was disqualified because computer problems meant his online application was only successfully received minutes AFTER the deadline closed. (you couldn't make this up! - but serves as a warning to any students submitting essays or eTMAs (OU) close to the cut off time!!!)
Last week turned out to be a little busier than expected. So no predictions rom me - but you might be Interested in the first three questions in the Lords this afternoon -
Baroness Mobarik to ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps
they are taking to bring together all communities following the result
of the European Union referendum.
*Baroness Deech to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they
plan to clarify the conditions for the exercise of the Royal Prerogative.
*Lord Tyler to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they
have made of the stage, or stages, at which Parliament’s authority
should be sought as part of the negotiation for leaving the European
As employers (and employees) have known down the centuries - job security enhances independence. This also applies to the House of Lords. There's no de-selection if a Peer speaks his or her mind - upsetting the party hierarchy. As a result the House of Lords is harder to manage - and questions can be direct and embarrassing, especially for the Government.
The full business for this week can be found on the parliamentary website - www.parliament.uk but I'd like to highlight some matters which will be coming up.
Today, in the 30 minutes of oral questions - subjects relevant to my home city of Milton Keynes come up. One is about continuing the centuries old practice of printing master copies of Acts of Parliament on vellum. This is done in Newport Pagnell. The other question concerns when the Government can terminate a rail franchise where it has failed to provide the service required. This is about Southern Railway - which used to provide a service through west London onto Croydon from Milton Keynes.
Tomorrow a question will be put by Lord Roberts of Llandudno about how the government intends to fulfill its promise to accept 20,000 refugees from Syria by 2020.
On Wednesday Lord McKenzie of Luton will ask how the government intends "to address the causes of the increase in the number of council tenants in receipt of Universal Credit who are in rent arrears"
Thursday will see a debate on the case for tackling the causes of poverty in the UK.
The Investigatory Powers Bill will be considered in Committee (of the whole House) today and on Wednesday
I've just returned from a stimulating conference in Plymouth. It began on Independence Day, in the city where the Pilgrim Fathers last left the British Isles as they headed for America.
The conference was organised by the Transatlantic Studies Association - and it was their 15th Annual Conference. The Association brings together many disciplines - so we had a wide menu of workshops - which ranged from literature to history, through International Relations and on to politics. There were also keynote lectures each day. We began with a roundtable involving representatives from sister organisations (I took part on behalf of the American Politics Group). I found the whole conference incredibly stimulating. The conference programme is available here. Recent events - the Brexit vote - dominated discussions and conversations around the conference, as did the upcoming elections in the USA. Delegates came from across Europe and from Canada and the USA.
We also had a dinner at the National Marine Aquarium - which had a fantastic backdrop with fish swimming around as we ate and listened.
Once there was only one way out of the House of Lords - in a box (Not literally - as part of the Palace of Westminster there is a practice that no one is pronounced dead within the building - and of course most people actually die outside. But membership of the House ended only with death - the exception being the Bishops, who retired from the House when they retired from their Church position.)
Due to the legislation named above, members can now retire. They can also be removed if convicted of a serious criminal offence, or completely fail to attend. Details of the legislation - and how it has been used is set out in a House of Commons Library Paper. To date 48 have retired, and 4 ceased to be members due to non-attendance.
(The picture shown is that of the House at work - rather than the usual picture of the House in ceremonial dress - which ONLY occurs at the State Opening. The House is actually a very hard working institution!)
A happy Independence Day to all our friends from the USA. To celebrate the day the text of the Declaration is set out below - it's always worth reading and reflecting on - because it is founded on so many important ideas - which remain important today.
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world. He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them. He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people. He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within. He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands. He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers. He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries. He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance. He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures. He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us: For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States: For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury: For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies: For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments: For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever. He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us. He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people. He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation. He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people. Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends. We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
Overnight, President Obama made a speech to the two Houses of the Canadian Parliament. It's worth watching and listening to. (Justin Trudeau's words are also worth listening to - so, if you have time, don't skip the first 9 minutes of this video). I would particularly draw your attention to the following words in the President's speech, very relevant in this week of turmoil -
"I think we can all agree that our democracies are far from perfect. They can be messy, and they can be slow, and they can leave all sides of a debate unsatisfied. ... But more than any other system of government, democracy allows our most precious rights to find their fullest expression, enabling us, through the hard, painstaking work of citizenship, to continually make our countries better. To solve new challenges. To right past wrongs.
Democracy is not easy. It's hard. Living up to our ideals can be difficult even in the best of times. And it can be harder when the future seems uncertain, or when, in response to legitimate fears and frustrations, there are those who offer a politics of "us" versus "them," a politics that scapegoats others — the immigrant, the refugee, someone who seems different than us. We have to call this mentality what it is — a threat to the values that we profess, the values we seek to defend. "
The polls are open today (Thursday 23rd June) from 7.00am until 10pm.
IF YOU HAVE A VOTE in today's referendum in the UK then, please, use your vote in what must be the most important decision the British people have had to take for decades.
If you have any problems - tThe officials at the polling station (who are independent of either campaign) can advise you.
Where is my designated polling station?
You can find the address of your polling station on your polling card. You can only vote at your designated polling station. If you can not find your polling card you can contact us and we will be able to provide that information. You do not need your polling card with you to vote because your name will be on the register at the polling station.
How do I vote at the polling station?
If you are on the register of electors you will receive a poll card a few weeks before an election. This will tell you how, where and when to vote.
This card is for information only so don't worry if you lose it or forget it. (You can still vote without the poll card but it is easier if you have it with you).
You will be assigned to a polling station in your area, for example, at a school or village hall. On election day you should go to the polling station during the times it is open - this will be stated on your polling card.
At the polling station you will be given a ballot paper which is stamped with an official mark.
Take the ballot paper to one of the polling booths and put a cross in the box next to the option you are voting for. Do not write anything else on the ballot paper, otherwise your vote might not count. Once you have voted you must fold the ballot paper and show it to the clerk before you put it in the locked ballot box. You don't have to tell anyone what you voted for.
Do I need to take my polling card to the polling station to vote?
No, you do not need your polling card to vote. This card is for information only so don't worry if you lose it or forget it. (You can still vote without the poll card but it is easier if you have it with you).
How long will polling stations be open on 23 June
Polling stations will open at 7am and close at 10pm, if you are still queuing at the polling station at 10pm you will still have the opportunity vote, you will be invited into the polling station or given a ticket that will identify you as being eligible to cast your vote. Find out more information about polling stations on the gov.uk website
Can I still register to vote for the EU Referendum?
No, it is now too late to register for the EU Referendum. If you have registered to vote for any other election at your current address then you will automatically be registered to vote for this referendum. You cannot check if you are registered to vote online. If you have a polling card in your name at your address then you are registered to vote.
Yesterday I attended the meeting at which Gordon Brown made the progressive case for Britain remaining within the EU. Sadly, no text appears to be available (he certainly wasn't speaking from notes or an autocue) - but he has published a paper called "A Positive British Reform Agenda for Europe". It is available here.
Whilst searching for a text, I did come across the text of the speech delivered by Hilary Benn. I commend it to you - it is well reasoned, based on a strong foundation of history and fact, and represents the best traditions of the Labour Party and progressive thought.
"We meet here today with just 10 days to go until the referendum.
A referendum not just on our membership of the European Union but also on Britain’s place and influence in the world. Our great country - our astonishing country - is one of the most successful in human history.With less than 1% of the world’s population, we are its fifth biggest economy and generate 4% of its GDP. Our language is spoken by 1.5 billion people worldwide, more than any other. Our literature, our theatre, our films, our actors are loved the world over, from Shakespeare to J K Rowling and from Mark Rylance to Idris Elba.Our universities attract the brightest and the best. We have more Nobel laureates per head of population than the United States, Germany or China.British broadcasters are respected in all four corners of the globe for their impartial reporting. And we have helped to influence and shape the modern world through the power of our ideas and values.
Our system of governance. Parliamentary democracy. The rule of national and international law. A free media. Free trade. And the belief that every human being has rights that are inalienable.
Ideas that have been a beacon of inspiration to people who enjoy none of these things.
This did not come about because we turned our backs on working with others. It transpired because we embraced others, travelled, traded, built alliances, were open to new ideas and welcomed new people.
Britain’s story, our unique history as an island nation, has been shaped by how we have always looked beyond our own shores and engaged with the wider world. And because we did so, Britain is not only successful but is today one of the most influential of all countries.
The building we meet in was an important part of that journey. Here, 70 years ago on 17 January 1946, the United Nations Security Council met for the very first time with Britain as one of its permanent members. A week earlier in the Central Hall, just across the road, the UN General Assembly held its inaugural meeting. Arising from the ashes of the Second World War, the nations of the world came together to commit to high ideals and human rights and resolved to give them effect through dialogue and negotiation.
The roots of the European Union also took hold in those same ashes and drew upon those same principles. And by the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community - bringing former foes together – its founders resolved to make a return to conflict on the continent of Europe - in the words of the Schuman Declaration - “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible”.
This vision was the most eloquent and enduring memorial we could have built to the flower of two generations of young Europeans who gave their lives in war and now rest eternal in those immaculately cared-for cemeteries. And it is the inscriptions on their gravestones - their names, their ages, the unknown soldiers - that to this day call upon us, the post war generation, to do everything within our grasp to stop that slaughter from happening again.
These and the other great institutions fashioned in the aftermath of the Second World War were a conscious effort to establish a new world order. And that hope has, on our continent, been fulfilled. Europe is at peace.
And for more than forty years, Britain has been at the heart of the European Union. A Union of 28 free democracies working together that has proved what human beings can achieve when we replace conflict with cooperation and enmity with dialogue.
A Union that has brought prosperity and founded the world’s largest single economic market. A Union that helps protect our security and has made us among the most stable and safest countries in the world in which to live. Indeed, if all of humankind could cooperate, trade and work together as the nations of the European Union have done, then there would be more peace, more prosperity and more progress on this earth.
And it has given Britain a stronger voice in the world.
Britain leads in Europe, from trade to climate change, from good governance to debt relief for the poorest nations, and in turn Europe helps to lead the world.
And so I say to those who advocate that Britain should abandon the European Union that they bear a very heavy responsibility to prove their case. Over the past few weeks and months, it has become clear that their argument rests on the economic costs of EU membership, immigration and sovereignty. And I wish directly to address each of these in turn.
Now that the Leave campaign’s claim that EU membership costs us £350 million a week has been utterly discredited, they seek to argue that there will be no cost to Britain’s economy if we leave. They are wrong. They are dangerously wrong. They are playing fast and loose with people’s jobs, their livelihoods and their families’ incomes as they try to lure us onto the rocks.
They recklessly deny the clear benefits to our businesses, workers, consumers and our national wealth from membership of the single market which, let us be clear, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Michael Gove have all said they want to walk away from. And yet it is the benefits of membership of the single market that are precisely why every survey of business opinion, why the Bank of England, the IFS, the Treasury, the IMF, the OECD, the World Bank and 90% of independent economists say that leaving the European Union would damage our economy and end up costing Britain money, not saving us money.
The single market allows British businesses to do business with 500 million consumers, increasing tenfold the number of people to whom we can sell our goods without tariffs, just as if we were selling them here at home.
This open trade benefits the economy. It generates taxes which help pay for our NHS, our schools, our pensions, our housebuilding, our infrastructure and our welfare state. And yet the Leave campaign are prepared to see our economy suffer which would mean that we would have less money to spend on all these things we cherish.
If we leave, we will have just two years in which to negotiate not only a new trading relationship with the European Union, but also with the 53 other countries we currently have trade agreements with because we are members of the European Union. If we failed to do so, we would then have to fall back on World Trade Organisation terms, as Nigel Farage has himself admitted.
What would this mean?
It would mean that every one of the nearly 2,000 cars a day that we currently export to the European Union would face a 10% tariff. It would mean that our service industries which make up 80% of our GDP would be plunged into uncertainty.How could leaving the single market possibly be good for the British economy? How could Britain leaving the single market possibly encourage inward investment, remembering that we are the most successful country in Europe in doing precisely that - more successful than France and more successful than Germany? How would it help to sustain jobs?
The simple answer is that it wouldn’t.
And that tells us it is the influence we have as a member of the EU that shapes our economic relationships with others; influence that we would cast aside if we walked away.
And it is not just the economy and trade.
Let’s talk about immigration. For many people, immigration is the issue in this referendum. They feel our country has become too crowded, that our services are under pressure, that we are losing our identity and that leaving the European Union would restore control over all of these things. It is a feeling that is palpable in this campaign but so too are these truths.
We have an obligation to be honest with one another about the nature of the world in which we live, and about the changes that have happened and will happen whichever way people vote on 23 June.
Immigration into Britain will continue whether we stay or go, as the Leave campaign have now admitted. Indeed Nigel Farage’s contradictory promises, as we saw yesterday, simply don’t add up. And anyone who thinks that voting Leave will bring the numbers down significantly will in time be bitterly disappointed.
Free movement is part of the deal and the reason why so many people have come here from other EU countries is because jobs are available. Jobs that need doing and jobs that, if it had not been for this migration, employers would have been shouting about because of the difficulty they were having in filling them. Vacancies for doctors, nurses, lecturers, factory workers, chefs and waiters, receptionists, scientists and cleaners.
Britain has always welcomed those who wish to come here to work, to live and to contribute.
Just reflect for a moment on the greatest social challenge that confronts us; the demographic time bomb that will see the number of people aged 65 and over rise by nearly five million over the next two decades. Already, one in five of our care workers come from outside the United Kingdom – from Europe and the rest of the world – and we will need more carers as more people need looking after.
When my father came towards the end of his life, most of the people who cared for him with such patience and gentleness had brought their care from abroad to this country. And in the years ahead, it will be our turn to be looked after. And as well as providing that care, we will need to pay for it, which is why it is utterly irresponsible to advocate a course of action that will lead to a weaker, less strong and less prosperous economy. This would damage our public services and make it more difficult to deal with, as we must, the pressures that immigration brings.
The truth is that leaving the EU is not going to stop immigration. Our economy will continue to need its contribution. And, of course, immigration works both ways. Over a million British people have chosen to live and work in other EU countries. This too is part of the deal.
Leaving the EU would make it much harder for them and us to travel, study and work elsewhere in Europe; that right might disappear completely. What a lost opportunity for the next generation that would be.
And fundamental to the strength of the British economy is the freedom to bring in new talent and creative minds from abroad as well as to draw on the huge home-grown reservoir of those same skills and talents to build new businesses that employ workers in Britain and buy goods and services from firms in Britain.
The truth is we are a nation of migrants. From the Romans to the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans. From the Jews fleeing persecution to the Irish fleeing famine. From the Windrush generation and those who came from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to work in the mills and in manufacturing to their present day equivalents from Poland, Lithuania and Romania. And even some Americans, I would add, being the proud son of an immigrant from Ohio. And one of the greatest things about our country is the way in which over the generations these successive waves of migrants have mixed and melded and married until it is almost impossible to untangle the threads of the journeys that brought them here.
But this does not mean than any of us, whether born in Britain or born abroad, feel any the less who we think ourselves to be. We are proud of who we are - English, Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish, British, European - and in that very British way, we get along.
The question people ask is this. Will we continue to see these levels of immigration? Is there any limit? Well, we can influence the level, but not in the way the Leave campaigners think they can. The number who come will be determined by the size and strength of our economy and the jobs available. The number can be affected by measures such as preventing rogue employment agencies from only advertising jobs overseas, stopping exploitation and undercutting and ensuring that migrant workers make a fair contribution before they receive in-work benefits. And we have the ability completely to control the terms on which any new EU member state joins because we and every other EU country has a veto. We can set the conditions we want, including on free movement.
When it comes to the separate issue of refugees, as the Syria crisis has taught us, the challenge will be to tackle conflict successfully, prevent dangerous climate change, and play our part in helping developing countries to become more prosperous so that people can see a better life for themselves and their families where they were born rather than somewhere else.
Whether we are in or outside of the EU, when crisis strikes - war, drought, flood, disease - if people cannot survive where they are, they will do what human beings have done since the dawn of time - move in search of a better life.
And how we deal with this brings me finally to sovereignty and to what it means to be sovereign in the modern world. The Leave campaign claim that we have somehow lost absolute sovereignty and can regain it. Here too they are wrong.
We are still a sovereign nation. A sovereign British Parliament joined the Common Market, a sovereign British people voted to stay in 1975, a sovereign House of Commons has agreed every treaty change since and a sovereign House of Commons will abide by the decision of the British people in 10 days’ time. We are not in the Euro. We are not in the Schengen free passport area. We are excluded from ever closer union. And yet we still wield great influence in the European Union.
We led the argument for widening membership to offer a welcome to the former communist states of Eastern Europe who looked to the EU as a wonderful expression of freedom. The single market was our idea, and part of the reason for qualified majority voting was to prevent other member states from continuing to protect their own markets to the disadvantage of our businesses and our exports. We are on the winning side in the Council of Ministers the vast majority of the time. The truth is that pulling up the drawbridge and quitting the EU will not enhance our national sovereignty. All it would do is to weaken it by taking away our power to influence events in an ever more complex and interdependent world. It would hinder us from responding to the changes and the challenges that this century will present us with.
What is the point of absolute sovereignty if you cannot exercise it to achieve what you want? It is a phantom form of sovereignty. An imaginary wall made not of bricks and mortar, but of smoke and mirrors. Smoke that will dissipate the moment it comes into contact with events. Will it help us have a more peaceful and secure world? Will it help us stop dangerous climate change, which unchecked would devastate Britain, an island nation, surrounded on all sides by rising seas that respect no notion of sovereignty? Will it help us to be more secure when we know that it is working together that is the best protection against aggression and is the best means of keeping us safe from terrorism? Will it help us make the most of the wonders that lie ahead as science and technology, industry and ideas change the world in ways that today we can only dream of?
The answer to all these questions is no.
What will - as 21st Century Britain – great and powerful – has shown is being connected to other nations and building relationships with other nations. What will is sharing some of our sovereignty with others to our mutual benefit.
Now of course, as in any relationship, sometimes you get what you want and sometimes you don’t. It’s a bit like families. But it’s not an argument for walking away because together we are better off. But, the Leave side then say: “We can stand alone” and “Britain can be great again.” Well I say Britain never stopped being great and can be greater still in future.
It is the Leave campaign who are doing down our country, even though we lead in the UN, NATO, and the Commonwealth as well as in the EU. They seem to think that we are not capable of continuing to exert our influence in Europe. They seem to mourn for the age in which Britain gained influence through military strength and Empire. But the truth is those days are gone. And what they fail to recognise is the change through which we have continued to be great in the modern world.
In the second half of the 20th Century, we came to realise that it was far better and far more effective to be a global power that achieved its goals through co-operation rather than conquest. The new Elizabethan Age in which we now live has been one in which Britain has succeeded through persuasion, building relationships, proclaiming British values, promoting free trade, and upholding the rule of law and universal human rights. This conscious decision to exchange hard power for soft power was an enormously courageous step to take because it meant giving up the means by which we had prospered in the past.
But it paid off.
And we took that step in part because of the bitter experience of war and in part because we could hear the inexorable end of the Age of Empire coming in the growing cry for freedom from our colonies. And so it was that their submission gave way to their self-determination as the winds of change blew away the old order and a new world emerged.
It was on 14 August 1941 that Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt met in Newfoundland to adopt a joint declaration - subsequently known as the Atlantic Charter - that set out the Allied goals for the post-war world which became the basis for the United Nations.
The two most important of these goals were, first, self-determination so that people could be free to shape their own future and, second, global co-operation to secure better economic and social conditions for all. And far from being in contradiction, what bound these two goals together was the dawning realisation that for states to truly determine their future in the modern age they would have to co-operate with their neighbours and with the rest of the world.
And how can we best advance the British national interest today and in the future?
By continuing to do exactly that. By continuing to participate in and lead those very organisations that we helped to create which gave and give us influence.
Influence that can be seen today in so many different ways.
From the European Convention on Human Rights which we helped to draft to British Standards which allow the world to have confidence in the quality of goods and services.
From UK leadership on humanitarian aid - the UN Central Emergency Response Fund was a British idea - to the first climate change legislation in the world.
And for us now, of all countries, to walk away from the European Union and in the process to send a message to the rest of humankind that we are turning our face away from those values, away from that cooperation and away from the influence it gives us, would not only be a catastrophic mistake for our country but would be to diminish ourselves.
It would make us a poorer Britain. A lesser Britain. A less influential Britain. And most damaging of all, it would undermine the life chances of our children and our grandchildren. Why on earth as parents and grandparents would we want to do that? The world I was born into in 1953 - the year of the Queen’s coronation - had a population of 2.7 billion people. Today there are 7.5 billion of us. By the time my grandchildren reach my age, they will be sharing this small and fragile planet of ours with 10 billion men, women and children.
Will walking away from Europe really give them greater control over the world they will be living in? Will it make their future better? Will it help them to manage the changes that they will inevitably see in their lives just as we have seen great changes in ours? Will it help them to make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead in this century?
In our hearts, we know that the answer to all these questions is no.
So we have 10 days left to make sure this does not happen. We have 10 days left to take our case to all four corners of the country. We have 10 days left to proclaim the values of cooperation with our neighbours. We have 10 days left to honour the vision and the courage and the determination of those who brought peace to our continent.
Ours is a vision worth fighting for.
So let’s go out there and win this battle for the future of a great Britain."
Yes, we all know about the Presidential election in November - but it's not the only game in town. There will be Congressional elections (34 of the 100 Senate seats and all 435 seats in the House of Representatives), plus various State & local elections and some referenda)
Over the next few months, Washminster will (as it has in previous elections) preview some of the key contests.
But let's kick things off with an overview of the Senate. Whatever the result of the Presidential election, the Senate elections could play a key role in setting, or limiting the direction of American politics in coming years. Even the most ambitious, charismatic President could find his or her (isn't it wonderful be be able to write that phrase at last) plans could be derailed by the Senate. ALL legislation must pass the Senate, and confirmations for Executive and Judicial positions must be made by the 100 member body. The rules of the Senate give a lot of power to individual Senators - who can hold up or even block legislation and confirmations.
At present, 34 of the 100 seats will be up for election. The current make-up of the Senate is Republicans 54, Democrats 44 and 2 independants. (Both of these, Bernie Sanders & Angus King, usually vote with the Democrats). A net gain of 4 seats would give the Democrats control if Clinton wins (the Vice-President has the casting vote in the event of a tie). If Trump wins, the Democrats need a net gain of 5. But a bare majority is not the most important outcome for Presidential-Congressional elections. To end a filibuster (a key tool in the arsenal of a minority) 60 votes are needed. If the President has vetoed legislation passed by both Houses, 67 votes are needed to override that veto.
The Democrats have 10 seats to defend. Currently Cook (the Cook Report, a highly regarded forecaster of US elections) lists 8 of these as Solidly Democratic. 1 (Colorado) is classed as leaning Democratic.
But what makes the election exciting is that 24 Republican seats will be contested. 6 are currently thought to be toss-ups by Cook - enough for the Democrats to take control. North Carolina 'leans Republican - so is in British terms, marginal; and 6 'likely Republican - less marginal, but potentially vulnerable. Eleven are seen as Solid.
Five months out, and there is much that could change. However, these are the elections that could define the presidency of Trump or Clinton. Washminster will help you keep your eye on the critical contests.
Yesterday I visited the beautiful city of Oxford. I attended a meeting in Christ Church at which Michael J Klarman of Harvard University set out the story described in his forthcoming book "The Framers' Coup: The making of the United States constitution". The story of the making of the Constitution is itself an interesting one - I've read quite a few books about it, and visited the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia (I would recommend à visit if you find yourself in that Historic City).
Klarman addresses the issue of why the members of the convention were able to successfully produce and have ratified a constitution which exceeded all expectations. In particular it shifted power from the states to a new, and as we have seen, ultimately very powerful federal Government.It also put a brake on some of the more democratic and revolutionary ideas that were current.
He began by setting out the expectations - which he argued were that the states would retain their supremacy and that democracy would be extended. Yet the federal government ended up with extensive powers over taxation, commerce and the military. Ideas intended to increase democracy - such as short terms of office; direct elections; and powers of instruction, recall & term limits were watered down or rejected.
The second issue is how these outcomes were achieved. If the analysis in the book is as clinical and extensive as in Professor Klarman's presentation - then students of political behaviour and strategy (like myself) will find the book a valuable investment.
The third and final part of the talk addressed the question of how ratification was achieved.
The book is due to be published in November. Online orders are being taken now at www.oup.com/uk/politics - and I'll be ordering a copy today.
I have to admit it - like many people, I'm really turned off by the way this referendum is being conducted. There is a relentless bombardment of the public by "information" (some of which is HIGHLY dubious) - endless "discussion" and attempts to look at the referendum from innovative angles.
I fear many people are now so switched off, that they won't vote. That would be a pity, because this is potentially one of the most important votes in recent British history. Its repercussions may be felt for decades. The consequences could be immense (yes there is some exaggeration - from both sides) but the result will leave a lasting impact (and that would be true even if there was a comfortable 'Remain' win).
The 1975 referendum did not end the debate once and for all, as was suggested at the time - and that had a large majority. A close result is likely to ensure that the losing side carries on the debate.
What sort of questions should people be asking in the next fortnight? [Unless it is too late - as it soon will be if you haven't registered yet; or, like me - you've already voted]
I suggest the following
* How CREDIBLE are the predictions? No one can foresee the future - the best anyone can do is to make predictions. What are those predictions based on? Are they blind faith (which I fear is the case for those who HOPE that Britain will enjoy exactly the same terms of trade as it currently enjoys); or are they based on a detailed analysis? What are the assumptions behind the predictions?
* Why did Britain join in the first place? (and what did it think it was joining?) There's been a lot of nonsense spouted about our expectations. We did NOT think we were merely joining a free trade area. In fact, we set up the European Free Trade Area as an ALTERNATIVE to membership of the EEC. When we did apply, some opponents proposed a North Atlantic Free Trade Area (then known by initials subsequently used for another project - NAFTA). Sadly, while many Brits thought this was a good idea, it fell embarrassingly flat in the USA. The 1957 Treaty of Rome (we announced we would apply to join in 1961) lists the objectives, the first being
"DETERMINED to establish the foundations of an ever closer union among the European peoples,"
An ever closer union was not slipped in later, while we weren't looking - it was there before we applied.
Similarly, we knew that EEC Law (now EU Law) took precedence over conflicting national legislation - because the principle had been stated in the earliest caselaw of the European Court of Justice (see the leading case of Costa v ENEL (1964)
"BY CONTRAST WITH ORDINARY INTERNATIONAL TREATIES, THE EEC TREATY HAS CREATED ITS OWN LEGAL SYSTEM WHICH, ON THE ENTRY INTO FORCE OF THE TREATY, BECAME AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE LEGAL SYSTEMS OF THE MEMBER STATES AND WHICH THEIR COURTS ARE BOUND TO APPLY .
BY CREATING A COMMUNITY OF UNLIMITED DURATION, HAVING ITS OWN INSTITUTIONS, ITS OWN PERSONALITY, ITS OWN LEGAL CAPACITY AND CAPACITY OF REPRESENTATION ON THE INTERNATIONAL PLANE AND, MORE PARTICULARLY, REAL POWERS STEMMING FROM A LIMITATION OF SOVEREIGNTY OR A TRANSFER OF POWERS FROM THE STATES TO THE COMMUNITY, THE MEMBER STATES HAVE LIMITED THEIR SOVEREIGN RIGHTS AND HAVE THUS CREATED A BODY OF LAW WHICH BINDS BOTH THEIR NATIONALS AND THEMSELVES .
THE INTEGRATION INTO THE LAWS OF EACH MEMBER STATE OF PROVISIONS WHICH DERIVE FROM THE COMMUNITY AND MORE GENERALLY THE TERMS AND THE SPIRIT OF THE TREATY, MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE STATES, AS A COROLLARY, TO ACCORD PRECEDENCE TO A UNILATERAL AND SUBSEQUENT MEASURE OVER A LEGAL SYSTEM ACCEPTED BY THEM ON A BASIS OF RECIPROCITY . SUCH A MEASURE CANNOT THEREFORE BE INCONSISTENT WITH THAT LEGAL SYSTEM . THE LAW STEMMING FROM THE TREATY, AN INDEPENDENT SOURCE OF LAW, COULD NOT BECAUSE OF ITS SPECIAL AND ORIGINAL NATURE, BE OVERRIDDEN BY DOMESTIC LEGAL PROVISIONS, HOWEVER FRAMED, WITHOUT BEING DEPRIVED OF ITS CHARACTER AS COMMUNITY LAW AND WITHOUT THE LEGAL BASIS OF THE COMMUNITY ITSELF BEING CALLED INTO QUESTION .
THE TRANSFER BY THE STATES FROM THEIR DOMESTIC LEGAL SYSTEM TO THE COMMUNITY LEGAL SYSTEM OF THE RIGHTS AND OBLIGATIONS ARISING UNDER THE TREATY CARRIES WITH IT A PERMANENT LIMITATION OF THEIR SOVEREIGN RIGHTS ."
There are some excellent histories available about the debate in the UK from 1950 to 1973.
* What ideology lies behind the arguments? We tend in Britain to ignore the ideological framework behind political arguments. While both sides take support from across the political spectrum - there are in both camps a dominant ideological position.
The "Remain" camp does represent the mainstream range of ideologies represented in British political parties in the period from 1945 to date. There are differences in the extent of the role of the State - but most believe that the State should be involved in regulating the market, and limiting what Heath described as "the unacceptable face of capitalism"
A major driver within the "Leave" campaign is a belief, like Ronald Reagan's, that
"Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem". Regulation, except in the most extreme situation, should not be used to grant protections to workers or consumers, the 'free market' should determine how the market operates. It is this which lies behind their crusade "to free us from the shackles of Europe." There are left wing supporters of Brexit - and they hope that the present protections will remain should we withdraw - but do the leading lights of the Leave campaign share their hope? The ultra-conservative momentum within the Republican Party, which has left Goldwater and Reagan far behind, is powerful within the Farage-IDS-Gove wing of the Leave campaign.
Another "golden oldie" video - which will be relevant if you have exams coming up involving EU Law (such as the Open University's W200 course)
I also have a flow diagram which sets out the steps to answer any problem based upon the issue of whether a right can be enforced? and if so how? (A very frequent exam question in almost all EU Law courses)
A couple of years ago (doesn't it show!) I recorded three short videos on the subject of Dicey and his explanation of Parliamentary Sovereignty (or 'supremacy').
If you are revising for an exam in which Parliamentary Sovereignty may make an appearance (such as the Open University's W200 or W201 courses - or Constitutional Law at degree level) - these videos may assist your revision.
Please use - or share this post with people who might find it useful. It is also of course relevant to the debate around the EU Referendum.
The Queen's Speech has been delivered. It's significance is that a new Session has begun. Unless a General Election intervenes, (and after the Fixed Term Parliaments Act 2011, that is very unlikely) the session will last until May next year.
Once sessions were almost watertight, only in a very few circumstances would a bill remain alive after the session ended. Now there are a number of "carry over" bills - which survive from the 2015-16 Session and will continue in the new session. Soon "Sessional Returns" will be produced, which give valuable data about the work (and effectiveness) of the last session. Academics studying Parliament (myself included) find these a valuable tool - they can be accessed here.
The other significance is that the Government (the 'Executive' part of government) has put forward its legislative agenda. Over the next few days some of those promised bills will be introduced and published. Some will be held back until later in the session. There is no requirement for the government to deliver its planned agenda - circumstances may change - less time might be available than planned for, and new legislation may be introduced to respond to events which occur.
For any students of the Open University's W200 "Understanding Law" course - I have recorded my presentation setting out the key topics in the course - and highlighting those areas which merit especial attention.
The two keys to revision are
* Connecting and
These slides give an overview of the course - so note how the different elements of the course fit into a structure - essentially
- English Legal System
- Constitutional Law
- Human Rights
- Criminal Law
- Obligations (sometimes referred to as the two related subjects of 'Contract' & 'Tort'
- EU Law - the structure of the institutions and EU Legal System (Institutions; Court Actions; Enforcing Rights in EU Law)
- EU Law on Free Movement of Goods & Persons; Competition Law; Social Policy
make the connections. Spider grams (MindMaps) can help here.
For the bullet points in the slides - can you briefly state the key information - in a condensed form - for example - what are
* Dicey's three points on Parliamentary Sovereignty (Supremacy)
* the requirements for a right arising in EU Law to have - direct effect; indirect effect; state liability
* what are the key elements in justifying national rules which might appear to hinder the free movements?
A starting point in revision is to identify the key topics that need to be covered. For W200 Students (or students of English legal System and EU Law) Below is a MindMap illustrating the key parts of the W200 Understanding Law course. Unit 8, on Scottish Law is not examinable - so I haven't incorporated it.
Once you can visualise the structure of the course - the next task is to draw out the key issues within each major subject. The way that the manuals are structured helps you do that.
For Example - Units One and Two make up "Introduction to Law 1 Introduction and what is law 2 Terminology and sources of Law
Each unit is subdivided - Unit One - A General Introduction to the course - no need to revise this B What is Law? C The Functions of Law
Note the key themes and further divisions - B1, B2, B3..... You might want to draw your own MindMap for each Subject and/or Unit. Briefly summarise the key points as you revise - this involves condensing the information.
(click on the mindmap for the full version) For W201 Students (or students of UK Constitutional Law; Human Rights & Criminal Law) Below is a MindMap illustrating the key parts of the W201 The Individual & the State course. Once you can visualise the structure of the course - the next task is to draw out the key issues within each major subject. The way that the manuals are structured helps you do that. For Example - Units One to Five cover "Constitutional Law"
1 Fundamental Values, constitutions and core constitutional principles 2 The sources of the UK Constitution 3&4 Parliamentary supremacy 5 The institutions of State in the UK
Each unit is subdivided - Unit One - A Identifying fundamental values B Constitutions: purpose and classification C Core constitutional principles (1) Parliamentary supremacy (2) Responsible government D Core constitutional principles (1) The Rule of Law (2) The Separation of Powers Note the key themes and further divisions - B1, B2, B3.....
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.