Thursday 18 December 2008

Recess Begins

Westminster is due to finish its business today - and then go into recess for Christmas. Washminster will also be taking a break and (barring any major news developments) will not have any new posts until New Years Eve.

Have a merry Christmas - and I look forward to welcoming you back on December 31st.

Best wishes


Wednesday 17 December 2008

How Laws Originate

Often we can concentrate too much on the formal legislative process. The House of Lords European Union Select Committee has published this year a useful report on the initiation of EU legislation. It's a useful guide for anyone wanting to know how the European Union works in practice - and will of course be invaluable to law and politics students - but we can all learn...

The report is available in full at -

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Christmas with Capitol Steps

If you've been reading Washminster for some time, you'll know that I am a great fan of 'Capitol Steps' - a group who now perform regularly in Washington DC and elsewhere - but who began as a group of congressional staffers poking fun at their bosses. When I was in Alexandria during the election I discovered the office while walking to the campaign office.
Over Christmas why not listen to some of their humour? Go to http://www.capsteps.com/ and listen to Christmas numbers such as "Why's the Army Frisking Santa Claus?"; "Jingo All The Way".

Every year they do a live New Years Eve broadcast!

Monday 15 December 2008

More Political Humour on Blackadder

In the third series of Blackadder - an episode "Dish and Dishonesty" makes some humourous observations on the state of Parliament in the period before the great Reform Act. Enjoy!

Sunday 14 December 2008

The Bishop of Bath & Wells

It's difficult living with a title made famous by an outrageous comedy. The new Bishop of Bath and Wells joined the House of Lords earlier this month. Episode 4 of Blackadder II centres around an earlier (fictional) bishop.

The current Bishop told peers in his maiden speech -

"In the aftermath of the “Blackadder”television series, there are always perils for the bishops of Bath and Wells. I am constantly reminded of the alleged activities of one of my predecessors as a baby eater, as well as doing unmentionable things with a red hot poker. Entering your Lordships’ House has proved no exception, and the greeting from the Doorkeeper on my first day referring to these matters was capped only by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark seeing my five week-old granddaughter arrive and remarking, “The Bishop has brought his own lunch”".

Saturday 13 December 2008

The Week Ahead

Parliament has its last week before the recess - The Commons will be holding debates, while in the Lords legislation begins its progress - full details can be found at http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/2008/12/15/week.html

In the USA the mess left over from last week needs to be sorted out!

Friday 12 December 2008

Private Members Bills - Ballot Results

The 20 MPs successful in the ballot were as follows (in order):

Mrs Cheryl Gillan
Mr David Heath
Mr Lindsay Hoyle
Peter Luff
Dr Evan Harris
Malcolm Wicks
Mr Peter Ainsworth
David Mundell
Mrs Jacqui Lait
Sir Paul Beresford
Mr Stephen Crabb
Mrs Caroline Spelman
Mr Jeremy Browne
Mr Jim Cunningham
Mr Tim Boswell
Mr Russell Brown
Mr Charles Kennedy
Philip Davies
John Bercow
Mr Michael Mates

Standing Order 14

(4) Private Members’ bills shall have precedence over
government business on thirteen Fridays in each session to be
appointed by the House.
(5) On and after the eighth Friday on which private Members’
bills have precedence, such bills shall be arranged on the order
paper in the following order—
consideration of Lords amendments, third readings,
consideration of reports not already entered upon,
adjourned proceedings on consideration, bills in
progress in committee, bills appointed for committee,
and second readings.
(6) The ballot for private Members’ bills shall be held on the
second Thursday on which the House shall sit during the
session under arrangements to be made by the Speaker, and
each bill shall be presented by the Member who has given
notice of presentation or by another Member named by him in
writing to the Clerks at the Table, at the commencement of
public business on the fifth Wednesday on which the House
shall sit during the session.

What are the key issues in Foreign Policy?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean described - in one succinct sentence, the key questions of foreign policy -

"what is happening in other people’s countries and
how much we intervene through the encouragement of some,
the criticism of others,
or, frankly, direct action when we feel the need"

It would be hard to better this useful summary.
Baroness Symons served as a Minister for eight years; including six in the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and two in the Ministry of Defence.

Thursday 11 December 2008

The Inauguration

Less than 40 days to go (a friend brought me one of the very popular countdown clocks - which I keep at my bedside). For the latest information on the cermony itself - and associated events visit the official website at http://inaugural.senate.gov/.

Now's the time to be planning your own party to coincide with and celebrate the occasion!

Below are two videos of an inspirational Inauguration.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Missing Voters

In the UK voter registration is compulsory - and should be close to complete coverage as is possible. However there are a number of reasons why some people are not registered. Once a year all residential propeties should be sent a form for completition by one member of the household for everyone in that living unit. In areas of high turnover this may be overlooked - or the property occupied after the 'survey'.

In a recent written answer the House of Commons was told that the Electoral Commission's 2005 report, Understanding Electoral Registration, contains the most recent national estimate for non-registration for England and Wales. The percentage of the eligible household population not on the register at 15 October 2000 was estimated to be between 8 per cent. and 9 per cent., which was equivalent to approximately 3.5 million people.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Parliamentary Privilege

The House of Commons Library has produced an informative 'Standard note' on Parliamentary privilege and individual members. It is available at - http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/briefings/snpc-04905.pdf

"All men have their price"

This quote is from Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister of England. Actually the way it is normally quoted gives the wrong sense of his words. He was overheard saying "All these men have their price - except the little Cornish baronet". He was referring to Sir John St Aubyn (1699 (poss 1702) - 1744, the third Baronet of Clowance. The St Aubyn family represented various Cornish constitutencies over the centuries. When Walpole fell from power the House of Commons set up a committee to inquire into Walpole's ministry, but no substantial evidence of wrongdoing or corruption was discovered. St Aubyn was elected to that Select Committee by unanimous agreement of the whole House of Commons.

I discovered all this while researching Clowance, where we will soon be spending a few days holiday.

More on St John St Aubyn -

Monday 8 December 2008

Constitutional Reform

Pre-legislative scrutiny has become an increasingly important part of Parliament's work. In the last session one piece of proposed legislation considered by a Joint Committee of both Houses was the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill. (Report at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200708/jtselect/jtconren/166/166.pdf).

There was no mention in the Queen's Speech about a full bill being introduced this session, but the Queen did say "My Government will continue to take forward proposals on constitutional renewal, including strengthening the role of Parliament and other measures." Baroness Royall, Leader of the House of Lords told peers in the subsequent debate "We will continue to work on measures aimed at improving our democracy and our constitution."

The draft bill had six parts, each dealing with issues raised in the Government's Governance of Britain programme. Key matters include abolishing the provisions covered by sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime & Police Act 2005 concerning demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament; The role of the Attorney General; the removal of the involvement of the Lord Chancellor in lower level judicial appointments; parliamentary consideration of treaties before ratification; and the placing of the Civil Service on a statutory basis - with codes of conduct.

Sunday 7 December 2008

Complaints about Members of the House of Lords

Since 2002 there has been a Code of Conduct which has set out a number of rules for the conduct of Members of the House of Lords, which relates, amongst other things to the registration and declaration of interests.

The first complaints were slow in coming, but a few have now been made, and so the Committee for Privileges has decided to propose more detailed guidance for the making and consideration of complaints. Essentially, complaints will initially be sifted by the Registrar of Interests - and manifestly frivolous complaints or those outside the scope of the Code will be rejected. Remaining complaints will be given a more detailed assessment by the Chair of the Sub-Committee on Lords Interests. He will make a recommendation to the Sub-Committee who can investigate the matter further - inviting a response from the member to the complaint made.

Remedial action may be agreed, or the Sub-Committee may pursue the matter further, ultimately reporting to the Committee of Privileges.

Saturday 6 December 2008

More on the CVC

I loved this story - some people are complaining that the Capitol Visitors Center is "left-leaning" (No, not that it is in danger of toppling over - but is 'too liberal'). Read the piece in the Washington Post -

The Week Ahead

Debates on the Queen's speech will continue and conclude in both Houses at Westminster. The debate on the motion to establish a Speaker’s Committee on the search of offices on the Parliamentary Estate will be discussed (not doubt in a lively manner!) on Monday. The full business can seen accessed at http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/2008/12/08/week.html

A second "lame duck session" is expected in Congress. Details of the House arrangements can be found at http://democraticleader.house.gov/docUploads/27WeeklyLeader12_08_08.pdf?CFID=7017212&CFTOKEN=43085550. The Senate calendar for Monday is available at http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=senate_calendar&docid=sc001.pdf

Friday 5 December 2008

Capitol Visitors Center

The CVC finally opened this week - Eight and a half years since building began - and over three years late. At nearly 580,000 square feet, the CVC is the largest building project in the Capitol’s history and is approximately three quarters the size of the Capitol itself.

The purpose of the Center is to provide the public with an informative starting point for tours of the Capitol - but also to provide more facilities - such as an exhibition hall; gift shops; and orientation theatres.

A new website is available about the Center - and visiting Congress - http://www.visitthecapitol.gov/

Thursday 4 December 2008

Parliamentary Approval for Deploying the Armed Forces

The House of Commons Library has published an excellent Research Paper introducing the issues involved in Parliament's approval for the deployment of the armed forces - which is likely to be part of the constitutional reforms given effect this session.

The paper begins which some useful definitions and explanations of the Royal Prerogative.

The Paper is available at

The first days of a new session

The first few days of a session are spent by both Houses of the UK Parliament debating the Queen's Speech. The first part of this occured yesterday afternoon with the proposer and seconder of a motion -

"That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:
Most Gracious Sovereign, We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom and Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to offer our humble thanks to Your Majesty for the Gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament."

The first two speeches are by tradition humourous. Then the serious business begins. The Leader of the Opposition spoke first and the debate will continue into next week. Each day's debate in each House deals with particular subject areas. The details can be found at http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/

Wednesday 3 December 2008

Video about the Queen's Speech

The Lord Speaker has made a video about the State Opening of Parliament -

A timetable of events is available at - http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/occasions/stateopening/timetable.cfm

The New Session

The Queen opens the new session of Parliament this morning. Each session lasts for about one year - usually running from one November to the next. The only exceptions are when a session is ended early because a General Election is called, and the subsequent first session may be extended until the November in the year following the General Election.

This is the 54th Parliament of the United Kingdom. However unlike most legislatures - as with the US Congress [the 111th Congress will begin on 3rd January] - Parliaments are more usually referred to by the year of their election - so most people will call this the 2008-09 (or 4th) session of the 2005 Parliament.
State Openings of Parliament involve many references to history. The cellars of the Palace of Westminster are ceremonially searched by the Yeomen of the Guard led by the Deputy Chief Whip of the Lords (who has the title of the Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeoman of the Guard). This relives the search which discovered Guy Fawkes in 1605. There will be a proper search undertaken by the police too.
When 'Black Rod' is sent by the Queen to summon the House of Commons, his approach to the House is marked by the slamming of the door in his face. Only after knocking three times is the door reopened to him. This is an assertion by the Commons of its independence - they initially refuse entrance to the Queen's messenger - and then when summoned amble over to the Lords, chatting loudly.
A hostage is held at Buckingham Palace pending the Queen's safe return. Normally this is the Vice Chamberlain of Her Majesty's household, one of the senior whips in the House of Commons (currently Claire Ward MP)
Graham Allen MP once described the experience to the BBC "I am also held hostage once a year when the Queen opens Parliament pending her safe return. If by some chance she is executed or spirited away by MPs, I have my head removed from the rest of my body. Fortunately, the two times I've been held hostage it hasn't happened. It is very onerous, I sit in a comfortable chair, drink a gin and tonic and eat sausages on sticks. I sit with the Queen's private secretary, the Duke of Edinburgh's private secretary and the Princess Royal's private secretary and various ladies in waiting and watch the Queen's Speech on television."
A pdf file on the State Opening is available at http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/HofLstateopening.pdf

Monday 1 December 2008

Why it Matters!

I'm not a big fan of Damien Green. I object to Tory civil servants (who are supposed to be neutral in the performance of their job) leaking information just to embarass the political party they personally don't think should be governing...


The arrest and search of Damien Green raises important issues central to Parliament. At the heart of the struggles between the Crown and Parliament in history was the fight over an MP's ability to act and speak without fear of intimidation by the Executive. It is at the heart of the ceremonies surrounding the State Opening of Parliament which takes place on Wednesday. When Black Rod approaches the Commons the door will be slammed in his face - and only after knocking 3 times will he be allowed to enter. It was the attempt by Charles I to arrest some MPs which was thwarted by the Speaker - which lies behind this Commons tradition.

One of the ancient privileges of MPs is freedom from arrest. This doesn't cover arrest for criminal activity - but for the enforcement of civil debt. However, when an MP is arrested - or the police want to search his offices - the Speaker is informed - and it would be a contempt of Parliament for the police to search an Mp's office without the permission of the Speaker.

I agree with those MPs who are outraged at what has happened. The Speaker should have declined permission - constituents should expect that their mail to MPs cannot be read. MPs should not have to fear police raids and arrest whilst carrying out their parliamentary activities. That is why in almost every parliament, including Congress, these rights are protected and fiercely defended.

Friday 28 November 2008

A Short Break

The UK Parliament was prorogued on Wednesday evening (and I was in the public gallery to watch this bizarre and interesting ceremony). You can watch too at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/VideoPlayer.aspx?meetingId=2827&st=20:18:24

Washminster will return on Wednesday 3rd December - when the new session of Parliament will be opened.

Thursday 27 November 2008

A Temporary Vacancy

Representative Tom Davis announced that he would not contest the 11th District of Virginia in this month's elections. As a result, the Northern Virginia seat which he represented for almost 14 years, became an open seat, which was won by Gerry Connolly for the Democrats.

Last Friday he announced that he would leave Congress immediately, in order to start his new career at Deloitte Consulting in their federal government services division. Representative-Elect Connolly will not take his seat until the 11th Congress begins at noon on January 3rd. In the meantime the Clerk of the House will manage Davis’ former office .

Wednesday 26 November 2008

How many judges?

Marcel Berlins wrote an interesting piece in yesterday's Guardian ('Writ Large' - http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/nov/24/lawlords-uk-supreme-court-chagos) which will be of interest to Law students and those interested in comparative legal institutions.

He points out that the US Supreme Court delivers decisions which usually involve all nine justices - wheras in the UK panels consisting of five out of the 12 Law Lords are the norm. He points out that this can lead to a lottery, the result depending upon whether one or another Lord Lord is part of the panel hearing a specific case. The argument he advances in his piece is worth considering.
Comments about the appropriate size of the top court in a country would be welcomed on this blog.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Virginia House of Delegates

The oldest legislature in the new world is considered to be the Virginia House of Delegates. It can be traced back to 1619 when the Virginia House of Burgesses first met in Jamestown. Chairman of the Minority Caucus, Brian Moran, explained the role of the House

Further details of the House and the Senate - which together make up the Virginia General Assembly - can be found at http://legis.state.va.us/

Monday 24 November 2008

The Pre Budget Report

Once a year the Chancellor of the Exchequer presents his budget. This is normally done in March. In the United Kingdom the tax year runs from 6th April to the 5th April the following year. The Budget speech is delivered in the chamber of the House of Commons - and usually follows the structure of

1 a review of how the UK economy is performing
2 forecasts of how the UK economy will perform in the future
3 details of any changes to taxation.

During the latter part of the twentieth century, as governments struggled to control the economy, many years saw an additional "mini-budget". In 1997 the Labour Government began the practice of having an annual "pre-Budget Report". This allows the Chancellor to update the Commons on the performance and forecasts for the economy, as well as giving an opportunity to make mid year changes to taxation and to signal future changes.

Today Alistair Darling will give his Pre-Budget Report - which most commentators believe will be the most significant in a long time. Various tax changes are rumoured as a response to the current crisis. The speech can be viewed live at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Live.aspx. BBC News 24 will be providing a live feed plus commentary afterwards at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7459669.stm. The speech is due to begin soon after 3.30pm GMT.

Sunday 23 November 2008

The Transition

It is still 58 days until Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States. Since 4th November details of the administration and its likely policies have been emerging. One of the best sources of information is the official website http://www.change.gov/. This includes details of the presidential agenda as well as news updates. [It is also the site for applying for jobs in the new administration].

There is a major contrast between the British and American changes of government. In the UK a General Election is held between the hours of 7am and 10pm, in recent history - on a Thursday. Once the polls are closed the ballot papers are counted in each constituency and results announced. In most modern elections the "winning party" is known by the early hours of the day following the election. If the result involves a change of Government - the existing Prime Minister will resign that day and the Queen appoint the new PM on that day. The new administration starts work immediately.
In the USA there is a transition period. Originally the new President took office on 4th March - which could be over 4 months after the election, but this was changed by 20th Amendment to 20th January.

Saturday 22 November 2008

The Week Ahead

The Lame Duck Session in Congress has ended - but speculation has been rising that a second such session will be called for December.

At Westminster it is expected to be the last week before the 2007-08 Session ends. Prorogation is expected on Thursday. The new session will be opened on December 3rd.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer will deliver his Pre Budget Report on Monday.

The calendar of parliamentary business is available at http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/2008/11/24/week.html

Friday 21 November 2008

Big Brother is Watching You!

How do you assure that investigatory and surveillance powers are only used for the purposes intended when the powers were granted - and not for other, including trivial, purposes? This issue was addressed at a meeting of the Lord's Constitution Committee this week.

Vernon Coaker (Minister of State for Policing, Crime & Security) both addressed the committee and answered questions.

Other issues raised were the extent of the UK's national DNA database; and the number of people arrested but not charged or convicted, but who are now on the database - who were subsequently linked to serious crimes.

It was agreed by the Minister that the UK had the largest database relative to the size of its population. 5% of UK citizens are on that database - compared to only 0.5% of US citizens on their database.

The meeting can be viewed at -

Thursday 20 November 2008

How to be effective....

....in the House of Lords. Wearing a suit is not enough (see 19th November). To be really effective, a sense of humour is required. A Peer who uses gentle humour can go a long way to win the support of the House. For example on Oct 16th Lord Adonis deftly answered questions about cycling. It is an issue which can raise tensions - as supporters of cycling are countered by Peers who see cyclists as dangerous threats to public safety.

He was asked by Lordf Krebs - "What does the Minister intend to do about local authorities such as Oxfordshire County Council which are removing cycle lanes and footpaths to make more space for cars and buses? Does the noble Lord agree that this is contrary to government policy, and what does he intend to do about it?"

a politically charged questioned (implicedly criticising the Conservative administration; and a pro-cycling question) . Lord Adonis won the House by beginning his reply

"My Lords, I am at one with HG Wells, who said:
“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race”.

Later in the questioning the following exchange took place

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, a lot has been said about cycling but not as much has been said about walking, although all the evidence shows that the amount of walking that people do is declining. I know what keeps me walking: it is my dog. Perhaps the Government should consider encouraging more people to keep dogs.

Lord Adonis: Perhaps or perhaps not, my Lords; there are pros and cons. Of course, it is absolutely vital that people feel safe when they are walking but Her Majesty’s Government have not seen it as a priority to teach people how to walk, so we give more emphasis to policy promoting cycling. If I were to publish a walking strategy document, it might be thought to be the ultimate example of the nanny state.
It's worth watching the House at work - to see how gentle humour is frequently employed. You can do this at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/

Wednesday 19 November 2008

What to wear....

...when visiting the House of Lords. In a written answer, the Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara) explained -

The dress code in the Prince’s Chamber is the same as in the main catering outlets for Members: men should wear a jacket and tie, and women should be suitably attired. This dress code applies equally to Members, guests, staff and officials. The code is enforced by the Doorkeepers, who rely on the co-operation of Members. I take this opportunity to remind Members that they should adhere to this dress code at all times and ensure that their guests and staff do likewise.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Following Gordon

Over last weekend I was able to follow Gordon Brown and his entourage as they arrived in New York, visited the UN, then moved onto Washington for the G20 summit. This was possible because I had signed up for "10 Downing Street" on twitter. You can do this at http://twitter.com/DowningStreet. I also find it useful to get updates on new documents published by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) from http://twitter.com/opencrs

Monday 17 November 2008


The three main sources of the British constitution are - Statutes; Caselaw and Conventions. The latter have been defined as “certain rules of constitutional behaviour which are considered to be binding by and upon those who operate the Constitution, but which are not enforced by the law courts (although the courts may recognise their existence), nor by the presiding officers in the Houses of Parliament.” [Marshall, G., and Moodie, G.C., Some Problems of the Constitution, 5th edn., London Hutchinson (1971), pp. 17–18.]

Examples include the convention that a Monarch will always sign a bill passed by both Houses of Parliament; and that Ministers will sit in either the House of Commons or the House of Lords.

A Joint Committee of Both Houses published a report on conventions of the UK Parliament. It is well worth reading - http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200506/jtselect/jtconv/265/265.pdf. Of particular use to students will be the evidence given by the academics - Lord Norton of Louth, Professor of Government, Hull University, Professor Anthony Bradley, Professor Emeritus of Constitutional Law, University of Edinburgh, and Dr Meg Russell, Senior Research Fellow, Constitution Unit, University College London. This is available on pages 119 onwards at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200506/jtselect/jtconv/265/265ii.pdf

An interesting academic article on the subject can be found at http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FCLJ%2FCLJ64_01%2FS0008197305006823a.pdf&code=3bfe8a864930e9690e528452fc6608c7

Sunday 16 November 2008

Election Expenditure

The final figures are not yet available - but it is estimated that almost $2 billion (that's a B!) was spent by candidates in the 2008 Presidential election. A blog on the New York Times website recently stated "the debate over how future campaigns will be financed is set to begin in earnest. The outcome promises to have a profound impact on future presidential runs, either upping the fund-raising ante irrevocably or forcing sweeping changes to prevent such large amounts of cash from coursing through campaigns again. But just as it has in this election cycle, it is quite likely that politics, as much as principle, will shape the jockeying."

Campaign Finance reform has had a chequered history in the USA - the main stumbling bloc has been the constitutionally guaranteed Free Speech Rights (First Amendment)

A Congressional Research Service paper on the issue is available at http://italy.usembassy.gov/pdf/other/RL33580.pdf

The Brookings Institute has a webpage on the issue - http://www.brookings.edu/topics/campaign-finance.aspx and a campaign site (one amongst many) can be accessed at http://www.publicampaign.org/

In the UK, the amounts of money are much smaller - but the issue is still of great concern. There are now legal limits on how much individual candidates can spend; and on the national expenditure of parties. A paper prepared by the House of Commons Library can be read at http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/notes/snpc-03413.pdf.

Saturday 15 November 2008

The Week Ahead

Congress MAY return for a lame duck session this week for consideration of Economic Recovery Legislation. The House of Representatives notice from the Leader of the House is available at http://democraticleader.house.gov/docUploads/26WeeklyLeader11_14_08.pdf?CFID=13924048&CFTOKEN=38577085. The House is due to meet at 1pm (6pm GMT) on Wednesday; and the Senate on Monday.

At Westminster Parliament continues to move towards the conclusion of the session by debating the final stages of a number of bills. On Tuesday the Lords will debate the Constitution Committee's report and follow-up on Relations between the executive, the judiciary and Parliament. Thursday will see a Commons debate on organ donation.

The week's calendar is available at http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/2008/11/17/week.html

Information on the Inauguration Day is available at http://inaugural.senate.gov/

Friday 14 November 2008

Congress to Campus

Yesterday I attended a meeting at Leicester University which was addressed by two former Congressmen, George Hochbrueckner (NY, 1987-95, Democratic Party) and Dick Schulze (PA, 1975-93, Republican Party). It was a very interesting session - and the congressmen spoke about the work of Congress and the political situation in the US after last week's elections. Students and Staff had an opportunity to put questions - and a lively debate ensued about healthcare.

The "Congress to Campus" programme was by created by the Association of Former Members of Congress. Former members visit universities in pairs - one Democrat and one Republican, to explain and discuss Congress with students. The programme began in the USA, but has been extended overseas. In the United Kingdom the programme has been supported by the British Library.

More details of the programme can be found at http://www.stennis.gov/congress2campus.htm

Thursday 13 November 2008

The House of Lords and the Intelligence and Security Committee

The House of Lords is due to consider the Third Report from the Procedure Committee, which deals with proposed new arrangements for nominating members of; and debating reports from the Intelligence and Security Committee. Unlike other select committees this one is appointed by, and reports to the Prime Minister.

The main recommendations are -

that in future the Usual Channels should agree on a member or members to nominate, and that the Leader of the House would then seek the approval of the House by tabling a motion in the following terms:

"The Lord President (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon) to move that this House approves the nomination of Lord/Baroness [name] as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee."

The final appointment would then formally be made by the Prime Minister, in consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, in accordance with the Intelligence Services Act 1994.


that there should in future be a presumption that ISC reports will be debated, subject to a decision of the Usual Channels in each case; and that the presumption should be that annual reports should be debated in Grand Committee and that special reports should be debated either in Grand Committee or in the Chamber.

The Royal Prerogative

Actions by the Executive (Ministers) derive their authority from either Parliament - [Statute or delegated legislation] or from the Royal Prerogative. Dicey once described the latter as "the remaining portion of the Crown's original authority, and is therefore...the name for the residue of discretionary power left at any moment in the hands of the Crown, whether such power be in fact execised by the Queen herself or by her Ministers"

In practice most powers are exercised by Ministers - even those personally exercised by the Monarch are done on advice of Ministers, or according to established conventions. The Public Administration Committee in the House of Commons produced a report on the Royal Prerogative http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200304/cmselect/cmpubadm/422/422.pdf.
Reform of the Royal Prerogative forms a major plank of the Government's proposals for constitutional renewal. Relevant documents can be accessed at http://governance.justice.gov.uk/
In the GCHQ case (Council of Civil Service Unions v. Minister for the Civil Service [1985] AC 374) the House of Lords held that the Courts could review the use of the Royal Prerogative.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

American Football - and the lessons for Politics

During the last few days of the US election campaign, Brian Moran, the Minority Caucus Chairman in the Virginia House of Delegates - and the son of a football coach - drew out lessons from American Football for those involved in political campaigning.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Use of EU Funds in the UK

Baroness Cohen is due to ask in the House of Lords today - "what responses the [British Government has] received to their distribution of the Consolidated Statement of the Use of EU funds in the UK to European Union finance ministers."

This document - available at -

is the first annual statement covering EU funds in the UK and is designed to enhance scrutiny and accountability.

Monday 10 November 2008

The Lord Mayor's Banquet

Each year the Prime Minister is invited to the Lord Mayor's Banquet, held the Monday after the Lord Mayor's Show (second Saturday in November, the day after the new Lord Mayor of the City of London - not to be confused with the Mayor of London - who covers a much larger area of Britain's capital, and is currently Boris Johnson - takes office). Traditionally this is the opportunity for the Prime Minister to make a major speech on Foreign Policy.

Details of tonight's banquet can be found at

The speech will get extensive coverage and will be published on the Number 10 website - http://www.number10.gov.uk/

Further information on British Foreign Policy can be found on the Foreign & Commonwealth Office's website - http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/

Sunday 9 November 2008

House Committee on Energy and Commerce

One of the most interesting battles on 'The Hill' is for the chairmanship of the House of Representative's Committee on Energy and Commerce. The current chairman, John Dingell, is being challenged by Henry Waxman, currently Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

John Dingell is a House veteran, being the longest serving current Member of the House and second longest serving Member in our US history. He is now 82 years old - and served in World War II. He has represented Michigan (the boundaries of his district have changed many times) since 1955. He retook the chairmanship of Energy & Commerce in 2007, when the Democrats gained a majority in the House, having previously served as Chairman from 1981-1995.

Roll Call reports that "House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) on Friday sought to put more weight behind his bid to hang on to his gavel, releasing the names of 26 lawmakers making up the “first round” of his whip team." Representative Dingell's House website can be found at http://www.house.gov/dingell/

Henry Waxman is regarded as one of the most influential liberal members of the House. He represents California's 30th district and has been a congressman since 1975. He previously served as a subcommittee chair of Energy & Commerce. A Time magazine article about him in 2006 was titled "The Scariest Guy in Washington". - http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1562974,00.html. His website is http://www.house.gov/waxman/
This battle of the Titans is attracting much interest on the Hill. The committee is one of the most important in the House. Its website is http://energycommerce.house.gov/. It has a very wide remit and has been in continuing existence (albeit with name changes) for 213 years.

Saturday 8 November 2008

The Week Ahead

Congress is due to return for its "lame duck session" on 17th November (though it won't happen if there is no agreement with the Bush administration over a stimulus package - see http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2008/11/07/dems-wont-hold-lame-duck-session-without-bush-stimulus-deal/). In the meantime there will be much jockeying for positions in the 111th Congress. There will be major changes in the Republican Conference (the term used for the Republican group within the House) in the House of Representatives. Roy Blunt has already announced he is standing down as whip. In the Democratic Party a major battle is developing over the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. John Dingell is being challenged by Henry Waxman.

Both Houses in Westminster are sitting. Monday will see opposition debates initiated by the Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons. There will be a Commons debate on Heathrow Airport on Tuesday. Both Houses will be completing the final stages of legislation as the end of the session approaches. Full details can be found at - http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/2008/11/10/week.html

Details of current Commons committee inquiries are available at http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/Current%20Inquiries.pdf.
Details of Lords committees are available at http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/LordsWeeklyBulletin.pdf

Friday 7 November 2008

Back in the UK

After a short break - during which I flew home via Amsterdam and Birmingham - Washminster returns. Yesterday was the much anticipated by-election (special election) in Glenrothes. Much to everyone's surprise Labour held the seat comfortably.

This morning's Independent points out that Rahm Emanuel, Obama's Chief of Staff, was the inspiration for 'Josh Lyman' in West Wing. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/obama-chooses-rahmbo-as-chief-of-staff-998194.html

I also found this blog entry (The Park Bench) about Emanuel - http://theparkbencher.blogspot.com/2007/05/artistry-of-rahm-emanuel.html
My favourite quote of the day came from an Independent story about the tensions between McCain's aides and Sarah Palin - "They badly need scapegoats for everything that went wrong and Ms Palin comes to their minds faster than a moth to light."

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Washminster - onwards into the future

I return to the United Kingdom this evening.

Thank you for visiting this blog during the US elections. I've very much enjoyed writing the brief pieces on key races - and particularly interviewing people for the videos of the last few days. My visit to Virginia has been a fantastic experience for me - and I hope you have enjoyed my English perspective on what has been happening.

This blog will continue to describe and explain the ways of Washington and Westminster. I very much hope that you will keep coming back to Washminster - interesting times lie ahead. Do send me your comments - or just get in touch (jdavidmorgan@googlemail.com)

President-Elect Obama

The result is now clear - this has indeed been an historic election. Congratulations to President-Elect Obama, and all those who helped elect him. It has been a real privilege to spend the last few days with people who worked so hard to achieve this victory - I will forever treasure the memories - and look forward to continuing the friendships formed and deepened over the last week.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Results - by the Precinct

Television coverage of the results will focus on the State level - who will win the electoral votes for the Presidency; Senate and District (House of Representatives) races and so on. But if you want the detailed figures - at the precinct (uk equivalent - "ward" or "parish") level the results will be posted by the appropriate election board.

Fairfax County, VA: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/eb/returns.htm

Alameda County, CA: http://www.acgov.org/rov/current_election/index.htm

Multnomah County, OR: http://mcelections.org/2008-11/results.shtml

Travis County, TX: http://www.co.travis.tx.us/county_clerk/election/20081104/results.asp

The Manassas Rally

I had the great privilege of attending the rally in Virginia on election eve. These are the videos taken during the evening

The first question expected in the Lords today will be put by Lord Bradshaw. His question to the Government is "what steps they are taking to ensure there is sufficient rolling stock available to the railways to meet demand". It's an interesting question - and as a frequent user of the train services to London from Rugby, I'll be watching the answer with interest.

Lord Bradshaw is a frequent questioner on rail matters. he worked for British Rail (the then nationalised company providing the rail infrastructure and services in the UK) from 1959 to 1985, starting as a management trainee in the Western Region and rising to the post of Director Policy Unit in 1980, and General manager of British Rail's Western Region 1983. His interest in railways may be in his genes - my understanding is that he is a descendant of George Bradshaw, the publisher of the famous 'Bradshaw Railway Timetables'.

Currently he is the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Transport in the House of Lords.

Sample Ballots

So what does the ballot look like? Below are sample ballots from a number of places in the USA (I selected these because of my own connections)

Alexandria, VA: http://alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/elections/info/2008NovFullUnofficialSample(1).pdf

Fairfax County, VA ( VA 11 district): http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/eb/OS_Sample%20Ballot%20Style3.pdf

Northampton, MA: http://www.northamptonma.gov/cityclerk/uploads/listWidget/6771/Specimen%20Ballot-November%204,%202008.pdf

Rugby, ND: http://www.co.pierce.wa.us/xml/abtus/ourorg/aud/Elections/Archives/gen08/vpweb.pdf (pages 13-16)

Monday 3 November 2008

Precinct Captains

Key players across the USA tomorrow will be the precinct captains. Tania Blagrove, the Alexandria Democratic precinct captain for the 108-George Washington precinct explained their role

The Final Hours

Monday will be a frantic day - for all the volunteers across the USA - and for the candidates themselves. Obama will hold major rallies in Jacksonville, Florida; Charlotte, North Carolina; Manassas, Virginia (yes, I should be there!!!!); and finally in Chicago.

John McCain starts in Florida and makes his way to Arizona - via Tennessee, Indiana, New Mexico and Nevada.

Saturday Night Live has a two hour special (many thanks to the team for all the laughs I've had over the last few weeks!!!) at 9pm ET - http://www.nbc.com/Saturday_Night_Live/. The big Monday night football game is the Washington Redskins against the Pittsburgh Steelers http://www.redskins.com/gen/index.jsp (with fans concentrated in two key states - Virginia and Pennsylvania). It's ironic that, as a strong Redskins fan, the only time I've been in Washington when the Redskins play, is the day I'm otherwise engaged - next time perhaps?

Glenrothes by-election

Lest we forget, with so much attention being directed towards the United States, there is an important by-election taking place in the UK on Thursday. Labour is defending a normally rock solid Labour seat. In an editorial in today's Independent, the following comments were made - The by-election...
"will be important in a British context as a test of the Government's standing and of the strength of the "Brown bounce".

Weeks ago, many were predicting a reprise to the Glasgow East by-election, in which the SNP overturned a thumping Labour majority. A similar defeat in Glenrothes was being described as a possible trigger for a Cabinet revolt against Gordon Brown – the long-awaited denouement to a calamitous year for the Prime Minister.

How long ago that seems. While all bets are still off concerning the results of Thursday's vote, the tide is flowing Labour's way for now. Mr Brown must believe Labour has a good chance of winning, or he would not have risked a second visit to the seat last Friday, hammering home his message that an independent government in Edinburgh would have lacked the resources to shield Scotland from the world financial crisis.

Like the Tories, Alex Salmond's SNP has had a bad few weeks in "narrative" terms. Talk of an arc of prosperity running through Iceland has been held up to ridicule. It did not help Mr Salmond that a government minister in Oslo has asked the SNP to stop dragging Norway into arguments over Scottish independence.

But voters are unpredictable, and Glenrothes electors may yet revolt against the idea that the London establishment is patronising the Scots. If so, the SNP will be encouraged and all the old familiar question marks hanging over Mr Brown's leadership will return. After all, if Labour holds on, it will hardly rank as a political miracle. Labour held the seat in 2005 with a majority of more than 10,000, while the SNP needs a swing of 14 per cent to win. But in these febrile times, any victory achieved by Labour now – even in such a rock-sold Scottish seat – is bound to be hailed as proof of Mr Brown's political resurrection.

British newspapers and broadcasters will be covering the last days of this campaign - and the results in the early hours of Friday morning - but for the next few days, these will be eclipsed by the US elections.

Sunday 2 November 2008


I took the video camera with me as we drove through Stratford Landing - the area I'm staying in, which is about a mile from Mount Vernon, the estate of George Washington

Today I've been out in Alexandria - trying (successfully each time!) to persuade supporters to let us replace their yard signs (16 inches by 26 inches) by bigger ones - eight foot by four foot! Later we went along the medians (central reservation) of one of the main streets putting up ordinary size yard signs. A deposit is required for the licence to put signs there (which is forfeited if any of the rules - and they are quite precise and complex in terms of size of sign and how many feet from official signs). I helped make Eisenhower Avenue very decorative.

Election Meeting - Comments by VA House of Delegates member, Brian Moran

At the election meeting at Cora Kelly Recreational Center, the audience heard remarks from Brian Moran - the brother of Congressman Jim Moran, and a member of Virginia's House of Delegates. More information on Brian Moran can be found at http://dela.state.va.us/dela/MemBios.nsf/b9d1ff441cd43fbc85256c23006d3f87/6be92fbb48bbe5db852570d2005e9e8c?OpenDocument

Congressman Jim Moran

The Eighth District of Virginia includes Alexandria; Arlington and extends westward to include Reston. It has been represented by Congressman Jim Moran since 1991. His House website can be visited at http://moran.house.gov/. During an election meeting in Alexandria he explained the historic significance of this election -

Election Meeting

On Saturday afternoon I attended an election meeting in the Cora Kelly Recreation Center, Alexandria. I recorded this video of one of the speeches made there.

What the US Election is about

When I visited the morning market in Alexandria - I met a number of campaigners who were part of this last weekend's push to get out the vote. There were a number of stalls at different parts of the market. I asked two campaigners why they were out at an early hour on a - refreshingly cool - Saturday morning.



Saturday 1 November 2008

Early Voting

Many states now allow voters to "vote absentee in person", sometimes referred to as "early voting". In Virginia this is permitted if there is a valid reason why a person might not be able to turn up to vote on election day. More details of the Virginia rules can be found at http://www.sbe.virginia.gov/cms/Absentee_Voting/Index.html. Other states do not require a reason - and as in the United Kingdom - absentee voting is a right (In Britain this can only be achieved by voting by post or by voting by proxy).

This morning I went to the farmers market in the old town of Alexandria. I recorded this video at 8.30 am.

The Week Ahead

It's election week - yes the Glenrothes by-election is on Thursday (for more information on the constitutency; candidates and the recent history see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glenrothes_by-election,_2008). Can the Labour Party hold this once safe seat?

Of course it's also - finally - Election Day in the USA. The final push is now on - so it will be a busy weekend for political activists around the country.

In Parliament, both Houses work on as normal. The calendar is available at http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/2008/11/03/week.html. On Tuesday the order which will bring the local and European elections together on the same day will be considered by the Lords.

06.00 Mount Vernon Virginia

A friend drew my attention to the following quote which appeared in the current edition of the local library newsletter - "Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?" ~ Henry Ward Beecher. As I was in the Borders store in Pentagon City yesterday afternoon I can confirm the truth of this. I bought a copy "Change We Can Believe In" - Barack Obama's Plan to Renew America's Promise. There were so many books about the election and the various candidates (I already have every book written by both Obama and McCain).

On my way back to the home of my friends - I stopped at the table set up by the Democrats at Huntington Metro. In fact there were tables set up at every Metro station I went to! This morning we are off to the Farmers' Market in Alexandria - and I'm told a heavy political presence is expected.

Yesterday I spent time ringing up undecided or infrequent voters - still a success rate (that is - actually talking to the person rather than their answering service) of one in six. When I did get through responses were very positive for Obama - I even signed up volunteers - which in years of 'telephone canvassing' in the UK has only happened once - it happened 3 times yesterday!


One of the most important changes made to the structure of Government in Gordon Brown's recent reshuffle was the establishment of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. It was created out of BERR (Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) - which had its Energy Group and DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) - where the Climate Change Group was established.

The new Secretary of State is Ed Miliband (brother of the Foreign Secretary) - http://www.decc.gov.uk/about-decc/who-are-we/ministers/miliband/biography.htm. He is supported by two Ministers of State - Mike O'Brien MP http://www.decc.gov.uk/about-decc/who-are-we/ministers/obrien/biography.htm and Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (who also has responsibilities within the remaining parts of DEFRA) http://www.decc.gov.uk/about-decc/who-are-we/ministers/hunt/biography.htm. Joan Ruddock is the fourth Minister in the new department, being the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. http://www.decc.gov.uk/about-decc/who-are-we/ministers/ruddock/biography.htm

The Department's new website is still in the early stages of development, but can be accessed at

Friday 31 October 2008

10.30pm EDT (Oct 30th) Northern Virginia

Another busy day. This time I was based in the Victory Virginia Offices - where I was telephoning voters to find out their voting intentions. I was struck at the low numbers of people I actually got to speak to. Only about 1 in 6 calls were answered - all the others were either wrong numbers (quite a low proportion compared to my experience in the UK) or voicemail/ansafone cut in. I guess Americans, due to the higher levels of sales calls,use this more as a filter. However this was about the same success rate as I noted in the 2004 election. On my way home I made a short video -

Thursday 30 October 2008

6 AM EDT Northern Virginia

The half hour 'infomercial' by Obama was broadcast last night. It cost millions. Overnight I got another email from the Obama asking for a $5 donation (about £3.50) - small enough to be tempting -and successful in the large sums raised by these small but frequent requests. [and NO, I haven't donated - it would be againgst the law]

Early voting is in full swing. In Fairfax County, Virginia you can vote 'in person absentee' from 15th October to 1st November - 8am to 8pm at the Office of Elections and 1pm to 8pm at satellite locations on Mondays to Fridays. On Saturday the times are 9am-5pm at all locations. In Virginia you have to have a valid reason (though the reasons are wide and fairly easy to meet). Some states allow absentee voting as of right.

The Monarchy

Lord Taverne will ask the Government at question time "whether they plan to review the constitutional role of the monarchy". It's an interesing question on a number of levels. While in practical terms the monarch has very limited powers (Conventions govern the use of her powers - Bills which have been passed by both Houses of Parliament must be signed by the Monarch to become law, but by a 300 year old convention the Monarch doesn't refuse; the Queen "chooses" her Prime Minister - but her choice is limited by convention) - the Monarchy is central to the system.

Parliament is called by the Monarch - and each session she tells members of both Houses in the 'Queen's Speech' what she would like them to consider (the speech is written by the Government); She dissolves Parliament (on the advice of the Prime Minister). It is "Her Majesty's Government" (often called HMG); We refer to the Queen's courts and judges.

The question could touch on the so-called 'Royal Prerogative' - defined by Dicey as "... the remaining portion of the Crown's original authority, and it is therefore ... the name for the residue of discretionary power left at any moment in the hands of the Crown, whether such power be in fact exercised by the King himself or by his Ministers". Key parts of the Prerogative are the subject of proposals for reform. (for further details see http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm71/7170/7170.pdf and the follow up documents on http://governance.justice.gov.uk/).

There aren't many Republicans in the House of Lords - but it might provoke some interesting exchanges.

North Carolina

Much attention will be paid in the next few days to the State of North Carolina. For much of the last month it has been regarded as a dead heat in the presidential race; the Senate seat has been seen as a possible turnover to the Democrats and the 8th district could also fall.
North Carolina has emerged as one of the country's leading growth states. It has a population of 8.85 million people, increasing by almost 50% in just 25 years. The old industries of textiles and tobacco have given way to high-tech research - particularly into pharmaceuticals (GlaxoSmithKline has its headquarters in the state); semiconductors; photonics; nanotechnology and security technology. Banking has also made North Carolina its home - though Wachovia has had a difficult time and has now been taken over by San Francisco based Wells Fargo.
Incumbent Senator, Elizabeth Dole is fighting to keep the senate seat she won in 2002. She is the wife of former Senator Bob Dole, but has been a formidable political figure in her own right. During her career she has served on the Federal Trade Commission; was sat in the cabinets of two Presidents (Secretary of Transportation under President Reagan and Secretary of Labor under the senior President Bush). She ran for President herself, but withdrew a year before George W Bush won for the Republicans. Her campaign website can be found at http://www.elizabethdole.org/
The Democrats chose Kay Hagan, niece of former Governor and Senator Lawton Chiles. She is a state Senator who was once a vice president of NCNB (now Bank of America), then North Carolina’s largest bank. Her website is http://www.kayhagan.com/home
The Eighth District is currently held by Robin Hayes, a multimillionaire who won in 2006 by just 329 votes. He has served in Congress since his first election in 1998. Hayes is a hunting and fishing enthusiast - who once part-owned a NASCAR racing team, another of his passions. His family business specialises in textiles. The campaign website is http://www.robinhayes.com/
Larry Kissell was the challenger who came so close to unseating Hayes in 2006. A High School Teacher by background, Kissell hopes that he came be second time lucky. His website is http://www.larrykissell.com/
The newspapers of North Carolina can be accessed via http://www.50states.com/news/ncarolin.htm. This is a state to watch with close interest on Election Day.

Wednesday 29 October 2008

17.30 EDT Mount Vernon

I've returned from a day in a Democratic office in Alexandria. There is great anticipation, as well as a lot of hard work going on in preparation for election day. Most volunteers I spoke with had already voted. Under the law of Virginia, if you meet certain criteria you can vote early or by post. At the metro station on the way home volunteers were handing out leaflets about voting early.

In today's Washington Post there are articles comparing Obama and McCain's proposals on Healthcare reform. I have to say, as a British subject - who is diabetic and has a strong family history of heart disease, I'm glad to have the National Health Service. I was diagnosed because I was routinely (and without cost to me) tested by the new doctor I registered with when I moved to Rugby. The government has provided extra money for such testing. My medicines for the condition are provided on prescription (which are free for diabetics). It's reassuring that should I fall victim to serious illness, neither I nor my family would need to worry about the massive cost of treatment. I'm free to choose which doctor to register with,

06.00 EDT Mount Vernon, VA

Just before 6am I saw the first political ads of the day. A long one from Obama setting out his plan; a shorter one from McCain contrasting himself and Obama. Yesterday Obama was in Virginia - in fact all members of both the tickets have been visiting the state regularly. Virginians aren't used to this level of presidential campaigning - but for the first time in years it is a swing state.

I'm off later this morning to one of the campaign offices in Arlington


The Senate seat for the western state of Oregon is currently held by a former Mormon bishop who became a self-made millionaire by turning his family's unprofitable frozen vegetable processing company into one of the largest frozen food companies in the country. He is a Republican in a state in which the Governor; Senior Senator and four of the five congressmen are Democrats. Gordon Smith is fighting to gain a third term. He is a closely related to the Udall family. Smith is one of the few Senate Republicans to vocally oppose the Iraq war - and has been Senator Kennedy's chief co-sponsor of the hate crimes bill. His website is http://www.gordonsmith.com/

Challenging him is Jeff Merkley, the Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives. In the 1980s he worked in Washington, first in the Office of the Secretary of Defense; then in the Congressional Budget Office. His official campaign website is http://www.jeffmerkley.com/

Unsolicited Mail

Lord Selsdon is due, this afternoon, to ask the question of the Government "what steps they are taking to reduce the amount of unsolicited mail delivered to residential addresses"

There is certainly a problem. Householders can take some action by signing up for the Mailing Preference Service - but still some gets through. Under data protection law companies should ask if you wish to allow them to use your address for mailing purposes - so be careful what you tick for.

The Mailing Preference Service (which only applies to UK residential addresses) has a website for registering at

11.00pm North Virginia

It was going to be a long day anyway - flying to Washington Dulles via Amsterdam - but took even longer than expected. Heavy winds closed all but one of the runways, and my flight was diverted to Baltimore. The plane war refueled and then arrived at Washington. After going through immigration and customs I took the Washington Flyer to West Falls Church metro station & made my way, changing at Rosslyn & Pentagon to Huntington, where I was met by friends.

On the flight over I had an interesting chat with a Virginia resident about the forthcoming elections - and the unprecedented interest they had generated. I also took the opportunity to read the newspapers and magazines, plus a detailed opinion poll done by NPR. I recommend having a look at the report and the Powerpoint presentation that goes with it (http://www.greenbergresearch.com/index.php?ID=2271)

I'm now off to bed - and will visit campaigners in the morning.

Tuesday 28 October 2008

09.00 GMT - Birmingham International Airport

Within the next hour I am due to take a flight to Amsterdam, where I will transfer to a flight to Washington Dulles. I'll be in the Washington/North Virginia area for the last week of the US Elections. I'll be posting updates during the coming days, as I, a Brit, observe the climax of this fascinating election. I'll be based in Virginia's 11th District - where House, Senate & Virginia's electoral votes for the President are up for grabs.

Questions in the House of Lords

Last Wednesday the new Chief Whip in the House of Lords, Lord Bassam of Brighton, reminded their Lordships of the "rules" relating to questions.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, before we proceed to the first Question I should like to say a few words about procedure at Question Time. We rightly take pride in being a self-regulating House, but it is helpful for us to be reminded of our normal customs from time to time. Self-regulation can only work if noble Lords in all parts of the House co-operate to make it work. The Companion makes clear that Ministers’ initial Answers to Questions should not exceed 75 words.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear! (I was in the public gallery at the time, and can attest to the support shown by their Lordships for these reminders)

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, they are on notice. The Companion also says that supplementary questions should be short, designed to elicit information rather than incorporating statements of opinion, and confined to the subject of the original Question. I am sure that the House will be delighted to know that I have reminded my colleagues on the Front Bench that answers to supplementary questions should also be concise. It is to the benefit of all Members of the House to keep questions and answers short. This will maximise the number of supplementary questions that can be taken in the 30 minutes available. I am sure that the House will find agreement with that.

MI 07 and 09

The state of Michigan has attracted much interest during these elections. It has backed Democratic presidential candidates in recent years, but was seen as 'weak democratic' earlier this month, 'barely democratic' until 26th September and 'barely Republican in June'. McCain's decision to pull resources from the state in October was much commented upon. Senator Carl Levin seems to be in a strong position to win re-election. Two House seats are being hotly contested.

MI 07

This district covers the southern part of the state, between the 6th district to the west and the 15th district to the east. The 3rd (with Grand Rapids its major town), the 8th (based on Lansing - the State Capital: and the former district of a friend of this blog, Bob Carr) & the 11th district (on the outskirts of Detroit) also share boundaries. This district is the home of Kellogg's "Tony the Tiger" - the cereal giant is a major employer in Battle Creek, the largest city in the district (53,364). Jackson is the second city with 36,316 people. Much of the district consists of small towns and farming communities.

The incumbent is a Republican freshman, Tim Walberg. He is known for his conservative views. In 2006 he raised twenty times more than his Democratic opponent, but won by only 4 percentage points. His website is http://www.walbergforcongress.com/Home.aspx. He is being challenged by Mark Schauer, minority leader of the Michigan state Senate. He is a graduate of Albion College (In my teaching for Educational Programmes Abroad, I met a number of Albion students who came to London to study and intern in Parliament and elsewhere). His website is http://www.markschauer.com/

MI 09

The Ninth District is on the north western outskirts of Detroit. Congressional Quarterly describes it as "heavily suburban". It is the wealthiest and most-educated district in the state. The major industries are Auto manufacturing, engineering, health care and insurance. Farmington Hills (82,111); Troy (80,959); Rochester Hills (68,825) and Pontiac (66,337) are the largest cities in the district.

The incumbent Republican Joe Knollenberg has been in Congress since 1993, and is one month short of his 75th birthday. Ecomonic hardships, particularly pronounced in the state of Michigan, may cost him his seat. In 2006 he survived by only five percentage points. He is socially conservative - but has voted twice against a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.He has served as an appropriator within Congress. His campaign website is http://www.knollenberg.house.gov/

Gary Peters is the Democratic challenger. A veteran and former state Senator, Mr Peter's has also been a Vice President at both Merrill Lynch and UBS/PaineWebber. His website can be found at http://www.petersforcongress.com/index.asp