Wednesday 30 January 2008

The Permanent Campaign

Observers of the American political system have long recognised that there is no longer an "off season" for campaigning. With short terms in the House of Representatives (2 years), it is little wonder that there is pressure to start the battle for re-election the moment the result is in. This has led to the coining of the term "the permanent campaign" - Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann brought out a book in 2000, which was the subject of a Hansard Society Conference in London, called "The Permanent Campaign and Its Future ", which is an excellent read.

Today in the House of Lords Lord Hylton will ask Her Majesty’s Government "whether they are considering limits on expenditure by political parties during general elections and on publicity and advertising between general elections."

Can the tide be held back?

Tuesday 29 January 2008

State of the Union

Last night President George W Bush delivered his last 'State of the Union' message to the US Congress. Article 2 Section 3 of the Constitution requires that "The President shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."

Speeches to Congress were delivered by Presidents Washington and Adams each year, but the practice was stopped by President Jefferson, who regarded them as too monarchical. Until 1913 a written report was sent to Congress. President Wilson re-established the practice of an annual speech, but the term "State of the Union" only gained popular currency after 1935.

A video and text of this year's speech is available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2008/index.html

and details of the various proposals can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2008/initiatives/sotu2008.pdf

The Democrat response to the State of the Union, delivered by Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebeliusby can be found at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22888366/

Monday 28 January 2008

West Wing

Over the past few days I have enjoyed a "West Wingathon", where I watch a number of episodes of that superb series. Although its principal focus is on the White House - there are many references to congressional practices - and some episodes have Congress as the major storyline. For example, in Season 1 there was episode 4 "Five Votes Down", where the gun control bill is suddendly threatened by the defection of 5 congressman - and so the storyline concentrates on efforts to win back those votes. Episode 6 "Mr Willis of Ohio" deals with an amendment to the Appropriations Bill concerning sampling in the census, and one congressman's readiness to buck his party and use his own judgement. In Episode 8 "Enemies", an attempt to overcome a rider added by two of Bartlett's least favourite congressmen to the Banking Bill is a major storyline.

Even if you are a fan of the Legislative Branch rather than the Executive Branch, there's much in that series to enjoy. But can you repeat Sam's boast in episode 2 - "I can recite the names of Members of Congress in alphabetical order"?

Sunday 27 January 2008

The Week Ahead

Business in the House of Commons will be dominated by the European Union (Amendment) Bill. A procedural motion will be debated on Monday - and the committee stage on Tuesday and Wednesday. The National Insurance Contributions Bill will have its remaining stages taken on Thursday.

In the House of Lords The Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill continues its 3rd Reading on Monday. Tuesday will see the report stage of the Dormant Bank and Building Society Bill. On Wednesday the Local Transport Bill is due for its 3rd Reading and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill should get its 2nd Reading. In Grand Committee the Regulatory Enforcement & Sanctions Bill will be considered on Monday and Wednesday, and the Child Maintenance & Other Payments Bill on Tuesday. In the Chamber on Thursday there will be a debate on the consultation paper on War Powers; and another debate on the case for setting up a Woman's Justice Board.

Each week 'Commons Knowledge' is published which sets out details of all business in both Houses. It is available at http://www.parliament.uk/documents/upload/CommonsKnowledge.pdf

The Annual State of the Union Address will be delivered by the President on Monday evening. The Economic Stimilus Package will be the main business for the week, although there are 10 suspensions bills and the New England National Scenic Trail Designation Act (H.R. 1528) to be be considered too. The Senate resumes consideration of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Bill (S.2248) on Monday

Friday 25 January 2008

Lords Whips

The resignation of Peter Hain prompted a wider reshuffle in Brown's government - with most of the press coverage concentrating upon the cabinet changes involving James Purnell (now Secretary of State for Work and Pensions); Andy Burnham (new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) and Yvette Cooper (Chief Secretary to the Treasury).

A major impact of the reshuffle was felt in the whips office in the House of Lords. Lord Grocott stood down as Chief Whip. He had served in the post for just under six years. Previously he had been PPS (Parliamentary Private Secretary) to Tony Blair, serving him during his period as Leader of the Opposition as for the first four years as Prime Minister. He is a graduate of the University of Leicester and has been a university lecturer and TV presenter & producer; and Midlands MP (1974-79; 1987-2001).

The new Chief Whip in the Lords - who holds the title of 'Captain of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms' is Baroness Royall of Blaisdon. Jan Royall was a special adviser to Neil Kinnock during his period as Leader of the Opposition and a member of his Cabinet when he served as a European Commissioner. She became the head of the European Commission's Office in Wales before being appointed to the House of Lords. On 9th May 2005 she became a Lords whip.

Baroness Thornton becomes a whip. As Glenys Thornton she was General Secretary of the Fabian Society and is a member of the Co-operative Party. She served for five years as the Chair of the Chair of the Social Enterprise Coalition.

Thursday 24 January 2008

The Clerk of the US House of Representatives

When the House of Representatives finally achieved its first quorum in April 1789, its first action was to elect a Speaker. Its second action was to elect a Clerk. The title is derived from the House of Commons. One significant difference with Westminster is that today each party in the House of Representatives makes its own nomination for Clerk. In 2007 the Democrats put forward the name of Lorraine C. Miller, from Fort Worth, Texas - and she was elected.

Ms Miller is the first African-American to hold the post. She had previously worked for Jim Wright and Tom Foley. Immediately prior to her election as Clerk she served as a senior advisor to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. During the Clinton Administration, Ms Miller served as a Deputy Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs. She sings in the Senior Choir of her church, the Shiloh Baptist Church. With her Texas background she remains a fan of the Dallas Cowboys.

Rule II lists her duties. She is to
  • prepare the roll of Members-elect.
  • call the Members-elect to order at the commencement of each Congress
  • call the roll of Members-elect, and, pending the election of the Speaker, to preserve order and decorum; and to decide all questions of order.
  • prepare and distribute at the beginning of every session a list of reports required to be made to Congress.
  • note all questions of order, and decisions thereon, and to print these as an appendix to the Journal of each session of the House.
  • prepare and print the House Journal after each session of Congress, and to distribute the Journal to Members and to the executive and the legislature of each State.
  • attest and affix the seal of the House to all writs, warrants, and subpoenas and formal documents issued by the House.
  • certify the passage by the House of all bills and joint resolutions.
  • receive messages from the President and the Senate when the House is not in session.
  • prepare and deliver messages to the Senate and otherwise as requested by the House.
  • retain, in the official library, a permanent set of the books and documents generated by the House.
  • manage the office and supervise the staff of any deceased, resigned, or expelled Member until a successor is elected.

In addition she

  • acts as custodian of all noncurrent records of the House, pursuant to Rule VII.
  • is responsible, under the supervision and direction of the U.S. House of Representatives Fine Arts Board, for the administration, maintenance, and display of the works of fine art and other similar property of the Congress for display or for other use in the House wing of the Capitol, the House Office Buildings, or any other location under the control of the House (P.L. 100-696).

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Broadcasting Parliament

While BBC Parliament provides an excellent service (and is available on freeview), the coverage of proceedings in Parliament by the main channels often appears to be limited to the less edifying parts of Prime Minister's Questions. Lord Vinson will today ask in the House of Lords:-

"in light of their ambition to reconnect Parliament with the public, whether they will make it a condition of broadcasting licence agreements that broadcasting organisations should state briefly in their main news bulletins the forthcoming day’s business in both Houses of Parliament?"

Personally, I think this would be an excellent idea - the paucity of coverage is not healthy for democracy - and people need to see that there is more to Parliament than the antics at PMQs. What do you think?

Tuesday 22 January 2008

The Constitution Committee

In the House of Lords there is a committee composed of 12 peers whose task is to "to examine the constitutional implications of all public bills coming before the House; and to keep under review the operation of the constitution."

Its membership includes the Chair, Lord Goodlad - an experienced former MP who was, amongst other things, Government Chief Whip, and then High Commissioner to Australia; Viscount Bledisloe - a QC (leading lawyer); Lord Morris of Aberavon - a long serving Labour MP who was also a recorder of the Crown Court and Attorney General; Lord Norton of Louth - Professor at Hull University and world renowed expert on legislatures; and Lord Woolf, a former Master of the Rolls then Lord Chief Justice. A formidable committee!

As its terms of reference suggest, it produces reports on individual bills as well as on key issues. Its reports can be accessed at http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/lords_constitution_committee/lords_constitution_committee_reports_and_publications.cfm

Monday 21 January 2008

Who has spoken?

The State of Play so far in the US primaries and caucuses

January 3: Iowa (caucuses) - Obama 38%; Clinton 29%
Huckabee 34%; Romney 25%; McCain 13%; Giuliani 4%

January 5: Wyoming (R caucuses) - Romney 67%

January 8: New Hampshire (primary) - Clinton 39%; Obama 37%
McCain 37%; Romney 32%; Huckabee 11%; Giuliani 9%

January 15: Michigan - Clinton 55%
Romney 39%; McCain 30%; Huckabee 16%; Giuliani 3%

January 19: Nevada (precinct caucuses) - Clinton 51%; Obama 45%
Romney 51%; McCain 13%; Huckabee 8%; Giuliani 4%

South Carolina (R primary) -- McCain 33%; Huckabee; 30%; Romney 15%; Giuliani 2%

Sunday 20 January 2008

The Week Ahead

The European Union (Amendment) Bill has its Second Reading in the House of Commons on Monday. MPs have already been told that this legislation will dominate their lives for the next few weeks! Tuesday will see the 2nd Reading of the important Energy Bill. The Sale of Student Loans Bill is due to have its remaining stages taken on Wednesday. Motions relating to the Senior Salary Review Body Report - which includes MPs pay - will be discussed and voted on during Thursday's business. Private Members Bills will be debated on Friday.

In the House of Lords the second day of the Report stage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will be taken on Tuesday; the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill is due for its 2nd Reading on Tuesday and the Climate Change Bill continues its Committee Stage (day 6) on Wednesday. The Regulatory Enforcement and Sanctions Bill will be considered in Grand Committee on Monday and Wednesday. Debates initiated by Tory Peers will be conducted on Thursday into (1) Iraq and (2) the role of non-governmental organisations delivering services on behalf of the Government.

Monday is Martin Luther King Day in the USA. In the House of Representatives 16 bills are currently scheduled for consideration under the suspensions procedure. There will be a vote on Overriding the President’s Veto of H.R. 3963 , the Children's Health Insurance
Program Reauthorization Act of 2007.

The Senate returns on Tuesday. The Indian Health Bill (s.1200) is the first piece of legislation they are due to consider.

Friday 18 January 2008

House of Lords Bill

The Committee Stage of the House of Lords Bill began at 4.20pm last night. I had the privilege of watching from the gallery - it was worth the time, and I would heartedly recommend taking a look at the video footage on http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Archive.aspx (Thu 17 Jan - approx 5 hrs 15 mins in - there is a fast forward button!) or reading Hansard at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldhansrd/text/80117-0013.htm#08011776000003

There was a fascinating battle between the supporters of this private members bill - who want a short, limited debate - focused on their vision of a reformed House - and others who wanted detailed consideration. It was a battle fought with speeches of quality and good humour. For me the highlights were:

Lord Strathclyde' amusing and subtly provocative speech - which produced the desired effect. It is printed at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldhansrd/text/80117-0014.htm#08011776001068 - but worth watching!

Lord Desai introduced us to the "English Compromise" - which he defined "as one that confronts a major problem and proposes a solution which does not solve the problem but makes the solution to the problem less urgent. Everyone then forgets about it and we move on."

Lord Richard concluded his comments on the debate on the first grouping of amendments by saying:-

"This has been a fascinating debate on the general arguments, which we have been round and round and round, and we will go around them again in this Bill.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Steel, that he cannot have it both ways. If he produces a Bill that was bound to be controversial, and which he knew would be once it is in the public domain, any noble Lord would be entitled to table amendments to it and to have them discussed. If the amendments were not in order, I have no doubt that the excellent Clerks at the Table would not have allowed us to put them down. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, cannot now say, “Oh gosh, isn’t it terrible? You want to discuss things which I don’t want to discuss. I merely want to discuss the things that I want to discuss”. That is not on.."

A number of speakers indicated their preference for naming the reformed House the Senate. Lord Trefgarne said "I am rather in favour of calling the House a senate. I am much attracted to the United States model and this might be the first step in that direction." and Lord Stathclyde told the House

"The name of the senate conjures up certain important parallels for me. It is not just the Senates of Rome or Venice, which were in their time hugely influential bodies. We also have Senates in the United States and in Italy, and those two chambers have the most significant powers and authority of any Upper House in the world. In the past, my party has advocated the use of the word “senate” to replace a House of Lords. This is not the most essential item that we shall be discussing in this Committee, but it would probably be better to have a senate rather than the House of Lords if we are to change the method of selection to this House. That is partly because it conveys a sense of authority, and what is the purpose of all this disruption and reform if not to create a more powerful House, more able to help the other place to do its job properly, and help it to hold the Executive to account?"

Lord Steel now has to negotiate further time for the bill - which with 196 amendments put down to date - could cause headaches for business managers.

Thursday 17 January 2008

House of Lords Bill

David Steel's 'House of Lords Bill' is due to start its committee stage in the House of Lords this afternoon. The start of the debate could be quite late. It will be preceded by Questions (30 mins); Motions; Two debates, each of two and a half hours; and a Foreign Office Statement.

The bill has attracted 196 amendments. The original two and a hour hours allocated for the committee stage will need to be increased - and progress may be slow. The bill, plus all amendments can be accessed at http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2007-08/houseoflordsbill.html

Wednesday 16 January 2008

End of the Vote Drought

This week the House of Lords ended its vote drought. Until Monday's vote on the Climate Change Bill, there had not been a division since 25th October! But they are back into their habits. Yesterday there were two divisions on the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill. One of the factors explaining the lack of votes is the legislative process. A new session means that all proposed legislation must begin its progress - only now are we into the main flow. Also, by tradition the House of Lords rarely votes on Second Readings.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

The Empty Woolsack

A number of bills in the House of Lords are still considered in the Chamber by a Committee of the whole House (in the Commons this is only done for bills of major constitutional significance - most go to Public Bill Committees (see entry for 10th January).

A motion is put "That the House do now resolve itself into a committee upon the bill". This can be opposed, but its agreement is often a mere formality.

When this is agreed to, the Lord Speaker (or whichever Lord is in her place) leaves the Woolsack and sits in a modern chair at the Table of the House. Rules are less formal for the Committee stage. Frequently the committee stage will be interrupted, as it was yesterday on the fifth day of the consideration of the Climate Change Bill, for 'dinner break business'. The Woolsack was reoccupied for this.

Monday 14 January 2008

Charlie Wilson's War

My wife and I went to the cinema in Rugby yesterday afternoon - to watch the film 'Charlie Wilson's War', which was released in the UK last Thursday. It is based on the true story of Congressman Charlie Wilson - and his efforts to dramatically increase US funding to fighters in Afghanistan during the Russian invasion and occupation.

Can I recommend the film - it is very well written, with some excellent one-liners (you can't afford not to give the dialogue your full attention - or you'll miss some gems) - it's what we have come to expect from Aaron Sorkin, the genius behind 'West Wing'. The film is well acted, with lots of details from Congress. Visitors to the Hill will recognise The House of Representatives and the Rayburn Building. Jack Murtha and Rudi Giuliani both get a number of mentions.

Charlie Wilson was the Democratic representative for the 2nd District in Texas from 1973 to 1996. He is not to be confused with Charlie Wilson, the current Representative from the 6th District of Ohio - as one website has done. He had served in the Navy [1956-60] was assigned to the Pentagon as part of an intelligence unit that evaluated the Soviet Union's nuclear forces. Prior to election to the US Congress he was a member of the Texas legislature. After his retirement from Congress he worked as a lobbyist then returned to Lufkin, Texas. He had a heart transplant in September last year, and attended the Hollywood Premiere of the film (but not the Washington premiere). There was an excellent Washington Post piece - which can be found at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/21/AR2007122102520.html

Saturday 12 January 2008

The week ahead

In the House of Commons major items of Business will be

Monday 14 January
Oral Questions – Home Office, including Topical Questions
Legislation – Education and Skills Bill – Second reading

Tuesday 15 January
Oral Questions – Communities and Local Government, including Topical Questions
Motion – To approve the payments into the Olympic Lottery Distribution Fund Order 2007
Legislation – European Communities (Finance) Bill – Consideration in Committee
Legislation – European Communities (Finance) Bill – Remaining stages
Adjournment – Role of regional ministers – Daniel Kawczynski

Wednesday 16 January
Oral Questions – Wales; Prime Minister
Debate – Opposition Day (6th allotted day) – i) Pensioner Poverty, ii) Human Trafficking

Thursday 17 January
Oral Questions – Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, including Topical Questions
Business Statement – Leader of the House
Topical Debate
Legislation – Channel Tunnel Rail Link (Supplementary Provisions) Bill – Remaining stages
Westminster Hall – A debate on extending participation in sport

In the House of Lords there may be the committee stage of the House of Lords Bill. An announcement of this has been carried in the House of Lords Business for some time, but is omitted in the Weekly Information Bulletin published today. I will make enquiries and post news on Washminster.

Main Business in the House of Lords is due to be

Monday 14 January
Legislation – Climate Change Bill [HL] (Committee stage, day 5)
Legislation – Children and Young Persons Bill [HL] (Grand Committee, day 2)

Tuesday 15 January
Legislation – Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [HL] (Report stage, day 1)
Legislation – Dormant Bank and Building Society Accounts Bill [HL] (Grand Committee, day 4)
Question for short debate – on the European Committee Report European Wine: A Better Deal for All

Wednesday 16 January
Legislation – Local Transport Bill [HL] (Report stage)
Legislation – Children and Young Persons Bill [HL] (Grand Committee, day 3)

Thursday 17 January
Delegated Legislation – Home Information Pack (Amendment) Regulations 2007- motion to annul

The House of Representatives returns on Tuesday, with a quorum call at 6.30pm to establish a quorum for the Second Session of the 110th Congress. The veto by the President of the National Defense Authorization Act will be addressed afterwards. The House will meet at 10am on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for legislative Business. Two bills are scheduled for consideration under the suspensions procedure, including one - "Condemning the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and reaffirming the commitment of the United States to assist the people of Pakistan in combating terrorist activity and promoting a free and democratic Pakistan".

Other legislation expected

H.R. 2768 - S-MINER Act (Rep. George Miller (CA) – Education and Labor)
H.R. 3524 - HOPE VI Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2007 (Rep. Waters – Financial Services)

The Senate will continue to convene in pro forma sessions, but will not return for legislative business until the following week.

That week should be very interesting at Westminster. The Bill concerning the EU Reform Treaty [Lisbon Treaty] will have its second reading on Monday 21st. The recommended pay increase for MPs will be discussed on Thursday 24th. Both have the potential for lively debate.

Friday 11 January 2008

American Foreign Policy

Yesterday the house of Lords discussed the US Missile Defence System. In a debate that lasted a little under three hours, some strong views of the current administration's foreign policy were expressed.

Lord Hannay, (Minister at the British Embassy in Washington DC 1984-5; UK Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations 1990-95); Former Member of the UN High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.) said "The initial approach of the US to the handling of the perceived threat seems to me to have been deeply flawed and to bear all the marks of that unilateralist approach to policy-making that has inflicted such damage on the US’s reputation and its alliance relationships over recent years. Was it really wise not to ensure firm support or at least clear understanding of the reasoning behind the policy in NATO before moving ahead? Was it sensible not to consult Russia at an early stage and at every level before firm decisions were announced, given the fraught negotiations that preceded the setting aside of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002? My answer to both questions is, “Clearly not”."

"Any reader of Surrender is Not an Option, the recent memoir of the former US ambassador to the UN and Under Secretary for Arms Control, will see there the glee and enthusiasm with which the Bush Administration set about unilaterally dismantling existing agreements such as the ABM Treaty and destroying future ones on biological warfare verification and on a fissile material cut-off treaty, as well as blocking any prospect of bringing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty into force. This in my view misguided policy, fortunately, to have pretty well run its course, but it has not yet been reversed, as it surely needs to be." Baroness Williams looked forward to the abandonment of "what has been much too unilateralist, much too exclusive and much too destructive an approach".

The significance is that these comments come from respected friends of the United States.

Speakers looked forward to the Presidential Election, Lord Hannay commenting, "This year’s election in the US provides an opportunity and is, indeed, a necessary precondition for such a reversal of recent negative trends".

Thursday 10 January 2008

Public Bill Committees

One of the historic changes adopted by the House of Commons in 2007, involved replacing 'Standing Committees' for the committee stage of legislation - and replacing them with 'Public Bill Committees', which can taken evidence. A written question was answered recently.

Mr. Hancock: To ask the Leader of the House what assessment she has made of the effect of public bill committees on the legislative process.

Helen Goodman: The changes in procedure relating to the committee stage of Bills taken off the Floor of the House, including the renaming of standing committees on Bills by the more descriptive title of ‘Public Bill Committees’, which were agreed by the House on 1 November 2006, have been generally welcomed.

Oral evidence taking in Public Bill Committees began in January 2007. Four Bills which began their passage in session 2006-07 took such evidence, and in the current session it will now be standard practice for all programmed Government Bills starting in the Commons to hold sessions of oral evidence. The ability of such committees to take oral evidence before proceeding to clause by clause scrutiny has brought benefits to the consideration of Bills. Good co-operation between the Government and other representatives on the committee, and the House authorities, can maximise the effectiveness of the process. The power for such committees to receive written evidence is increasingly made use of by a range of organisations and individuals. The initial view is that these processes have helped to improve the opportunities for those outside Parliament to engage with the legislative process.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

A Senator in the White House?

When John F Kennedy won the 1960 election campaign he became the last sitting Senator to win the White House - to date! Senatorial experience itself has become rare in the Oval Office over recent years. Of course senators have been candidates - John Kerry being the latest, but the trouble with being in the Senate, or the House for that matter, is that rollcall votes can be used against you in the campaign. Former Governors (Jimmy Carter; Ronald Reagan; George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W Bush) don't have such an easy to use voting record.

2008 looks to break the senatorial drought. Senators Clinton, McCain and Obama are among the leading contenders.
As Iowa and now New Hampshire show, this is going to be a fascinating race. How many more sleep limited nights are ahead for those outside the US as we follow every turn?

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Pre-Legislative Scrutiny

The quality of legislation in the United Kingdom has often been criticised. One of the most important developments in recent years has been greater consultation before bills are introduced into parliament. 'White Papers' and 'Green Papers' have long been a part of the pre-legislative process - but the most exciting development has come in the last few years with 'draft bills' being considered by parliamentary committees.

The introduction of pre-legislative scrutiny is generally acknowledged to be one of the most successful innovations in the legislative process in recent years. The Modernisation Committee reported
"During the second reading of the Charities Bill [Lords], several Members praised the pre-legislative process. One of the Chairmen of the Joint Committee which considered the Bill in draft said, 'I remain a real convert to the pre-legislative process. ... That process is far less partisan and far more open to analysis and debate, and, as a consequence, makes, where it is possible, for far better law. Indeed, I should like to see it go much further in this House and in the other place'"
The House of Commons Library has published an interesting and useful paper on pre-legislative scrutiny. It is available at http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/notes/snpc-02822.pdf

Monday 7 January 2008

The Lords and the US

At the start of business on Mondays to Thursdays half an hour is given over to four questions and their supplementaries. In the next week the following questions will be asked

Tuesday 8th January - Lord Taverne to ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to renegotiate the current extradition treaty with the United States.

On January 10th Lord Wallace of Saltaire to call attention to the United Kingdom’s commitment to participate in the United States missile defence system, and to the implications of recent negotiations between the United States and other states for the deployment of that system; and to move for papers.

Sunday 6 January 2008

A Bad Start to the Year

Fifty years ago today the Conservative Party was rocked by resignations over its economic policy. Peter Thorneycroft (Chancellor of the Exchequer); Enoch Powell (Financial Secretary) and Nigel Birch (Economic Secretary) disagreed with the Cabinet's decision to cut £105m of public expenditure - when they wanted £153m. Only in September 1903 had more ministers left the government at the same time. Thorneycroft claimed that "he alone in the Cabinet stood against inflation".

Macmillan had been due to fly to Africa the following day - despite the political crisis he decided to go ahead, telling reporters "“I thought the best thing to do was to settle up these little local difficulties, and then turn to the wider vision of the Commonwealth”.

Saturday 5 January 2008

The Week Ahead

Although both the Senate and the House of Representatives met in pro-forma sessions on Thursday (to begin the second session of the 110th Congress), the House will not return to legislate until January 15th and the Senate until the 22nd. US attention will be on the New Hampshire Primary on Tuesday.

Parliament returns on Monday


Monday 7 January
Oral Questions – Work and Pensions, including Topical Questions
Legislation – Pension Bill – Second reading

Tuesday 8 January
Oral Questions – Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including Topical Questions
Ten Minute Rule Bill – Umbilical Cord Blood (Donation) – Mr David Burrowes
Debate – Opposition Day (5th allotted day) – Subject to be announced

Wednesday 9 January
Oral Questions – Northern Ireland; Prime Minister
Ten Minute Rule Bill – Runaway and Missing Children – Helen Southworth
Legislation – Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – Remaining stages

Thursday 10 January
Oral Questions – Innovation, Universities and Skills, including Topical Questions
Business Statement – Leader of the House
Topical Debate – to be announced
Debate – Armed Forces Personnel
Westminster Hall – A debate on the Home Affairs Committee Report on Police Funding


Monday 7 January
Employment Bill [HL] (Second reading)

Tuesday 8 January
Legislation – Climate Change Bill [HL] (Committee stage, day 3)
Legislation – Children and Young Persons Bill [HL] (Grand Committee, day 1, Moses Room 3.30pm)
Question for short debate – on the progress made in implementing the National Audiology Action Plan

Wednesday 9 January
Legislation – Crossrail Bill (Second reading)

Thursday 10 January
Debates– on (1) the United Kingdom’s commitment to participate in the United States missile defence system and (2) on the Action Plan for Community Empowerment: Building on
Success report

Friday 4 January 2008

Iowa Democrats Caucus

The map shows the geographical distribution of the results. A county is coloured according to the candidate who won the highest percentage of the vote.

Pink - Barack Obama: Green - John Edwards: Blue - Hillary Clinton

Obama won the counties with the urban areas. Des Moines; Cedar Rapids; Davenport; Sioux City and Waterloo are the five largest cities; Obama won in each city - except for Sioux City in which he tied with Clinton. His counties also include Dubuque; Ames and Cedar Falls. These are also the most Democrat areas - In 2004 Kerry did best in the 1st (53%) and 2nd (55%) Districts. They are the districts on the East (the brown lines are the district boundaries).

Edwards strength was in the rural areas - the south western part of the 2nd District and the south central of the state.

Clinton's counties are concentrated in the south west and north, at the boundaries of the State. Sioux City and Council Bluffs lean Republican and the fifth district (in which she led in 15 counties [tying in 2 of those] out of 32) voted 60% for Bush in 2004. The fourth district is also Republican held and gave a small majority to Bush - much of it coming from Ames, which Obama won.

Next Steps

Iowa has spoken - and it is clear that for both parties there will be an exciting few weeks ahead. The next major test for the candidates is the primary in New Hampshire. Unlike Iowa, this is a primary - which involves an election rather than a caucus, which is in effect a 'private' party meeting.

The timetable for the selection process is

January 5: Wyoming (GOP caucuses)
January 8: New Hampshire (primary)
January 15: Michigan
January 19: Nevada (precinct caucuses), South Carolina (R primary)
January 26: South Carolina (D primary)
January 29: Florida
February 1: Maine (R)
February 5: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado (caucuses), Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Idaho (D), Illinois, Kansas (D), Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico (D), New York, North Dakota (caucuses), Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah
February 9: Louisiana, Kansas (R)
February 10: Maine (D caucuses)
February 12: District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia
February 19: Hawaii (D), Washington, Wisconsin
March 4: Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont
March 8: Wyoming (D)
March 11: Mississippi
April 22: Pennsylvania
May 6: Indiana, North Carolina
May 13: Nebraska (primary), West Virginia
May 20: Kentucky, Oregon
May 27: Idaho (R)
June 3: Montana, New Mexico (R), South Dakota
August 25-28: Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado
September 1-4: Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St.

November 4: Election Day

Candidate Websites

Thursday 3 January 2008


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

The process for selecting nominees differs in each party. The registered Republicans who turn up for their meeting listen to arguments for candidates put forward by other caucus participants then write the name of their chosen candidate on a previously blank piece of paper - voting by secret ballot. The results are then sent to the Iowa Republican Party who release the final totals.
The Democrats have a more complex system. The evening begins with participants standing in a designated area of the building for each candidate - forming "preference groups". There is then about 30 minutes electioneering in which supporters of each candidate try to persuade members of other groups to leave and join their preference group. Once this initial period has ended party officials advise on which candidates are still "viable". This will require a candidate to have the support of at least 15-25% of the meeting backing them. There is then a second period of electioneering - where members (supporters of inviable candidates or indeed previous supporters of remaining candidates) are urged to "re-align".

At the end of this second period the numbers of supporters are added up and the results transmitted.

And so later tonight - or in the early hours of the morning in the UK - the results will be known, and the shape of the 2008 Presidential election will begin to form.
Iowa Democratic Party Website: http://www.iowademocrats.org/
Iowa Republican Party Website: http://www.iowagop.net/
Iowa Caucus 2008: http://www.iowacaucus.org/

Wednesday 2 January 2008


Happy New Year - and welcome back to Washminster. The year ahead promises to be one of the most interesting for watchers of Parliament and Congress.

In the United States this will be a major election year. For the first time in over half a century neither presidential candidate will be a sitting President or Vice President. This could be one of the most intense and exciting presidential elections in decades. Congress itself will be affected, not only by the Presidential election, but by the Senate and House races. With many retirements already announced - meaning open seats, which are more competitive - there is much to play for, offensively and defensively, by each party. Washminster will be following both individual races and surveying the national and state scenes during the coming months.

The 110th Congress is at its half way point - events within the chambers and committee rooms will continue to be interesting. Washminster will look at the impact of the coming elections on behaviour, as well as considering the issues and procedures.

At Westminster, both the House of Commons and the House of Lords face challenging years. The European Reform Treaty Bill will be making its way through Parliament. It could be a tough fight - with procedures tested to their limits. 2008 will probably not be an election year - but the battle is already on. How will Brown, Cameron & Clegg perform? Which party can seize the initiative? How will backbenchers enhance or threaten their parties chances? In the House of Lords the reform issue will heat up further. Die hard opponents of an elected chamber will continue to press for the Steel Bill, while the Government is due to produce a White Paper in the early months of the year.

The Iowa caucus will be held tomorrow (January 3rd). Parliament returns on Monday. Hang on for a roller coast year!!!