Saturday 31 May 2008

Ike Wants Your Vote

This was a cutting edge political ad fifty six years ago! Interestingly it looks horrendously out of date - but its message is so 2008!

Friday 30 May 2008


And this is the 1952 Ad for Eisenhower - a classic (perhaps the 2008 election will revive 'retro' campaign ads

Thursday 29 May 2008

The JFK Campaign Song

For its time this was a groundbreaking piece of campaigning. Enjoy

Saturday 24 May 2008

The Week Ahead

Along with Congress and Westminster, this blog will be taking the week off. It's the Memorial Day district work period in the USA and the Whitsun recess in Britain.

The Crewe and Nantwich by-election turned out to be the upset for the Government which was predicted. While the focus this coming week will be away from the legislatures - politics will continue to be lively.

Thursday 22 May 2008

Crewe and Nantwich By-Election

Political attention in Britain focuses today on the Cheshire constituency of Crewe and Nantwich. Polls open at 7.00am and close at 10.00pm. Polls suggest that the Conservative Party could win its first by-election in 26 years. Tim Castle of Reuters comments "Losing the seat, held for 34 years by no-nonsense Labour traditionalist Gwyneth Dunwoody, would have little effect on Brown's 67-MP majority in the Commons.

But the psychological impact of defeat could be heavy, with Brown already on the back foot after a rout in local elections three weeks ago and a backbench revolt over the abolition of the 10p starting rate of tax."
The latest polls suggest that the Tories have a 13 point lead. Political activists, including myself, will be heading for the area - which is situated in the North West, close to Manchester, which itself has been a centre of news attention overnight with United winning the Champions League final. I'll be using 'Twitter' to post my activities throughout the day.

Tamsin Dunwoody is the Labour candidate - and daughter of Gwyneth. Her website can be found at http://www.creweandnantwichlabour.org.uk/home

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Breaches of the Ministerial Code

Last week the Public Administration Committee brought out a report entitled - "Investigating the conduct of ministers". It's summary is important

"The post of Prime Minister's Independent Adviser on Ministerial Interests was created in March 2006, and extended by the incoming Prime Minister in July 2007. Part of the new Independent Adviser's role is to investigate allegations that the Ministerial Code has been breached. We and our predecessor Committees have been calling for an investigator into alleged ministerial misconduct for some time. It does not seem fair that the media can claim to take the place of due process when ministers are accused of misconduct. It also seems disproportionate that the only effective sanction for non-compliance with the Code (however minor) is dismissal.

This Report considers the suitability of the new mechanism for investigating alleged breaches of the Code. We welcome the creation of an investigatory capacity as an important step. However, we have identified limitations on the Independent Adviser's powers which cast doubt over the effective ability of any holder of the post to secure public confidence. In particular, the Independent Adviser should be free to instigate investigations. As it is, he is dependent on being invited to do so by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister should also undertake that findings of investigations into the conduct of ministers will routinely be published.

Constitutional watchdogs such as this new investigator need to be demonstrably independent of those they regulate—in this case, ministers, including the Prime Minister. The post of Independent Adviser meets none of the criteria we associate with independence. The holder of the post, Sir Philip Mawer, has been appointed by the Prime Minister on a non-specific term of office which can be terminated by the Prime Minister at any time and on any grounds. He has no staff of his own, no office and no budget, but relies on the Cabinet Office for all these things. There has been no open advertisement process and no parliamentary involvement in the appointment. Until these defects are remedied, we have difficulty accepting the suggestion that the new investigator can meaningfully be considered to be independent."

The full report is available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmselect/cmpubadm/381/381.pdf

Tuesday 20 May 2008

LBJ 100

You may have noticed one item on the "Weekly Leader" for the House of Representatives.

"H.Res. __ - Commemoration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson on the occasion his
birthday centennial
(Rep. Sheila Jackson–Lee – Judiciary)"

On August 27th this year, it will be 100 years since LBJ was born. His presidency was overshadowed, if not destroyed, by the Vietnam War. He will always be remembered as the Vice President who succeeded to office on the assassination of JFK. Yet he was a fascinating individual in his own right. The three volume (unfinished...) series of biographies by Robert A Caro are well worth a read (even if it takes a summer - as it did for me). He dominated Congress - serving in both Houses. As whip then Majority Leader of the Senate he was a master of parliamentary strategy. I hope his centenary will not be forgotten - and Washminster will explore this intriguing character and his life.

Sunday 18 May 2008


Thanks to Digg - I found this little gem from Comedy Central - Enjoy.

Friday 16 May 2008

The Legislative Programme 2008-09

Until last year the legislative programme for a session (normally a year, running from November to Novemeber, though adjusted for the first session after a General Election; and cut short when an election is called) - was announced in the Queen's Speech. However, one of Gordon Brown's first acts as Prime Minister was to announce and publish the draft legislative programme in the summer. If this practice is followed, it will be a major constitutional development for which Brown will be remembered.

The draft programme for 2008-09 was published this week. It is available at http://www.official-documents.gov.uk/document/cm73/7372/7372.pdf. A summary of the 4 major themes can be found at http://www.commonsleader.gov.uk/output/Page2391.asp.
While there could be a General Election to shorten the session, it is likely that 2008-09 will be the last full session before Britain goes to the polls.

Thursday 15 May 2008

Viewing Congress from afar

A hundred years ago the only way someone could see what was going on in Congress was to visit the city of Washington. Now, thanks to the wonders of modern technology - events can be followed from almost anywhere in the world.

C-SPAN has the most important audio-visual feed. C-SPAN 1 brings live coverage from the House of Representatives, while C-SPAN 2 deals with the Senate. These, and other C-SPAN channels, broadcast 24 hours a day. If you haven't visited the website - it's worth going to.

(Some) committee Hearings can be viewed live at http://www.capitolhearings.org/.
Both House and Senate websites are useful for keeping up with events

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Dulles Airport

It's time to leave the beautiful city of Washington and return to the United Kingdom. I'll be flying through the major international airport, which is named after the Secretary of State under Eisenhower, John Foster Dulles. (not his younger brother Allen Dulles - who was director of the CIA at the same time - a talented pair of brothers!).

The airport is actually in Virginia, about 25 miles from the centre of Washington. The site was selected in 1958, as National Airport was insufficient for the amount of traffic (despite itself only opening in 1941). President Kennedy opened and dedicated the airport in 1962.

Tuesday 13 May 2008

The Rules Committee

This afternoon (US time) I am hoping to attend a meeting of the Rules Committee of the House of Representatives. This is a very powerful and important committee, which has three main functions. It is chrged with overseeing and amending the House Rules; oversees the observance of the rules - and "Reports Special Rules" Since 1883 this has been its primary role.

These 'Special Rules' govern the length of time for debate in the main chamber; which members will control debate on the floor; and which amendments - and even points of order - can be raised and debated.

The Committee has its own website which sets out the work it does: http://www.rules.house.gov/

Of particular interest is the paper on the committee available at http://www.rules.house.gov/lpp/rules_committee.pdf
The Committee Chairwoman is Congresswoman Louise M Slaughter, who represents the 28th District in New York State. The District covers part of the shoreline of Lake Ontario, and part of the City of Rochester.

Following the Polls

There is no shortage of polls about the US Election - but one I find very useful is The Cook Political Report. The really detailed stuff requires a subscription, but there are excellent summaries available free on the internet.

The Web address is http://www.cookpolitical.com/

You will find the following particularly useful

In the UK take a look at

YouGov: http://www.yougov.com/

The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/polls

Monday 12 May 2008

Congressional Record

The Congressional Record is the US equivalent of 'Hansard', a substantially verbatim record of what is said. One major difference between the US and UK legislatures is that in America it is possible to include remarks or other material printed into the record, without having to read them out - these are known as "Extensions of Remarks". It is commomplace for a member to ask permission of the presiding officer to "revise and extend".

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has produced some useful guides to using the Congressional Record

A Users Guide to the Congressional Record - http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/98-265_20030717.pdf

Congressional Record: Its Production, Distribution and Accessibility - http://www.senate.gov/legislative/Congressional_Records/PDF/Congressional_Record_Distribution.pdf

The Congressional Record itself can be found at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/crecord/index.html. It is worth looking at the Daily Digest first.

Sunday 11 May 2008

The Week Ahead

A busy week ahead, with recess and district work periods approaching. There will be the Democratic Primary in West Virginia on Tuesday. A report posted by CNN today sets the scene.

In Congress and Parliament

House of Representatives:


Westminster:http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmwib/wb080503/03.05.2008.pdf[House of Commons p11-14][House of Lords p15-18]

Saturday 10 May 2008

Library of Congress

The Congress is served by its library. Known around the world for its massive collection - it has 138,313,427 items in the collections (which include not just books but manuscripts and audio recordings) - it was established in 1800 as a reference collection for the legislative branch containing "such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress". The original collection was destroyed by the British when they burned the Capitol in 1814.

Thomas Jefferson offered his own collection of books for the reestablishment of the Library. Today the main building is named after him. At its centre is the reading room - which is magnificant. I had the privilege this week of going into the room whilst researching for a paper which I have been writing (and which is the reason Washminster has failed to appear for a couple of days - as I worked against the deadline for submission!). If you are in Washington the building is a must see.

The Library of Congress also contains the Congressional Research Service. I have the very highest regard for the quality and volume of material produced by CRS. There has been a long running debate in Congress about whether major publications should be available to the public - as they are from the House of Commons Library. The issue remains unresolved. However a website has been set up by campaigners, and many reports are available there. I find it an invaluable resource. The address is http://www.opencrs.com/

Wednesday 7 May 2008

The Battle Continues

My apologies for this late posting (already Thursday in the UK, but late Wednesday evening in Washington).

The results of the North Carolina and Indiana Primaries have, as expected, been the main topic of discussion. What do you think should happen next? Please share your comments on Washminster.

I've been spending my time working towards completion of a paper on attendance of Labour Peers at votes in the House of Lords; interviewing whips in the House of Representatives; and this evening sitting in the gallery of the House of Representatives. As much as I love C-Span, you can't beat watching the chamber live. So much happens off camera. Tonight was a real feast for the procedural-nerd (which I must confess I am).

This is what I witnessed (in reverse time order)

7:45 Announcement: motion to adjourn Failed by recorded vote: 140 - 264 (Roll no. 291).
7:27 Mr. Walsh (NY) moved that the House do now adjourn.

7:27 Announcement: motion to table the motion to reconsider the vote Agreed to by recorded vote: 212 - 183 (Roll no. 290).

7:20 Mr. Welch (VT) moved to table the motion to reconsider the vote
7:20 Mrs. Emerson moved to reconsider the vote.

7:20 Announcement: agreeing to the resolution Agreed to by the Yeas and Nays: 223 - 192 (Roll no. 289).
7:12 Announcement: motion to table the motion to reconsider the vote Agreed to by recorded vote: 226 - 186
(Roll no. 288).
7:01 Mr. Hastings (FL) moved to table the motion to reconsider the vote
7:01 Mr. Simpson moved to reconsider the vote.

7:01 Announcement: motion ordering the previous question Agreed to by the Yeas and Nays: 220 - 187 (Roll no. 287).

7:01 Announcement: motion to adjourn Failed by recorded vote: 143 - 272
(Roll no. 286).
6:33 Mr. Kingston moved that the House do now adjourn.

Speeches about use of procedures

6:17 Announcement: motion to adjourn Failed by the Yeas and Nays: 111 - 311 (Roll no. 285).
5:48 Mr. Price (GA) moved that the House do now adjourn.

Very procedural! British readers should note that in Congress a motion to table means the opposite to its meaning in Britain. In the US if a motion is tabled, it is effectively killed off (in the UK you introduce a motion by tabling it!)

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Indiana and North Carolina

The epic struggle for the Democratic nomination continues. Today two key states hold their primaries.

In Indiana polls open at 6am - and the last ones close at 7pm (Eastern Time). The latest opinion polls show the race could be very tight. North Carolina votes from 6.30am to 7.30pm. This race is much more likely to be won by Obama - but the margin will count. If Hillary can narrow the margin from the double-figures that Obama was getting in the polls, she may be able to claim "victory"

A key issue dividing the two candidates is whether, in face of rises in the cost of transport fuel, there should a temporary break from the federal "gas tax". Clinton has argued for such a tax holiday, but Obama disagrees. As a European the debate over prices is somewhat bemusing, as compared to prices back home, the US still have amazingly low prices for its fuel - but it's a hot issue over here.

There's lots of coverage across all forms of media. My favourite sites for following developments are

CNN: http://edition.cnn.com/POLITICS/
Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/

Local news can be found at: http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/frontpage (IN)
http://www.newsobserver.com/ (NC)

Monday 5 May 2008

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court stands just across the road from the Capitol Building (Between 1st Street NE; East Capitol Street; and Maryland Avenue). It was only established there in the twentieth century - previously the court met inside the Capitol Building itself.

Under the doctrine of 'Separation of Power', the one person cannot be in more than one of the three branches of government (legislative; executive; judiciary). The strict application of the doctrine requires separate personnel, but the branches must work together for government to function. The President nominates justices; the Senate confirms - but once appointed, members of the Supreme Court cannot be removed, save by the extraordinary process of impeachment.

There is a Chief Justice (John Roberts), who sits with eight Associate Justices. They are appointed for life, but may retire or resign (or be impeached!).

Sometimes the Supreme Court is referred to as SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States). Since the leading case of Marbury v. Madison, the Court has been able to strike down all acts of the other branches where these are judged to be unconstitutional - including legislation.

By contrast the Supreme Court in the UK, which will open in the Middlesex Guildhall next year (also across the street from the legislature (Parliament)), will not be able to strike down legislation.

Sunday 4 May 2008

The American Civil War

[APOLOGIES FOR SOUND QUALITY - I'm working on solving the problem for future videos]

It's impossible to understand the USA - including the current political culture - without recognising the importance of the Civil War which both split the nation during 1861 and 1865; and built the country we now know. You'll find a very interesting article on the signifance of the war at http://www.lewrockwell.com/woods/woods31.html.

As one recent writer put it - "The Civil War has never receded into the remote past in American life. The most momentous conflict in American history, it had a revolutionary social and political impact that continues to be felt today. The political firestorms of the 1980s and 1990s over the appropriateness of the Confederate battle flag flying over statehouses in Georgia, Mississippi, and South Carolina, for instance, demonstrate how deeply meaningful Civil War symbols remain in American politics, especially racial politics. "

Useful resources on the civil war include


Saturday 3 May 2008

The Week Ahead

Monday is a Bank Holiday in the United Kingdom - and politicians have a further day to reflect on the significance of the local elections. In the United States two further primaries will be held on Tuesday. Last week the Leader of the House of Representatives, Steny Hoyer, made it clear that the House would face a busy timetable in May.

House of Representatives:http://democraticleader.house.gov/docUploads/14WeeklyLeader05_05_08.pdf?CFID=13924048&CFTOKEN=38577085


Westminster:http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmwib/wb080503/03.05.2008.pdf[House of Commons p11-14][House of Lords p15-18]

Friday 2 May 2008

Making Sense of the Results

Some - but certainly not all (the London Mayoral race; local elections in Rugby and Bassetlaw - will see their votes counted during today) - of the local election results are now in. By common agreement these have been bad for Labour. As I write, Labour has lost 163 councillors, wheras the Tories have gained 146. In terms of Councils changing hands Labour has lost 6 while the Tories have gained 8. Some observers have claimed it has been Labour's worst defeat since the 1960s.

Gordon Brown is reported to have admitted that the results have been 'bad' and disappointing'. But what is the real significance?

National feelings do influence local election results - much more so than in a larger, and federal, country like the United States. Some excellent councillors were blown away - not because voters disapproved of their work, but as I heard so many times on the doorstep - "it's nothing personal - but I want to make it clear to Gordon Brown that I'm not happy..."

Is the result terminal? No - just look at election results in the 1980s and early 1990s for the Tories - they were decimated in local elections - only to come back and win at a General Election.

The significance of the elections are that they show voters are unhappy at the moment - how Gordon Brown and the Labour Party respond is the question to ask.

Thursday 1 May 2008

While we await the results....

The BBC reports - "Millions of voters have been heading to the polls in local elections across England and Wales. About 4,000 seats on 159 councils are up for grabs, along with the London mayoralty and London Assembly.

Polls opened at 0700 BST and close at 2200 BST. There has been a mix of sunshine and showers in most areas. Results are expected overnight for more than 100 councils, but voters in Wales, some parts of England and in London must wait until later on Friday."

Once the results have come in, I'll write something on the blog [and it helps being five hours behind - results that appear in the middle of the night in the UK, come out at a more decent hour in Washington DC.

As well as conducting research on whips in Congress, the reason for my visit, I have done some relaxing reading. I picked up from the Senate giftshop a copy of Anthony S Pitch's "The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814." - an interesting read, but I was a little surprised at his comment in the preface "Perhaps the story is not well known because it is a painful reminder of a humiliating episode." - it should be well known, every time I have toured the Capitol I am reminded by guides how the wicked British burned down Congress on 24th August 1814!

Washminster is Back!

Thanks for returning to Washminster - which returns after a break of a few weeks. Over the coming days this blog will introduce new features to enhance your enjoyment of the site.

May promises to be an interesting month. Today voters are going to the polls in England and Wales. Ken Livingstone faces the first credible challenge as Mayor of London - and the polls suggest there may be a major upset. Boris Johnson, MP for Henley (in Oxfordshire); former Editor of the Spectator; and a frequent guest and host of "Have I Got News For You" [http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/haveigotnewsforyou/] - is tipped by some to win - an outcome regarded as unthinkable just a few months ago.

Voting also takes place for some district councils across England and local (as opposed to National Assembly)elections are being held in Wales.

I have a particular interest in elections in Rugby [http://www.rugby.gov.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?categoryID=524&documentID=1049] where I live. As a prospective candidate in the East Midlands, I'll be watching the results in Derby City [http://www.derby.gov.uk/CouncilGovernmentDemocracy/Elections/Notice+of+Election.htm], Amber Valley [http://www.ambervalley.gov.uk/services/governmentpoliticsandpublicadministration/democracyandelections/], Bassetlaw [http://www.bassetlaw.gov.uk/], Lincoln City [http://www.lincoln.gov.uk/menu_map_level_3.asp?sec_id=4160], and Daventry [http://www.daventrydc.gov.uk/news/daventry-district-prepares-for-the-polls/].

The UK, despite some devolution, remains a centralised state - and many voters will cast their ballots, not on local issues, but to reflect their current attitudes toward the national government.

What message will the voters send to Gordon Brown? - and what will the repercussions be?

In the United States the closely fought battle for the Democratic Party nomination continues. The next primaries will be held on Tuesday in Indiana and North Carolina.

The next few days will be interested (if not uncomfortable for some!).

Welcome back to Washminster - and follow the events as they unfold.