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

Monday 27 October 2008

New Hampshire

Senator John E Sununu is the first term Senator for New Hampshire and son of the senior President Bush's Chief of Staff (John H Sununu - 1989-91). Described by Congressional Quarterly as "soft spoken and approachable", Sununu is noted for his "analytical, common-sense approach to problem solving". He served three terms in the House of Representatives before defeating "both an incumbent Senator and an incumbent Governor to become the youngest member of the United States Senate." His campaign website is http://www.teamsununu.org/

Challenging for the Democratic Party is Jeanne Shaheen, a former governor of the State (like the ficticious President Bartlet in 'West Wing'). Jeanne Shaheen was Director of Harvard University’s Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government before she began her full time campaign to become Senator. Her website is http://jeanneshaheen.org/home

New Hampshire was one of the original United States, and the first to break from Great Britain. It is currently ranked 44th in land area, 46th in total area of the 50 states, and 41st in population. It has a 96.97% white population. The total population is estimated at 1.3 million people. The Cook Report has regarded this race as a "toss-up", while electoral-vote.com rates it as "barely democratic"

Sunday 26 October 2008

IL 10

The tenth district of Illinois covers the suburbs north of Chicago and runs along the shore of Lake Michigan. It has the state's highest percentage of college educated and white collar workers.

Mark Kirk is a centrist Republican who has served in the House since 2000. He is noted for his concerns over congressional ethics - he threatened to vote against ethics rules changes proposed by the Republican leadership which would have protected Tom DeLay. He has promoted legislation to cancel the benefits of any member of Congress who is convicted of a felony. "Well educated and polished" (Congressional Quarterly), Mark Kirk earned one of his three degrees from the London School of Economics and worked for a British MP before becoming a congressional staffer. His website is http://www.kirkforcongress.com/

Challenging Congressman Kirk is Dan Seals, who contested the seat in 2006. Electoral-vote.com makes the point that "this could be a big year for charismatic young politicians from Chicago". Dan Seals is a business consultant and public policy lecturer at Northwestern University. His website ( and I love the walk on video!) is http://www.dansealsforcongress.com/index.php

Saturday 25 October 2008

The Week Ahead

Only a few more days until the US Elections. I'll be flying over to Northern Virginia on Tuesday to watch the last week of the campaigns - and my observations will be recorded in this blog and on some BBC local radio stations. I will also be updating twitter on my activities. (see column to the right or http://twitter.com/jdavidmorgan)

In the UK eyes will be focused on the US Elections. I've never known such a high level of interest in the American elections in the UK. There is strong support for Obama - even the Tory mayor for London, Boris Johnson, is hoping he will win.

At Westminster the Climate Change Bill will see its final stages taken in the House of Commons on Tuesday. Press reports yesterday suggest that the government is preparing to make concessions to avoid a Labour rebellion. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/oct/24/climate-change-carbon-emissions-miliband). The Local Transport Bill is expected to pass its final Commons stages on Monday. In the House of Lords there are some interesting questions due to be asked. Some will be profiled during the coming week on this blog. I would also draw your attention to Lord Astor of Hevers question to Her Majesty’s Government on Monday "what steps they are taking to promote synergy and reduce possible friction between NATO and the European Union on defence matters."

The Parliamentary calendar can be viewed at http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/futurebusiness.html {which will be transferred to http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/thisweek.html at some point]


National Journal reported in the "Almanac of American Politics 2008" that Mississippi "is increasingly a Republican state, carried by Republicans in the last seven presidential campaigns." For this year's presidential election the Cook Political Report http://www.cookpolitical.com/presidential predicts that the state's six electoral votes will go to John McCain (Solid Republican).

However one of the Senate seats is currently regarded as a toss up. Incumbent Senator Thad Cochran is regarded as safe. It is the second seat which is of concern to Republican strategists. The seat is up for election because Roger Wicker was appointed temporarily to replace Trent Lott, who stood down from the Senate in December 2007.

The two contenders are Senator Wicker and Democrat, Ronnie Musgrove. Senator Wicker is a former Congressman from the 1st District of Mississippi (1995-2007). He lives in Tupelo, the town where Elvis Presley was born. His campaign website is http://www.wickerforsenate.com/. His opponent, Ronnie Musgrove, is a former governor of the state. His website is http://musgroveforsenate.net/home.html

Mississippi continues to have the lowest per capita income in the USA, but the gap is closing. Sixty years ago it was 36% of the national average, but it had risen to 73% by 2005. It is a paradox that the state with the highest illiteracy rate has produced the most Pulitzer Prizes for literature.

Friday 24 October 2008

CT 04

Chris Shays is a respected moderate Republican who has been described by National Journal as "a pivotal Republican in the House...a pleasant man with a stubborn streak and considerable legislative savvy...when he feels strongly, he will risk everything". He has publicly disagreed with his party on campaign finance reform (which National Journal has described as 'Shay's great cause'); abortion; gun control; arts subsidies; gay rights; the minimum wage; defencespending; and Census sampling. Yet he is one of the most vulnerable incumbents on the GOP side.

The Fourth Congressional District of Connecticut is "the wealthiest district in the nation's wealthiest state". It extends from the outskirts of New York City along the coast of Long Island Sound. It extends inland covering the south west corner of Connecticut. Its major cities are Bridgeport (139,529); Stamford (117,083) and Norwalk (82,951). The current troubles on the financial markets will hit this area hard with many working in Wall Street living in the district and Greenwich is a centre for the hedge fund industry.

Chris Shay's website is http://www.shaysforcongress.org/. His opponent from the Democrats is Jim Himes, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker. He is currently the Vice President of a community 'affordable housing' organisation. His website is http://himesforcongress.com/ .

District newspapers include The Connecticut Post - http://www.connpost.com/; Greenwich Time - http://www.greenwichtime.com/; The Advocate (Stamford) http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/.

Thursday 23 October 2008

The Electoral Commission

The conduct of elections has been a concern in many countries over recent years. In the UK the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 created the Electoral Commission. It is an independent body - members of staff may not be appointed if they have been politically active in the previous ten years - a restriction which has received much criticism. The Political Parties and Elections Bill will address this criticism (http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2007-08/politicalpartiesandelections.html - 2nd Reading was given this Monday, but this will be a carry over bill.

The task of the commission is to -
  • register political parties
  • make sure people understand and follow the rules on party and election finance
  • publish details of where parties and candidates get money from and how they spend it
  • set the standards for running elections and report on how well this is done
  • make sure people understand it is important to register to vote, and know how to vote
  • make sure boundary arrangements for local government in England are fair
The Commission's informative website can be found at http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/. Any serious student of British Politics - and anyone engaged in political activity withinthe UK - needs to visit this site!

A House of Commons paper on the Commission is available at http://www.parliament.uk/commons/lib/research/notes/snpc-03127.pdf

Wednesday 22 October 2008

CO 04

The Cook Report said last week "For House Republicans, already dark days are getting darker. Movement in Congressional races tends to accelerate in mid-October, and with the exception of Rep. Tim Mahoney’s district (FL-16), every district on the move is headed in Democrats’ direction". This is bad news for Marilyn Musgrave, the Representative from Colorado's Fourth District. National Journal wrote that this third term congresswoman "in this firmly Republican district"..."has struggled with reelection". CQ noted that her victory margin has dwindled with each election and that "In 2006, she held the dubious distinction of winning with the lowest vote share of any member". Cook has continued to rate this as a Republican toss up.

The 4th covers the eastern part of the State, which includes almost all of the High Plains plus the fast-growing area around Greeley (76,930), Fort Collins (118,652) and Loveland (50,608). It borders five other states! (New Mexico; Oklahoma; Kansas; Nebraska & Wyoming)

National Journal said that after her election to the House in 2002 "Musgrave quickly made a name for herself with her independent style and outspoken conservatism". She was the lead sponsor of the Federal Marriage Amendment banning same-sex marriage. She successfully passed an amendment to prevent enforcement of a law passed in 2005 that had required gun dealers to sell trigger locks along with the guns. The American Conservative Union rates Musgrave as the most conservative member of the House! The campaign website is http://musgraveforcongress.org/

Her opponent, in what some have dubbed "the battle of the blonds" is Betsy Markey, a former aide to Senator Ken Salazar. She has also worked for Senator John Durkin (New Hampshire) and Congressman Herb Harris of Virginia - before working for the Treasury and State Departments. Later she co-founded a software firm. Her campaign website is http://www.markeyforcongress.com/

Colorado has seen some powerful political ads in this closely fought election- examples include

from the anti-Musgrave 'VoteVets.org'

and from Musgrave

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Allowable Protest

This afternoon I attended a very interesting session of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. They are conducting an inquiry into "Policing and Protest".

(further details are available at http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/joint_committee_on_human_rights/policing_and_protest.cfm). While I was there the three witnesses were Richard North (Social Affairs Unit - http://www.richarddnorth.com/journalism/power/protest.htm); Andrew Gay (Huntingdon Life Sciences - a company targeted by animal rights activists) and Jeremy Dear of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ).

Very different views were put forward about allowing protests. It's worth watching the evidence session. Richard North was very critical of protestors and argued that we should be less tolerant of protest, and he argued in written evidence that "representative democracy is itself an important example of human rights at work and that much protest attempts to trump it". Andrew Gay spoke of the campaign against his company. Jeremy Dear argued for the right to protest - and warned of increasing interference with journalists covering demonstrations. Some penetrating questions were posed by the renowned human rights lawyer, Lord Lester of Herne Hill (http://biographies.parliament.uk/parliament/default.asp?id=26915).

As I write this the committee is due to conclude its hearing. It may be some time (perhaps by tomorrow), that the hearing will be available in the archive of http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Archive.aspx (in (1) enter joint committee human rights in (2) tick only the 'Committees' box; in (3) put 21.10.08 in both boxes.). I recommend watching it.

Pressing Matters of Concern

Energy and the Environment are topics which will receive much attention in the House of Lords this week. Today there will be two related questions -

Lord Harrison will ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that United Kingdom investment in science is sufficient to meet the key economic and environmental challenges facing the United Kingdom.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry will ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to Electricite de France’s proposed takeover of British Energy to become the principal provider of nuclear energy in the United Kingdom.

On Wednesday Lord Ezra will ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their forecasts for the security and prices of energy supplies during the coming winter.

The main legislative business of the day will be the Report Stage of the Energy Bill. Further details of this bill can be found at http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2007-08/energy.html. On Thursday the Committee Stage of the Planning Bill is expected to conclude. The concerns of Friends of the Earth about this bill can be read at http://community.foe.co.uk/campaigns/rights/planningbill.html whilst the detail can be viewed at http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2007-08/planning.html. The House of Commons Library Research Papers can be accessed under "Related Information".

Monday 20 October 2008

Alaska - At Large

The State of Alaska may be huge in size, but it is small in population terms. It is therefore entitled to two Senate seats (as are all States - which is why the Senate has 100 members) and one Representative (when this happens they are referred to as the 'Representative-at-large').

This blog looked at the Senate race on August 29th. Representative Don Young is fighting to retain the seat he has held since March 1973. As Electoral-Vote.com notes - "Normally an 18-term congressman who wants to be reelected just has to show up." But Representative Young has been involved in one of the many scandals which are affecting Alaskan politics. He is the subject of a federal investigation concerning bribes and failure to report gifts. He had a hard time in the Republican primary, but won by just 304 votes.

Prior to entering Congress Young was a tugboat captain on the Yukon. National Journal describes him as "a hot-tempered, salty-tongued true believer, given to malapropisms and tough talk". He once described environmentalists as a "self-centred bunch, the waffle-stomping, Harvard-graduating, intellectual idiots".

Representative Young's campaign website is http://www.donyoung08.com/

His Democratic challenger is the former Alaska House Minority Leader, Ethan Berkowitz. He's had an interesting life - how many politicans can make claims similar to that on Mr Berkowitz's website-

"Ethan’s hauled nets and picked fish on commercial boats in Bristol Bay, herded reindeer in the Aleutians, and snowmachined from Manley to Nome. He has traversed glaciers, and driven the Haul Road. He has dipnetted on the Copper and hunted caribou on the Kobuk. He’s shared food everywhere from Metlakatla to Barrow, slept on couches in places from Kaltag to Kenai, picked berries in Bethel, gotten stitched up in Palmer, purchased a wardrobe in Petersburg, flipped a skiff in the Lynn Canal, tipped his truck just off the Glenn Highway, celebrated a birthday in Cordova, and spent a lot of time jawboning in Juneau."

His website is http://www.ethanberkowitz.com/index.php.

Alaska politics is very interesting at the moment (an example of typical British understatement). Newspapers in the state can be accessed via http://www.50states.com/news/alaska.htm

Sunday 19 October 2008

The Week Ahead

With the three Presidential debates behind us, the US Elections move into their final stages. Already there are strong indications that Congress may return after November 4th. It will be members of the 110th Congress who attend, not the newly elected winners from Election Day. However, this week, everyone's attention will be focused on the elections.

In the UK another busy week is anticipated. The Parliamentary calendar can be viewed at http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/2008/10/20/week.html. Wednesday is due to see the House of Commons debating the remaining stages of the controversial Human Fertilisation and Embryology [HL] Bill. Further information can be accessed at http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2007-08/humanfertilisationandembryology.html

Saturday 18 October 2008

Vulnerable Democrats

The assumption has been made by many people that this year's congressional elections will be good for the Democrats - with speculation over whether in the Senate the size of the group tops 60 (which would permit them to successfully invoke cloture) or even 67 (allowing an override of a Presidential veto) - in the House whether the group would be large enought to override Presidential vetoes there (up to 290, should 435 vote).
We await the results. But even a Democratic landslide may involve a loss of some currently held seats. The following is a list of Open Seats previously held by the Democrats or seats in which the incumbent Democrat is a freshman - which have been listed recently as a toss up or only lean Democratic by the Cook Political Report

AZ 05 Harry Mitchell
AZ 08 Gabrielle Giffords
CA 11 Jerry McNerney
FL 16 Tim Mahoney
IL 14 Bill Foster - seized from the GOP in a special election held in March 2008
IN 09 Baron Hill
KS 02 Nancy Boyda
KY 03 John Yarmuth
LA 06 Don Cazayoux - seized from the GOP in a special election held in May 2008
MS 01 Travis Childers - seized from the GOP in a special election held in May 2008
NH 01 Carol Shea-Porter
PA 04 Jason Altmire
PA 10 Chris Carney
TX 22 Nick Lampson - fmr Congressman (1996-2004) for the old 9th district, part now in 22nd
WI 08 Steve Kagen
Paul Kanjorski, who has served 12 terms, may be vulnerable in PA 11

In the Senate, only Louisiana Senior Senator, Mary Landrieu - who has served since 1996, is listed as merely 'lean Democratic'
For up to date Competitive Race Charts visit http://www.cookpolitical.com/node/1927

Friday 17 October 2008

Where should they go?

I've just finished a live-to-air interview with BBC Three Counties Radio about the prospects of MPs having to move out of the House of Commons to allow necessary renewal work to take place in the Palace of Westminster.

The House of Commons Commission has ordered a feasibility study, due to report by the middle of next year, to examine "whether substantial savings in cost, time and risk could be made by moving some operations of both Houses out of the Palace for a period to enable modernisation to be carried out continuously until its completion." This is unlikely to happen before 2012.

The problem is that the Palace is showing its age. Most of the structure was built after the great fire of 1834 (see yesterday's post on this blog). Some of the pipework dates back to that rebuilding. Most of the mechanical plant providing heating, ventilation and air conditioning services derives from the work done following the destruction of the House of Commons area during World War Two. In addition there is a great deal of asbestos that needs removal - and much could be done to make the building more energy efficient.

Normally major work is done over the summer recess - but the scale of the task is such that it could not be completed within that period. Options are limited. The Queen Elizabeth II Centre nearby might offer a temporary home - but it isn't just a question of moving the chamber. Both Houses rely on a massive support organisation - printing; parliamentary clerks; members' staff; dining facilities; broadcasting and the security operations. There is an extensive press presence plus all the visitors to the building (from tourists to lobbyists).

European Security Strategy

On Monday Lord Wallace of Saltaire is due to ask "Her Majesty's Government how they intend to promote public debate in the United Kingdom and across the European Union on the revised European Security Strategy which is expected to be on the agenda of the European Council in December?"

A summary of a workshop organised by the Policy Department, External Policies (European Commission) on "The Future of the European Security Strategy: Towards a White Book on European Defence" is available at http://www.europarl.europa.eu/document/activities/cont/200805/20080513ATT28781/20080513ATT28781EN.pdf

Thursday 16 October 2008

The Great Fire of Westminster

This blog has described the fire which destroyed the Congress building - at the hands of the British - in 1814. There was also a catastrophic fire at Westminster twenty years later. This however was an accident. Workmen were "recycling" wooden tally sticks - originally used for accounting purposes. A furnace was overstoked - and a fire quickly spread. It turned out to be the most devastating fire that the Palace has ever suffered. Most of the Palace - with buildings dating from many centuries - was destroyed.

The Parliamentary website describes the efforts to deal with the catastrophe - "By the time fire engines arrived at the burning Houses of Parliament during the fire of 1834, the House of Lords was already destroyed and the Commons was on fire.

The Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, directed the work to soak the roof of Westminster Hall. The rest of the Houses of Parliament was lost but the hall was saved."

More details - and graphic pictures can be seen at http://www.explore-parliament.net/nssMovies/06/0693/0693_.htm
Today is the anniversary of this great fire.

MO 09

Missouri 9th District has been represented by Kenny Hulshof since 1996. He is standing down from the House of Representatives in order to run as the Republican candidate for Missouri Governor. Although seen as "leaning Republican", as an open seat, the district may be vulnerable to a turnover.

The district includes some significant historical sites. Part of the area - which is in the north east of the state - is known as Little Dixie. It was settled by southerners coming from Virginia and Kentucky. The town of Hannibal was the birthplace of Sam Clemens, better known as Mark Twain - and is the inspiration for "St Petersburg" in his stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Other notable products of the area include Champ Clark, Speaker of the House of Representatives 1911-19 and Clarence Cannon, author of one of the most important texts on House procedure - http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,871091,00.html. Fulton, MO is where Winston Churchill made his famous speech about the "Iron Curtain" in 1946.

The district includes many small towns, only Columbia (84,531) is a large city. The other population centres are the western suburbs of St Louis.

Blaine Luetkemeyer hopes to retain the seat for the Republicans. He is a farmer who has been the Tourism Director for Missouri - http://www.blaineforcongress.com/. Standing against him is Judy Baker, a health care consultant and state representative from Columbia - http://judybakerforcongress.com/.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

How do you solve a problem like...dual mandates?

Membership of the European Parliament and a national legislature is no longer compatible. Last night the House of Lords had to deal with the knotty problem of Peers who wish to be MEPs. Peers cannot resign! Once an individual has joined the House of Lords, there is only one way out - death. The Government came forward with delegated legislation - The "European Parliament (House of Lords Disqualification) Regulations 2008" - but there are problems - and these were aird last night in a dinner break debate. Lord Trefgarne moved that "a humble address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the regulations, laid before the House on 24 June, be annulled". It was an entertaining debate lasting 53 minutes - it can be read at http://pubs1.tso.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldhansrd/text/81014-0012.htm#08101491000001 and viewed at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/VideoPlayer.aspx?meetingId=2440&st=19:55:43

Lord Norton of Louth outlined the objections - "I therefore object to the ban—but we now have it. However, as we have heard, it creates a problem that is peculiar to this House. The Government have sought to address the problem through these regulations. However, as my noble friend has explained—and is abundantly clear from the report of the Merits Committee—they are deficient.

They are deficient in three respects. First, as we have heard, they apply only to life Peers. I looked at the Explanatory Memorandum to find a justification for confining the regulations to life Peers. The only justification appears to be in paragraph 7, which refers to life Peers and states in parenthesis, “who are unable to resign their peerage”.

The hereditary Peers sitting in the House are unable to resign their peerages. Why, then, the discrimination? It appears that the regulations may have been drafted by someone who is unaware of the provisions of the Peerage Act 1963 as they affect hereditary Peers.

Secondly, the regulations inject a subsection which appears to be superfluous. Paragraph 4(1)(a) disqualifies a life Peer who is elected as an MEP from sitting or voting in the House of Lords. Paragraph 4(1)(b) then extends the disqualification to sitting or voting in a committee of the House of Lords, or a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament. Perhaps the Minister could explain how, if one is disqualified from sitting in the House of Lords, one could be considered for serving on a committee of the House.
Thirdly, as we have heard, the regulations are deficient in respect of the writ of summons. If one is elected as an MEP a year or so after the start of a new Parliament, one is already in receipt of a writ and paragraph 4(2) can only take effect two or three years later when a new Parliament is summoned.

In short, there are few parts of the regulations which are not deficient. Regulation 5 appears to raise no problems, but Regulations 3 and 4 are fundamentally flawed. I trust that the Minister will therefore withdraw the regulations and come back with one that, following consultation with the relevant authorities as recommended by the Merits Committee, is drafted in such a way as to pass muster."

Lord Bach replied for the Government. During the debate there were some interesting points of constitutional law raised. Students may enjoy some of the discussion about the status of Standing Orders and Constitutional Conventions.

Voter Registration

In the United States the rules for voter registration vary by state. In many areas it is now too late to register to vote in this year's November elections. Information on voter registration can be found on the websites of a State's Board of Elections (or equivalent).

An example of an american voter registration form can be viewed at http://www.spotsylvania.va.us/emplibrary/VirginiaVoterRegistrationApplication.pdf

The onus is on the individual voter to register - there is no legal obligation to do so - and a major part of the work of party campaigners and others this year has been to persuade people to register. When I was in Maryland during the 2006 election I visited a university campus and there were a number of voter registration stalls set up for students to register, including one by the main bus stop.

In the United Kingdom a form is sent to each household once a year, and this form must be completed and returned (failure to do so can lead to a fine - though I've never heard of this happening). Councils should make every effort to chase up unreturned forms and actively seek to promote registration. However, particularly in areas where there are high turnovers of population - full registration is never achieved.

A website allows British citizens to register: http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/how_do_i_vote/registering_to_vote.aspx

Tuesday 14 October 2008

New York - More Key Races

The races in NY13 and 25 have already been covered by this blog. Two further races are exciting interest in the State. The Empire State has long been regarded as pretty solid for Obama. There will be no Senate election as Senator Schumer's term runs until 2010 and Hillary Clinton's to 2012.

NY 26

The district covers much of New York State, with about half the population living in the suburbs of Buffalo. It extends from the city limits of Buffalo to the city limits of Rochester. It was once a safe Republican seat, but retiring Representative, Tom Reynolds, held on to it with 52% of the vote in 2006. In 2002 he won with 74%!. Some argue that he was saved last time only by a freak snowstorm in October 2006, that allowed him to show to his constituents how much clout he had nationally by gaining disaster aid. Reynolds was Chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Buffalo lawyer, Alice Kryzan will fight the seat for the Democrats - http://www.kryzanforcongress.com/ against Republican businessman Chris Lee - http://www.chrisleeforcongress.com/

NY 29

In 2006 the same two candidates as in this election faced each other. The winner by 6,033 votes was "Randy" Kuhl (pronounced COOL), the Republican congressman for the district since 2004. The district itself has been held by Republicans since 1987, though Kuhl's predecessor, Amo Houghton a moderate Republican. Kuhl has a solidly conservative voting record - voting with President Bush 90% of the time in the 109th Congress. His website is http://www.kuhlforcongress.com/

Eric Massa, a Naval Officer for 24 years, is again challenging for this seat. He was Special Assistant to General Wes Clarke in both Panama and at NATO - http://www.massaforcongress.com/

The district covers the area known as "the Southern tier". It also reaches north to take in some of Rochester's suburbs. Agriculture is a major industry - particularly dairy farms and wine production. This is also an important tourist area. The largest city is Elmira (30,940). Corning is well known as the home of Corning Glass Works.

Monday 13 October 2008

Ohio - Key Races

Ohio will again be central to the Presidential result with its 20 Electoral Votes - but it will also be key to the makeup and party balance of the House of Representatives in the 11th Congress. Three of the districts could experience a turnover to the Democrats. Should support for the Democrats be stronger than expected the Open seat vacated by Dave Hobson (7th) might come into play.

OH 01

Steve Chabot, a seven term Republican, may be vulnerable. He won in 2006 with 52.2% against 47.8%. Bush won this district with 51% of the vote in both 2000 and 2004.

The district covers western Cincinnati and the suburbs - which takes in more than three-fourths of Cincinnati's residents. The black population is one of the largest amongst Republican-held districts. This part of the electorate (particularly in the Over-the-Rhine, Avondale and Bond Hill neighbourhoods) is key to the Democrats. The Republicans rely on the growing suburbs. Procter & Gamble; Federated Department Stores and the grocery retailers, Kroger - have their Corporate headquarters in the City.

Chabot (pronounced SHAB-butt) grew up in Cincinnati and served on the City Council. He took the seat from the Democrats in 1994. National Journal describes him as having "a generally conservative voting record in the House, but he has been a tight-spending maverick willing to split from his party and take political risks for principle". CQ says he is "a diehard from

OH 15

An open seat, which was won last time by Republican Deborah Pryce by just 1,062 votes. Representative Pryce is retiring after 16 years in Congress. Prior to the 1994 election she helped write "Contract with America". She had risen to the no 4 position in the House Republican hierarchy - serving as chair of the Republican Conference from 2002 to 2006.

The district is being contested by Mary-Jo Kilroy, the Democrat who came so close to unseating Pryce in 2006. She is the Franklin County Commissioner. http://www.kilroyforcongress.com/. Her Republican opponent is Steve Stivers, an Ohio State senator. http://www.stivers4congress.com/

The district is centered in Franklin County and the western part of Columbus, Ohio's capital. It also includes Madison and Union counties. The rural areas are major corn and soybean producing areas, while Columbus has many technology and research establishments. Ohio State University has the highest enrollment of any campus in the USA. Cook lists the district as a toss up.

OH 16

Ralph Regula, the veteran appropriator, is standing down after 36 years in the House. CQ describes him as "a master of the arcane rules and mores that govern passage of the annual spending bills".

Two State Senators are competing to replace Regula in this district which is currently regarded as a toss up. John Boccieri is the Democratic candidate, an Air Force veteran who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan - http://www.johnforcongress.com/. The Republican candidate is Kirk Schuring whose background is in the insurance industry - http://www.schuringforcongress.com/

A quarter of the district is rural, and Republican leaning - while the largest city is Canton - a left leaning blue collar city (80,806). Other cities in the district, which is in the north west of the State, are Massillon (31,325), Medina (25,139) and Wooster (24,811). Major industries include Steel, Manufacturing and Health Care.

Sunday 12 October 2008

The Week Ahead

Congress does not plan to sit (other than pro forma sessions by the Senate) until after Election Day on 4th November.

Parliament will be sitting. The Counter Terrorism Bill and the Planning Bill will dominate House of Lords Business - both are very controversial. In the House of Commons, The Banking Bill is due to be considered at 2nd Reading, and Wednesday will be given over to Treasury business and a debate on local government.

Full detail of Parliamentary Business can be found in the Weekly Information Bulletin, which is available as a PDF file. Business in the chamber, as well as the work of committees are detailed there. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmwib/wb081011/11.10.2008.pdf

Friday 10 October 2008

New Mexico - Senate and House Districts 01 and 02

New Mexico, whose Democratic Governor is Bill Richardson, will be an important congressional battleground. Pete Domenici, the veteran Republican Senator, is standing down. He has served as chairman of the Budget Committee; Energy and Natural Resources Committee; and as a senior member of the Appropriations Committee. The Senate Race is regarded as "Leaning Democratic".

The Democratic candidate is Tom Udall http://www.tomudall.com/, a member of the famous Udall family [His father is Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson; and a Congressman for Arizona in 1955-61. His uncle was "Mo" Udall who succeeded Stewart as Arizona 02's congressman and ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976. His cousin, Mark ("Mo's" son) is the Congressman for Colorado's 2nd district and is running for the Colorado Senate seat, which I will be profiling soon] - for further family information see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Udall_family. Tom is currently the Congressman for New Mexico's 3rd District.

Seeking to keep the Senate seat in Republican hands is Steve Pearce, http://www.peopleforpearce.com/ , the Congressman for New Mexico's 2nd District and an assistant minority whip. He had served in the Air Force and flew missions during the Vietnam War.

NM 01

This district has long been a Democratic target. In 2006 Representative Heather Wilson held on to the seat by only 861 votes. She stood down in order to seek the Republican nomination for the Senate, which she lost in a primary to Steve Pearce. Her successor will be either Republican Darren White http://www.darrenwhiteforcongress.com/, the Bernalillo County Sheriff - or Democrat Martin Heinrich http://www.martinheinrich.com/, an Albuquerque city council member.

The first is New Mexico's only urban district. It is built around Albuquerque - an ancient town (founded in 1706), dominated by high-tech industry. Higher Education, scientific research, defence and government power the local economy.

NM 02

A second Open Seat in New Mexico opened up as a result of the race for the Republican Senate nomination. Steve Pearce, the winner of the primary over Heather Wilson, served in the House of Representatives since his election in 2002.

Fighting for this seat, which is the 8th largest district in the US, are Republican Ed Tinsley http://edtinsleyforcongress.com/, who built the Schlotzsky’s Sandwich Shops chain then was the Master franchisor of K-BOB’S Steakhouses in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas - and Democrat Harry Teague http://www.harryforcongress.com/, a self made businessman.

The 2nd District covers southern New Mexico. Its main cities are Las Cruces (74,267); Roswell (45,293); Alamogordo (35,582); Hobbs (28,657) and Carlsbad (25,625). Agriculture, mining, oil and gas production, and defence are the main industries.

The State's main newspapers can be accessed via http://www.50states.com/news/newmex.htm

Thursday 9 October 2008

Foreign Affairs in the House of Lords

The House of Lords takes a keen interest in Foreign Affairs. Its membership includes many former diplomats; Foreign Secretaries; Defence Ministers and leaders of the Armed Services. In House of Lords Business this week -

Lord Blaker asked about the Government's current policy towards Zimbabwe

Lord Alton asked a question for short debate on progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

Today Lord Fowler will ask a question on Iraq and Lord Astor of Hever on Afghanistan.

Tomorrow Lord Roper will begin a debate on the EU and Russia.

In addition there are frequent questions on the EU - and there is an extensive series of sub-committees uner The European Union Committee.

Wednesday 8 October 2008

New Jersey - House Races [NJ 03; NJ 07]

NJ 03

Jim Saxton has represented the Third District of New Jersey since 1984. The unexpected retirement of this veteran Republican gives the Democrats an opportunity to take an Open Seat in the centre of the State. The National Journal notes the existence of an invisible line which crosses the district. To the north people are linked to New York City - "watch New York TV stations, eat hero sandwiches and root for the Yankees" - to the south they "watch Philadelphia TV, eat hoagies and root for the Phillies". The major industries are Retail, health care, agriculture, tourism and defence. Toms River is the largest city with 86,327 - followed by Springdale. The army base at Fort Dix and McGuire Air Force base are within the district.

Chris Myers, the Mayor of Medford, is standing for the Republican Party http://www.chrismyersforcongress.com/. The hopeful Democratic challenger is John Adler, a State Senator. http://www.adlerforcongress.com/

NJ 07

Another surprise retirement is that of Republican congressman Mike Ferguson. This is a slightly more Republican seat than the Third District (The Cook Partisan Voting Index gives NJ 03 a rating of D+3, wherea the Seventh District is rated R+1). The district has a very strange shape and runs from the Pennsylvania border almost to Staten Island. National Journal notes that it is "not a district with a distinct character". There are a number of wealthy, heavily Republican areas in Somerset and Hunterdon counties, but Union County - part of which is in the district is Democratic.

The two main contenders are Leonard Lance (Republican) http://www.leonardlance.com/, a State Senator whose family have served in the state legislature for three generations - and Linda Stender (Democrat) http://www.lindastenderforcongress.com/. Ms Stender was the Democratic nominee in 2006 when she cam close to unseating Mike Ferguson.

Links to New Jersey newspapers can be found at http://www.metrojersey.com/newspapers.htm

Tuesday 7 October 2008

All Change in the House of Lords

I'm back at Westminster (I normally work there Tuesdays to Thursdays - and yesterday was spent moving my daughter to her new flat in Milton Keynes). The House of Lords has seen a number of changes.

The new Leader of the House is Baroness Royall, formerly the Chief Whip. Her deputy is one of my bosses, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (who is also Minister of State at the newly created Department for Energy and Climate Change and also DEFRA). The new Chief Whip is Lord Bassam of Brighton.

The Lords Whips Office now contains
  • Lord Davies of Oldham - Deputy Chief Whip (his title is "Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeoman of the Guard")
  • Lord Bach - also a junior minister in the Ministry of Justice (my other boss)
  • Lord Brett (newly appointed)
  • Lord Patel of Bradford (newly appointed)
  • Lord Tunnicliffe
  • Lord Young of Norwood Green (newly appointed)
  • Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
  • Baroness Thornton

There will be a number of new Peers created, including Peter Mandelson, who is the new Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform.

A full list of the new Government can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/directories/hciolists/hmg.cfm#Depts

Monday 6 October 2008

MN 03

Minnesota's third district is the most affluent in the State according to Congressional Quarterly. It takes in the suburbs of Minneapolis. Voters are known for their independence - fiscally conservative but moderate on social issues. Jesse Ventura was mayor of Brooklyn Park before becoming Governor of Minnesota. The leading cities are Bloomington; Brooklyn Park and Plymouth. Electronics, manufacturing and transportation are the major industries. The Mall of America is in the district. Wayzata on Lake Minnetonka is the state's highest zipcode for political donations.

Jim Ramstad, a 9-term Republican congressman announced, in September 2007 that he would not be standing for re-election. This November's race pits Republican Erik Paulsen (http://paulsenforcongress.com/), a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives since 1994, against Iraq vet Ashwin Madia for the Democratic Farmer Labor Party. (http://www.madiaforcongress.com/).

Minnesota's Star Tribune profiles the race at http://www.startribune.com/topics/politics/third_district.html

Sunday 5 October 2008

The Presidential Race - Update

Looking at the weekend analyses of the Presidential Race (Particularly The Cook Report; 538.com and electoral-votes.com) the picture seems to be -

North Carolina [15 ev] - a toss up

Toss-up, perhaps barely Democratic
- Florida [27 ev]
- Ohio [20 ev]
- Virginia [13 ev]
- Colorado [9 ev]
- Nevada [5 ev]

Toss up, according to Cook - but Democratic Leaning (538); Strong Democratic (Electoral-Vote)
- New Hampshire

Toss up, perhaps barely Republican
- Indiana [11 ev]
- Nissouri [11 ev]

Projections - in Electoral Vote Terms
538.com - Obama 333.2 McCain 204.8
Electoral Vote - Obama 338 McCain 185 Ties 15
Cook - Obama 260 McCain 174

CNN reports the lastest polling showing Obama 49% McCain 43%. In today's Washington Post, Anne E Komblut and Dan Balz analyse the latest information in an article entitled "U.S. Fiscal Crisis Seems to Have Altered Political Map" http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/04/AR2008100402135.html?hpid=topnews"

A Summer's Viewing

It hasn't been a good summer in Britain - at least as far as the weather has been concerned. Grey and wet conditions have dominated. Yet I've had an enjoyable summer. Over the summer recess I've been engaged in a massive "WestWingathon" - starting in July when Parliament rose and ending yesterday afternoon. I completed it just in time - Parliament returns tomorrow! I started with the pilot episode (Premiere) - and finished with episode 22 (Tomorrow) of Season Seven.

West Wing was an extraordinary series. It was great drama - with some superb humour. Most of all it was thought provoking - dealing with real issues, which politicians in Washington were (and are) dealing with in real life. It used, and often explained, practice and procedure within both the Executive Branch and Congress. As an educator I'd love to teach a course on the American Political System, based entirely on episodes of West Wing!

Much has been made of the series telling the story of the 2008 election, a couple of years before the event. This week in Westminster, Ron Silver - who played Bruno Gianelli, (campaign manager to Bartlett, then adviser to Arnold Vinick - a character loosely based on Dick Morris) - and who is a political player and commentator in his own right - will be addressing a meeting of the Henry Jackson Society http://www.henryjacksonsociety.org/ . His talk is entitled - "Life Imitating Art: Will the 'West Wing election' mirror reality or can we expect a surprise result?". I very much hope to attend!

The Week Ahead

With Congressional Elections now less than a month away, and the Bailout Bill passed - Senators and congressman will be in their districts campaigning. The Senate will continue with pro forma sessions. The House has adjourned pursuant to H.Con.Res. 440 http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c110:3:./temp/~c110itLNF2::. The next meeting is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. on January 3, 2009. Should events require it, either House could be called back early.

So Washminster's legislative focus shifts to Westminster. Both Houses return on Monday - with a number of MPs and Peers in new roles after this (extended) weekend's reshuffle. Business will be dominated by the fallout from the recent financial crisis - and completion of bills before the end of the session.

The Parliament website now has a page listing the coming week's business, which has yet to be updated, but should be running shortly, at http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/thisweek.html

Business for tomorrow and beyond in the Lords is listed at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld/ldordpap.htm#order

Commons business can be found at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmagenda/ob81006.htm (Monday) and http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmfbusi/801006a01.htm (Rest of the week)

Saturday 4 October 2008

Analysis of the US Presidential Race

Yesterday I attended a Chatham House presentation by Professor Paul Green entitled "The Who, The What and The Why of the 2008 Presidential Election". It was an informative and entertaining session - Members of Chatham House can download and read the transcript at
http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/research/americas/research_events/view/-/id/913/. {if you are interested in International Relations it's well worth joining - there are many excellent meetings held in London - and if you can't get there (or want a reminder of what you've heard) - transcripts and recordings are available. Membership information is available at http://www.chathamhouse.org.uk/membership/.}

Professor Green pointed out why this election is unique -
  1. The length of the campaign
  2. The emphasis on "change"
  3. The cost of the campaigns
  4. The unpopularity of the incumbents - Bush and Cheney
  5. The impact of gender and race - Professor Green argued that at the moment "Race trumps gender"
  6. The Sarah Palin phenomenon
  7. The state of the economy
Obama beat Hillary Clinton because -
  1. He had by far the better organisation
  2. Fundraising
  3. Use of the word change
  4. The Obama people knew the Democratic Party rules inside out
McCain beat a very weak field. Sarah Palin has been like an "Alka-Seltzer", helping the anti-McCain Republicans to come on board. The strength of McCain has been that he is at his best when being a straight-talking maverick - but, warned Professor Green, that may not work anymore.

At the moment an Obama victory looks more likely, but as Professor Green pointed out in his opening comments - "The 2008 U.S. Presidential contest is the strangest and most unpredictable battle in decades – perhaps even in almost a century. Why? Think of a sailing vessel trying to cross the Atlantic Ocean that every few days encounters a giant gust of
wind that propels the ship in a completely different direction.

Professor Green is also a political analyst for Chicago's WGN Radio - I'll certainly be listening out for his comments on that station (you should be able to listen live or download "Paul's Podcast" at http://wgnradio.com/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1)

Friday 3 October 2008

Bailout Information

Roll Call, the respected journal which appears on Capitol hill - and thankfully has an online subsciption (which I value greatly) - is publishing a webpage dealing with the Bailout. It describes itself as -

"Roll Call's Bailout Information Center is a clearinghouse for Roll Call's extensive coverage of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. It also serves as a resource to examine how each member of Congress voted and voice your opinion directly to your lawmaker."

Europe and America

This evening I will be in Wellingborough talking about "The EU and the US - a new future". My talk will consider the future of the transatlantic relationship. I'll be arguing that while there are many differences, sometimes even tensions, across the Atlantic - we have important shared values and Interests. Recent days have underlined how economically close we are, whilst Russia's invasion of Georgia; and the worldwide fight against violent terrorism underline the need to co-operate.

With major US elections just a month and a day away, there are opportunities to rebuild the relationship. On the other hand the world economic crisis will bring challenges - and the temptation of 'protectionism'.

I'm sure there will be great interest in the outcome of the US Presidential race - and its implications for transatlantic relationships. This morning I am travelling to London to hear Professor Paul Green, the Director of the Institute for Politics, Roosevelt University (Chicago, IL) http://www2.roosevelt.edu/dir/profile.asp?jump=688 speak about "The who, the what and the why of the 2008 US Presidential Election" at Chatham House.

And as soon as I get a chance, I'll be watching videos of last night's Vice Presidential debate. Sadly I'll miss More 4's showing of "Recount". the film about the aftermath of the 2000 Election. (9pm).

Thursday 2 October 2008

What's next?

In Britain the conference season has ended. Parliament returns on Monday. The next few weeks will be busy. It may all start today. There are expectations that Gordon Brown will announce a reshuffle. Some ministers have already indicated that they want to stand down - Ruth Kelly being the most high profile. Whether, in the current climate, Brown will feel able to announce a major reshuffle - or just a few necessary changes - remains to be seen.

There is much business to be completed before the end of the 2007/09 session - (The new season is due to begin with the Queen's Speech on December 3rd). The progress on bills can be seen at

A parliamentary calendar can be found at http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/default.aspx

Expect some action in the House of Lords, particularly over the Counter Terrorism Bill and the Planning Bill - both are being considered next week (and beyond).

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Student Politics

For many universities this is "intro week". A key part of that is the "freshers fayre" - an opportunity for new (and returning) students to see the range of societies available at the University. The political parties will be recruiting for members.

The main student groups affliated to the political parties in the UK are -

One major difference between student activity in the UK and the USA this autumn/fall - is the emphasis on voter registration. While US students will be encouraged to register for the coming elections - this is a less stressed aspect of British student activity. All households (including student households) are required by law to register all persons aged over 18. Sadly many students miss out on filling the forms - and so can't vote. If you are a student at university, get in touch with the Electoral Registration Officer at the local council.