Saturday 31 January 2009

The Week Ahead

Last week at Westminster was overshadowed by allegations about some Peers. No doubt this coming week will continue to see the matter at the top of the agenda, indeed on Monday in the Commons there is a debate on "Standards of conduct in Parliament and constitutional reform".

Foreign affairs is always a topic of interest in the House of Lords, but questions and debates seem to be even more focused on the matter this week.

The stimulus Bill will be considered in the Senate - David Herszenhorn writes in today's New York Times -

"Senate Republicans and even some Democrats are pressing for big changes to the $819 billion economic stimulus package the House passed this week, setting the stage for a bruising debate over tax cuts and spending that will test the Obama White House." The full article can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/31/us/politics/31stimulus.html?_r=1

Further details of business can be found at

House of Representatives:
Westminster: http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/2009/02/02/week.html

Friday 30 January 2009

The Lords Lighten Up

It's been a trying week in the House of Lords, with the allegations of misbehaviour against some members - but on Thursday a number of Peers tried to bring some humour into the proceedings. The topic which led to a surplus of puns and various other - sometimes groan inducing - remarks, was lightbulbs - a subject that has many - led by the Daily Mail - frothing at the mouth.

Lord Harrison began by asking Her Majesty’s Government "what is their position on the phasing out of 100- and 75-watt traditional light bulbs." Serious enough, but when he came to his supplementary he said - "My Lords, is my noble friend as incandescent as I am about the reduced brightness of these new lamps...

Exchanges included -

Lord Harrison: ... Indeed, just how many politicians did it take to change a light-bulb policy?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it takes one Member of your Lordships’ House to change a light bulb and 712 to debate the matter for endless hours.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, for a little light in a dark corner, it is the Lib Dems’ turn.
Lord Redesdale: ... Does the Minister agree that this should be shown as a shining example of the value of energy-saving light bulbs?
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I have not had any complaints yet, but I intend to make myself scarce over the next few days.

Thursday 29 January 2009


Earlier this week I posted an entry about an aspect of American culture - which has had a big impact in the UK - Jazz. Britain and the US have shared many great things in the past - and I very much appreciate this cultural interchange. My other great love of things originating in the USA (apart from the US Constitution and Congress) is American Football.

This Sunday is Superbowl XLIII (wouldn't it have great if it could have been '44' as that number is being celebrated so much this month). The Pittsburgh Steelers will play the Arizona Cardinals in Tampa Bay. Details of the match are available at

If you are in the UK you can watch the game live from 11pm Sunday to 3am Monday on BBC1 - and highlights will be shown on BBC2 from 7pm to 8pm on Monday.

and if you can make it to Bar 87 in the Isle of Capri Casino, Ricoh Arena, Coventry - the Coventry Jets are hosting a superbowl party. http://www.cassidyjets.com/newsresults.php?newsid=456&gameid

Wednesday 28 January 2009

Civil Service Bill

Lord Sheldon asked yesterday - "when [will the Government] introduce a Civil Service Bill and grant its consideration Parliamentary time." Such a bill has been promised for some time - but is still awaited. As with yesterday's post - the answer was that the Constitutional Renewal Bill will be introduced as soon as time allowed.

Comments were made about ensuring that the Civil Service have their impartiality safeguarded. It is a fundamental principle of the British system - but as yet, unprotected by statute.

Government Announcements

MPs and Peers often complain that announcements are made to the press before they have been made in Parliament. This week the House of Lords Select Committee on Communications produced a report covering many aspects of Government Communications. Early in the report they deal with announcements.

Liam Byrne MP had told the committee that all substantial announcements should be made to Parliament first with no pre-briefs. The report says "We agree with this aim but doubt whether it is always fulfilled."

The Report points out that "The Ministerial Code states: “When Parliament is in session, the most important announcements of Government policy should be made in the first instance, in Parliament.” This is an important principle. Members of Parliament are the democratically elected representatives of the people and they have been elected to Parliament in order to scrutinise the Executive on behalf of their constituents.

In Parliament, substantial announcements should be made orally by the relevant Minister. (Statements made in the House of Commons may be repeated in the House of Lords.) Other announcements may be made by written statement to both Houses or in the course of debate or passage of a Bill.

When an announcement is made to Parliament, the information is put in the public domain in an open and transparent manner. All journalists and members of the public have access to that information at the same time and the opportunity of opposition parties and backbenchers to question the Government means that policy is scrutinised from different perspectives as soon as it is announced. The release of information through a statement to Parliament is fully in line with the Phillis principle of “openness, not secrecy”.

The guidance given by the Speaker is also repeated -

I must make it clear that if Ministers were to release information to the press before the House was informed of major policy developments I would regard that as an unacceptable discourtesy to the House. If that occurred, I would expect the Minister concerned to apologise to the House … I expect Ministers to take measures to ensure that other authorities, who are privy to confidential information, protect it until the House has been informed.”

Yesterday Lord Mandelson made a statement on the car industry. He made it clear that he felt it was important that Parliament was told prior to the car summit on Wednesday.

Tuesday 27 January 2009

The Role of the Lord Chancellor

Lord Campbell of Alloway asked in the House of Lords yesterday - "what the role of the Lord Chancellor is in tendering advice to the Cabinet and to a Secretary of State about the presentation of Bills to Parliament"

Lord Bach replied that "the Lord Chancellor is a member of the Legislation Committee, which considers all Bills before they are introduced into Parliament." I later answers he added, "The Lord Chancellor now has a constitutional duty in relation to the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law and, as an important member of what is commonly known as the L Committee, he has an important role to play in looking at whether Bills conform with the various treaties and other obligations which the UK Government have. "

Many of the supplementaries dealt with the draft Constitutional Renewal Bill which was considered by a joint committee last session. Lord Bach told the House of Lords that the Bill itself would be "as soon as parliamentary time allows. We expect that to be later this Session."

Monday 26 January 2009


Jazz originated in the USA - but gained an early following in the UK. I spent the weekend in Milton Keynes and on Sunday attended a talk (with music) at the Stables, Wavendon [http://www.stables.org/ - the venue set up by Johnny Dankworth & Cleo Laine http://www.quarternotes.com/].

Peter Vacher spoke about the Afro-Caribbean contribution to Jazz in Britain. He described how a small group of West Indians played a key role in the early years of jazz in the UK - learning from and playing alongside American visitors to British shores such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. Some of their careers were outlined and some super recordings played. He then described the 'second generation' who were part of a larger migration after the second world war. Finally he mentioned today's British born black musicians who have further developed this important legacy.

The jazz scene in Britain - particularly during the 1930s to 1950s was described. I found it fascinating and enjoyable. It was particuarly interesting to hear comments from Sir John Dankworth who knew many of these Afro-Caribbean players. At the Stables, Sir John has promoted these weekly "Jazz Matters" sessions - some are talks, with music - others are live performances. We also went last week and heard Julie Dunn http://www.juliedunn.co.uk/

Sunday 25 January 2009

The Week Ahead

In the US Congress work continues on the economic Stimulus Package - Steny Hoyer is reported to be expecting the House vote to take place on Wednesday. The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act is also expected to be considered this week. In the Senate more votes are expected on confirmations, with Geithner's taking place on Monday and Holder later in the week.

House of Representatives: http://democraticleader.house.gov/docUploads/4WeeklyLeader12609.pdf?CFID=7017212&CFTOKEN=43085550
Senate: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=senate_calendar&docid=sc001.pdf

At Westminster the business is set out at http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/2009/01/26/week.html. Highlights will include an Opposition Day debate on Heathrow - and I'm sure the Sunday Times allegations about some Peers being prepared to accept money for assisting with legislative amendments (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article5581547.ece) will be raised.

UN Decisions and European Law

There was an interesting seminar I attended last week entitled "UN and EU Sanctions: The fight against terrorism versus human rights". At the heart of the discussion was the European Court of Justice case of 'Kadi' http://curia.europa.eu/en/actu/communiques/cp08/aff/cp080060en.pdf

The ECJ had ruled that the Council of Ministers had violated the rights of the claimants by taking a decision to include their names on a list of persons to have their assets frozen (because it was alleged they were associated with Osama bin Ladin), without giving them a right to the usual procedural safeguards (the right to be heard, and the right to effective judicial review of those rights). The UN Security Council had listed them - and UN Resolution 1373 (2001) [laying down
strategies to combat terrorism] provides "that all States must freeze funds and other financial assets or economic resources of persons who commit, or attempt to commit, terrorist acts or participate in or facilitate the commission of terrorist acts; of entities owned or controlled by such persons; and of persons and entities acting on behalf of, or at the direction of, such persons and entities."

So the ECJ decided that the Council in fulfilling that International Law obligation, was in breach of European Community Law - and so required them to review the decision.

Friday 23 January 2009

Digital Britain Review

The first question taken in yesterday's Question Time in the Lords was from Lord Dubs who asked - "what consultations [the Government has] had on the Digital Britain Review; and when the interim report of that review will be published."

Two main issues arose in the supplementaries - the impact of the switch from analog to digital for TV broadcasting; and access to broadband internet. On the latter issue there are serious concerns that a significant have/have not divide is growing in its significance for individuals.

The eight minutes of question and supplementaries can be viewed on the archive at http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Home.aspx and the text in the Lords Hansard for 22nd January (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld/lords_hansard_by_date.htm)
The announcement and details of the Review can be found in a press release at http://www.culture.gov.uk/reference_library/media_releases/5548.aspx and there is a useful Times article at http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/article4965272.ece

Thursday 22 January 2009

MPs Expenditure - new rules

Leader of the House, Harriet Harman’s, opening statement to debate on proposals governing MPs’ expenditure

Mr Speaker, I beg to move the motions standing in my name on the order paper.

But first I’d like to set out the basis on which we approach this issue.

I want this debate to proceed not in a Dutch auction of which party can do most to besmirch the reputation of MPs. I’m not going to do that because that would be wrong. We are public servants committed to our public duties and that is how we should approach this debate.

There should be proper resources to enable MPs to carry out our work. And we need to be sure that those allowances are not abused and used by MPs to line their own pockets. When that happens – as it did so disgracefully in the case of one particular member last year – it is not only the public purse that suffers. What suffers is the reputation of this whole House and of every one of us members who work hard and abide by the rules. So it is to take further steps to prevent the possibility of that abuse that I bring these motions to the House today. So that the public, and all of us in this House, can rest assured that public money is being properly spent.

I’d like to thank the MEC and the Commission officers and staff for their contribution to the work which lies behind the motions we come to today. I would not have been able to bring this to the House without their advice, expertise and many hours of meetings and work going back to last December when I first outlined to the MEC the approach that I am taking today.

Mr Speaker, when I was first an MP, in the 1980s there were three major problems which have been addressed bit by bit over the years.

Firstly, there were wholly inadequate resources for our offices. That has been addressed over the years and rightly so. Last year, my office handled 6,300 individual constituent cases. Each letter, email, phone call or surgery visit was dealt with within 10 working days on average. My constituents have a right to expect that we have the resources to do the job for which we are elected.

The second problem was that the rules for paying MPs claims were loose and unclear – giving scope for uncertainty and abuse.

And the third problem was that there was no information at all to the public about who claimed how much and for what. None at all. The rules were published but not the outcome.

Over the years, we have increased the resources to enable us to do the work our constituents expect, and we have begun publishing annually, information about members’ allowance – broken down into 14 categories.

But we need to do more.

There has been concern in three respects which we seek to address by the work we did in July last year and which we seek to take forward again today.

We need to address the problem that the rules were still not clear enough and therefore gave rise to opportunities for abuse
We need to address the problem that audit was not robust enough and
We need to address the problem that not enough information was published.

Our propositions before the House today address each of those problems.

So I approach this issue from a belief that the public is entitled to be confident.

That the public money that is being paid out is being paid out against a clear and reasonable set of rules.

That they can be confident that those rules are properly enforced and that money is not paid out other than within those rules.

That they should be able to know in respect of every member, every year, how much in allowances has been paid and for what..

So, in respect of the first point - clear rules - we bring before the House for approval the new Green Book. I’d like to take the opportunity of thanking the members of the Members Estimate Committee, the members of the Advisory Panel on Members’ Allowances, including the two independent members, and the many hon. members who’ve contributed to the new green book. And I’d like to thank the controller and auditor general for specifying the level of evidence which is needed in order to for us to be able to be confident that the rules are clear and can be the foundation for a robust audit. We will have, if we pass the resolution endorsing the new Green Book, a clear set of reasonable rules for paying allowances

Secondly, the proper enforcement of those rules. This requires robust audit and that is the subject of a resolution which will provide for what is described as “full scope” audit, on the same basis that applies to other public bodies. This will be the first time the House has been subject to full-scope audit.

The House authorities will check each claim before it is paid out. This work will be subject to the scrutiny of a new internal unit, the Operational Assurance Unit. But in addition to that there will be supervision by the National Audit Office and the NAO scrutiny will consist not just of examining the claim form that the member has signed but also at the evidence submitted with that claim, like invoices, receipts, statements or any other documentary evidence of the transaction.

The NAO will be in a position to do this full scope audit because as well as clear rules in the new Green Book there is a requirement that no claim over £25 will be paid out unless the claim is submitted with receipt or other evidence confirming the transaction.

I’d like to thank the Members Estimate Audit Committee, including the four individual members, and in particular its Chair, the Hon Member for Maidenhead, former shadow leader of the House. This is not glamorous work but it is very important. And it is her committee’s report which makes the proposals for robust and independent audit for which the resolution seeks the support of the House.

The third principle is that over and above the clear rules and robust audit, the public should know who is spending, how much and on what. The effect of the Resolution will be to affect a publication scheme that will put into the public domain more information than has hitherto been published. In a form which is consistent year on year and comprehensible to the public. Up till now, we have published information about expenses broken down into 14 categories. This resolution would mean publishing in greater detail - in 26 categories.

For example currently the House authorities publish a single figure for ‘office running costs’,” Under the proposed publication scheme the House authorities will publish the information broken down into
accommodation for offices and surgeries,
Office equipment and supplies,
Professional fees and charges,
Agency and other staff costs
Travel costs

So the single figure would be broken down into 7 detailed categories, for every member for every year.

At present, under the heading “costs of staying away from main home”. The House Authorities publish one single figure. Under our resolution that single figure would be replaced by
Mortgage interest
Hotel costs
Council tax
Fixtures fittings and furnishings
And other household costs including service charges, utilities, phones, maintenance and repairs.

The fourth motion would turn the Advisory Panel on Members’ Allowances, which has existed since July 2001, into a formal committee of the House. We are grateful to APMA for the work it has done and think it is time it should be formally constituted. This would put the Committee on the same footing as a Select Committee in that it will be able to call for evidence and publish its own reports. Nothing in the motion – or in any other motion today – prejudices the role of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards or the work of the Committee for Standards and Privileges.

As the Prime Minister and then I told the House yesterday, we have attempted to reach agreement on all these issues.

We brought forward a statutory instrument which would mean that these resolutions replaced the provisions of the FOI that apply to the House.

The official opposition said on Tuesday that they do not support the FOI statutory instrument so we have not brought it forward and I will seek further discussions with the Opposition.

But it remains important that we pass these resolutions today. They provide for
Clearer rules
Tougher audit
More transparency

And I hope that at least on these resolutions, this is something on which we can all agree. I commend the motions to the House.
Today's Guardian has a piece - and a map - of the real West Wing under Obama (and relates it to the TV drama personalities and places)

European Parliamentary Elections

The House of Lords is due to consider today secondary legislation relating to the European Parliamentary Elections, which take place on June 4th in the UK.

The three motions are -

European Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Regulations 2009 Lord Bach to move that the draft Regulations laid before the House on 24 November 2008 be approved.

http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2009/draft/pdf/ukdsi_9780111470459_en.pdf - These amend the European Parliamentary Elections Regulations 2004 (S.I. 2004/293)(“the 2004 Regulations”), which set out in full how European Parliamentary elections are to be conducted. It's a document worth reading if you enjoy the minutae of the rules governing the conduct of elections.

European Parliament (Disqualification) (United Kingdom and Gibraltar) Order 2009 Lord Bach to move that the draft Order laid before the House on 26 November 2008 be approved.

European Parliamentary Elections (Loans and Related Transactions and Miscellaneous Provisions) (United Kingdom and Gibraltar) Order 2009 Lord Bach to move that the draft Order laid before the House on 13 January be approved.

Wednesday 21 January 2009

And now the work starts...

The inauguration celebrations have been completed and the work of the new administration begins in earnest. This blog's primary focus is on the work of legislatures - so will be following closely relations between the Executive branch and Congress.

Within a few hours of President Obama taking office six of his Cabinet nominees and the Budget Director were confirmed by the Senate [Steven Chu (Energy); Arne Duncan (Education); Janet Napolitano (Homeland Security); Ken Salazar (Interior); Eric Shinseki (Veterans Affairs) Tom Vilsack (Agriculture); and Peter Orszag (OMB Director)]. A Roll Call vote in the Senate on Hillary Clinton (State) is due at 16.30 EST (21.30 UK), while committees have yet to vote onEric Holder (Attorney General), expected today - and on Timothy Geithner (Treasury).

The White House Legislative Affairs Office is key to the relationship between the President and Congress. It headed by the Director of Legislative Affairs - Phil Schiliro. Lisa Konwinski is the Deputy Director for Legislative Affairs. Other members of the 14 person team are
Dan Turton - Deputy Director for the House of Representatives
Shawn Maher - Deputy Director for the Senate
Jay Heimbach - Senate
Christopher Kang - Senate
Sean Kennedy - Senate
Jim Oleske - Senate
Louisa Terrell - Senate
Jim Papa - House
Alejandro Perez - House
Jonathan Samuels - House
Shelly O'Neill Stoneman - House
Denise Wilson - House

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Inauguration Day

For some time now it has been possible to buy countdown clocks - all running down to noon today, the moment when George W Bush's presidency comes to an end - along with 'Bush's Last Day' Stickers and calendars. There is even an Internet Countdown Clock - http://www.bbspot.com/news/2005/01/bush_countdown.html

But as John F Kennedy said -

"We observe today, not a victory of party, but a CELEBRATION OF FREEDOM,
symbolising an end, as well as a BEGINNING,
signifying RENEWAL as well as CHANGE"

There will be massive coverage around the world - I'll be watching the BBC Coverage (4pm - 6pm BBC1; BBC 24 thoroughout the day.) I've signed up to the facebook group - Obama Inauguration on CNN.com Live with Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/event.php?eid=56799103571. I'll also be following some of the blogs listed on this page.

I should be live on BBC Northampton at approximately 7.20am (GMT) http://www.bbc.co.uk/northamptonshire/local_radio/ and BBC Cambridgeshire http://www.bbc.co.uk/cambridgeshire/local_radio/ at about 5.15pm (GMT) - both have a live feed on their websites.

Enjoy the day.

Monday 19 January 2009

Modern Political Oratory

Yesterday's post was on the JFK Inauguration Speech. One of the key contributors to that speech was Ted Sorensen (whose book 'Counselor' was one of my favourite reads last year) has commented upon modern political oratory -

As we prepare for tomorrow's inauguration - a few words from Obama. This was taken by a fellow attender at the Manassas Rally (viewing the speech from a different position to me - http://washminster.blogspot.com/2008/11/manassas-rally.html)

Sunday 18 January 2009

The Writing of JFK's Inauguration Speech

The inauguration speech delivered by John F Kennedy on January 20th 1961 is my favourite speech.

Richard J Tofel has written a book "Sounding the Trumpet", about the process by which the speech was written. It analyses the speech - and separate chapters deal with the When; Why and How the speech came to his final form. As well as the text of the speech as delivered, earlier drafts are published. http://www.amazon.com/Sounding-Trumpet-Kennedys-Inaugural-Address/dp/1566636108

Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, Reverend Clergy, fellow citizens:

We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom--symbolizing an end as well as a beginning--signifying renewal as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forbears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe--the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage--and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge--and more.

To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do--for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom--and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required--not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge--to convert our good words into good deeds--in a new alliance for progress--to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.

To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support--to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective--to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak--and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.

Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.

We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.

But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course--both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind's final war.

So let us begin anew--remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms--and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.

Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths and encourage the arts and commerce.

Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah--to "undo the heavy burdens . . . (and) let the oppressed go free."

And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.

All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.

In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

Now the trumpet summons us again--not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need--not as a call to battle, though embattled we are-- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"--a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.

Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

Saturday 17 January 2009

The Week Ahead

The Inauguration of the President will dominate the early part of the week in Washington. Monday is Martin Luther King Day, and Tuesday will see Congress meet for the Inauguration itself. Legislative action to deal with the current financial crisis will the main focus of the House of Representatives for the rest of the week. More details of the business can be found at http://democraticleader.house.gov/docUploads/3WeeklyLeader11609.pdf?CFID=7017212&CFTOKEN=43085550

Details of the Senate can be found at http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/legislative/d_three_sections_with_teasers/calendars.htm

The business for Westminster is listed at http://services.parliament.uk/calendar/2009/01/19/week.html. Thursday will be an interesting day, as controversial plans to exempt MPs and Peers from Freedom of Information requirements relating to details of their expenses are debated. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/jan/16/mps-expenses-exemption

Friday 16 January 2009


The weekend before the Inauguration is upon us - and the partying begins. You can download the official inauguration guide book at http://inaug.3cdn.net/397b5d038d0969475f_mlbrga85i.pdf

and a day by day official programme can be consulted at http://www.pic2009.org/page/content/weekendschedule/.

Thursday 15 January 2009

Dr Martin Luther King Jr

While Martin Luther King Jr Day will be celebrated in the USA on Monday 19th, today would be his 80th birthday. The most appropriate way of celebrating the life and work of this great man is to watch his great speech at the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963 - his "I have a Dream" speech.

Must Watch TV

Congress YouTube has been launched - the welcome video can be viewed below.

You may also enjoy the video put out by Speaker Pelosi to promote the new channel. It has already hit the news. Watch it all - and see why some have commented upon it as a clever way of getting into the news.

Wednesday 14 January 2009


Lord Malloch-Brown remarked in Lords questions yesterday - "For anyone who came back from the Christmas holidays feeling a little sleepy, there is nothing like Europe to make the blood rush to all our heads." Europe always has the ability to "liven up" British Politics.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the issue divided the Labour Party. Many Labour MPs were, what we would call today, eurosceptics. They opposed our entry - then called for British withdrawal - for a number of reasons. At that stage the EEC was seen a a "capitalists club", dominated by right wing governments (Christian Democrats in Germany & Italy; De Gaulle in France). Those who had backed independence for parts of the "Empire" saw our move into Europe as abandoning those we had a moral obligation to support - not put up trading barriers against. They feared that jobs would move from the periphery (most of the UK) to the "Golden Triangle" at the centre of the existing EEC. In the 1980s those reasons declined and new opportunities were recognised in Europe.

Division then crippled the Tory Party - it lay behind the fall of Thatcher - and was at the heart of John Major's problems. The chatter in blogs (and around the Palace of Westminster) against Kenneth Clarke's return to the Tory front bench show that the hostility over Europe remains divisive and toxic for the Tories.

It is no coincidence that Labour's warming to Europe occured as the Tories grew more hostile. Labour has always been an internationalist party - and the EU has expanded to include 27 countries - from its original six. Co-operation has been the keyword. The EU institutions have taken on anti-competitive behaviour by some powerful industries. There has been more stress on employees' and consumers' rights.

As yesterday's exchanges in the Lords showed - you can count on the issue of Europe to raise the temperature.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Westminster Returns

Both Houses of Parliament returned from their Christmas Recess yesterday. Today I'm back at my desk in the House of Lords - and hope to attend Question Time, before starting my first research interview of the New Year (I'm researching the work of Whips in the British Parliament and the US Congress). Later I'll be going on a tour of Chatham House.

Many people working here - either as Members or Staff - begin the day by looking at the previous day's Hansard


and the Order Paper

Commons: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmagenda.htm
Lords: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld/ldordpap.htm

Monday 12 January 2009

The Welsh Connection

For my birthday my parents gave me "150 Famous Welsh Americans" by W Arvon Roberts (Llygad Gwalch: Pwllheli, 2008 - http://www.carreg-gwalch.com/product/150_famous_welsh_americans/), a fascinating book which outlines the lives of some people of Welsh origin who have been prominent within the US. Some have been sportsmen or authors; others have been businessmen or musicians. The list of politicians is impressive. One Senator claimed that no other nation had contributed more to the development of the United States, in proportion to their numbers, than the Welsh had done.

Famous names include -

  • John Adams (2nd)
  • James Garfield (20th)
  • William Henry Harrison (9th)
  • Thomas Jefferson (3rd)
  • Abraham Lincoln (16th)
  • James Monroe (5th)
  • Richard Nixon (37th)


  • William Vincent Allen (Nebraska 1893-1899)
  • James J Davis (Pennsylvania)
  • Jefferson Davis (Mississippi 1847-53; 1857-60 - and President of the Confederate States 1862-65)
  • Hubert Humphrey (Minnesota 1949-64; 1971-78) - and Vice Presisident 1965-69
  • John Percival Jones (Nevada 1873-1903)

Sunday 11 January 2009

FDR 1933

Another of the great inaugural addresses is that delivered by Franklin D Roosevelt in 1933. It was delivered on March 4th - the last to be done so. The most famous phrase is "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" - but the whole speech is useful to reflect upon in the economic circumstances we face today.

The speech can be heard via the following link - http://www.hpol.org/fdr/inaug/

President Hoover, Mr. Chief Justice, my friends: This is a day of national consecration, and I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our nation impels.

This is pre-eminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper.

So first of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear. . .is fear itself. . . nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.

In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days. In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels: taxes have risen, our ability to pay has fallen, government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income, the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade, the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side, farmers find no markets for their produce, the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.

More important, a host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence, and an equally great number toil with little return. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.

Yet our distress comes from no failure of substance.
We are stricken by no plague of locusts. Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for. Nature still offers her bounty and human efforts have multiplied it. Plenty is at our doorstep, but a generous use of it languishes in the very sight of the supply.

Primarily, this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind's goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failures and abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True, they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit, they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored conditions. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers.

They have no vision, and when there is no vision the people perish.

The money changers have fled their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths.

The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money, it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.

The joy and moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves and to our fellow-men.

Recognition of the falsity of material wealth as the standard of success goes hand in hand with the abandonment of the false belief that public office and high political position are to be values only by the standards of pride of place and personal profit, and there must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing.

Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance. Without them it cannot live.

Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This nation asks for action, and action now.

Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously.

It can be accompanied in part by direct recruiting by the government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our national resources.

Hand in hand with this, we must frankly recognize the over-balance of population in our industrial centers and, by engaging on a national scale in a redistribution, endeavor to provide a better use of the land for those best fitted for the land.

The task can be helped by definite efforts to raise the values of agricultural products and with this the power to purchase the output of our cities.

It can be helped by preventing realistically the tragedy of the growing loss, through foreclosure, of our small homes and our farms.

It can be helped by insistence that the Federal, State, and local governments act forthwith on the demand that their cost be drastically reduced.

It can be helped by the unifying of relief activities which today are often scattered, uneconomical and unequal. It can be helped by national planning for and supervision of all forms of transportation and of communications and other utilities which have a definitely public character.

There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it. We must act, and act quickly.

Finally, in our progress toward a resumption of work we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of the old order: there must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be an end to speculation with other people's money, and there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency.

These are the lines of attack. I shall presently urge upon a new Congress in special session detailed measures for their fulfillment, and I shall seek the immediate assistance of the several States.

Through this program of action we address ourselves to putting our own national house in order and making income balance outgo. Our international trade relations, though vastly important, are, to point in time and necessity, secondary to the establishment of a sound national economy.
I favor as a practical policy the putting of first things first. I shall spare no effort to restore world trade by international economic readjustment, but the emergency at home cannot wait on that accomplishment.

The basic thought that guides these specific means of national recovery is not narrowly nationalistic.

It is the insistence, as a first consideration, upon the interdependence of the various elements in and parts of the United States. . . a recognition of the old and permanently important manifestation of the American spirit of the pioneer. It is the way to recovery. It is the immediate way. It is the strongest assurance that the recovery will endure.

In the field of world policy I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor. . .the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others. . .the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.

If I read the temper of our people correctly, we now realize, as we have never realized before, our interdependence on each other: that we cannot merely take, but we must give as well, that if we are to go forward we must move as a trained and loyal army willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline, because without such discipline, no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective. We are, I know, ready and willing to submit our lives and property to such discipline because it makes possibly a leadership which aims at a larger good.

This I propose to offer, pledging that the larger purposes will hind upon us all as a sacred obligation with a unity of duty hitherto evoked only in time of armed strife. With this pledge taken, I assume unhesitatingly the leadership of this great army of our people, dedicated to a disciplined attack upon our common problems. Action in this image and to this end is feasible under the form of government which we have inherited from our ancestors.

Our Constitution is so simple and practical that it is possible always to meet extraordinary needs by changes in emphasis and arrangement without loss of essential form. That is why our constitutional system has proved itself the most superbly enduring political mechanism the modern world has produced. It has met every stress of vast expansion of territory, of foreign wars, of bitter internal strife, of world relations. It is to be hoped that the normal balance of executive and legislative authority may be wholly adequate to meet the unprecedented task before us. But it may be that an unprecedented demand and need for undelayed action may call for temporary departure from that normal balance of public procedure.

I am prepared under my constitutional duty to recommend the measures that a stricken nation in the midst of a stricken world may require. But in the event that the Congress shall fail to take one of these courses, and in the event that the national emergency is still critical, I shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront me. I shall ask the Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis. . .broad executive power to wage a war against the emergency as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.

For the trust reposed in me I will return the courage and the devotion that befit the time. I can do no less.

We face the arduous days that lie before us in the warm courage of national unity, with the clear consciousness of seeking old and precious moral values, with the clean satisfaction that comes from the stern performance of duty by old and young alike. We aim at the assurance of a rounded and permanent national life.

We do not distrust the future of essential democracy. The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action.
They have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. They have made me the present instrument of their wishes. In the spirit of the gift I will take it.

In this dedication of a nation we humbly ask the blessing of God. May He protect each and every one of us! May He guide me in the days to come!

Friday 9 January 2009

Cabinet Meetings Outside London

Last night I was in Birmingham at a reception for the Prime Minister. He is currently touring the regions of the UK before Parliament returns on Monday. Earlier in the day a meeting of the Cabinet had been held in Liverpool. It's the third time since September that the Cabinet has met outside London. The other meetings of the Cabinet were held in November in Leeds (Yorkshire) and in September in Birmingham (West Midlands). The last meeting outside London prior to September was in 1921 in Inverness (Scotland), where Lloyd George was when he summoned the Cabinet to meet him to discuss Ireland. http://www.ambaile.org.uk/en/item/item_photograph.jsp?item_id=5662(Although it has since been revealed that the Cabinet did hold an impromptu meeting in Brighton in 1966 during the Labour Party Conference to discuss a proposal to activate statutory powers to enforce a freeze on prices and incomes.)

There is no requirement for the Cabinet to meet in London - but the United Kingdom has traditionally had a very centralised government. Brown took a lot of criticism yesterday after figures were produced which suggested that regional Cabinets cost £200,000 a time (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/cabinet-meetings-outside-london-cost-pound200000-each-1230639.html) - but it's a clear sign that decentralisation continues to be on the agenda.

Thursday 8 January 2009

Counting the Electoral Votes

Both Houses of Congress are due to meet today in a Joint Session to count the Electoral Votes - and so formally conclude the Presidential Election and announce who will be inaugurated on January 20th.

The actions to be taken are set out in a paper which has been distributed by Steny Hoyer, Leader of the House of Representatives. It is accessible at http://majorityleader.house.gov/docuploads/ec111.pdf

Lincoln's Second Inaugural

Lincoln's second inaugural took place in a much changed environment from his first. His words are so stirring that the text can be found on the inside of the Lincoln Memorial. The National Park Service leaflet describes the murals -

Unity is represented in the center of the decoration above the Second Inaugural Address. The Angel of Truth is joining the hands of the laurel-crowned figures of the North and South, signifying Unity, and with her protecting wings ennobles the arts of Painting, Philosophy, Music, Architecture, Chemistry, Literature and Sculpture.

Immediately behind the figure of Music is the veiled figure of the Future.

The left group typifies Fraternity. The central of Fraternity hold within her encircling arms
the Man and the Woman, the symbols of the Family developing the abundance of the earth. On each side is the vessel of wine and the vessel of oil, symbols of Everlasting Life.

The right group represents Charity. The central figure of Charity, attended by her handmaidens, is giving the Water of Life to the halt and the blind, and caring for the orphans.

Lincoln told the crowds gathered for the inaugural -

At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then, a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new would be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this, four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war, seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union, even by war; while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invoked His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh". If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether".

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

Lincoln's Inauguration 1861

The election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860 was followed by secession by some of the southern states. Jefferson Davis had already been inaugurated as President of the southern confederacy. Fears of an attempt on Lincoln's life led to his secret entry into the city of Washington.

This inauguration speech was carefully crafted to reassure those states which allowed slavery, but had not seceded. An excellent description of the careful preparation of this speech and its purposes can be found in "Team of Rivals" by Doris Kearns Goodwin, an excellent book which I am currently reading (visit the website - http://www.doriskearnsgoodwin.com/)

Fellow-Citizens of the United States:

In compliance with a custom as old as the Government itself, I appear before you to address you briefly and to take in your presence the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States to be taken by the President "before he enters on the execution of this office.

I do not consider it necessary at present for me to discuss those matters of administration about which there is no special anxiety or excitement.

Apprehension seems to exist among the people of the Southern States that by the accession of a Republican Administration their property and their peace and personal security are to be endangered. There has never been any reasonable cause for such apprehension. Indeed, the most ample evidence to the contrary has all the while existed and been open to their inspection. It is found in nearly all the published speeches of him who now addresses you. I do but quote from one of those speeches when I declare that—

I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.

Those who nominated and elected me did so with full knowledge that I had made this and many similar declarations and had never recanted them; and more than this, they placed in the platform for my acceptance, and as a law to themselves and to me, the clear and emphatic resolution which I now read:

Resolved, That the maintenance inviolate of the rights of the States, and especially the right of each State to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively, is essential to that balance of power on which the perfection and endurance of our political fabric depend; and we denounce the lawless invasion by armed force of the soil of any State or Territory, no matter what pretext, as among the gravest of crimes.

I now reiterate these sentiments, and in doing so I only press upon the public attention the most conclusive evidence of which the case is susceptible that the property, peace, and security of no section are to be in any wise endangered by the now incoming Administration. I add, too, that all the protection which, consistently with the Constitution and the laws, can be given will be cheerfully given to all the States when lawfully demanded, for whatever cause—as cheerfully to one section as to another.

There is much controversy about the delivering up of fugitives from service or labor. The clause I now read is as plainly written in the Constitution as any other of its provisions:
No person held to service or labor in one State, under the laws thereof, escaping into another, shall in consequence of any law or regulation therein be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due.

It is scarcely questioned that this provision was intended by those who made it for the reclaiming of what we call fugitive slaves; and the intention of the lawgiver is the law. All members of Congress swear their support to the whole Constitution—to this provision as much as to any other. To the proposition, then, that slaves whose cases come within the terms of this clause "shall be delivered up" their oaths are unanimous. Now, if they would make the effort in good temper, could they not with nearly equal unanimity frame and pass a law by means of which to keep good that unanimous oath?

There is some difference of opinion whether this clause should be enforced by national or by State authority, but surely that difference is not a very material one. If the slave is to be surrendered, it can be of but little consequence to him or to others by which authority it is done. And should anyone in any case be content that his oath shall go unkept on a merely unsubstantial controversy as to how it shall be kept?

Again: In any law upon this subject ought not all the safeguards of liberty known in civilized and humane jurisprudence to be introduced, so that a free man be not in any case surrendered as a slave? And might it not be well at the same time to provide by law for the enforcement of that clause in the Constitution which guarantees that "the citizens of each State shall be entitled to all privileges and immunities of citizens in the several States"?

I take the official oath to-day with no mental reservations and with no purpose to construe the Constitution or laws by any hypercritical rules; and while I do not choose now to specify particular acts of Congress as proper to be enforced, I do suggest that it will be much safer for all, both in official and private stations, to conform to and abide by all those acts which stand unrepealed than to violate any of them trusting to find impunity in having them held to be unconstitutional.

It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a President under our National Constitution. During that period fifteen different and greatly distinguished citizens have in succession administered the executive branch of the Government. They have conducted it through many perils, and generally with great success. Yet, with all this scope of precedent, I now enter upon the same task for the brief constitutional term of four years under great and peculiar difficulty. A disruption of the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted.

I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.

Again: If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it—break it, so to speak—but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?

Descending from these general principles, we find the proposition that in legal contemplation the Union is perpetual confirmed by the history of the Union itself. The Union is much older than the Constitution. It was formed, in fact, by the Articles of Association in 1774. It was matured and continued by the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It was further matured, and the faith of all the then thirteen States expressly plighted and engaged that it should be perpetual, by the Articles of Confederation in 1778. And finally, in 1787, one of the declared objects for ordaining and establishing the Constitution was "to form a more perfect Union."

But if destruction of the Union by one or by a part only of the States be lawfully possible, the Union is less perfect than before the Constitution, having lost the vital element of perpetuity.

It follows from these views that no State upon its own mere motion can lawfully get out of the Union; that resolves and ordinances to that effect are legally void, and that acts of violence within any State or States against the authority of the United States are insurrectionary or revolutionary, according to circumstances.

I therefore consider that in view of the Constitution and the laws the Union is unbroken, and to the extent of my ability, I shall take care, as the Constitution itself expressly enjoins upon me, that the laws of the Union be faithfully executed in all the States. Doing this I deem to be only a simple duty on my part, and I shall perform it so far as practicable unless my rightful masters, the American people, shall withhold the requisite means or in some authoritative manner direct the contrary. I trust this will not be regarded as a menace, but only as the declared purpose of the Union that it will constitutionally defend and maintain itself.

In doing this there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority. The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere. Where hostility to the United States in any interior locality shall be so great and universal as to prevent competent resident citizens from holding the Federal offices, there will be no attempt to force obnoxious strangers among the people for that object. While the strict legal right may exist in the Government to enforce the exercise of these offices, the attempt to do so would be so irritating and so nearly impracticable withal that I deem it better to forego for the time the uses of such offices.

The mails, unless repelled, will continue to be furnished in all parts of the Union. So far as possible the people everywhere shall have that sense of perfect security which is most favorable to calm thought and reflection. The course here indicated will be followed unless current events and experience shall show a modification or change to be proper, and in every case and exigency my best discretion will be exercised, according to circumstances actually existing and with a view and a hope of a peaceful solution of the national troubles and the restoration of fraternal sympathies and affections.

That there are persons in one section or another who seek to destroy the Union at all events and are glad of any pretext to do it I will neither affirm nor deny; but if there be such, I need address no word to them. To those, however, who really love the Union may I not speak?

Before entering upon so grave a matter as the destruction of our national fabric, with all its benefits, its memories, and its hopes, would it not be wise to ascertain precisely why we do it? Will you hazard so desperate a step while there is any possibility that any portion of the ills you fly from have no real existence? Will you, while the certain ills you fly to are greater than all the real ones you fly from, will you risk the commission of so fearful a mistake?

All profess to be content in the Union if all constitutional rights can be maintained. Is it true, then, that any right plainly written in the Constitution has been denied? I think not. Happily, the human mind is so constituted that no party can reach to the audacity of doing this. Think, if you can, of a single instance in which a plainly written provision of the Constitution has ever been denied. If by the mere force of numbers a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written constitutional right, it might in a moral point of view justify revolution; certainly would if such right were a vital one. But such is not our case. All the vital rights of minorities and of individuals are so plainly assured to them by affirmations and negations, guaranties and prohibitions, in the Constitution that controversies never arise concerning them. But no organic law can ever be framed with a provision specifically applicable to every question which may occur in practical administration. No foresight can anticipate nor any document of reasonable length contain express provisions for all possible questions. Shall fugitives from labor be surrendered by national or by State authority? The Constitution does not expressly say. May Congress prohibit slavery in the Territories? The Constitution does not expressly say. Must Congress protect slavery in the Territories? The Constitution does not expressly say.

From questions of this class spring all our constitutional controversies, and we divide upon them into majorities and minorities. If the minority will not acquiesce, the majority must, or the Government must cease. There is no other alternative, for continuing the Government is acquiescence on one side or the other. If a minority in such case will secede rather than acquiesce, they make a precedent which in turn will divide and ruin them, for a minority of their own will secede from them whenever a majority refuses to be controlled by such minority. For instance, why may not any portion of a new confederacy a year or two hence arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it? All who cherish disunion sentiments are now being educated to the exact temper of doing this.

Is there such perfect identity of interests among the States to compose a new union as to produce harmony only and prevent renewed secession?

Plainly the central idea of secession is the essence of anarchy. A majority held in restraint by constitutional checks and limitations, and always changing easily with deliberate changes of popular opinions and sentiments, is the only true sovereign of a free people. Whoever rejects it does of necessity fly to anarchy or to despotism. Unanimity is impossible. The rule of a minority, as a permanent arrangement, is wholly inadmissible; so that, rejecting the majority principle, anarchy or despotism in some form is all that is left.

I do not forget the position assumed by some that constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court, nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding in any case upon the parties to a suit as to the object of that suit, while they are also entitled to very high respect and consideration in all parallel cases by all other departments of the Government. And while it is obviously possible that such decision may be erroneous in any given case, still the evil effect following it, being limited to that particular case, with the chance that it may be overruled and never become a precedent for other cases, can better be borne than could the evils of a different practice. At the same time, the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the Government upon vital questions affecting the whole people is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made in ordinary litigation between parties in personal actions the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent practically resigned their Government into the hands of that eminent tribunal. Nor is there in this view any assault upon the court or the judges. It is a duty from which they may not shrink to decide cases properly brought before them, and it is no fault of theirs if others seek to turn their decisions to political purposes.

One section of our country believes slavery is right and ought to be extended, while the other believes it is wrong and ought not to be extended. This is the only substantial dispute. The fugitive-slave clause of the Constitution and the law for the suppression of the foreign slave trade are each as well enforced, perhaps, as any law can ever be in a community where the moral sense of the people imperfectly supports the law itself. The great body of the people abide by the dry legal obligation in both cases, and a few break over in each. This, I think, can not be perfectly cured, and it would be worse in both cases after the separation of the sections than before. The foreign slave trade, now imperfectly suppressed, would be ultimately revived without restriction in one section, while fugitive slaves, now only partially surrendered, would not be surrendered at all by the other.

Physically speaking, we can not separate. We can not remove our respective sections from each other nor build an impassable wall between them. A husband and wife may be divorced and go out of the presence and beyond the reach of each other, but the different parts of our country can not do this. They can not but remain face to face, and intercourse, either amicable or hostile, must continue between them. Is it possible, then, to make that intercourse more advantageous or more satisfactory after separation than before? Can aliens make treaties easier than friends can make laws? Can treaties be more faithfully enforced between aliens than laws can among friends? Suppose you go to war, you can not fight always; and when, after much loss on both sides and no gain on either, you cease fighting, the identical old questions, as to terms of intercourse, are again upon you.

This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it. I can not be ignorant of the fact that many worthy and patriotic citizens are desirous of having the National Constitution amended. While I make no recommendation of amendments, I fully recognize the rightful authority of the people over the whole subject, to be exercised in either of the modes prescribed in the instrument itself; and I should, under existing circumstances, favor rather than oppose a fair opportunity being afforded the people to act upon it. I will venture to add that to me the convention mode seems preferable, in that it allows amendments to originate with the people themselves, instead of only permitting them to take or reject propositions originated by others, not especially chosen for the purpose, and which might not be precisely such as they would wish to either accept or refuse. I understand a proposed amendment to the Constitution—which amendment, however, I have not seen—has passed Congress, to the effect that the Federal Government shall never interfere with the domestic institutions of the States, including that of persons held to service. To avoid misconstruction of what I have said, I depart from my purpose not to speak of particular amendments so far as to say that, holding such a provision to now be implied constitutional law, I have no objection to its being made express and irrevocable.

The Chief Magistrate derives all his authority from the people, and they have referred none upon him to fix terms for the separation of the States. The people themselves can do this if also they choose, but the Executive as such has nothing to do with it. His duty is to administer the present Government as it came to his hands and to transmit it unimpaired by him to his successor.

Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world? In our present differences, is either party without faith of being in the right? If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.

By the frame of the Government under which we live this same people have wisely given their public servants but little power for mischief, and have with equal wisdom provided for the return of that little to their own hands at very short intervals. While the people retain their virtue and vigilance no Administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can very seriously injure the Government in the short space of four years.

My countrymen, one and all, think calmly and well upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to hurry any of you in hot haste to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it. Such of you as are now dissatisfied still have the old Constitution unimpaired, and, on the sensitive point, the laws of your own framing under it; while the new Administration will have no immediate power, if it would, to change either. If it were admitted that you who are dissatisfied hold the right side in the dispute, there still is no single good reason for precipitate action. Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it."

I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Motions to Recommit

Rules changes in the House of Representatives are likely to be hotly contested today. One of the most controversial is in the bill H.Res. 5 Section 2 (g) - Instructions in the Motion to Recommit.

There are three variants of the motion to recommit.

The first is a "straight" motion which would have the effect of sending the bill back to committee. Currently such a motion is not debated, but a vote is taken.

The second is a recommital motion which has instructions to the committee, which is to be considered "forthwith". The practice is that, if the motion is passed, the Committee chair must report the bill back to the House immediately, without the bill leaving the Chamber, but including any amendment given by the instructions.

The third type has instructions, but no requirement to report back "forthwith". The motion may include the term 'promptly', but this has no effect.

Where instructions are given, the motion to recommit can be debated for up to 10 minutes.

These motions are procedural devices which give opponents of a measure another chance to attack the bill. Cleverly used, they can be used by the minority party to create an embarrassing dilemma for majority members who favour a specific amendment, but back the bill generally. A motion to recommit without 'forthwith' instructions forces the majority member either to vote for - which could have the practical effect of killing the bill (As John Boehner said in 2003 - "For those of you who are not familiar with the nuance, that means the bill is dead forever") or voting against - which puts into the public record that the member has voted against a policy he (or his constituents) strongly support. At election time this allows an opponent to run ads suggesting the member opposes something, when in fact they didn't want to kill the whole bill.

In the last Congress the use of recommittal motions skyrocked. in the 106th Congress they were used on only 27% of occasions - and the average from 1989-2008 is 46%. In the 110th Congress they were used 78% of the time. 'Non forthwith' variants were used on 47 occasions - (there have only been 121 uses in the 10 Congresses after 1989!

The proposed change would disallow 'Non forthwith' motions which included instructions to the committee. The minority could still put down straight recommital motions (which could kill the bill, but does not limit the committees freedom of action) or 'forthwith' instructions. Debate would be allowed for all motions. (Currently straight motions are not debatable).

There is an excellent CRS paper at http://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL34757.pdf by Megan S Lynch. Details of the rule changes proposed are available at http://www.rules.house.gov/bills_details.aspx?NewsID=4116

First Day of the 111th Congress

Today, at Noon EST (5pm in the UK), the 111th Congress will come into being. If you want to watch events live go to C-SPAN's website - C-SPAN 1 will show the live feed from the House of Representatives while C-SPAN 2 will show the Senate. (http://www.c-span.org/).

In the House of Representatives there are certain things which must be done. The main stages of the day's events in the chamber include

  1. The Clerk of 110th Congress calls the House to order
  2. The Chaplain of the House offers a prayer
  3. Members repeat the pledge of allegiance
  4. A Roll Call vote is taken - to establish that a quorum exists. Members vote electronically
  5. Certain announcements are made - about delegates; and deaths or resignations of former Members
  6. The Speaker is elected - both parties nominate for this (and other posts), but the majority party - the Democrats in 111th Congress - win the viva voce roll call vote. [A 'viva voce' vote involves each member stating his vote after his or her name is read out]
  7. The newly elected Speaker is sworn in
  8. The Oath of Office is taken collectively by all Members in the Chamber. In the afternoon individual oath taking is repeated for the benefit of photographers.
  9. Each party announces its leaders
  10. Officers of the House are elected (usually each party has agreed its own list, but the majority party prevails)
  11. Resolutions regarding messages between the twn Houses; and also with the Presidency, are passed
  12. Rules of Procedure are adopted

For a fuller account of first day activities - read Mildred Amer's excellent CRS (Congressional Research Service) report "The First Day of a New Congress: A Guide to Proceedings on the House Floor" - http://assets.opencrs.com/rpts/RL30725_20081031.pdf

For membership information visit http://www.gpoaccess.gov/pictorial/111th/newmems.html