Sunday, 30 August 2009

Edward Herrmann

Fans of the Gilmore Girls will know that one person gets special billing - Edward Herrmann ("Special Appearance by...). He plays the patriarch of the Gilmore family, Richard. He is also a native of Washington DC - though he grew up in Grosse Point, Michigan. During his studies he attended the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art on a Fulbright Fellowhip.

Herrmann has had a distinguished career - in movies and on TV. He has portrayed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He has done much work narrating programmes for the History Channel and PBS. In 'Overboard' he played the rich husband of fellow Washington native, Goldie Hawn. A list of his works can be found at http://www.filmreference.com/film/6/Edward-Herrmann.html

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Congressional Tours

Details of tours of the US Capitol can be found at http://www.visitthecapitol.gov/.

Virtual tours are available at

Another view of the buildings around Capitol Hill can be seen in a video I made in 2008

Friday, 28 August 2009

Tours of Westminster

It is possible to tour the Palace of Westminster during the summer recess. Details of the tours can be found here. The Adult price is £11.70. As an alternative you can take a virtual tour. These are available at


There are also some interesting materials on the Palace and its history and work at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/bbc_parliament/7098934.stm

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Was Whitehall ever white?

Most guides will tell you that "Whitehall" took its name from the colour of Cardinal Wolsey's Great Hall. However when archeological excavations were undertaken in 1939 it was discovered that the gable end of the hall was decorated in a black and white chequerboard design.

[Black-and-whitehall"? - surely not, the mandarins have always recognised that real life has subtle shades of grey]

Simon Thurley has suggested that the term may not automatically refer to the ACTUAL colour of the building, but to its status.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Senator Kennedy RIP

Ted Kennedy was the third longest serving Senator in US history. As Congressional Quarterly's Politics in America says "Kennedys lineage, liberal views and legislative accomplishments ensure him a permanent place in the national consciousness"

John Kerry said of his service in Congress "Every major piece of legislation in that time, he has had an impact on one way or another"

"Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them" - each is true of Senator Kennedy.

Goldie Hawn

is another famous native of Washington DC. She was born there on 21st November 1945. Her parents were Laura Steinhoff (a jewelry shop/dance school owner) and Edward Rutledge Hawn (a band musician - and descendant of Edward Rutledge, the youngest person to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776.). She was raised in the Maryland suburbs and attended Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Maryland and American University.

She took her first dance lessons aged three, and was managing a dance studio by the age of 17 (some sources say 19 - after she dropped out of American University). She rose to fame as a regular cast member of Rowan and Marti's Laugh-In in the 1960s. Her movie career took off after she won an Oscar for the 1969 film "Cactus Flower".

Goldie Hawn acting as a dumb blond

Full details of her career can be found at http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000443/

She has also been an advocate for children - and has given evidence to Congress

She is the mother of Kate Hudson.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Charing Cross

A small group of walkers are currently undertaking an unusual sponsored walk of 225 miles. They have been following the route that the funeral cortege of Edward I's wife, Queen Eleanor, took in 1290. Further details can be found on Kettering Borough Council's newspage.

Queen Eleanor was the wife of Edward I. She died in 1290 after 36 years of marriage. The King ('Hammer of the Scots' - and the destroyer of Welsh independence) was heartbroken.

Eleanor's body was taken from Lincolnshire where she had died - to her final resting place in Westminster Abbey. Edward ordered that a memorial cross be erected to her memory at every place the funeral cortege stopped overnight on its way to London. Today only the crosses at Waltham Cross (Hertfordshire), Geddington, and Hardingstone (both Northamptonshire) remain, and the cross at Charing is remembered only in the name Charing Cross.

The final days journey was along King Street (now - more or less - the route of Whitehall) from the village of Charing to Westminster Abbey. The Cross at Charing has given its name to the railway station - though the original cross was destroyed by Parliamentary forces. It was seen as a symbol of the monarchy. After the restoration some of the men who had signed Charles I's death warrant were hung, drawn and quartered on the site. An equestrian statue of Charles I (which had been hidden during the Civil War) was erected there in 1676. It still remains - and is the point from which all distances in Britain are measured.

A Victorian replica of the Eleanor Cross (though larger and more ornate than the original) stands outside the station.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Washington Redskins

The US preseason games are now in full flow. As regular readers of this blog know there are three teams I follow - two in the UK [Coventry Jets & Milton Keynes City Pathfinders] - and the NFL team - Washington Redskins (who else could "WASHminster follow?].

The Redskins media guide - which has details of rosters; player biographies - and much more - is available at http://www.redskins.com/gen/articles/2008_Media_Guide_16723.jsp

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Born in Washington DC - Part One

Washington DC has attracted people from acrossthe USA (and the world). In this short occasional series I will look at some of the people actually from DC.

Edward Kennedy Ellington, Duke Ellington, was one of the giants of Jazz. He was said to have been born at 2129 Ward Place, NW Washington [now 1217 22nd Street, NW] - a house commemorated by a plaque. (He certainly grew up there, but his parents have moved in after his birth - per A H Lawrence). His father occasionally worked as a caterer at the White House, but his main employer was a Dr Middleton F Cuthbert. He aquired his namename of "Duke" as a child - and throughout his life was noted for his elegant style. He played piano - but is renowned for his band leading; arranging and composing.

He gained some early local success in Washington - but moved to New York where his career really took off.

There are a number of biographies available. I very much enjoyed reading A H Lawrence's 'Duke Ellington and his world' (New York: Routledge, 2001). There is also a very full wikipedia article.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Whitehall Palace

Cardinal Wolsey, whose painting appeared in yesterday's post was the man who built Whitehall Palace. He was a poor man (some historians challenge this myth - he was pretty well connected from birth), who made good, but paid the price of his success. He had risen to become one of the young Henry VIII's most powerful and trusted ministers. By 1514 he was one of the most powerful figures in both the Church and the State. As Archbishop of York he had use of York Place, the residence close to the royal seat of power in Westminster. It was on King Street, like it's modern successor, Whitehall, it ran from Westminster out towards Charing Cross - and extended towards the River Thames.

It was York Place which he turned into one of the largest and most impressive houses in London. Thurley describes the complex. "it made use of the best parts of the House built by Archbishop Neville (1465-76) and his predecessors, but added new rooms that made the house more modern, convenient and magnificent...Wolsey retained the medieval Great Hall". A new Great Chamber was built - "panelled and given a gilded ceiling. brass door-locks engraved with Wolsey's arms, and lavish stained-glass windows." Surrounding land was bought up and buildings Wolsey considered unsightly were demolished.

Work was completed in the late 1520's. Sadly Wolsey's power and wealth had made his old friend, Henry VIII jealous. Wolsey also failed to get Henry the annulment of the King's marriage to Katherine of Aragon. The Boleyn family and her supporters suspected that Wolsey had sabotaged procceedings - and the King moved against him.

Henry took the newly completed residence from Wolsey - and moved in himself. Westminster had ceased to be a royal residence a few years previously after a fire.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

"All Political Careers End in Failure"

This sad reflection on the reality of life in politics is credited to Enoch Powell. He was a great student of history (his book "Great Parliamentary Occasions" was written in 1960, the year of my birth, and is one of the first and most treasured books I own), and a superb speaker - though some of his political views were pretty obnoxious.

How many have successfully defied this rule? Winston Churchill & Margaret Thatcher were not ready to move out of Number 10. DeGaulle resigned, shocked that the French were ungrateful and had voted against his wishes in a referendum. Tony Blair didn't leave in a blaze of glory. Many MPs & members of Congress failed to retire in time - being kicked out. As Harry Truman said (and isn't he the classic example of this truth) - "A statesman is a politician who's been dead for fifteen years".

Colin Brown in his history of Whitehall quotes the comments of George Cavendish, Gentleman-Usher to Cardinal Wolsey, who reflects on public opinion and its ultimate results for politicians -

"The common people always desire alterations and novelties of things, simply for the strangeness of the case; which afterwards gives them small profit and commodity...for the inclination and natural disposition of Englishmen is, and has always been, to desire alteration of officers who have been thoroughly fed with sufficient riches and possessions by long holding of their offices. And they being put out, then comes another hungry and lean officer in his place, that bites nearer the bone than the old. So people be ever pillaged and despoiled by hungry dogs, through their own desire for change and new officers"

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


.... is the most powerful street in Britain! Well actually it's the term commonly used for the whole of the Executive machinery. The most important ministries are physically in Whitehall - the Treasury; Foreign Office (and the Welsh Office!!!). Downing Street is a street just off Whitehall. Many Departments are elsewhere. (Click here for addresses).

There are some excellent books about the working of Whitehall - but the street itself has an interesting history. Over the summer I've been dipping into my library to learn a little more about a street I walk down fairly frequently. There is an official illustrated history by Simon Thurley (London: Merrell, 2008), which I picked up at the Parliamentary Bookshop. Colin Brown has also written book entitled "Whitehall. The Street that Shaped a Nation". (London: Simon & Schuster, 2009).

The street takes its name from the Palace that stood there. From it the Banqueting House remains - the place outside which Charles I was executed. Over the coming weeks I will write a few posts about this interesting street and its history.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Watching the Newswires

Twitter can be used for many things. Much ridicule has been heaped on those who use it to broadcast their every insignificant move, action or thought to the world. But it can be a useful way of keeping up to date with news from Congress and Parliament.

If you haven't got an account yet - just sign up at http://twitter.com/. I've had an account for a long time now - but have recently started to use "Tweetdeck" as a platform that allows me to have my screen updated regularly with "Tweets" from individuals and bodies I follow - as well as updates of my friends' status on Facebook. I can also "tweet" direct to Twitter and Facebook. To download TweetDeck go to http://tweetdeck.com/beta/download/.

My favourite sources of news are :-

US Congress

CQPolitics - Excellent & Frequent Tweeter on Congress. Well Respected Publisher on Congress
RollCall - my favourite newspaper available in DC (and by subscription even in Milton Keynes)
thehill - from "The Hill" a newspaper about Congress
CSPAN - the cable channel providing live coverage of Congress - and much much more
Senatus - coverage of US Senate
OpenCRS - access to some of the excellent reports produced by the first class CRS
Senator Reid - Majority Leader of the Senate
NancyPelosi - unofficial site, news of the Speaker of the House of Representatives
Johnboehner - Minority Leader, House of Representatives

UK Parliament

UK Parliament - from the Palace of Westminster direct
Politics_co_uk - good UK based news service
Epolitix - another good news service specialising in Parliamentary matters
Hansard Society - from that excellent Society (see many previous posts)
Downing Street - from No 10
I'd welcome any of your recommendations. (If you want to link up with me on facebook - my name their is 'jdavidmorgan'. I also use Skype - with the same name.)

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Challenges to Democracy

The healthcare debate in the USA has become the main story both sides of the Atlantic. There are the issues of whether people should have a right to healthcare; which is the most effective way of delivering healthcare to a nation; and the costs of healthcare. But the campaign led by the opponents of President Obama's campaign raises issues about the subversion of democracy (and I'm not talking about mob rule at Town Hall meetings).

In an Op-Ed in today's Guardian Peter Wilby writes

" The most determined, coherent and organised voices in any contemporary political debate are those of the corporate sector and its allies. It can afford the PR and advertising to change the terms of public discourse and it knows that lies and half truths...can sow doubt's in people's minds even if they are easily disproved. The corporate sector can also intimidate and compromise elected politicians."

"The price of democracy is eternal vigilance against the encroachment of corporate interest."


Thursday, 13 August 2009

Why Brits are angry at American Misrepresentations

I try to avoid posts on partisan issues - there are a host of blogs which push a particular ideological standpoint. This blog is intended to share information about the legislatures in the UK and the USA. It aims to explain the differences and similarities - and how each works. While I have my own views (I have been a Labour parliamentary candidate twice & a Labour European Parliament candidate once), this isn't the place to "preach the word". Republicans; Tories; Democrats; Socialists; Blairites; Lib-Dems; - all are welcome here.

However, there is an issue I feel very strongly about - and would like to explain (particularly to American readers) why so many Brits are angered by some of the things that are being said in the current debate in the USA over healthcare reforms.

We may grumble about it sometimes (we can be great grumblers in Britain, perhaps it's the weather), but the NHS is something most Brits are both proud of and grateful for. My father had his first heart attack 32 years ago - he's had all the care he needed - including a quad heart bypass (when in his late 70s - so that story about no heart treatments for the over 60s is completely untrue) and continues to receive treatment. His health has caused us worries over the years - but we've never had the worry of his treatment being denied by an insurance company - or of funding expensive treatment which we couldn't afford. (And by the way, Senator Grassley, my father is two years older than Senator Kennedy!)

Everyone is entitled to treatment. Having just moved I needed a new doctor - I registered at the practice of my choice. No state official told me where I had to go. Routine tests were carried out to check my sugar levels; blood pressure and cholesterol levels. I didn't have to pay for them - or even request them. The Government's funding of such tests has enabled many people who have diabetes and other health problems to have their conditions spotted and treated. As one of those people who had diabetes, but didn't know it, I am grateful for this initiative.

As I get older, I know more and more friends who have fallen ill to (particularly) cancer and heart problems. The NHS has been great - and I wouldn't swop it for the current American system anyday. I am angry for two reasons with the campaign of misinformation being waged at the moment

* Americans are being denied advantages which Brits have taken for granted for decades - the number of uninsured is a disgrace to the good name of America. Health Care should be a right, as it is in Britain.
* "My" NHS is being lied about.

I'd be happy to correspond with any American about my personal experience of the NHS.

Tonight's Evening Standard states -

"Among inaccuracies that have irritated the Government are claims NHS patients over the age of 59 cannot get heart repairs and that women under 25 are “not allowed” breast cancer screening.

One advert said 40 per cent of UK cancer patients do not have access to a specialist. Macmillan Cancer Support said this figure was 15 years out of date."
I've just joined the Facebook group http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=249360150703. Can I invite fellow Brits to join me.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

UK Election Maps

Last year I described some of the key races in the US Elections. Over the next few months I will profile some of the key constituencies in the UK. A General Election must be held by June next year.

There is a wonderful online resource available providing maps of electoral areas at http://www.election-maps.co.uk/index.jsp

The key units are
* Parliamentary Constituencies - one MP is elected by each constituency.

* Wards - these are the basic building blocks of each constituency. Wards, ideally, should not be split between constituencies. They are the electoral districts for local elections. ("Electoral Divisions" are the districts for County elections - they made be the same as a ward or bring together a number of wards).

The map in today's picture is Milton Keynes South (effective from the next election). I live in Furzton ward.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

UK Guides

Over the last two days I have briefly described two guides to Members of Congress. In the UK there are similar guides to Parliaments. I have been buying copies of the "Times Guide to the House of Commons" since I picked up a copy of the October 1974 Edition whilst visiting Hull in the mid 1970s. My greatest regret is that the Times Guide stopped giving details of the major defeated candidates in each constituency from their 2001 edition. It was in 2001 that I first stood for Parliament!

The first Times Guide covered the 1880 election. The earliest one in my personal collection is 1966. Other publishers have started their own guides. Dod's produces a guide after each general election - where MP's are listed by order of surname (The Times Guide lists in Constituency order). An "Almanac of British Politics" has been published for the last 35 years. While this gives a brief biography of each MP, it's strength is the detail it gives of each constituency. The current edition has lots of details about the new constituencies which take effect at the forthcoming General Election.

Monday, 10 August 2009

The Almanac of American Politics

The main rival to CQ's Politics in America is National Journal's "Almanac of American Politics". I find them complementary. The 2010 edition is due to be published this month. The Washington Post Review has commented in the past "Indispensable . . . this compendium of statistics and information has gone as far as humanly possible."

I have bought and use both. I'm sure that as soon as copies arrive in the UK I will be ordering the Almanac

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Politics In America

Since 2001 I have been a serial purchaser and user of CQ's "Politics in America". (Covering the 106th to 111th Congresses - 25cm of shelf space in my office!). The current edition "PIA 2010" arrived at my home this week.

Congressional Quarterly has been producing this excellent guide to Members of Congress and their districts (States for Senators) since 1981. A biography is supplied of every member, with lots of statistics on the member and their district. Details of key votes and scores are given on 'party unity'; 'presidential support' plus the ratings by four advocacy groups

AFL-CIO - a federation of labour unions.
Americans for Democratic Action - liberal
Chamber of Commerce - founded in 1912 as "a voice for organized business"
American Conservative Union

There is a host of other information - including the order of seniority in each House; Youngest and Oldest Members; Women in Congress; Minorities in Congress - even "Members Who Have A Twin". Membership lists of groups within Congress (New Democrat Coalition; Blue Dog Coalition; Progressive Caucus; and the Republican Study Committee) are given - as well as details of committees.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Senate Races 2010

Yes it's a long time to go (and a British General Election will precede it!), but interest is already rising over the 2010 Elections in the US. This week we learnt that Senator Martinez (Republican of Florida) will step down early. This will ensure that the Republican Governor - Charlie Crist - can appoint a new Senator, who will be an incumbent for the 2010 election. There has been some speculation that he may appoint himself, though he has already denied this. (NPR Report).

The latest Race Ratings can be found at The Cook Political Report (30th July).

Friday, 7 August 2009

A Difference between Americans and Brits

I'm currently reading Michael Smith's "Station X" - a book about the work that went on in Bletchley Park during World War Two (although there are a good couple of chapters on the historical background). In it he recounts a story told by Barbara Abernethy (who went on to marry an American codebreaker, Joseph Eachus. She was PA to Alastair Denniston, head of Bletchley Park) - concerning a Fourth of July game -

"We were challenged by the Americans to a game of rounders. They nearly went home. Now in the United States, you don't need to get all the way home in one go to score. As long as you get all the way home eventually you score. Now our rules for rounders of course were very tough. You had to go all the way round in one go.

It was a lovely day, we all played well, and at the end of the game we all sort of clapped each other on the back and the Americans said: 'well, we're sorry we beat you' and the British captain said: 'I'm sorry, but we beat you.' The Americans were a little touchy. They were convinced that they'd won and it took a bit of explanation on somebody's part to soothe ruffled feathers. It all ended with drinks all round, actually we agreed we'd won by our rules and they'd won by their rules. So that was alright. But they never asked us to play again."

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Neglecting our History?

Yesterday my travels took me to Runnymede, the meadows on which the Magna Carta was signed in 1215. It has struck me for a long time that this great document is honoured more outside Britain - particularly in the US. (Magna Carta Facts)

While this has been a really interesting week for me - it has also been a little depressing. I had the privilege of visiting two major sites - both of major national and international significance - yet felt that as a nation we are failing to live up to the responsibility to honour and pass on that history.

If I had been looking for Thorpe Park (Britain's third largest theme park - "catering to the thrill-ride market"), my journey would have benn easy. It was well signposted. Runnymede was not. When we eventually found it - I have to say it was rather under-stated. Here was the site of one of the most important events in British and world history, but there wasn't even a bookshop. The memorial - was built by the AMERICAN Bar Association. There were some "interpretation boards" - but surely we could be doing more to tell this story - to inspire the young - to keep alive the traditions which made Britain great. (we don't seem to have a problem celebrating less valuable traditions).

Bletchley Park is another national treasure that we have treated woefully. There has been some fantastic work done by volunteers to open up the history of what happened there. I am in awe of what they have achieved. A working model of Colossus was made - by a handful of volunteers - from photographs and partial wiring diagrams. When tested, it proved that the model was able to decode as the original had. There's an archive section which has processed masses of key documents - in a tiny area. Key buildings have been saved from destruction. Yet this is not a well financed, publicly sponsored operation. As the Save Bletchley Park Facebook Site says -

"The museum at Bletchley Park is in dire need of funding. Historic buildings are crumbling and need restoration. Despite its historical importance it receives no ongoing public funding and is urgently seeking donations.We owe it to both ourselves and to the men and women who served there to preserve Bletchley Park for our generation and the next, as computer users, citizens of the free world and simply as human beings."

I strongly recommend visiting Bletchley Park - it is a really interesting place. It's well worth a visit. Also I would urge your support. Join the facebook Group ; write to your MP to encourage them to sign the EDM ; if you like in the area consider becoming a volunteer.

History is a wonderful thing - we can honour the great things done in the past - we can also learn, and be inspired, for our future.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Historic Cooperation

The "Special Relationship" between the USA and UK is of course of great interest to a blog which looks at the legislatures of these two countries. This week I visited a place which historically played a key part in establishing and developing that relationship.

A BBC News Report from February began this year - "The US/UK intelligence-sharing relationship is incredibly close and has been all the way back to World War II. It is arguably at the centre of what is known as the "special relationship"." On May 17th 1943 the BRUSA Agreement was signed at Bletchley Park which was a formal agreement to share intelligence. http://intellit.muskingum.edu/liaison_folder/liaisonintro.html (For further references). That agreement was signed at Bletchley Park. It was preceded by practical cooperation at that important site.

Bletchley Park was the codebreaking centre which played a (if not, the) critical role in the Second World War. It is also of major significance in the history of mathematics and computing. (Significance).

The site is now open to the public. It is well worth a visit. (actually worth a series of visits, I will certainly be returning). Whether you are interested in military history; computing; or the extraordinary story of the activities and individuals at Bletchley Park - this will fascinate you.

Over the summer months, when both Parliament and Congress are on recess (the Senate WILL eventually rise!), I will write a few posts about this fascinating place and its history. Details of Bletchley Park and admission arrangements can be found at the Bletchley Park Website.