Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Congratulations, you've been nominated by the President....

Should you ever hear those words, how should you behave? There is a useful survivor's guide. At it's heart are the so called "Korologos Commandments" - a succinct set of rules suggested by Republican aide and lobbyist, Tom Korologos. He served as US Ambassador to Belgium - but is best known for his experience in assisting people facing nominations.

* Model yourself after a bridegroom at a wedding. Be on time, stay out of the way and keep your mouth shut.

* Before confirmation, give no speeches, write no letters, make no public appearances. Senators do not like to read about grant plans of an unconfirmed nominee.

* You may have been a brilliant success in the corporate world or some other field of endeavor, but the Senate expects you to be suitably humble and deferential, not cocky.

* There is no subject on this Earth that the Senate is not free to probe. Be ready with polite and persuasive answers.

* The purpose of the hearing is to get in and get out. Follow the 80-20 rule. If the senators are talking 80 percent of the time and you are talking 20 percent, you are winning … If it’s 60-40, you’ve got a problem. If it’s 50-50, you’re losing and the confirmation is in trouble.

* The Constitution stops at the hearing room door. There are no rules of evidence …. There will be hearsay questions, irrelevant questions and even some stupid questions. Be ready for all of them

C-SPAN recently broadcast an hour's presentation (available here) on  testifying before Congress - by William LaForge, who has recently published a handbook of the same name.

Monday, 30 August 2010

The Candy Desk

At the back of the Senate Chamber, on the Republican side - adjacent to the most heavily used entrance to the chamber is "the Candy Desk" a desk filled with candy (UK - "sweets") for Senators to enjoy. Richard A Baker does note that the desk "serves as a gathering spot for Senators who may be more interested in counting heads during a closely contested roll-call vote than in satisfying a late-afternoon need for an energy boost".

This "Senate Tradition" is only 45 years old. It began when Senator George Murphy started keeping candy in his desk for fellow senators to use. The Senator who sits at this desk is expected to maintain the supply of candy - which, by tradition,m comes from their home state. My understanding is that George LeMieux, the Senator from Florida is the current "candyman"

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Labour's Next Leader

This week ballot papers will be despatched to Labour Party Members to enable them to vote in the election for the new party leader. Information on the contest can be found here.

The candidates are (with links to their websites)

Diane Abbott - "Turn the page, change the party"

Ed Balls - "Fight for Fairness"

Andy Burnham - "Reconnecting Labour"

David Miliband - "Bringing Labour together, Leading Labour to power"

Ed Miliband - "Change to Win"

The result will be announced in Manchester on September 25th in Manchester.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Speaker's Constituency

There are two models os speakership. In the United States House of Representatives the "majoritarian model" has been long established. The Speaker comes from the party holding a majority of seats, and remains the key leader of that party. In the House of Commons the newly elected Speaker leaves their original party - and even after completing their service - remains as an independent. Most Speakers upon retirement take a seat in the House of Lords, and sit as a crossbencher. This model can be referred to as the "moderator speakership". [There is an excellent description of both, and a discussion of why the original moderator model adopted in the first Congress gave way to the current majoritarian model in "Masters of the House" by Roger Davidson; Susan Webb Hammond and Raymond W Smock].

While the British Speaker is no longer a member of a party, he (or she - Betty Boothroyd was Speaker from 1992 - 2000 - her "Autobiography" is an excellent read - and describes her experience working in Congress during the early 1960s!) - remains a Member of Parliament, representing his constituency. At election time a Speaker seeking to remain at Westminster stands as "The Speaker seeking re-election". It is said that there is a convention that Speakers are not opposed for re-election, but the reality is that they now usually face at least fringe candidates - and in 1974 Selwyn Lloyd faced both Labour and Conservative opponents in his Wirral constituency. Nationalist candidates have challenged George Thomas (1979) and Michael Martin (2001 & 2005). Speaker Bercow faced a very active and high profile campaign by UKIP this year - and another candidate, a former Tory MEP, overcame the UKIP campaign by gaining over 20% of the votes. Speaker Bercow failed to win a majority of votes (47.3% of votes cast). He had faced 10 opponents. Full results here.

Speaker Bercow's constituency is Buckingham - which is adjacent to Milton Keynes South, where I am a resident [Some of the Arriva buses in the city STILL have the UKIP election adverts on them!].  Once the Buckingham constituency covered Milton Keynes - Robert Maxwell was MP when the new city was created. Now it covers the county town and a large rural area. John Bercow maintains a website - reminding his constituents that he remains an active constituency MP, providing the same services as any ordinary MP would do (though it is thought that a Minister receiving a representation from Mr Speaker may give greater weight to it!).

Friday, 27 August 2010

Navigating around Washminster

This blog has evolved since it first appeared on 7th March 2007. All entries can be read by using the Blog Archive on the right hand side. They are sorted by Year and Month. Alternatively it is possible to search for particular words or phrases. [Towards the top right hand corner].

Over the next few weeks - as a number of my Open University students face exams - I will be preparing new posts about issues that may well come up in the exam [W200 Law: Understanding Law; W201 Law: The Individual & the State]. However further information may be uncovered by using the search facility!

A "Twitter" stream is available under the the Plaxo Badge. These tweets may, or may not, be related to Washminster matters - but I often use twitter to highlight a matter in the news.

Under "Watch" there are direct links to
"BBC Democracy Live" - which has feeds from the House of commons; House of Lords; Select committees; the Scottish Parliament; Welsh Assembly; and the European Parliament;
"C-SPAN 2" - The US Senate, live when the Senate is in session - other programmes when it is not sitting
"C-SPAN 1 " - The House of Representatives

Under "US Congress" there are direct links to
"Bob Carr's HoR Schedule" - Bob Carr represented Michigan districts (the boundaries and District Number changed with redistrictings). He lives and works in Washington DC and maintains this schedule of sittings.
and the official websites of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

A direct link to the UK Parliament is available below that.

David's Favourite Blogs - links to the latest posts on a number of blogs which deal with the US Congress and UK Parliament.

The headings of "Parliament" and "Congress" are fed with news stories in which the terms above are used - they often are about the US Congress and UK Parliament, but may not necessarily be so.

Thursday, 26 August 2010


Britain may have a long break until the next elections (almost five years to the next General Election, if this autumn legislation is passed to introduce fixed term parliaments - and if the coalition holds together for that long) - though there will be a number of sizeable electoral tests on 5th May 2011 (The referendum on AV;  local elections in England, the Scottish Parliamentary election and the Welsh Assembly elections.)

However the 2010 midterms are fast approaching. As in 2008 Washminster will review some of the key seats in both the House and Senate elections.

Watch this space....

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Starting Up

Washminster returns after its short break. During the next few months, amongst other things, this blog will enhance its coverage of matters procedural. So to get things off to a start the video below shows the first day of business in the House of Representatives.

A CRS Report explains what happens on the first day.

The key events are

* Election of the Speaker
* Swearing in of Members
* Announcement of Party Leaders
* Election of Officers (non-members)
* Notification to the Senate and to the President
* Adoption of House Rules of Procedure
* Adoption of a Daily Meeting Time for the House
* Committee Organization
* Other announcements are made and resolutions passed

Friday, 13 August 2010

Washminster Takes A Break

Washminster is taking a short break - to catch up on some reading; listen to podcasts - and to prepare some series which Washminster will be running from late August through to Christmas. (I'll also listen to some jazz & watch the pre-season games involving Washington Redskins). I'll be staying in Milton Keynes during this break - so here are a few photos of Furzton where I live.

Washminster will return on 25th August.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Updating via Podcasts

I've been taking some time to explore further podcasts to update and extend my knowledge about Parliament and Congress. Here's a list of Podcasts - they are available via iTunes - and are free!

- BBC: Today in Parliament - available from early the following morning. When Parliament is sitting I 'refresh' my podcasts on my PC then transfer to the iPhone - great for listening to on the journey from Milton Keynes to London Euston (and at 30 minutes length, just the right timings fr that journey.
- BBC: John Pienaar's weekly political review
- BBC: Weekly Political Review - top political commentators report on issues

- C-SPAN: After Words - from Book TV. Author's discuss in detail their book. Good range of subjects covered, so I don't listen to every podcast. A useful back catalogue.
- C-SPAN: Newsmakers - Sunday morning interviews with "newsmakers", mainly but not exclusively members of the House or Senate.
- C-SPAN: Q & A - Interviews with a range of people, from different backgrounds. Useful for learning about issues which might not be the number one headline, but which Congress is considering
- C-SPAN: Podcast of the Week - the weeks chosen broadcast - as with After Words not always on a topic of immediate interest to me (or one I've already listened to).
- NPR: It's All Politics - useful summary of political issues in the USA
- BBC: Americana - wider than just Congress, this is a useful background on the USA - often some quirky stories.
- CFR: The World Next Week - weekly preview of world events from the Council on Foreign Relations - Congressional activity is usually covered.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Charlie Rangel speaks

Yesterday Representative Rangel spoke to the House of Representatives about the ethics charges he is facing. It has much food for thought for lawyers, politicians and citizens.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

138 years of service, ended in a year

In the last year, three of the Senate's longest-ever serving Senators have died. On 25th August last year Senator Ted Kennedy, who had served 46 years 9 months and 19 days - the 4th longest serving Senator in US history, passed away. On June 28th the record breaker of them all, Senator Robert Byrd, died after 51 years, 5 months, 26 days in office. This week the longest serving Republican senator in history [Strom Thurmond was a Democrat for the first 9 yrs 1 month & 21 days - serving only the 3rd longest period as a Republican Senator] , Senator Ted Stevens ( 40 years, 10 days) was killed in a plane crash.


Wednesday, 4 August 2010

How the South was Squeezed

A friend sent me this video - an excellent graphic representation of the course of the American Civil War.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Prrinciples for Parliamentary Reform

In a recent Briefing Paper on House of Commons reform, the Hansard Society proposed Five principles to guide parliamentary reform.

1 Primacy of scrutiny - Parliament should be organised and resourced in such a way that parliamentarians can more systematically and effectively scrutinise the Executive

2 Cultural Change - MPs views of their role needs to change - and more emphasis needs to be put on working effectively in committees.

3 Procedural change and streamlining - the quality of outputs - particularly legislation needs to be improved

4 Public Engagement - Parliament must communicate with and respond more effectively to the Public

5 Strategic vision and leadership - piecemeal evolution is not enough - there needs to be a strategic vision, and the leadership to push through necessary reforms.

The paper can be read in full here.

Monday, 2 August 2010

The Victoria Tower

The Clock Tower, often wrongly referred to as Big Ben, is one of the most well known towers in the world. At the other end of the Palace if Westminster is the Victoria Tower . It is 98m (323 ft) high - with a flagstaff adding a further 22m. It was not merely built to provide symmetry to the New Palace - but was custom designed to hold the parliamentary archives. [the rules for architects who had entered the competition to design a new palace to replace the one largely burned down in the disastrous fire of 16th October 1834 stated that the palace should include "fireproof repositories for books and documents"]. Today there are 5.5 miles of shelving - some in specially temperature and humidity controlled rooms - holding the archives which start in 1497. It is estimated that it is now 80% full!

Details of the holdings can be accessed here.
Click here for a history of the Parliamentary Archive

There is an online virtual tour of the tower accessible here. A souvenir booklet to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the completition of the tower will be produced towards the end of 2010.