Thursday 22 December 2011

Enjoy the Holidays

This post was posted (ok, allow me to let you into a little secret - it is possible to write a post, and to have it go live at some specific point in the future. This is an example of that) at the exact time of the Winster Solstice 2011 [05:30 UTC or as we Brits would prefer "GMT - Greenwich Mean Time"].

It is an appropriate time to sign off for the Christmas Holidays - which themselves were based on the dating of the winter solstice - the Biblical accounts of the birth of Christ giving no clues as to when it occurred. I should like to send my best wishes for the holiday season.

Washminster will return in the New Year - which promises to be an interesting one! I use the traditional greeting which includes the perhaps optimist wish for a "prosperous New Year", but UK, US, EU & French legislatures need to be addressing how to bring this about - or they will come under increasing challenge!

Wednesday 21 December 2011


Today is the anniversary of the Pilgrim Father's arrival at Plymouth Rock - in 1620. Their journey had begun many years earlier. The first attempt to escape England was in 1607 when members of the separatist church in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire tried to (illegally) flee the country via Boston, Lincolnshire. They walked across country, paid the captain of a ship to take them to Holland - they were taken onto the ship, but he then betrayed them - which is how they came to be imprisoned in the town & brought before the court in the Guildhall.

The next year they successfully escaped to Holland - where the group (and worshipped) for over a decade. In 1620 - after much planning - they set out for America. The last place their ships left in England was Plymouth in Devon. A website dedicated to the Mayflower Pilgrims in Plymouth, Devon - can be accessed here.

Tuesday 20 December 2011

Oh Christmas Tree...

A few photos of Christmas trees

Westminster - from the West

Outside Westminster Hall
US Congress
US Congress ...from afar
European Parliament (Brussels)

Monday 19 December 2011

Migration to the UK

The first examinable chapter of "Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship" begins with a section called "Migration to Britain". It points out the long history of immigration - highlighting the safe haven given to refugees fleeing from persecution. The Huguenots (French Protestants who fled when massacres and  bans threatened their existence) and Jews (fleeing from Russia 1880-1910 and Germany under the Nazis) are mentioned - and Irish immigration resulting from famines is also discussed. (It would be ungallant of me to point out that Britain produced its own persecuted refugees - the Pilgrim Fathers didn't leave because Holland then New England had pleasanter climates! - or that the welcome received by some refugees was less than generous - see Anita Roddick's comments on the Daily Mail or the "No Irish Need Apply" notices which were rife in England. One may also wonder how much English mismanagement led to the economic problems that led to decades of exodus from Ireland).

Information is given about who has come in recent years, and where from - and unlike the popular image (thanks to the stereotyping of the likes of the Daily Mail and Daily Express) - major influxes of immigrants have come from countries like the USA and Australia.

The Book reminds those seeking to take the British Citizenship Test to

"Check that you understand:-

1 some of the historical reasons for immigration to the UK
2 some of the reasons for immigration to the UK since 1945
3 the main immigrant groups coming to the UK since 1945, the countries they came from and kind of work they did."

Saturday 17 December 2011

Should Math(s) be taught at school?

This video has been circulating amongst Maths Education specialists

There have been a number of books appearing in recent - Al Gore's "The Assault on Reason"; Susan Jacoby's, "The Age of American Unreason". This video is, thankfully, a spoof (although it satirises the answers to a question really put to the 2011 Miss USA contestants - "Should evolution be taught in schools?") - the original can be found here.

Friday 16 December 2011

The Washington Metro

I love travelling on the Washington Metro (OK there are times - in the rushhour when I've waited for a seemingly unending time in L'Enfant Plaza making the connection between the train from Capitol South on the Blue Line to the yellow line to Huntington, when loads of green trains come through & the platform is full - and when my train finally arrives there are no seats - that I have less than generous thoughts). Mainly it's good fun. On my early visits to the City I would ride the Metro discovering new areas on the weekends when Congress was closed. (I fell in love with Rockville as a result of riding the Red Line.

There is a very useful website - http://www.wmata.com/ which has details of the system and the various stations. As I write at my side is the very informative "StationMasters DC Area Metrorail Atlas".

GoRemy has written and performed a great song about the Metro - a little critical - but tongue in cheek, and I enjoy watching it out of affection for the Metro.

Thursday 15 December 2011

The Making of the United Kingdom

The first chapter of "Life in the United Kingdom" - which is non-examinable - deals with the meanings of the various terms often applied to the country - UK; British Isles; Britain; Great Britain. Although used interchangeably, they have precise meanings.  The "United Kingdom" is the correct name of the State. The British Isles also include the independent state of Ireland, whereas Great Britain strictly refers to the main island (excluding therefore Northern Ireland - a part of the UK and other offshore islands)

A high speed history is given in the following sections

- Early Britain: from the arrival of man to the Norman Conquest in the 11th Century
- The Middle Ages: from late 11th Century to 1485
- The Early Modern Period: from the accession of Henry VII (accession is the polite term - he invaded England & overthrew Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. (see my post of April 2011), his right to the throne by blood was pretty weak) to 1688.
- Stability and the Growth of Empire: from the reign of William & Mary (another Foreign led and financed invasion to replace a King who had outlived his welcome) to the outbreak of the First World War
- The Twentieth Century: mistitled section, as it only covers 1914 to 1945! (though an important period)
- Politics in Britain since 1945: from Labour taking power in 1945 to the last Labour Government (remember that the current edition is from 2007. I'm sure a new edition can't be far off)

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Things to do in Washington

One of my friends is preparing to spend a few months working in Washington DC - and asked if I had any special recommendations for places to see or visit (or eat at). I could fill a year's worth of Washminster posts on the subject - and have already written much -

I wrote a post in October 2009 about my favourite places to eat.

St Elmos Coffee Pub isn't actually in DC - it is in the Del Ray area of Alexandria (nearest Metro stop - Braddock Road). I've posted a few times about this coffee shop that I could while away many hours in. The staff are friendly; it has a vibrant atmosphere - and great coffee and food. My favourite post was made in
Jan 2011

There are many branches of Starbucks which I have enjoyed visiting - the one on Capitol Hill has a very special atmosphere - I posted about this in Jan 2010. I have enjoyed many breakfast coffees at the branch closest to Bob Carr's office (Starbucks - 2109 M Street Northwest, Washington).

Ben' Chili Bowl is a must visit - see my post from October 2009 - and Chef Geoff has a wonderful jazz brunch - at which I have celebrated a couple of birthdays.

The city is full of interesting Monuments - I've often stood at the side of the Washington Monument (see video) but have never been up. Each time I visit I say I will - after the earthquake - I'm not going to put it off again (assuming it has reopened). A dramatic video of the earthquake seen from inside is available here - nothing happens for quite a while - and then!

Both the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial are inspirational. I always visit the graves of the Kennedy's, but Arlington Cemetry itself is a very special place.

As I wrote in February 2009 -

"There is so much history there - if you stand at the base of the Washington Monument you can see - just by moving your eyes, not even your head - the White House; Congress; the Lincoln Memorial and Arlington Cemetery. Scenes of some of the most important events in our lifetimes. A visit to see the Senate and the House of Representatives is a must! Thanks to my friends I have become interested in the US Civil War - and as well as researching the role of the Committee on the Conduct of the War during one of my visits - most of the key battlefields are within easy driving distance.

For more information on visiting the area go to


Tuesday 13 December 2011

An interesting Legislative History

Last night I received this email as a member of APSA's Legislative Studies Section - and I thought it might be of interest

I'm happy to post the message below at the request of Prof. Arthur Hellman (law, Pittsburgh), who thought legislative studies scholars might be interested in what he has to report. Like a relatively recent previous post, this concerns statutes involving court jurisdiction, not exactly the sort of thing that legislative studies scholars usually study, but what Prof. Hellman has to say about the process involved makes it very relevant, and it expands as well the topics at which we look.  Prof. Hellman modestly fails to point out that this is the second time this year in which legislation containing some of his ideas has been enacted; most of us would feel fortunate to have that happen once in our lifetime.  If you wish further details or havequestions for Prof. Hellman, e-mail him at hellman@pitt.edu.   

Steve Wasby

(Stephen L. Wasby, professor emeritus, University at Albany; residing at Eastham, Mass.)

* * * * * * * * * 

President Obama has just signed H.R. 394, the Federal Courts Jurisdiction and Venue Clarification Act of 2011 (JVCA). The new law – officially Pub. L. No. 112-63 – embodies the most far-reaching package of revisions to the Judicial Code since the Judicial Improvements Act of 1990. The amendments deal primarily with removal and venue. From a legislative studies perspective, the bill’s greatest interest may lie in its long and convoluted history and particularly in the unconventional process that shaped its final content. It’s also noteworthy that the new law is the product of a collaboration between Congress and the Federal Judiciary.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith, the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, but it was largely drafted by a committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States. The history is nicely summarized on pp. 2-3 of the House Judiciary Committee Report (linked below). The following are some highlights of the legislation, which will apply to newly filed actions starting 30 days after enactment.

-- The Act revises the statutory provision dealing with the removal of civil actions that include both federal and unrelated state claims.  To protect the defendant’s right to remove the federal claims – and to avoid constitutional problems that some courts have perceived – the new provision requires severance and remand of claims not within the original or supplemental jurisdiction of the district court.

-- The Act codifies the judicially created “rule of unanimity” for removal in cases involving multiple defendants and gives each defendant 30 days to initiate removal. This resolves resolving a longstanding conflict in the lower courts over the deadline for removal when different defendants are served at different times. (Within the last year, three circuits have issued published opinions on the question, dividing two circuits to one.)

-- It resolves several issues relating to the determination of the amount in controversy when the defendant removes a civil action based on diversity.

-- It adopts a carefully-crafted “bad faith” exception to the statutory provision prohibiting removal of a diversity case more than one year after filing.

-- It completely rewrites the statute's venue chapter, finally abolishing a the hairsplitting distinction between backup venue in diversity and federal-question cases and also doing away with a separate provision dealing with “local” as opposed to “transitory” actions.  It will be of interest to political scientists that this change partially abrogates the Supreme Court decision in Hoffman v. Blaski, 363 U.S. 335 (1960), by authorizing transfer of venue to a district where the action could not have been brought initially, as long as all parties consent.

-- As to the original jurisdiction of the district courts, the Act revises the resident-alien proviso to avoid the interpretative and even constitutional problems generated by the current language, added by a 1988 amendment to the Judicial Code. With unusual candor, the House Judiciary Committee Report acknowledges that the purpose of the vetting process in the latter stages of the bill’s evolution was “to identify and delete those provisions that were considered controversial by prominent legal experts and advocacy groups.” I particularly regret the deletion of two provisions that would have allowed a plaintiff to avoid removal based on diversity by filing a “declaration” (i.e. stipulation) reducing the amount in controversy below the statutory minimum, now $75,000. One of the provisions would have applied in state courts to forestall removal; the other would have operated in federal courts to encourage remand. Perhaps these provisions will resurface in future jurisdictional legislation.

For those who are interested in the technicalities of legislation: Final passage of H.R. 394 was delayed by the need to resolve a conflict with the “Holmes Group fix” enacted as part of the Leahy-Smith America Invents Act (AIA) that President Obama signed in September. The AIA added a new section 1454 to Chapter 89 authorizing removal of state-court actions involving patent and copyright claims. H.R. 394 also added a new section 1454, this one specifying the procedure for removing criminal cases.
 (The contents of the new section are currently included in section 1446.) A Senate amendment to H.R. 394 changed the number of the criminal removal section to 1455. Link to House Report on H.R. 394:

Monday 12 December 2011

Life in the UK - The Book

The current edition of "Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship" applies from April 2007. The tests are only based on chapters 2 to 6 (I've highlighted them below in bold).

The stucture

Chap 1 - The Making of the UK: a brief history of the lands which today make up the UK

Chap 2 - A Changing Society: looks at how UK society is changing as a result of immigration; the changing role of women and the growth of a new generation.

Chap 3 - UK Today: A profile: looks at population; the nations and regions; religions and some customs and traditions.

Chap 4 - How the United Kingdom is governed: deals with the institutions encompassed by 'the British Constitution' and relations with the rest of the world.

Chap 5 - Everyday Needs: a brief overview of how everyday needs - Housing; services in and for the home; money and credit; health; education; Leisure; travel and transport - are delivered.

Chap 6 - Employment: overview of how it is looked for and summary of main employment laws.

Chap 7 - Knowing the Law: an introduction to the legal system and rights and duties not covered in earlier chapters.

Chap 8 - Sources of Help & Information: useful quick guide

Chap 9 - Building Better Communities: a brief guide to the contribution that individuals can make to improving life in Britain.

Saturday 10 December 2011

The British Citizenship Test

In order to acquire British citizenship and settle in the UK permanently, it is now necessary to pass the "British Citizenship test". This is a 24 multiple choice test (the questions are randomly selected by computer) and 18 questions must be answered correctly in order to pass (75%). A book "Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship" is the basis for the test. Officially produced materials are available from The Stationery Office.

There is, for £3.99 "The Official Life in the UK Test" app available (press here).
Of course, if you were born a British citizen - then you NEVER have to take the test. I guess it's true of many countries - often citizens by choice know more about the country - and how its government works - than many who are entitled to citizenship by birth and who have always lived here. My fear is that in the UK ignorance of our system is regarded as both acceptable - and even taken pride in. (As a political campaigner I've heard so many times the comment "I don't know anything about politics" - often accompanied by a look that implies - "and I couldn't give a ****"). Who benefits from this rejoicing in ignorance? Not the individuals who express it - but it's useful for politicians and the others who actually get to exercise power. If people knew, they might be less willing to put up with what is done in their name.

An attempt was made to encourage the teaching of citizenship in schools. It became a statutory part of the 11-16 curriculum - but that is now under review by the Government. There are many concerns about its future. (For further information see here).

Are you British? How would you fare on the test? Try it here

Over the coming weeks I will be exploring some of the topics in the Life in the 'United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship book'

Friday 9 December 2011

How much does a Parliamentary Question cost?

As a former Organisation & Methods Analyst, I approach giving a figure with a certain amount of trepidation. Costing involves calculations based on certain assumptions. It needs to take into account the costs of the individual(s) involved's time to do the work and the costs of the infrastructure needed for the task to be accomplished. I used to be horrified when colleagues would propose "savings" of millions of pounds based on eliminating a handful of steps in a procedure carried out in all our branches. The savings were illusory - the employees worked the same hours and received the same annual income - AND new costs might arise from not doing those steps, or from new steps or procedures which might become necessary. Risks of things going wrong might arise - but the bland claim of "savings" was still made. (and when I was a Councillor, I found that the same thing happened - claims of savings were made - but the inevitable costs (and few of them were truly 'unforeseeable consequences') were not mentioned.

So do take with a pinch of salt the claims that the average cost of written answers is £149 and £410 for an oral question. The figures include an element which would be paid whether there were few or many questions.

But, however the cost is calculated, it is true that dealing with and answering questions is expensive. Whoever said that democracy and accountability comes cheaply. We would be better concentrating upon the quality (in terms of usefulness of the information provided and scrutiny achieved) than on relatively meaningless headline "costs".

Thursday 8 December 2011


Last night I enjoyed watching the "Party Games" episode of "Yes Minister" (the Christmas Special of 1984 - in which the climax is the phonecall that confirms that he is to be the new Prime Minister.)Well worth buying the complete set of 'Yes Minister' and 'Yes, Prime Minister' (a much better guide to how British politics and government works than many textbooks on the subject!)

In this episode in order to gain popularity he misrepresents a European Directive - and promises to stand against it. It's a tool that 'Yes Minister' was satirising 27 years ago - and is still a staple part of the British political scene. (Just look at the media & parliament in the last few days as we approach the European Summit.)

It is an effective technique (and I'm sorry to say even some pro-Europe politicians have used it for short term gain) - but has unfortunate consequences. Euroscepticism has flourished - and misunderstandings about the EU (the classic is the confusion between the EU Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights - which as a law lecturer I have to deal with frequently.)

I recently made a complaint to the BBC about a short item on the Steve Wright Show in which Dr Hilary Jones had attacked the an "EU directive" (and Steve Wright had joined in)

My complaint read:

Complaint Summary: Dr Hilary Jones' comments on EU (1 hr 39 mins)

Full Complaint: Yet another euromyth is being repeated by an "expert" on the BBC. In responding to a tabloid story about water Dr Jones stated "The EU directive is complete nonsense, it is absolute madness" The listening public might assume that this was a considered opinion based on reading the report. This would not appear to be the case. It is no wonder that people have a poor view of the EU. My concern is that inaccurate descriptions and glib uninformed remarks have political consequences. Our national dialogue about the EU ang government in general is being corrupted by this sort of nonsense which you have broadcast. The Regulation in question can be accessed at http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2011:299:0001:0003:EN:PDF Further background can be found at http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/the-lay-scientist/2011/nov/18/1?newsfeed=true

I received this response yesterday

Dear Mr Morgan

Reference CAS-1118986-L5VWYF

I have listened to the Steve Wright Show and the comments you have raised.

The item was slightly tongue-in-cheek but was based on an EU report designed to prevent commercial bottlers from profiting from claims. The BBC did not report the story although the Daily Telegraph did:

The Telegraph has its own standpoint on Europe of course, but the angle they took is interesting. Clearly story headline is designed as an attention grabber.

In listening back I think the light-hearted tone was appropriate (this is an entertainment programme) and was not misleading as they did mention the commercial angle which the report and ruling were designed to address. However, taken at face value it does seem to be a report that would naturally attract ridicule. Although there is no anti-EU bias that I am aware of, I will pass your comments to the producer so that he is reminded that we do need to maintain balance, especially at the moment.
Lord Reith's aim was that the BBC should to "educate, inform and entertain" - do they have the balance right today? In "Yes Minister" they exposed the deliberate misrepresentation of European affairs as a political strategy, today are they pandering to it?

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Update on LASPO

This blog has been following the Legal Aid; Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Bill in the House of Lords. The committee stage will begin just before the House breaks for the Christmas Recess. As amendments are submitted for consideration (and unlike the House of Commons where the selection of amendments for debate is a matter for the Speaker or the Chairman presiding over that Public Bill Committee - all amendments can be discussed - though by mutual consent they may be put together in group of similar amendments and debated together) - they are listed under Amendment papers (here).

It's worth reading through some of the amendments. In order to see how they make changes - you will need to download a copy of the Bill (download here)

Amendments make reference to clauses - these are the main building blocks of a bill (and become "Sections" when the bill becames an Act of Parliament.

For example clause 27 is preceded by

27 Position of providers of services

On the right hand side of the page are numbers (5, 10, 15....). These are the line numbers.

So to find The following amendment -

Clause 11

Page 8, line 18, leave out “may” and insert “must”

Go to page 8 of the bill - and on line 18 (which is in clause 11) the word currently in the bill is "may", Lord Bach & Lord Beecham which to delete the word may (which gives a discretionary power) and replace it by "must" (an obligation)

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Mind Mapping

During the "revision season" for my W200 and W201 Open University, I extolled the advantages of Mind Maps and used them to illustrate some key revision topics. I will be doing the same in the New Year when the courses begin for 2012.

If you are going to be a student next year (or continuing your studies) - it's worth considering now whether they would work for you.

I wrote in August "I have MindMaps loaded on my home PC and on my iPad.

It may work for you - it may not. Each of us has our own learning style. For me it works - and works VERY well. In fact I am now using my computer mindmaps to draw together the research I have collected - as I write up my thesis for my Ph.D. So I have quite detailed MindMaps for each of the Congresses and Parliaments since 1974 - and for each of the Chief/Majority Whips; and for the key theories I have been using and developing. It has made the process of writing up so much easier for me. I also find it an invaluable "thinking device".
 Previously, I found them most useful for exam revision - thankfully I'm not facing any exams in the near future - but if you are - or you have a friend who is - then it's worth considering whether Mind Maps can help."

For further information - and a free trial press here.

Monday 5 December 2011

The Daily Digest

If you thought that reading Hansard took a long time - try the Congressional Record. Not only does it record what was actually said - but Members can have "Extensions of Remarks" inserted - allowing them to put on record reports, letters, books - in fact anything they want.

However help is at hand if you want a summary of what was done on a particular day - and what is coming up. Each sitting day (and remember that the House of Representatives and the Senate do not necessarily sit on the same days) the Daily Digest is produced. It can be read in PDF format (which I find very useful).

The Digest sets out, for each chamber, a summary of "Chamber Action" and "Committee Meetings" - references to the page numbers in the Congressional Record are given. When available, details of "Next Meetings" are given.

Friday 2 December 2011

Thursday 1 December 2011

Prelude to the Magna Carta

On Tuesday I was able to spend a day in the beautiful and historic Bury St Edmunds. If you are in the area, it is well worth a visit. It has that lovely "olde Englishe towne" feel (plus a Starbucks!).

On November 20th 1214 (according to Roger of Wendover), a number of the Barons met in the Abbey Church and swore an oath to force King John to sign a charter of Liberties - which they did a few months later on the banks of the River Thames at Runnymede. An oath was taken at the High Altar next to the shrine of St Edmund (who was at the time recognised as the patron saint of England - he was replaced by St George less than 6 years later). Archbishop Stephen Langton (Archbishop of Canterbury) administered the oath.

The Abbey and the many monastic houses that surrounded it are now in ruins - but they can be visited in the Abbey Gardens adjacent to the current Cathedral. Historical details can be found here.

A map of historic Bury St Edmunds can be accessed here and a virtual tour of the town is here.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Watling Street

This blog is often written at my home in Furzton, an area of the "New" City of Milton Keynes. (Some posts are written while I'm working away (for example the video posted yesterday was recorded whilst away just outside St Neots in Cambridge) or from Westminster.

While MK is a new city, in the sense that it is England's newest, and completely planned, city - it was formally designated as a "new town" on January 23rd 1967 - and has grown to 245,000 (2011 estimate) - it includes many sites of historic interest. Click here to see the Washminster post on the Roman Villa at Bancroft (very close to the "concrete cows").

Furzton is bordered by Watling Street - perhaps the most most important Roman road in England. It ran from the ports in Kent to Londinium (London) to Wroxeter on the border with Wales. Late it became the main route to Ireland - ending at Holyhead. Most of the route is now the A5.

In the Borough of Milton Keynes the main Roman settlement on Watling Street was Magiovinium, just to the south of Fenny Stratford - where the River Ouzel crosses Watling Street. (the garden centre Dobbies is on part of the site). The route (which of course, being a Roman road, was straight) goes in a north westerly direction until the crossing of the Great Ouse at Stony Stratford. This was itself to become an important centre in English history (Richard III - when he was Duke of Gloucester - intercepted and took into "protective custody" his 12 year old nephew, Edward V - at a inn in the town - the Rosé and Crown)

However, the town is of Saxon origin. Roman remains discovered north of the river suggest that "Old Stratford" (in Northamptonshire) was an administrative post on the ford across the Great Ouse. When England was split between an English Kingdom and Danelaw (Treaty of Alfred and Guthrum c 878) - the border was the Great Ouse from Bedford until Stony Stratford, whereupon Watling Street became the border (going northwards).

The Loughton Brook crosses Watling Street close to what is now Furzton Lake. I am trying to ascertain whether this is Harford Bridge - which appears on page 52 in "Britannia Depicta" of 1720. Any assistance would be appreciated (please email - friend@washminster.com)

Tuesday 29 November 2011

First Reading

The series on how law is made in the UK moves to the introduction of a Bill to the House of Commons.

Bills can also start their parliamentary progress in the House of Lords. That procedure will be looked at in a later video.

Previous videos in the series are

Introduction to the series
Getting on the Agenda
Before Introduction

A video on 1st Reading can be accessed here.

Monday 28 November 2011

Online access to (sometimes ancient) Hansard

Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield (a greatly respected historian) put done the following written question which was answered last week -

To ask the Chairman of Committees "what assessment he has made of the possibility of providing greater electronic access for the public to historic Hansard data on Millbank Systems' experimental web domain; what plans have been made to host the information on the parliamentary website; and what steps are being taken to digitise data that are not currently available on the experimental website." [HL13352]

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): "The Historic Hansard web pages and search engine are hosted on Millbank Systems' web domain on behalf of Parliament and are available to all users of the web. The service is supported on a "best endeavours" basis. PICT and staff from the departments of Information Services of both Houses are currently investigating the options for maintaining and enhancing the current service, and for placing the technical support arrangements on a more sustainable footing. Work is also under way to safeguard the Historic Hansard XML data and page images through the digital preservation project, which is led by the Parliamentary Archives. One of the options under consideration for Historic Hansard would involve integrating the historic web pages with the archive of more recent Hansard material on the website and enabling users to browse and search across the full Hansard record in a more seamless fashion. The timescales, benefits and costs of that approach are being assessed. This project, along with others, has been included in a digitisation programme, which will review requests to digitise parliamentary material currently only available in hard copy. Digitised content from these projects will be added to the main parliamentary website or through partnership websites so that it is easier for users to access the material. More information about the various projects included in this programme of work will be published on the intranet in due course."

I should like to commend and recommend the website - I have used it extensively for my own research (particularly for my current work on whips - and for the paper I wrote for the last Wroxton Conference
(9th Workshop of Parliamentary Scholars & Parliamentarians) "The First Labour Group in the House of Lords, 1924").

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Thanksgiving Holiday

Washminster will be taking an extended Thanksgiving break - and will return on Monday. In the meantime do feel free to explore "Washminster's archives" - posts go back for over four and a half years - and can be accessed through the search facility on the right - or below that by browsing through the Blog Archive.

You might want to visit earlier Thanksgiving postings such as

2009 - The British roots of Thanksgiving
2007 - Pardons and 2010 more on pardons of turkeys

Best wishes


Tuesday 22 November 2011

Yesterday in Parliament

I spent many hours yesterday watching proceedings in the House of Lords from the public gallery. Before we were admitted the Lord Speaker's Ceremony took place where she was escorted from her rooms at the southern end of the Palace through Princes' Chamber; along the "Not Content" Lobby (Votes are taken in what is normally a corridor) into the Peers Lobby and finally into the Chamber where she took her seat. Visitors were then escorted from the Peers Lobby upstairs - but we were not admitted until prayers had been completed. In the Westminster Parliament, only Members and certain officials are allowed in while prayers are in progress. Finally we were allowed into the gallery - and Question Time began.

In the Commons questions are directed at Ministers from a specific Government Department. In the Lords they are to "the Government". Thirty minutes are set aside for oral questions. Four Members get to put a question which has been submitted in advance. The Minister's initial reply must be in less than 75 words. Then supplementaries begin - first from the person who had put down the initial question - then from others. After seven or eight minutes (or less if there are no further Peers wishing to ask a supplementary) the next question is taken.

There was a small amount to business to be dealt with before the big debate of the day began. Yesterday it was the Second Reading of the Legal Aid; Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. My post of last Wednesday has the background to this controversial bill.

It is well worth watching or reading the debate - particularly if you are a law student - but also if you are a citizen. There are many important issues involved - and at its heart, the importance of the ability to enforce rights. Magna Carta was quoted (and in the chamber statues of the Barons who forced King John to sign that groundbreaking document, look down upon proceedings). Many references were made to Lord Bingham's excellent book - "The Rule of Law".

The committee stage of the Bill will start soon - and I'll be reporting from it for Washminster.

Monday 21 November 2011

The Week Ahead

It's going to be quite a week politically.

The "Super Committee" tasked with coming up with an agreement to reduce the US budget deficit must act this week- the deadline is on Wednesday (the day before the Thanksgiving Holiday). In order for congressional action - the real deadline is today.

The Guardian was reporting last night -

"The bipartisan committee tasked with reducing America's $15tn (£9.5tn) budget deficit looks close to admitting defeat as its deadline looms.
The committee, created in August, has until Wednesday to report a plan to cut $1.2tn from the nation's deficit. Failure to do so will trigger automatic cuts to defence and social welfare programmes starting in 2013."

In the UK the controversial Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill will come up for Second Reading in the House of Lords today. As I will be down in Westminster all day - it is unlikely that I will be able to update Washminster during the day. When I can - I will tweet on WM_Alert. US news can be followed on Politico and RollCall .

The agendas for the following week are available for

Westminster Parliament
Assemblee nationale, France (from p2)
House of Representatives, USA

Sunday 20 November 2011

Basil D'Oliveira

Yesterday we learnt that the cricket player, Basil D'Oliveira had passed away at the age of 83. I remember watching him as a youngster who frequently spent much of his summer at Edgbaston Cricket Ground. At that time he was still playing county cricket for Worcestershire. He was a superb player - but was also renowned as an individual who played an important role in the battle against Apartheid in his native country of South Africa.

The BBC Obituary reads -

"Born in South Africa, he moved to England in 1960 because of to the lack of opportunities for non-white players.

In 1968 he was named in England's squad to tour South Africa which was then cancelled as the ruling National Party refused to accept his presence.

D'Oliveira played county cricket for Worcestershire between 1964-80 and represented England in 44 Tests, scoring 2,484 runs at an average of 40.

The headlines made by D'Oliveira in 1968 marked the start of South Africa's sporting isolation.

After being added to the England squad as a replacement for the injured Tom Cartwright the South African government made it clear a 'Cape coloured' would not be welcome.

The tour was called off and the incident culminated in a ban on sporting ties with South Africa which would last until the early 1990s. No official team from any country subsequently toured South Africa until apartheid was abolished following Nelson Mandela's release from prison in 1990."

Saturday 19 November 2011


Personally, one of my favourite speeches is that made by Tony Blair in 1999 - the so called "forces of conservatism" speech, in which he said:

"For the 21st century will not be about the battle between capitalism and socialism but between the forces of progress and the forces of conservatism.

They are what hold our nation back. Not just in the Conservative Party but within us, within our nation.

The forces that do not understand that creating a new Britain of true equality is no more a betrayal of Britain's history than New Labour is of Labour's values.

The old prejudices, where foreign means bad.
Where multi-culturalism is not something to celebrate, but a left-wing conspiracy to destroy their way of life. Where women shouldn't work and those who do are responsible for the breakdown of the family.
 The old elites, establishments that have run our professions and our country too long. Who have kept women and black and Asian talent out of our top jobs and senior parts of Government and the Services. Who keep our bright inner city kids from our best universities. And who still think the House of Lords should be run by hereditary peers in the interests of the Tory Party.

The old order, those forces of conservatism, for all their language about promoting the individual, and freedom and liberty, they held people back. They kept people down. They stunted people's potential. Year after year. Decade after decade."

So what explains the strength of "conservative" ideology? - and neither I, nor Blair, mean it in the narrow sense of the British Conservative Party. It was rampant in the Russian Communist Party, in some Trade Unions - and in organsations who called themselves progressive. It's a mindset which seeks to protect what existed in the same - at, some argue, the expense of the future.

C-SPAN recently broadcast a very interesting programme in which Corey Robin discusses the nature and history of conservatism. It's a thought provoking programme - I've already listened to it twice. Please do send me YOUR comments (jdavidmorgan@googlemail.com)

The broadcast can be watched here.

Friday 18 November 2011

English in the European Parliament

The Open University have produced this video about the use of the English language in the European Parliament.

This is one of the many videos that they make freely available at their OULearn Channel site. The English Language website of the EP is available here - with links to members; current legislation and other activities of the Parliament.

Thursday 17 November 2011

The Conquest

Last Saturday I went down to London - both to go to a concert which was part of the London Jazz Festival (a recording of "Jazz Line Up" - available in the UK, at least, until Sunday here) and to watch the French film "La Conquete" at Cine Lumiere in Kensington.

The film is about Nicolas Sarkozy's road to the Elysee Palace. I thoroughly recommend watching it - it has excellent portrayals of President Chirac; Dominique de Villepin and Nicolas Sarkozy - and is a great primer for the Presidential election which draws ever closer.

(This is the version with English Subtitles - but the VO is also available on Amazon)

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Legal Aid, Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Bill

This controversial, and far reaching bill, is due to have its Second Reading on Monday (21st November). There are a number of concerns about the effects of measures in the Bill. Below are a number of links to the Bill and reports about its repercussions.

The Bill
Explanatory Notes to the Bill

Justice for All Briefing
SCOPE Report - Legal Aid in Welfare
Law Society - on the costs of the "savings"
Rights, Welfare & Law. Legal Aid Advocacy in Austerity Britain by Prof. Deborah James & Dr Alice Forbess (LSE)
Law Centres Federation
Article from Law Society Gazette on proposed MANDATORY telephone gateway for civil legal aid.
National Accident Helpline Briefing on Referral Fees

Tuesday 15 November 2011

Prayers in the House of Lords

Once the Lord Speaker has arrived upon the Woolsack at the start of business in the House of Lords, Prayers are said by one of the Church of England Bishops. Unlike the US Congress, these are said only before Members and certain officials - the public may not come in to the galleries until they are finished - and they are not made up on the day. The Companion lays down what is said

One of the following:

Psalms 1, 15, 24, 34 (vv. 1-8), 46, 66 (vv. 1-14, 18), 67, 93, 95 (vv. 1-7), 100, 111, 112 (vv. 1-6), 119 (vv. 33-40), 121, 145 (vv. 1-6 and 21).
The Lord be with you.
And with thy Spirit.
Let us pray.

Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, in earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

O Lord our heavenly Father, high and mighty, King of kings, Lord of lords, the only Ruler of princes, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth; most heartily we beseech thee with thy favour to behold our most Gracious Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth; and so replenish her with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that she may always incline to thy will, and walk in thy way: Endue her plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant her in health and wealth long to live; strengthen her that she may vanquish and overcome all her enemies; and finally after this life she may attain everlasting joy and felicity, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty God, the Fountain of all Goodness, We humbly beseech thee to bless Philip Duke of Edinburgh, Charles Prince of Wales and all the Royal Family: Endue them with thy Holy Spirit; enrich them with thy Heavenly Grace; prosper them with all happiness; and bring them to thine everlasting kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty God, by whom alone Kings reign, and Princes decree justice; and from whom alone cometh all counsel, wisdom, and understanding; we thine unworthy servants, here gathered together in thy Name, do most humbly beseech thee to send down thy Heavenly Wisdom from above, to direct and guide us in all our consultations; and grant that, we having thy fear always before our eyes, and laying aside all private interests, prejudices, and partial affections, the result of all our counsels may be to the glory of thy blessed Name, the maintenance of true Religion and Justice, the safety, honour, and happiness of the Queen, the publick wealth, peace and tranquillity of the Realm, and the uniting and knitting together of the hearts of all persons and estates within the same, in true Christian Love and Charity one towards another, through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen.

Prevent us, O Lord, in all our doings, with thy most gracious favour, and further us with thy continual help, that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in thee, we may glorify thy Holy Name, and finally by thy mercy obtain everlasting Life, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen.

Monday 14 November 2011

Student Fees (UK)

Many prospective university students are concerned about the hike in university fees from September 2012 - and many myths have circulated. Below is some information reproduced from the Independent Taskforce on Student Finance Information. It may be of use to you (as a pros[pective student or a parent) - or you may know someone who might find it useful - please do share this.

Repayment Calculator

You Can Afford to Go To Uni - Student Guide

How to answer questions about Student Finance 2012 - Teachers' Guide 

Sunday 13 November 2011

Eugene V Debs

This week I've been listening to the C-SPAN podcasts of their series "The Presidential Contenders". One character that particularly interested me was Eugene V Debs - who ran for the presidency as a third party candidate in 1900, 1904, 1908, 1912 & 1920. The programme makes the point that though he didn't succeed at the polls, he was a major influence on US politics - and in bringing issues to the forefront of public debate.

The Eugene V Debs Foundation has an extensive website at http://debsfoundation.org/, which has some interesting background and details of books about him.

On another website there are a collection of quotes from him - these include:

"The issue is Socialism versus Capitalism. I am for Socialism because I am for humanity. We have been cursed with the reign of gold long enough. Money constitutes no proper basis of civilization. The time has come to regenerate society — we are on the eve of universal change."

"Those who produce should have, but we know that those who produce the most — that is, those who work hardest, and at the most difficult and most menial tasks, have the least."

"The Republican and Democratic parties, or, to be more exact, the Republican-Democratic party, represent the capitalist class in the class struggle. They are the political wings of the capitalist system and such differences as arise between them relate to spoils and not to principles."

"Ignorance alone stands in the way of socialist success. The capitalist parties understand this and use their resources to prevent the workers from seeing the light.Intellectual darkness is essential to industrial slavery."

The Video can be watched at http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/DebsP .

Saturday 12 November 2011

Addresses to the Crown

In the words of "The Companion" (to the Standing Orders and Guide to the Proceedings of the House of Lords) "The ordinary method by which the Houses communicate with the Sovereign is by Address".

"The most common form of Address occurs at the beginning of every session in reply to the Queen's Speech. Other forms of Address are those requesting the Queen to make an Order in Council in the form of a draft laid before the House or praying the Queen to annul a negative instrument. There has been an Address for the exercise of the prerogative of mercy. There are also Addresses of condolence or congratulation to the Sovereign on family or public occasions. An Address may also be presented in response to a Royal Message, concerning for example the Civil List or the declaration of a State of Emergency." (Companion 2.23)

These addresses are presented either by Privy Counsellors or members of the Royal Household (Most, but not all Whips are members of the Royal Household - The Deputy Chief Whip in the Commons is the Treasurer of the Household; while the number three and four in the Government Whips Office in the Commons hold the position of Comptroller and Vice-Chamberlain. Government whips in the Lords are also members of the Royal Household.)

Friday 11 November 2011

Legal Privilege and Parliament

Lawyers; Law Students and followers of Parliament may find the following exchanges interesting.

The transcript is available here.

The letter from Dave Hartnett, Permanent Secretary for Tax referred to - which puts HM Revenue & Custom's view on the disclosure of taxpayer confidential information to a Parliamentary Committee is available here.
Any comments would be welcome.

Before Introduction

The third video in the series "How Law is made in the UK". Excellent companions to this video include

Section A & Section B of The Cabinet Office's "Guide to Making Legislation"
The Hansard Society's "Law in the Making" - which sets out some case studies of legislation. (available from the Hansard Society here
Green Papers explained: http://www.parliament.uk/site-information/glossary/green-papers/
White Papers explained: http://www.parliament.uk/site-information/glossary/white-paper/

Thursday 10 November 2011

Parliamentary Reform

Last Thursday I attended a "Parliament Week" event at the Guildhall. It was addressed by the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow. Further speeches were made by Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield (Peter Hennessy, the historian); Lord Desai (Meghnad Desai, Economist) and Michael Cockerell (Journalist and Documentary Maker - The Great Offices of State; The Secret World of Whitehall).

Questions were taken (mine is at 59 mins 50 secs to 1 hr 00 mins 25 secs - I was deliberately provocative - but the point remains, the Lords is very limited in its ability to effectively challenge the Government of the Day).
The BBC Parliament broadcast can be accessed at http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/b0170435/

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Privy Counsellors

I've recently been asked questions, to which the answer is "Privy Counsellors". (see the post on 5th November - "who is entitled to sit on the steps of the Throne in the House of Lords?"; and the other question is "who is referred to as as "Right Honourable?").

So what is a Privy Councillor? The immediate answer is "a member of the Privy Council". Senior Ministers (and often senior backbenchers - such as long standing Chairs of select committees) are given membership. There is also the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which is the court of final appeal for the UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies, and for those Commonwealth countries that have retained the appeal to Her Majesty in Council or, in the case of Republics, to the Judicial Committee.

There is an excellent description of the Privy Council; its history and its membership at http://privycouncil.independent.gov.uk/privy-council/privy-council-members/

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Parliament Act 1911

Last week I attended  the  History of Parliament lecture given by Lord Norton of Louth (Philip Norton) "Resisting the Inevitable? The Parliament Act 1911". It was a very informative and interesting speech - which is available on BBC iPlayer at  http://www.bbc.co.uk/i/b0170422/.

Can I also recommend taking a look at the History of Parliament website, and at Parliament's webpages with resources on the 1911 Act.

Lord Norton blogs on both the Lords of the Blog and his own personal blog.

Monday 7 November 2011

Laying Down the Law

Daniel Greenberg, a Parliamentary Counsel (1991-2010), has written - and Sweet & Maxwell have published "Laying Down the Law" - a very useful detailed guide to how legislation is put together in practice. It would make a useful companion to my current series on How Law is Made in the UK, should you wish to have a much more detailed text.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Birmingham's contribution to Extending Democracy

Yesterday, my daughter and I travelled to Birmingham for one of the out-of-London events for Parliament Week. The Archives & Heritage team within Birmingham Central Library had organised a "Right to Vote Walk" around Birmingham. It was an excellent morning - full of some very interesting places.

Don Hazzard, a historian, gave a fascinating tour of places associated with the campaigns for votes. The Chartists were very active in Birmingham, as were the Suffragettes. We learned about the incredible Thomas Attwood, a local man who was a far-sighted economist and political reformer - and later MP for Birmingham. He was arguing after the Government slashed spending post-the Napoleonic Wars - that such a policy was short-sighted and would lead to greater economic distress. He urged spending to promote a virtuous circle - creating wealth rather than destroying it. As a political reformer he sought the extension of the franchise (sad that in both the UK and the USA there are today, those trying to recreate barriers to voting). The whole morning was a reminder of the great reforming tradition in England (British History isn't just Kings, Military battles and a sanitised version of progress towards Democracy - people had to fight for the freedoms we enjoy today). We also heard about John Bright - another great reformer. He too served as a Birmingham MP.

The picture accompanying this post is of a plaque which is part of a walk around the city's Jewellery Quarter (for more information on this go to - http://bobmiles.bulldoghome.com/pages/bobmiles_bulldoghome_com/index.htm

There is a slight historical inaccuracy - the Chartists actually were later than this incredible mass meeting (just look at the numbers!) - but, the same individuals were involved.

Thanks again to Don Hazzard and Nikki Thorpe from the Archive section of the Central Library for an excellent tour.

Saturday 5 November 2011

The Steps of the Throne

If you watch broadcasts of the House of Lords - you may see individuals sitting on the steps of the throne. Often these are Peers who wish to listen to a debate - but don't want to participate (Technically the steps are not part of the House for the purposes of proceedings).

The Companion to the Standing Orders (referred so simply as "The Companion") sets out who is entitled to sit on the steps -

· members of the House of Lords in receipt of a writ of summons, including those who have not taken their seat or the oath and those who have leave of absence;

· members of the House of Lords who are disqualified from sitting or voting in the House as Members of the European Parliament or as holders of disqualifying judicial office;

· hereditary peers who were formerly members of the House and who were excluded from the House by the House of Lords Act 1999;

· the eldest child (which includes an adopted child) of a member of the House (or the eldest son where the right was exercised before 27 March 2000);

· peers of Ireland;

· diocesan bishops of the Church of England who do not yet have seats in the House of Lords;

· retired bishops who have had seats in the House of Lords;

· Privy Counsellors;

· Clerk of the Crown in Chancery;

· Black Rod and his Deputy;

· the Dean of Westminster.

Friday 4 November 2011

Making Data Understandable

As you may know, I have a particular interest in political communication. (both as an academic - I'm a member of APSA's Political Communication Section & subscribe to a number of academic and practical journals on the subject; and most of all as someone who has been a candidate at local; national and European levels).

One of my great concerns is that a lot of material is sent to prospective voters - is completely wasted. Recently I participated in handing out leaflets at a shopping centre - the material was very worthy; had lots of useful information - but was too crowded with print to encourage anyone to fully read it. I've also noted the (natural) tendency to substitute lots of leaflets for personal contact - a very dangerous path to go down.

To communicate effectively - that is to win hearts and minds - we need to think about what works. I found the following video a useful one - I hope you do too.

The Value of Data Visualization from Column Five on Vimeo.

Thursday 3 November 2011

Getting on the Agenda

The second video which forms part of the series on How Law is Made in the UK....

The three points that need to be made to get any idea "on the agenda" are -

1 It is a good idea
2 It can best (only?) be realised by legislation (as opposed to a change in policy or practice not requiring a statute)
3 The matter is so important that it needs to be given high priority

Wednesday 2 November 2011


Next Tuesday it will be election day in the USA.

Of course this year the elections are not as high profile. 2012 will see a Presidential election; the whole House of Representatives will be up for election; and one third of the Senate.

This year however there is only one Federal election - a primary for the special election in Oregon's 1st Congressional District (The special election (by-election) will be held on 31st January). There are Gubernatorial elections (for the State Governor) in Mississippi and Kentucky - and a handful of States have State and Municipal elections.

Virginia has State Legislative elections (General Assembly) and local elections - further details can be found at the website of the Virginia State Board of Elections ( http://www.sbe.virginia.gov/cms/Index.html). My particular interest is in the Stratford Landing, Mount Vernon area of Fairfax County - where votes are to be cast for

Virginia Senate, 36th District (1)
Virginia House of Delegates, 44th District (1)
Commonwealth's Attorney (1)
Sheriff (1)
Chairman, Board of Supervisors, Fairfax County (1)
Member (Mt Vernon), Board of Supervisors (1)
School Board (at large) (3)
School Board (Mt Vernon) (1)
Soil & Water Conservation Area Director (Northern Virginia District) (3)

and the School Bonds referendum ("Shall the Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County, Virginia, contract a debt, borrow money, and issue capital improvement bonds in the maximum aggregate principal amount of  $252,750,000 for the purposes of providing funds, in addition to funds from school bonds previously authorized and any other available funds, to finance, including reimbursement to the County for temporary financing for, the costs of school improvements, including acquiring, building, expanding and renovating properties, including new sites, new buildings or additions, renovations and improvements to existing buildings, and furnishings and equipment, for the Fairfax County public school system?"

For further details of precincts and candidates press here.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

How Law is Made - Introduction

As promised recently, I begin a new series on how law is made in the UK. This video considers some important principles to keep in mind, and looks briefly at "Sources of Law".

Standing Order 14 (House of Commons: Public Business) reads (full text of Standing Orders available here)

(1) Save as provided in this order, government business shall have precedence at every sitting.

(2) Twenty days shall be allotted in each session for proceedings on opposition business, seventeen of which shall be at the disposal of the Leader of the Opposition and three of which shall be at the disposal of the leader of the second largest opposition party; and matters selected on those days shall have precedence over government business ......
(3A) Thirty-five days or its equivalent shall be allotted in each session for proceedings in the House and in Westminster Hall on backbench business of which at least twenty-seven shall be allotted for proceedings in the House; the business determined by the Backbench Business Committee shall have precedence over government business ......

(4) Private Members’ bills shall have precedence over government business on thirteen Fridays in each session to be appointed by the House.

(5) On and after the eighth Friday on which private Members’ bills have precedence, such bills shall be arranged on the order paper in the following order— consideration of Lords amendments, third readings,
consideration of reports not already entered upon, adjourned proceedings on consideration, bills in
progress in committee, bills appointed for committee, and second readings.

(6) The ballot for private Members’ bills shall be held on the second Thursday on which the House shall sit during the session under arrangements to be made by the Speaker, and each bill shall be presented by the Member who has given notice of presentation or by another Member named by him in writing to the Clerks at the Table, at the commencement of public business on the fifth Wednesday on which the House shall sit during the session.

(7) Until after the fifth Wednesday on which the House shall sit during the session, no private Member shall—
(a) give notice of a motion for leave to bring in a bill under Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to
bring in bills and nomination of select committees at commencement of public business); or
(b) give notice for presenting a bill under Standing Order No. 57 (Presentation and first reading); or
(c) inform the Clerks at the Table of his intention to take charge of a bill which has been brought from the Lords......

Monday 31 October 2011

Halloween in the UK

You often hear people say that "Halloween is an imported American festival". In a sense this is true - many of the practices we see today in Britain were rare when I was a child. November 5th was a much bigger occasion. For weeks before children would make and take from door to door (often very amateurish) effigies asking "a penny for the Guy". Guy Fawkes was the former mercenary who was the person tasked with collecting the gunpowder; guarding it and setting it off - which would have blown the Palace of Westminster up & killed King James I and many of the members of the Houses of Lords and Commons. He was discovered only hours before the attack was due. Since that day, "Guy Fawkes Night" has been celebrated with bonfires and fireworks.

BUT we did celebrate Halloween - there were some games (I remember "Apple-Bobbing" - at which I did not excel) & we had pumpkins - but it is only in recent years that Halloween has eclipsed Guy Fawkes Night and taken on the characteristics of the American holiday. Of course its roots were in celtic practices - and there is an excellent website about the British traditions and history of Halloween.

For more information on Guy Fawkes see previous posts on Washminster - Guy Fawkes; The New Session; and the Bonfire Night website.

Sunday 30 October 2011

Parliament Week

This coming week will see a number of events to celebrate "Parliament Week" (I suspect that the dates were not chosen by accident - November 5th was, by order of Parliament in the 17th Century, to be kept as an annual day of "public thanksgiving to Almighty God...that unfeigned thankfulness may never be forgotten, and that all ages to come may yield praises to God's divine majesty for the same." It was on that day that Guy Fawkes' attempt to blow up Parliament was thwarted in 1605).

Details of the events (which occur across the country) can be found at a special website - http://www.parliamentweek.org/

I hope to be attending a few of the events, both at Westminster and in Birmingham. Do drop me a line if you will be attending any of the events.

Saturday 29 October 2011

How Congress Monitors and Assesses Budgets

The Congressional Budget Office was set up by Congress to give specialist advice on costing and budgetary issues. It reviews legislatives proposals and the budget put forward by the Executive Branch. As a former elected official myself, I know how important it is to challenge the assumptions behind claims about the costs and savings of proposed actions.

The agency is composed primarily of economists and public policy analysts. About three-quarters of its professional staff hold advanced degrees, mostly in economics or public policy.

A fact sheet on the CBO is available here.

CBO Reports are published on its website http://www.cbo.gov/

The Analysis of the President's proposed budget for FY 2012 can be accessed here.

What numbers!

I inputed my date of birth via a link on the BBC News website - and was informed that

When you were born, you were the:

3,012,356,208th person alive on Earth
76,640,530,951st person to have lived since history began

It's a website worth visiting.

Friday 28 October 2011

The Statue of Liberty

Today is the anniversary of the dedication of the Statute of Liberty in 1886 by President Grover Cleveland. The statue, a gift from France, represents the Roman Goddess "Libertas". In France this deity of Freedom is personified as Marianne.

In Poitiers, one of my favourite cities in France, where I was once a visiting lecturer at The Sup de Co, and a student (part time) at the Universite - there is smaller replica of the Statue. If you are ever in that city, it's worth a visit - I did not know of its existence - but a friend, without telling me where I was being taken, surprised me as we turned the corner into La Place de la Liberte. An interactive map of Poitiers is available here.

The National Park Service website for the New York statue is available here.