Saturday 30 April 2011

Words Taken Down (Take Down the Words).

 A Member may demand that the words of another Member be taken down. This typically takes place during debate when one Member believes another Member has violated the rules of decorum in the House. The request requires that the Member’s remarks be read to the House so that the Speaker may determine whether they are offensive or otherwise violate the rules of the House. If the Speaker determines that the words are out of order, the violator is customarily given a chance to withdraw or amend them, and the Member may ask the House for unanimous consent to strike the words from the Congressional Record. If there is objection, a motion may be offered to strike the words from the debate. Upon the demand, the alleged violator must immediately sit down and await the Speaker’s decision. A Member whose words have been ruled out of order may not speak again on the same day without the House’s permission, but the Member can vote.

A Member would say: Mr. Speaker, I rise to a point of order, and ask that the gentleman’s (or gentlelady’s) words be taken down.

(from CRS 'Commonly Used Motions and Requests in the House of Representatives')

Friday 29 April 2011

This weekend in Milton Keynes

This long holiday weekend is also the Milton Keynes Walking Festival. A chance to get out in the fresh and exercise the legs and the lungs - and see what a beautiful city surrounds us. The programme can be found here.

This morning we joined Walk 1 - from Great Linford Manor Park to Newport Pagnell and back - via the canal; Giffard Park; Blakelands; Tongwell Lake; across the Motorway (on a Bridge!); alongside Tongwell Brook and the River Ouzel. We enjoyed a coffee and egg & bacon baguette at the Picture House Cafe in Newport Pagnell - then returned via the Railway Walk.

After a quick lunch at home we joined Walk Five from the carpark by the Furzton carpark off watling Street. Neither my wife nor I had been to Howe Park Wood before - it is beautiful - loads of bluebells are still out. Our journey took us along the Loughton Valley through Furzton and Emerson Valley - then we walked to and from the wood.

There are lots more walks this weekend - and we'll be joining a few. Book now (most are free - some have a £3 fee - email mailto:events@theparkstrust.com

English Heroes - Some Book Recommendations

The Victorians were fond of imposing their version of history. The classic example of this occured in the village of Naseby. I have used in previous posts the picture of the monument commemorating the Battle of the same name. However the village has a second Victorian monument - in the wrong place. It is ridiculously pro-monarchist. If you get a chance to visit the village - have a read,  it can be found on the east side of Clipston Rd, outside the village.

My recommendations are

English Heroes - Oliver Cromwell

Sadly Oliver Cromwell's reputation is tarnished because of his activities in Ireland. There are many who would deny that he deserves that reputation - The Cromwell Association website states - "Biographers of Cromwell have differed on this subject and the truth of what happened is often obscured by myth and legend. It served the interests of both sides at the time to exaggerate the outcomes of Cromwell’s Irish Campaign, and the axiom that truth is the first casualty of war was as applicable in the 17th century as in the 21st."

Whatever the truth about Ireland, He was a key player in the struggle against Charles I's attempts to move England into being an absolute monarchy - as was the 'model' in other European countries. As Professor John Morrill has written - “Cromwell was a man deeply committed to religious liberty and who tried hard to make government accountable to the people. However, like all rulers, he had to deal with real threats, which often resulted in tough action. If Cromwell had held free elections, as groups such as the Levellers desired, the majority of people would have voted for the restoration of the monarchy. Cromwell wanted to teach people the responsibilities of liberty so that they could then be trusted to exercise it properly.”

My recent post on Cromwell - with links to books can be found here
There is a further Washminster post - Oliver Cromwell

English Heroes - John Hampden

Another English hero associated with Aylesbury is John Hampden. He was a leader of the anti-Crown parliamentarians in the House of Commons. It was he who was taken to court over his refusal to pay the Ship Money (on his land in Stoke Mandeville, now part of the town of Aylesbury). The photograph is one I took of his statue in the centre of Aylesbury.

Previous Washminster posts on Hampden can be read via the links below

Who's honoured at Westminster
Constitutional Meat
The Ship Money Case

Hampden is commemorated in America by the naming of the towns of Hampden in Maryland, Connecticut and Maine - and the County of hampden in Massachusetts.

English Heroes - John Wilkes

I have already written a number of posts about John Wilkes - and invite you to review them

John Wilkes
The Good Old Days?
Pennsylvania Places

This photograph is of his home in Aylesbury. It is currently being converted into flats. He served as MP for the town early in his career. There is a short biography and assessment of his life and significance by Jack Lynch - available here.

English Heroes - Thomas Paine

As you would expect (from my earlier post - and my interest in the American Revolution), I am a great admirer of Thomas Paine. There is a good biography of him on the BBC website by Professor John Belchem.

He was born in Thetford, Norfolk - and lived in Sandwich, Kent and Lewes, Sussex. He also lived in Grantham, Lincolnshire; Diss in Norfolk, London and
Grampound in Cornwall.

There is a Thomas Paine Society, whose website can be accessed here.

More substantial biographies and studies are available -

Royal Wedding Day

Want something good to read today if you aren't spending the day watching the TV? (As in 1982, I will be absenting myself from the couch in front of the television or any of the street parties - sadly an attempt to have a non Royal-LoveFest proposed by the Group "Republic" was banned)

My suggestion is Thomas Paine's excellent "Common Sense". It was written in 1776. The full text can be found here - but this is a taster -

"Government by kings was first introduced into the world by the Heathens, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom. It was the most prosperous invention the Devil ever set on foot for the promotion of idolatry. The Heathens paid divine honors to their deceased kings, and the christian world hath improved on the plan by doing the same to their living ones. How impious is the title of sacred majesty applied to a worm, who in the midst of his splendor is crumbling into dust!

As the exalting one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the equal rights of nature, so neither can it be defended on the authority of scripture; for the will of the Almighty, as declared by Gideon and the prophet Samuel, expressly disapproves of government by kings. All anti-monarchical parts of scripture have been very smoothly glossed over in monarchical governments, but they undoubtedly merit the attention of countries which have their governments yet to form. "Render unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar's" is the scripture doctrine of courts, yet it is no support of monarchical government, for the Jews at that time were without a king, and in a state of vassalage to the Romans.

Near three thousand years passed away from the Mosaic account of the creation, till the Jews under a national delusion requested a king. Till then their form of government (except in extraordinary cases, where the Almighty interposed) was a kind of republic administered by a judge and the elders of the tribes. Kings they had none, and it was held sinful to acknowledge any being under that title but the Lord of Hosts. And when a man seriously reflects on the idolatrous homage which is paid to the persons of Kings, he need not wonder, that the Almighty ever jealous of his honor, should disapprove of a form of government which so impiously invades the prerogative of heaven. 

Monarchy is ranked in scripture as one of the sins of the Jews, for which a curse in reserve is denounced against them. The history of that transaction is worth attending to.

The children of Israel being oppressed by the Midianites, Gideon marched against them with a small army, and victory, thro' the divine interposition, decided in his favour. The Jews elate with success, and attributing it to the generalship of Gideon, proposed making him a king, saying, Rule thou over us, thou and thy son and thy son's son. Here was temptation in its fullest extent; not a kingdom only, but an hereditary one, but Gideon in the piety of his soul replied, I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you. THE LORD SHALL RULE OVER YOU. Words need not be more explicit; Gideon doth not decline the honor, but denieth their right to give it; neither doth he compliment them with invented declarations of his thanks, but in the positive stile of a prophet charges them with disaffection to their proper Sovereign, the King of heaven. 

To the evil of monarchy we have added that of hereditary succession; and as the first is a degradation and lessening of ourselves, so the second, claimed as a matter of right, is an insult and an imposition on posterity. For all men being originally equals, no one by birth could have a right to set up his own family in perpetual preference to all others for ever, and though himself might deserve some decent degree of honors of his cotemporaries, yet his descendants might be far too unworthy to inherit them. One of the strongest natural proofs of the folly of hereditary right in kings, is, that nature disapproves it, otherwise, she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule by giving mankind an ass for a lion.

Secondly, as no man at first could possess any other public honors than were bestowed upon him, so the givers of those honors could have no power to give away the right of posterity, and though they might say "We choose you for our head," they could not, without manifest injustice to their children, say "that your children and your children's children shall reign over ours for ever." Because such an unwise, unjust, unnatural compact might (perhaps) in the next succession put them under the government of a rogue or a fool. Most wise men, in their private sentiments, have ever treated hereditary right with contempt; yet it is one of those evils, which when once established is not easily removed; many submit from fear, others from superstition, and the more powerful part shares with the king the plunder of the rest."
About one hundred and thirty years after this, they fell again into the same error. The hankering which the Jews had for the idolatrous customs of the Heathens, is something exceedingly unaccountable; but so it was, that laying hold of the misconduct of Samuel's two sons, who were entrusted with some secular concerns, they came in an abrupt and clamorous manner to Samuel, saying, Behold thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways, now make us a king to judge us like all the other nations. And here we cannot but observe that their motives were bad, viz. that they might be like unto other nations, i. e. the Heathens, whereas their true glory laid in being as much unlike them as possible. But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, Give us a king to judge us; and Samuel prayed unto the Lord, and the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee, for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, THAT I SHOULD NOT REIGN OVER THEM. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt, even unto this day; wherewith they have forsaken me and served other Gods; so do they also unto thee. Now therefore hearken unto their voice, howbeit, protest solemnly unto them and shew them the manner of the king that shall reign over them, i. e. not of any particular king, but the general manner of the kings of the earth, whom Israel was so eagerly copying after. And notwithstanding the great distance of time and difference of manners, the character is still in fashion. And Samuel told all the words of the Lord unto the people, that asked of him a king. And he said, This shall be the manner of the king that shall reign over you; he will take your sons and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen, and some shall run before his chariots (this description agrees with the present mode of impressing men) and he will appoint him captains over thousands and captains over fifties, and will set them to ear his ground and to read his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots; and he will take your daughters to be confectionaries, and to be cooks and to be bakers (this describes the expence and luxury as well as the oppression of kings) and he will take your fields and your olive yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants; and he will take the tenth of your feed, and of your vineyards, and give them to his officers and to his servants (by which we see that bribery, corruption, and favoritism are the standing vices of kings) and he will take the tenth of your men servants, and your maid servants, and your goodliest young men and your asses, and put them to his work; and he will take the tenth of your sheep, and ye shall be his servants, and ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen, AND THE LORD WILL NOT HEAR YOU IN THAT DAY. This accounts for the continuation of monarchy; neither do the characters of the few good kings which have lived since, either sanctify the title, or blot out the sinfulness of the origin; the high encomium given of David takes no notice of him officially as a king, but only as a man after God's own heart. Nevertheless the People refused to obey the voice of Samuel, and they said, Nay, but we will have a king over us, that we may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us, and go out before us, and fight our battles. Samuel continued to reason with them, but to no purpose; he set before them their ingratitude, but all would not avail; and seeing them fully bent on their folly, he cried out, I will call unto the Lord, and he shall send thunder and rain (which then was a punishment, being in the time of wheat harvest) that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great which ye have done in the sight of the Lord, IN ASKING YOU A KING. So Samuel called unto the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel. And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God that we die not, for WE HAVE ADDED UNTO OUR SINS THIS EVIL, TO ASK A KING. These portions of scripture are direct and positive. They admit of no equivocal construction. That the Almighty hath here entered his protest against monarchical government is true, or the scripture is false. And a man hath good reason to believe that there is as much of king-craft, as priest-craft, in withholding the scripture from the public in Popish countries. For monarchy in every instance is the Popery of government. 

Thursday 28 April 2011

Some Political Humour

With a monster weekend coming up in Britain - this may be an opportune moment to introduce or remind you of some of the political humour websites available.

For Congress there ia "The Capitol Steps", which began as a group of congressional staffers entertaining at parties - and now can be seen weekly at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center and elsewhere when they are on tour (they are in California at the moment - all dates are listed here)

The website is regularly updated - and allows you to listen to individual songs and download previously broadcast holiday shows.

In Britain, "Yes Minister" is on tour - this week in Aylesbury. Details of the tour - and lots more, including the blog, can be found here.

Channel 4's website has a page dedicated to cartoons about the Coalition.

Enjoy - and let me know YOUR favourite sources of political humour.

Steve Bell's wicked cartoons can be found on the Guardian's website.

Private Eye Covers are browseable and Searchable here.

Wednesday 27 April 2011

The Legislative Process

Whether you are studying English Law or UK politics, it is useful to be able to describe and explain the legislative process. Even better, is having the knowledge to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the current process.

The system is well explained on Parliament's website. This is an interactive guide, and it is worth watching the short videos. Use this as a tool to enable you to confidently explain what the various stages in the passage of a bill are - and what purpose each stage serves.

Criticisms of the legislative process have been considered in a number of reports - and some have been acted upon. I would recommend reading (at the very least, the introductions to)

The Modernisation Committee's 2006 Report on "The Legislative Process"
The Better Government Initiative - Report on Reforming Parliament and the Government
The Hansard Society's discussion paper on Law in the Making

In summary criticisms that are often made include
- the language used in bills is difficult to understand - and amendments can make it worse
- there is insufficient pre-legislative scrutiny
- changes are made in haste
- the process is dominated by the Executive
- there is a lack of meaningful debate
- insufficient scrutiny during the legislative process - and MPs may be reliant upon lobbying groups for
- the workings of particular pieces of legislation are not reviewed (lack of post-legislative scrutiny)

Tuesday 26 April 2011


Today, the Mastermind Champion of 1988, will become the new Clerk of the Parliaments - the most senior clerk serving the House of Lords. David Beamish has worked in the House of Lords since 1974 - and is a popular successor to Michael Pownall, who has retired after four years in the top post.

Beamish's success on Mastermind came after building a solid base with his specialist subjects - 'Nancy Astor', an American born (Danville VA) woman who became the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons (she was elected for Plymouth Sutton); and The British Royal Family 1714-1910 (George I to Edward VII).

He is both a scholar and an experienced expert in the work of the House of Lords.

The work of the Clerk of the Parliaments is described on the Parliamentary website. An article in a 1958 Article in "Parliamentary Affairs" describes the office and some of its former holders. One was a namesake of mine (John Morgan - I am John David Morgan, but use my middle name) - Maurice F Bond writes "John Morgan (1485-1496) had perhaps the most varied career of all, having probably been in exile with Henry Tudor, returning with him to become his first Clerk of the Parliament in 1485, a Councillor, Dean of Windsor, Dean of St. Mary's, Leicester, Archdeacon of Carmarthen, and, eventually, on ceasing to be Clerk, Bishop of St Davids." - but then in 1958 no Clerk had ever won Mastermind!
The original announcement of David Beamish's appointment, with biographical details, can be accessed here.

Access to Justice

As the exams approach, I will be teaching some of my students about "Access to Justice" - which is part of the AS syllabus for law. One of the problems with Law is that it can be expensive to bring an action to enforce your rights, or to defend yourself if accused of a criminal act.

Legal Aid has been available in England since 1949 (previously there was some free work done by lawyers, and Trade Unions provided assistance for their members). It has increasingly come under pressure. Costs have risen, whilst there has been pressure to reduce the total amount available. Some people have found it difficult to get funding - which is a denial of justice.

Currently legal aid is administered by the Legal Services Commission. There is some excellent information available on their website. The Citizen's Advice Bureau has a useful website explaining the various forms of provision.

Recently the Ministry of Justice produced a consultation document about the future provision of legal services Their approach is to make the civil system more efficient, and therefore cheaper to use. The Consultation Paper can be accessed here.

Monday 25 April 2011


As it is a Bank Holiday - I don't intend to spend the day working. The one of the nice things about living in Milton Keynes is that there is so much to do here. In recent days we've cycled the "Millennium Cycle Route" - the route in detail is available here; walked through a number of the parks - further details of parks here and visited a number of places to eat and drink - my favourites are Starbucks, the Hub; Las Iguanas; Zen Garden; The Secklow Hundred and Furzton Lake.

Within Milton Keynes Jazz is performed - of course there is The Stables - which hosts "Jazz Matters"; and sometimes at the Madcap in Wolverton; If I'm staying in - I listen to Jazz on CD, and increasingly on my iPhone. I now have an app for TSF Jazz - a french station which - "est la seule radio cent pour cent jazz" - I can listen live if there is wifi, or listen to the podcasts I have downloaded.

One of my favourite pieces of music is the July 1956 version of Ellington's "Diminuendo In Blue" with Paul Gonsalves superb sax solo

The line up was - Duke Ellington (piano); Cat Anderson, Willie Cook, Ray Nance, Clark Terry (trumpets); Quentin Jackson, Britt Woodman (trombones); John Sanders (valve trombone); Harry Carney (reeds: baritone sax); Paul Gonsalves (reeds: tenor sax); Jimmy Hamilton (reeds: clarinet); Johnny Hodges (reeds: alto sax); Russell Procope (reeds: clarinet, alto sax); Jimmy Woode (bass); Sam Woodyard (drums)

Sunday 24 April 2011

The cost of running Democracy

No one ever said that a democracy was cheap to run. It would be cheaper to run a dictatorship or an oligarchy. There are none of the costs of elections - or of having to make provision for accountability!

The US Congress has invested in ensuring that its members are provided with the information to hold the Executive to account, and provide services to their constituents.

So what does it cost to run the US Congress, or other Parliaments for that matter?

See my posts on

The cost of Congress (2007)
The money to run Congress (2010)
The cost of Parliament

Over the last century and a half the power of the Executive has grown enormously. Congress has sought to equip itself to do the job the founders intended, by establishing

The Government Accountability Office
The Congressional Budget Office
The Congressional Research Service (and CRS Reports are available on 'OpenCRS')

Without them, Congress would be without the tools to work on behalf of the citizens whom it represents. The claims made by the Executive (and its agencies) couldn't be independently assessed. Individual citizens wouldn't have someone to help them in their disputes with officialdom.

What are the costs of running the US Senate and the House of Representatives? - a lot. Would we be better off by stripping Congress of the resources it needs to do its job? Only if you think that democracy shouldn't have any teeth. So what was the American Revolution all about?

What a Lot of Bank Holidays!

Britain doesn't have a generous amount of Bank and Public Holidays (normally only 8 per year - for further information go here) - but the these two weeks are full of them. Last Friday was the public holiday for Good Friday. Tomorrow is a Bank Holiday for Easter Monday.  Friday has been declared a 'special bank holiday' for the Royal Wedding. Monday 2nd May is the Early May Bank Holiday. Then it is back to normal work weeks (until the Spring Bank Holiday on 30th May!).

The relevant piece of legislation is the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971

Weather information is available from the Met Office - and ideas for days out can be found below
What's on in Milton Keynes
English Heritage
Cadw (Welsh Historic Monuments)
Enjoy England
Visit Wales

Saturday 23 April 2011

The Referendum

The UK's second only national referendum takes place on 5th May. The question is

At present, the UK uses the ‘first past the post’ system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the ‘alternative vote’ system be used instead?

The "first past the post system" is simple to understand - each voter casts his ballot for his preferred candidate (in practice, this is usually the candidate nominated by the preferred PARTY). These are added up and the winner is the person who has got more votes than any other candidate.

The system worked well when Britain had an essentially two-party system. (Even then, anomalies could result - in 1951, where all but 9 seats were shared between Labour and the Conservatives (the Ulster Unionists and National Liberals sat with the Tories) - the popular vote was

Labour -  13,948,385 (48.8%)     Conservative - 13,717,850 (48.0%)

yet the Labour Party lost its Commons majority, and was thrown out of government. The Tories won 51.36% of the seats, and gained a Commons majority of 17.

Now with a multi-party system the possibility of a party taking charge of government with a minority of votes is theoretically possible - and in fact Tony Blair won his massive Commons majority of 179 with just 43.21% of the popular vote [but 63.43% of the seats in the House of Commons]. The winner in any seat just needs to get 1 more vote than any other candidate.

Many suggestions have been made to overcome the effect of this. There are TWO different types of system possible -

Majoritarian (sometimes called 'Plurality Voting Systems') - these type of methods are based on the idea that the elected official should be 'representative' in the sense that they have secured the widest support from the electorate. In 'First Past the Post' the person who wins more votes than anyone else wins. In "AV" the winner is the person who gains the greatest number of preferences (their own 1st preference votes plus 2nd (and if necessary 3rd and so on) preferences of candidates who have been eliminated). The winner must have 50% or more of positive preferences. Majoritarian systems do disadvantage groups that are unable to reach out from their base - extreme groups or ethnic groups for example.

Proportional - these methods of voting begin with a wholly different philosophy - they allocate seats in a parliament on the basis of what proportion of the total vote a particular group can gain - irrespective of whether they are able to attract 'outsiders'. AV is NOT a proportional system.

So which is 'best' or 'fairer'? That of course depends on a vital value judgement. Is acceptability and inclusiveness more important than the right to have someone represent you who shares only your views? Is simplicity in voting a greater good than acceptability to the greatest number of the electorate?

Smaller parties gain from proportional systems. 'First Past the Post' can deliver the reins of government to a cohesive group able to divide and conquer its opponents. AV will allow the general preferences of the electorate to triumph (if you assume that Britain is essentially a social-democratic country (quite an assumption!) - then centre-left governments are more likely than Conservative governments.

There is a lot of academic material on the impact of different voting systems (try a google scholar search!) - but also a guide from the Electoral Commission on the referendum - available here.

Link to Yes Campaign                                          Link to No Campaign

Friday 22 April 2011

Milton Keynes City Council Elections - May 5th 2011

A view of the ballot paper. In England - under the current system - you place an 'X' by the name of the candidate you wish to vote for

Polls are open from 7am to 10pm. Once the polls close, ballot boxes are taken from the polling stations to the count - which will be held at the MK Stadium. Results for all the council seats should be announced before 3am.

Good Friday Agreement

As today is "Good Friday", it is appropriate to recall the Good Friday agreement of 1998, which played a key role in bringing to an end the years of conflict in Northern Ireland. There is a very good resource available on the BBC website.

A copy of the agreement itself can be accessed here. A video showing an academic panel on The Good Friday Agreement: Dynamics of Conflict and Movements Towards Peace (Case Western Reserve University  of Law)  is available below. 

Thursday 21 April 2011

Revising for Exams?

Are you (or a family member, or a friend) revising for exams in the coming weeks? Let Washminster help you. This blog covers (amongst other things)

- UK Politics
- US Politics
- English Legal System
- UK Constitutional Law

In the four years that this blog has been in existence - a number of posts have been specifically written with Degree or A-Level Students in mind. There are other posts which give background information allowing answers which stand out from those merely gained fronm reading the nominated textbook. Use the search engine on the right, or browse through the entries.

The following documents list Washminster posts on particular subjects.

Parliamentary Sovereignty
- Development
- Classic Doctrine
- and the EU & ECHR

The Rule of Law

Judicial Review
- Basics
- Summary

Constitutions (including series on the US Constitution)

Conventions in the British Constitution

Primary and Secondary Legislation

The UK legislative process

Reading a Statute and a Law Report (UK)

UK Courts

The power of arrest in the UK

The 2008 US Presidential Election
- a series of videos and links starting on 28th October. Start here and use the 'Newer Post' button to work through the posts (until 5th November)

The First Day of a New Congress

Groups within the Democratic Caucus

As exams approach I will be writing more pieces - so keep your eyes on this blog - and help out your friends by telling them about this blog.

Wednesday 20 April 2011


When I visit Washington, I usually go with a friend to one of the civil war battlefields in the area (we travel some distances - we spend a fascinating day in Gettysburg a few years ago). I recorded some videos of these visits

Manassas [Bull Run)] (VA)
Balls Bluff (VA)
Antietam [Sharpsburg] (MD)

But Britain has its interesting battlefields too. I have always lived in Central England - and so have been a frequent visitor to the sites of two of the most important battles in British History


The Battle that ended the War of the Roses, saw the death of Richard III and the start of the Tudor dynasty. The exact site of the battle was in doubt for many years - as the documentary evidence was open to a number of different interpretations. However a major archeological investigation has shown the actual site. Work was due to finish last week on the new outdoor interpretation and trail.

You can link to the website of the Bosworth Battlefield here.

The photograph on today's post is taken from the 1955 Laurence Olivier film of Shakespeare's Richard III. However Bosworth looks NOTHING like this. The film was shot in Spain. There are no mountains in the background of this green, rolling countryside in Leicestershire. As the Richard III Society would point out, that is probably one of the least of the inaccuracies of the play and film.


The decisive battle of the English Civil War - in which the Parliamentary forces destroyed the main field army of King Charles I. It was fought on 14th June 1645.

Details of the project to enhance the visitors' facilities can be found here.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Catching up on the News

With the internet, there has been an explosion of sources of news - long gone are the days when we have to rely on what the limited number of permitted radio and TV stations and newspapers report. Of course there is a downside. On the first phrases taught when learning about computers was "GIGO - Garbage in, garbage out". Readers need to be discerning!

How can anyone manage the deluge of information? Once signing up for emails from a favoured news source was a useful way of getting news - but the time that could be spent opening and reading all the emails would take a significant bite out of anyone's day!

I found it useful to set up a twitter account (WM Alert) - which subscribes to tweets from news sources that I respect and trust - for example -

News Organisations (UK)
- BBC Politics
- Guardian Politics
- Indy Politics (The Independent)

News Organisations (US)
- New York Times Politics
- (Washington) Post Politics
- NPR Politics
- CNN Politics
- MSNBC Politics

Parliamentary Specialists
- UK Parliament
- ePolitix
- LobbyDog

Congressional Specialists
- Roll Call
- The Hill
- Politico

In addition I subscribe to feeds from various reporters on the Hill

Academic/Think Tanks
- Brookings
- Hansard Society
- Chatham House

and many more, including (the full list is available on the WM_Alert page on twitter). I use WM_Alert for my personal use, but also retweet stories of interest. You are very welcome to subscribe

Follow WM_Alert on Twitter

Monday 18 April 2011

Audit of Political Engagement - 2011

The Hansard Society has produced its eighth annual "Audit of Political Engagement". I usually attend the launch at Westminster, but other engagements meant I missed it this year. However the report has now arrived - another perk of membership of the Hansard Society. [I have been a member now for 20 years - I thoroughly recommend joining - whether you are a student of law or politics; interested in how Westminster works; a political activist; or a citizen concerned about the most effective way to run government. Membership ensures that you are regularly informed of what the Society is doing - and includes access to their publications. For the parliamentary scholar - "Parliamentary Affairs" is a must - membership details are available here. Details of recent publications are available here.]

The encouaraging news is that interest in politics - and knowledge - is growing! - but satisfaction with Parliament continues to decline. The report contains, as ever, a detailed analysis of a poll carried out by Ipsos MORI, conducted at the turn of the year. There is much for 'politicians' and scholars to reflect upon.

Sunday 17 April 2011

Holiday Reading

English Universities and Colleges have broken up for the Easter Holiday - as have the four Houses of the Westminster Parliament and the US Congress. So it's time for a break from daily reading of Roll Call and Politico, and the many excellent books about the workings of Parliament and Congress. (However Amazon are rushing to me some further books to ensure that I don't get stuck for future reading).

It's time to think about a bit of holiday reading. Over the winter I have made a number of trips to Huntingdon. One of my favourite places to visit is the Oliver Cromwell Museum. Cromwell was born and brought up in the town. The museum is not his birthplace (a plaque on The Friars, in the northern end of the High Street records the claim that he was born there), but the building in which he attended school.

For my holiday reading, I am going through some of the books I picked up at the museum. I have started with Christopher Hill's "God's Englishman". Following that I will read Barry Coward's - "Profiles in Power: Cromwell", then a book about his roots in Huntingdonshire (no longer a county in it's ownn right, but swallowed up into Cambridgeshire) - called "Risen from Obscurity?" by Caroline Clifford and Alan Akeroyd. If I have time I will re-read Antonia fraser's "Cromwell: Our Chief of Men"

Saturday 16 April 2011

Threats to Liberty

Western political and legal theory stresses the potential threats to liberty that can come from "the State". The doctrine of "Separation of Powers" is a classic example. Montesquieu warned that if the three functions of government (1 Making Law - legislating (2) Carrying out the law - the job of the 'Executive' and (3) Judging - interpreting the law and applying the law in disputes) were in the same hands, tyranny would follow. Other legal doctrines such as 'the Rule of Law' should govern the action of the State (illustrated by the provisions of the Magna Carta and today's remedy of Judicial Review.

But the State isn't the only source of threats to the rights of citizens. As Magna Carta sought to curb the excesses of a monarch, it didn't seek to curb the actions of 'over mighty subjects'. The Barons at Runnymede didn't want that issue addressed!

The phone-tapping scandal involving the News of the World (another part of Rupert Murdoch's global media empire); the damage to the livelihood of people affected bt the BP scandal; the ability of corporations to use their money to influence the political process - show that powerful business interests are a threat too.

Friday 15 April 2011

False Imprisonment

The English law of tort gives remedies to people who have been wronged by the actions of others. The best known tort is negligence. Others include defamation, trespass against land and nuisance. There is a category known as 'trepass against the person'. It includes assault and battery. These may also give rise to criminal prosecution, but today I am only considering tort, which is 'civil law' - in this context contrasted with 'criminal law'.

Yesterday the Metropolitan Police lost an action in the High Court brought by two claimants who had sued for the third tort in the 'trespass against the person' category - false imprisonment. The Police had wrongly 'imprisoned' them by the use of the tactic of 'kettling'. The High Court found that holding these peaceful protesters was unjustified, and therefore was illegal. False imprisonment is a tort which involves stopping someone leaving a place without legal authority. It is not restricted to being held in a room. (One case involved a man stranded on a roof after the defendant took his ladder).

Thursday 14 April 2011

Reducing the number of Confirmations

One of the roles of the Senate is to give "advice and consent" to the President concerning the appointment of "Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the Supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States" (Art II Section 2).

The Senate is to consider S. 679 Presidential Appointment Efficiency and Streamlining Act of 2011. It was reported out of Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday. It will reduce the number of positions requiring confirmation. A Press Relese from the committee is available here.

Details of the CR

Today the House of Representives is due to vote on the Continuing Resolution - which will keep the money flowing to Government - thereby avoiding a shutdown. Tomorrow the Senate is due to vote. (The deadline is once again midnight on Friday/Saturday).

The Appropriations Committee of the House has released a short summary of the provisions of the CR - available here.