Saturday 23 July 2011

W201 Video

The video covering Tutorial 6 for the Open University W201 (The Individual & the State)course

W200 Key Tutorial Points video

The video covering Tutorial Six for the Open University W200 Understanding Law course

Friday 22 July 2011


The video below, prepared by the BBC, explains the process of Divisions in the House of Commons

Thursday 21 July 2011

Second Reading

The following video shows the Second Reading in the House of Lords, of the Bribery Bill. It is worth analaysing both the debate - and the minister's speech.

The purpose of Second Readings is to debate the PRINCIPLES of the Bill. Lord Bach, as the Government Minister responsible for the Bill in the Lords, explains the PURPOSE of the Bill and its STRUCTURE. The history behind the Bill is outlined. Lord Bach summarises the content, and explains the main provisions.

Monday 11 July 2011

Washminster to take a break

Washminster will be taking a break for a month. It is the summer after all! I have also reached a critical stage in my own research and writing - and could do with locking myself up (not literally) for a short while to concentrate upon moulding the evidence gathered, and the relevant theories considered, into a draft thesis.

Therefore, Washminster will next be published on "the glorious 12th" - the 12th August. I hope that some of my work during the intervening period will produce a rich seam of material which I will publish on Washminster in the coming months. The new academic years for universities begin in August in the US and in October in the UK. Please do let students know of the resources which Washminster can provide - both in terms of new posts and the near Five Year archive of material. May I assure my OU students that as exams approach in September I will be highlighting issues relevant to those exams.

In the meantime I will be continuing to provide a news updating service via Twitter - on 'WM_Alert' - if you would find this service (which concentrates on developments in US, UK, French & EU politics) useful please subscribe.

Friday 8 July 2011

Codifying the British Constitution?

Yesterday the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee met to take evidence for their Inquiry "Mapping the Path to Codifying—or Not Codifying—the UK’s Constitution "

You may need to download 'Microsoft Silverlight' to view. I have not been able to view it on my iPad. The link to the Parliament Live website's page containing the recording is here.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Textbooks for the Study of Congress

Over the last few weeks I have posted about some of the excellent volumes containing scholarly work on the US Congress. They are great for developing specialised knowledge about particular aspects of Congress. But what about introductions for those starting an undergraduate course - or seeking to increase their general understanding of Congress?

Over the years I've been introduced to a number of textbooks, which are frequently brought out in new editions. I've put links to the latest editions that i could find - though of course over the summer new editions could appear. My personal favourites are -

Congress and Its Members by Roger H Davidson; Walter J Oleszek and Francis E Lee. The 13th edition is due out on 19th September, but can be pre-ordered using the link below. It is always well written - by individuals who are real experts in their subject. Walter Oleszek works for the Congressional Research Service and is a mine of information. Roger Davidson has worked in Congress as well as having had a very distinguished academic career. Francis E Lee is a younger scholar, who has already been recognised for the quality for her work - winning a series of awards for her writings. She edited, with Eric Schickler, The Oxford Handbook of the American Congress

Congress Reconsidered, edited by Lawrence C Dodd and Bruce I Oppenheimer, is also a high quality book. It is now in its 9th Edition. Oppenheimer commented in his article in The Oxford Handbook of the American Congress, "when Larry Dodd and I collaborated on the initial volume of Congress Reconsidered, we did not anticipate that there would be a need for subsequent editions or, if there were subsequent editions, that they would entail a greater number of new than of revised articles". But then recent years have seen many changes in Congress and much scholarly activity. This textbook highlights - in each edition - the key changes (and explores why they have happened.

Barbara Sinclair's book "Unorthodox Lawmaking" highlights how law is actually made, as opposed to the theoretical pattern described in the "traditional how-a-bill-becomes-a-law diagram". The fourth edition is due out at the end of July in the US, and in early September in the UK. I'll be getting a copy (I have the previous editions - but together they will provide a series of snapshots - of particular value to someone interested in the historical development of Congress and its practices). I have found Barbara Sinclair's work particularly interesting and readable.

Wednesday 6 July 2011

House of Lords Reform - Questions in the Commons

From Hansard 5th July -

Questions to the Deputy Prime Minister - House of Lords Reform

1. Penny Mordaunt (Portsmouth North) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with constitutional historians and experts on House of Lords reform; and if he will make a statement. [63487]

4. Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): What recent progress he has made on his plans for House of Lords reform; and if he will make a statement. [63490]

8. Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): What recent representations he has received on House of Lords reform. [63494]

10. Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): What assessment he has made of the recent debates in both Houses on his proposals for House of Lords reform. [63496]

The Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Nick Clegg): The Government have received many representations on all aspects of House of Lords reform, including from constitutional experts. We recognise that a variety of views were expressed in recent debates in both Houses, and we are sure that the Joint Committee will take account of the debates when scrutinising the draft Bill and White Paper.

Penny Mordaunt: The elegance of our unwritten constitution allows it to adapt when necessary to meet a pressing need, but change for some other reason could be regarded as constitutional vandalism. Has the Deputy Prime Minister reflected on the fact that if a pressing need is not articulated, his plans for reform of the other place might fall into the latter category?

The Deputy Prime Minister: I do not think it is a new need, and in that sense it is not a pressing need, but there is an enduring need to make decisions in this place and the other House as accountable to the British people as possible. The simple principle that those who shape the laws of the land should be held to account by people who have to obey the laws of the land is a long-standing democratic principle.

Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): One matter of great concern in this Chamber is that the other place is most certainly secondary to it. Does my right hon. Friend see the opportunity to remove any ability for the other place to initiate legislation as a way to ensure the hierarchy between this place and the other place?

The Deputy Prime Minister: As we explained in our White Paper, we believe that the different mandates, electoral systems and terms of office, and of course the conventions enshrined in the Parliament Acts, will guarantee that although there will no doubt be an evolution in the relationship between the two Houses—that is bound to happen under any arrangement—the hierarchy between this place and the other place will remain intact.

Nicky Morgan (Loughborough) (Con): The Deputy Prime Minister has just referred to the different mandates of Members of the other place, if it is reformed, and of this House. Does he not think, though, that the reforms would benefit from some clarification of those different mandates, so that the essential and long-standing relationship between MPs and constituents is not eroded?

The Deputy Prime Minister: We already have a system, of course, in which politicians are elected to different assemblies and Parliaments with different mandates, and as long as those mandates are clearly differentiated, as they would be under the proposed arrangements, there is no clash between them. Let us remember that what the Government suggest in the draft Bill is that elected Members of a reformed House of Lords would represent vastly larger areas than the smaller constituencies that we in this House represent.

Andrew George (St Ives) (LD): Given that in our debates so far no one has rushed to the defence of the hereditary principle or patronage, does my right hon. Friend not agree that if we are to make haste in delivering the principles behind Lords reform, it would be best to get on with removing the hereditary principle and patronage now? No one disagrees with that.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I certainly agree that we aspire to create a reform that, although evolutionary in its implementation—it will take several years rather than happen overnight—will at least be comprehensive and create a reformed House of Lords with a far greater mandate and democratic legitimacy than is currently the case.

Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): In the Deputy Prime Minister’s nirvana of 15-year terms, will he consider ruling out Members of the newly elected other place standing for this place, so that we do not have people roaming around one individual constituency trying to unseat the Member of Parliament by using their democratically elected 15-year position in the other place?

The Deputy Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman may have noticed that in the White Paper we suggest precisely that. We suggest that there should be a cooling-off period of at least one term, so that those who leave the other place cannot instantly stand for this place. That is precisely to avoid the clash that he rightly identifies.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Does the Deputy Prime Minister have a view on Lord Steel’s suggestion that a payment of £30,000 should be made to enable Lords to retire?

The Deputy Prime Minister: We are not in favour of that, but we are in favour of many provisions of Lord Steel’s private Member’s Bill and look forward to incorporating many of its transitional arrangements and so on into the Government Bill.

Steve Rotheram (Liverpool, Walton) (Lab): Does the Deputy Prime Minister not understand that even those of us who support Lords reform cannot help wondering whether he has masochistic tendencies in trying to win this fight with one hand tied behind his back, and with the Prime Minister simply holding his coat and egging him on from the sidelines? Does he believe that he has the overwhelming support of his coalition partners to steer the Bill through both Houses? If not, is he not just wasting—

Mr Speaker: Order. We are extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman.

The Deputy Prime Minister: I remind the hon. Gentleman that all parties went to the country in last year’s general election with a clear manifesto commitment to reform the House of Lords. As I have said, it does not strike most people as a radical suggestion that the democratic principle that operates in Parliaments around the world should gently and incrementally be applied to the other place.

Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): Do the Government’s proposals for the House of Lords include excluding peers not from England on voting on matters solely related to England?

The Deputy Prime Minister: We have not addressed that in the White Paper. If people want to discuss it in the Joint Committee, they are free to do so.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Has my right hon. Friend read the debates in which the argument was advanced that the House of Lords does its job, and therefore should not be changed in any way? If so, did he think he was reading the right issue of Hansard, or the one dated 1911, or perhaps the one dated 1832?
The Deputy Prime Minister: Whatever their views about the proposals for House of Lords reform that the Government made in the White Paper and the draft Bill, I believe that everybody accepts that the House of Lords is not immune to reform or improvement. My view is that political institutions are always susceptible to some improvement over time, and I believe that that package of carefully considered reforms, which I hope, over time, will enjoy cross-party support, will finally allow us to make progress on something that has been debated for more than a century.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

Hidden Treasures

A subsidiary aspect of my current research concerns the influence that Parties have on their Members' actions. It's a subject upon which much has been written - and a matter that many people express concern about. It's pretty important to my research - because whips are usually the people tasked with ensuring that party influence is effective. Some academics have argued that parties and leaders have a minimal impact on legislators' behaviour. If that is so - and I'm carefully thinking about the arguments used - then whips are, to use Bagehot's language - one of the "dignified" parts of the Constitution ('one to excite and preserve the reverence of the population’) rather than an "efficient" part. (which ‘employs that homage in the work of government’).

Back in 1901 Professor Lawrence Lowell published "The influence of parties upon legislation in England and America". I've come across many references to this groundbreaking work, but had never seen the original. I did look for copies on sale - and the average price was about £15, many of which would be printed specifically for the purchaser. That got me thinking - are digital copies available to download for free? Indeed. I found a copy scanned in by the University of California Libraries on The Internet Archive.

There are lots of hidden treasures available on the internet. Project Gutenberg allows you to down free ebooks to an iPad, Kindle or Android.

(Lowell's book is available here)

Sunday 3 July 2011

July 4th

Washminster intends to enjoy this holiday weekend (OK, I'm in England, where 4th July isn't officially celebrated - something to do with the fact that it commemorates the repudiation of rule from London by American colonists). However, as I think they did the right thing, and I have a great affection for my American friends - I will join in the festivities.

Therefore, Washminster will not be appearing until the early hours of Tuesday 5th July.

Have a great extended weekend!

Saturday 2 July 2011


I increasingly find Starbucks to be an excellent place to work. I love coffee (personal favourites at the moment - Pike Place Roast; Mocha Light Frappuccino) and there is usually a pleasant atmosphere with good music playing in the background. So, I frequent a number of Starbucks armed only with a book, highlighter, pen and paper - or my iPad.

1912 Pike Place is where the original Starbucks branch relocated to in the mid 1970s. I've never been to Seattle (and would love to be there for the APSA Conference in September, but it's a bit far [4752 miles]) - but if I ever get there, I'll be making for the Starbucks in Pike Place.

I follow the tweets of Debbie Wasserman Schultz, now Chair of the DNC - but a very impressive whip in the House of Representatives.(I'm researching whips in Congress and Parliament) - and this week she posted this photo of herself visiting the store

Friday 1 July 2011

The Legislative Branch

Over the last couple of weeks I have recommended two books that I own and frequently use - The Oxford Handbook of the American Congress and The American Congress Reader. There is a third book that sits with the others - which I also find very useful. Oxford University Press have produced as part of their series "Institutions of American Democracy" - a volume entitled "The Legislative Branch" edited by Paul J Quirk and Sarah A Binder. Like the American Congress Reader, it consists of some important articles on Congress. The two volumes together give a wide range of the leading scholarly work available on the US Congress.

There are 18 readings, within five sections -

I Ideas and Development
II Elections and Representation
III Structures and Processes
IV Policy and Performance
V Assessment and Prospects

The book can be purchased through the link below