Monday 31 December 2012

Happy New Year

... For 2013. Have a great New Year!

Washminster will continue to be offline until further notice.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Democracy - and exercising ones rights

In a Democracy - it's not enough to legally grant the right to vote - people should be able to vote without barriers being erected. This letter was sent out today by Senator Mark Warner.

This year was another historic election for the battleground state of Virginia – but as the weeks have passed, I’ve been troubled by the stories I’ve heard from people across the Commonwealth and across the country about the hours they spent in line waiting to vote.

It’s inexcusable. Voters reportedly waited three, four and even five hours to cast their vote on Election Day. In the 21st century, in the greatest democracy in the world, voting shouldn’t be this hard.

That’s why I’ve joined with Senator Chris Coons to co-sponsor the Fair, Accurate, Secure and Timely (FAST) Voting Act of 2012, a piece of legislation that would provide incentives for states like Virginia to invest in practices and technology that would expedite voting at the polls and simplify voter registration. Now, I’m asking for your help to turn up the pressure on Congress to pass this important legislation into law.

Make your voice heard – sign the petition urging Congress to pass the FAST Act.

Virginians came out full force in 2012. But far too many of them were asked to wait longer than they could afford for the right to cast their ballot. These lengthy wait times have effectively brought forward a 21st century poll tax. 

These flaws in our voting systems are fixable – but only if Congress acts. We need to ensure this voter disenfranchisement doesn’t happen again by passing common sense reforms that make voting faster and more accessible to all voters.

Please click here to sign the petition and join me in urging Congress to pass the FAST Act.

Thank you,

Mark Warner

Poor Service by Solicitors

Not all solicitors provide the same level of service. As a law lecturer, I know that students have different academic achievements and approaches to their work. But once they have qualified, they can practice. There are some excellent solicitors out there, but there also appalling ones - who provide poor service to their clients; fail to keep them properly informed; make expensive mistakes - and can ruin lives. Working for MPs & MEPs, I am used to hearing from people who have spent years trying to pick up the pieces after poor service from their lawyer turned a problem (or even a routine transaction like buying or selling a house) into a nightmare.

What can you do if something goes wrong? The video below is from the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

A Day at Westminster

Head down after the Corby by-election, as I have my (final?) Postgraduate Progress Meeting before I submit my thesis on Friday. The weekend was spent writing and tidying up the near 200 page document and other papers which had to be emailed to Hull by Monday morning.

Yesterday was a day for tidying up - and planning for the future. This morning, I took a very early morning train down to London - and on to Westminster where I now am. My previous Washminster  post raised issues which led to an interview on BBC Radio Northampton. Then some interviews with former whips to test my findings and conclusions.

So now I am enjoying a late breakfast, and have a copy of "House of Lords Business" (the 'Order Paper' for today in the Lords.) at my side. After the half an hour of questions, the third day of the Report Stage of the Financial Services Bill will be taken. In the "Dinner Break" there will be a short debate airing from Baroness Ford's question, "what progress has been made in improving neurological services, and in particular the provision of epilepsy services, in the United Kindom."

Both Houses allow many opportunities for specific issues to be raised and discussed. The House of Commons has its 'Westminster Hall' debates; daily 'Adjournment debates' and a host of other means. Citizens with concerns can contact their MP or a Peer (contact details can be found on the Parliamentary website - www.parliament.uk ) and seek to get an issue discussed.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Corby - and its lessons

Washminster has been silent for a few days - one of the reasons is the by-election which was fought in Corby, Northamptonshire. I was up there for the last few days - and of course Election day itself. It has been interesting to participate in an English election so soon after completing a period in an American election. Some of the practices (and the language) were very different - but the lessons to be learned are the same.

(1) The need for planning and preparation - the superb operations to get out the vote ('GOTV' in the jargon) depended upon the hard slog in the months before contacting voters - by phone or in person. Although the by-election wasn't expected until Louise Mensch made her surprise announcement that she was quitting Parliament (6th August 2012), Andy Sawford had been selected as the candidate to challenge her in the next General Election due in May 2015. For months he - and many Labour activists in the Corby constituency had been reaching out to voters, finding out who might be supportive of Andy Sawford and Labour. This effort was taken to a new level after Mrs Mensch's announcement. When we went out on Thursday - we knew who had indicated that they would be voting Labour. Much work was done behind the scenes plotting out walking routes on the day to ensure that Labour turnout was high.

(2) The value of co-operative efforts - a superb team went out on Thursday, prepped by the staff and volunteers who had done so much to make the operation smooth and effective. I was really impressed by the dedication and sheer hard work put in. People from around the country came to Corby to help. I'd seen similar things in North Virginia. In particular, there are some impressive young people volunteering - who put my generation to shame.

(3) The message was explained - in person - to voters. It is easy to become reliant on computers - and TV ads (in the USA) and glossy leaflets. They have their role - but nothing beats talking to voters and answering their questions. On the day, few knew that there was an election and who Andy Sawford was - or what he stood for. This was in sharp contrast to the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections. The turnout was abysmal and few knew who was standing; why & what the job was about. Big money in the USA goes towards short TV ads that may be pejorative, but aren't high in useful information content. In the UK the Police Commissioner elections had a handful of "public information" ads, but there was not the money - or the volunteer manpower available to get the necessary information out. In a democracy we need an informed electorate - relying on big money or volunteers clearly isn't sufficient.

(4) There was much more emphasis in the States on voting as a duty of citizenship. This was stressed before election day - and voters are given a badge when they have voted. We are priviliged to live in democracies - where we choose our representatives. Failing to vote is an abdication of responsibility. I understand that many people feel that politicians aren't giving good service. The answer is not to put one's head in the sand and refuse to participate in elections. Voting makes politicians accountable. Tell them what you want. If they are third-raters only interested in lining their own pockets - take them on. Turn up to the occasional council meeting - write to your MP who has been behaving like a schoolboy in Prime Minister's Question Time. I've found that an adult discussion between voters and politicians helps both understand each other better - and the challenges we face as a community (whether it be the problems in a particular street or international problems). Most people (voters and politicians) are reasonable - and can accomplish more if they exchange ideas. Politicians should stop blaming the electorate for being switched off - you need to do more to engage the public - and individuals should take their duties as citizens seriously - and participate in decision making. That might be by becoming a school governor or a parish councillor. It might involve telling politicians that you want to see more action on facing the threat from climate change or demanding answers when your money is misspent - but at the very least it should involve weighing up the choices at an election and voting.

I'd appreciate your comments on what I've written - and please do share with others. Yes, I write as a Labour/Democratic supporting activist. But the issues apply across the political spectrum. We may disgree on the solutions to today's challenges - but a healthy democracy needs involvement from all who have a brain to use.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

CRS Reports on the election process

As regular readers of this blog know, I'm a big fan of the quality work done by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), part of the Library of Congress. Their reports are written for Members of Congress, and exacting standards are required. Unlike the British House of Commons, these reports are not published to their paymasters - (in CRS's case - the US taxpayer), though many have campaigned for that. However "Open CRS" does publish reports that have been sent to it.

"Open CRS" states on its website - "American taxpayers spend over $100 million a year to fund the Congressional Research Service, a "think tank" that provides reports to members of Congress on a variety of topics relevant to current political events. Yet, these reports are not made available to the public in a way that they can be easily obtained. Open CRS provides citizens access to CRS Reports that are already in the public domain.

CRS Reports do not become public until a member of Congress releases the report. A number of libraries and non-profit organizations have sought to collect as many of the released reports as possible. Open CRS is a centralized utility that brings together these reports.

Unfortunately, there is no systematic way to obtain all CRS reports. Because of this, not all reports appear on the Open CRS web site. We believe that it would be far preferable for Congress to make available to the public all CRS Reports.

For more information, please see our Frequently Asked Questions"

Some useful reports on the presidential election process include   The Electoral College: How It Works in Contemporary Presidential Elections
RL32611 - October 22, 2012

Contemporary Developments in Presidential Elections
R42139 - October 18, 2012

Tuesday 13 November 2012

The PAC - and Starbucks, Amazon & Google

Yesterday the Public Accounts Committee gave a grilling to executives from the three multinational companies listed above - who stand accused of paying less than their fair share of UK Corporation tax. The PAC is one of the oldest committees, pre-dating the departmental select committees by a century. Further information on its work can be found at

The Inland Revenue site explains Corporation Tax - "Corporation Tax is a tax on the taxable profits of limited companies and some organisations including clubs, societies, associations, co-operatives, charities and other unincorporated bodies.

Taxable profits for Corporation Tax include:

•profits from taxable income such as trading profits and investment profits (except dividend income which is taxed differently)
•capital gains - known as 'chargeable gains' for Corporation Tax purposes

If your company or organisation is based in the UK, you'll have to pay Corporation Tax on all your taxable profits - wherever in the world those profits come from.

If your company isn't based in the UK but operates in the UK - for example through an office or branch (known to HMRC as a 'permanent establishment') - you'll only have to pay Corporation Tax on any taxable profits arising from your UK activities."

The companies are accused of arranging their affairs purely for the purpose of transferring their tax liability to lower tax areas.

The recording doesn't start for a little while - either fast forward, or allow a little time for the visual and audio feed to start.

Monday 12 November 2012

Back in England

With the election completed in the United States, I have now returned to England. Washminster will be returning to a more predictable publication schedule. My activities in elections will however be continuing for a few more days. Thursday will see a parliamentary by-election in Corby. I used to live in Northamptonshire and the constituency is not very far from my current home. The Labour Candidate is Andy Sawford, son of Phil Sawford - the former MP for neighbouring Kettering. Details of the by-election and its many candidates can be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-northamptonshire-19635837

Thursday also sees elections across England for the newly created Police and Crime Commissioners. There is an informative website about these elections at http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/pcc.aspx

Today sees the annual speech by the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs at the Lord Mayor's Banquet.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Election Night

I will be tweeting from Mount Vernon, northern Virginia from now on - at


I have lots of pictures and videos to upload - hope to be able to do that before I leave for home on Thursday. As they used to say - "stay tuned"

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Election Day

The day has finally arrived. The Iowa caucuses seem such a long time ago - and the long run up to them as various Republicans positioned themselves to take on President Obama. In fact it seems that this election has been running for the last four years. But finally election day 2012 is here.

Yesterday saw a remarkable operation run from our office. Voters were contacted on the phone or in person on their doorsteps. They were reminded of their polling station and the new requirements for voter ID. Volunteers sat in every available chair using landlines, campaign supplied mobiles and their own "cellphones". When there were no seats left, people sat on the floor. Canvassers were dispatched to a number of centres around the Fairfax county area. From high school students (yesterday was a school holiday) to retirees, volunteers flooded in and were set to work.

As I write this in bed (it's not yet 04-30), work is underway in Huntington and hundreds of offices around the country to get today's operation underway. Polls open at 6-00 in Virginia. They will close at 7pm. Then afterwards the results will be awaited. Unlike in the UK, there is no central place where candidates of all parties and their supporters attend 'the count'. Instead results are phoned in from each of the counts at every polling station. The candidates will be based at their own Headquarters. Many of my colleagues who have been working on the Tim Kaine campaign will be heading down to Richmond, where the Democratic senatorial candidate will await the result along with his supporters. I'll remain in North Virginia to follow the national, state and local results. It's going a long day and night - and I'll be getting up in just 15 minutes! At five....

Sunday 4 November 2012

Friday 2 November 2012


The nature of campaigning is changing. Until now the emphasis has been on persuading voters and identifying supporters. With the election just days away, the focus has changed - now it's about getting supporters out to vote. Tomorrow is the last day for "in person absentee voting" (early voting) in Virginia. Tuesday is polling day.

My morning was spent counting out pieces of literature, putting them into batches small enough that they can be taken to personally deliver to people who have indicated that they will vote for some or all of the Democratic candidates. I got quite an assembly line going  - but nothing compared to the line I worked on in the afternoon. Two hours were spent on the mailing out of literature. The machine handled 20,000 pieces an hour - my job was to pick up the printed literature, bend it both ways and ensure that the pieces weren't stuck together and were facing in the right direction. So I was constantly building a pile of literature for the machine operator to add. The machine, linked to a computer database, printed a name and address on each sheet, and these were collected up by another worker who handed a bunch over for tying up and placing in a mailbag. In my short time in the factory, I helped process about the number of pieces of mails that would serve half the number of households in an average sized English constituency! It was quite a bit of bending and lifting - and the factory was warm and very noisy.

I relaxed in the evening! Today I'm in a coffee shop on Capitol Hill - and will be heading out for a business meeting which will be conducted over Skype between participants in London and Washington.

I'm very excited about tomorrow. I have my E-ticket for a rally to be addressed by former President Clinton and President Obama. A group of us will be heading out together. Some lucky ticket holders will be selected at random to meet with President Obama backstage - I have my fingers crossed!

Thursday 1 November 2012

Why the negative campaigning?

...because, sadly, it works.

Potential supporters of your opponent might be dissuaded from going to the polls. There are some people who will never vote for you, but a bit of negative advertising about the person they might vote for could make them stay at home.

Or you might provoke voters to give you their vote to stop the scoundrel from being elected.

That's why all kind of outrageous assertions are being made - and there are no "Queensberry Rules" - Democrat X "is corrupt", Republican Y "is reckless". Candidates have "either profited off victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks or refused to honour them on the floor of the House of Representatives". All these examples come from the Wisconsin contest for the US Senate, but I'm seeing similar allegations aired frequently in Virginia.

Candidates, their campaigns, and "independent" groups do it - because it works, and there is no punishment. Romney keeps repeating the claim that Obama went on an "Apology Tour", despite the fact that all the "Fact Checkers" have repeatedly disproved the allegation. It's a technique the Nazis knew how to use - the Big Lie. The more outrageous the better.

Until campaigns have to pay a price - they will carry on doing it. Individual voters need to fight back - tell the candidates "lie about your opponent - and you forfeit my vote". Perhaps it's time to tear up the "Don't tread on me" signs - and start wearing badges "Don't LIE to ME"

How do you think this tide of mendacity could be reversed?

The Last Few Days

Campaigning is back - and the race is on to get out the vote before polls close on Tuesday. This is being written in a coffee shop in Old Town, Alexandria as the dawn breaks. When I arrived at King Street Metro it was still dark - but after a brisk walk eastwards, I'm now enjoying a coffee. Later on I'll be heading back to the Huntington Metro Station. The Kaine campaign office is near there.

Sandy has passed, though later today King Street may again suffer some flooding, as the heavy volume of rain upstream on the Potomac makes its way towards the sea.

Yesterday morning was spent on "The Hill" - first in a coffee shop, where I did a bit more work on my thesis, then in the Congressional Research Service and finally the Rayburn Office Building. Members of Congress have their offices in the Capitol Building itself, or the three House Office Buildings. Rayburn is the largest - and it is named after the legendary Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn. I had the opportunity to chat about US and British politics - and the challenges for the future.

Later on I went to New Hampshire Avenue, then in the evening returned via Alexandria to the home I'm staying at in Mount Vernon. There is a free trolley bus which operates along King Street, Alexandria. It was full of parents and children making their way to a Halloween event, and me (dressed in my suit with a shiny pink tie - I don't know what was more scary!)

Before I move on I will be reading 'Politico', which is available at a box by King Street Metro, it is also available online. Then it's off for a day working on the joint Obama-Kaine-Moran/Connolly  campaigns.

Monday 29 October 2012

More Video of Sandy

Video of Sandy

1 hour before worst expected


I Didn't go to any of the campaign offices today. In fact politics is off the screens, at least for a few hours. Sandy is the big story of the day. Yesterday I went door-to-door canvassing. Just as I was getting into the car after finishing the sheet - the rain started. That was nearly 24 hours ago - and it hasn't stopped - the the intensity has increased. I was out a couple of hours ago and there are streams running along streets, and some very large standing puddles.

The wind is getting up now - we are about a couple of hours away from its expected height. It's nice to be indoors looking out! We expect to lose power at some point, so this is being hurriedly written before that happens.

Late last night emails went out from Tim Kaine, the Democratic candidate for the Senate for Virginia - asking supporters to take down their yard signs (the one's I'd been building in recent days) to avoid them becoming 'missiles' when the wind gets up. Overnight I did a live-to- air with BBC  Radio Northampton about the approaching hurricane.

Well, I'm going back to reading - for as long as I can. I hope that I'll be able to update this in a few hours. To all my friends in the NE USA - keep safe.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Video made for the election

This is not one of the TV ads which are bombarding Virginia voters at the moment - but an independently made video, endorsed by Lesley Gore - whose 1962 hit provides the soundtrack. This has, particularly after the comments made by Republican Senate Candidate, Richard Mourdock (Indiana), become a key issue for many women voters.

"You Don't Own Me" PSA from You Don't Own Me on Vimeo.

No Lack of Excitement...

A pleasant day in Alexandria, where I spent the morning, but before I left the TV was warning people not to get a false sense of security. Sandy is coming!

...and this afternoon, as I sat in the offices in Huntington, a car went up in flames in the parking lot. The fire engines are just clearing up now.

At the farmers market in Alexandria I had been round speaking to the various political stalls set out on the sidewalk (pavement -UK). I put a couple of interviews on video, so I will post those later. Lots of Obama stickers were being worn, but then Alexandria is strongly Democratic. In Stratford Landing - using yard signs as an indicator - things are a bit more balanced.

Currently I am dispatching canvassers with their maps and lists of voters to call on. The level of volunteering is impressive. Tonight I will be catching up on reading. Don't forget if you are in the UK that the clocks go back - so the time difference will drop to four hours.

Friday 26 October 2012

Friday in Huntington

I'm taking my lunch break at the campaign HQ just opposite the Huntington Metro. It's a busy office - and there's lots going on. I've been putting together yard signs - so if you see a newly put up sign outside someone's house - or along the roadside saying "Kaine - US Senate" it might be one I put together!

The approach of Hurricane Sandy has become THE topic of conversation. It might hit this area head on, though the latest projection puts it as hitting land in Delaware. The forecast though predicts 100% chance of rain on Sunday - with, at least, strong winds. Some coverage is of the variety, "Be afraid, be very afraid" - Fox being the worst. the local government office though has sent out hurricane warning notices - and lists of people to contact should an emergency develop.

Thursday 25 October 2012

Halloween in Stratford

Getting Around

My morning was quiet. Seated upstairs in a Capitol Hill coffee shop, I did some further writing on my thesis. Then it was off to Foggy Bottom on the Metro - and to meetings. At lunch we met with Dr Michael D Cohen, the man behind "Congress in Your Pocket", an 'app' I have on my iPad - which I find incredibly useful. With a few taps I can summon up lots of  information about individual members of Congress, committees, and what's going on in both Houses. Personally I use it when watching or reading about the current Congress. It also is a valuable source of information about the individual congressional races currently being fought. Worth checking out.

After lunch I headed out to Huntington, the final stop on the Yellow Metro line. (It's the station I use for getting in and out of the city from my base in Stratford Landing.) The combined Obama/Kaine (Senate)/ Moran (House - 8th Congressional district of Virginia) local campaign office is just across the street. My first sign was to 'construct' yard signs - placing the 'Kaine for Senate' signs over the metal frames.

It was great to meet "Scotland for Obama" - four Scottish lads who are over here to volunteer for the campaign. They have recently graduated, and it was great to see, both their enthusiasm and their eagerness to apply what they were learning about modern campaigning to the British scene. While there are some negative lessons - they recognise the potential for improving dramatically the way British politicians can communicate (yes, communicate - a two way dialogue) with citizens"

I too was amazed at how sophisticated campaigning had now become - and the tools which are available.

This evening was more relaxed - and I watched with my hosts some recent episodes of 'The Thick of It', wickedly funny!

The photo below comes from outside the offices in Alexandria, where 'early voting' is taking place. I was there on Monday (and will be there again this lunchtime), handing out 'sample ballots', to help voters identify the Democratic candidates. I was warned about the serious consequences of crossing the line. To do so would be a criminal offence!

Stratford Landing

This is the neighbourhood I am staying in

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Washington DC

Tuesday saw me off the campaign trail. Instead I had meetings and work to do in Washington DC. During the night. I had done a live interview with BBC Northampton following the final presidential debate. When I got to DC that debate was still the main topic of conversation. People were taking the debate apart, discussing every line - it felt like the conversations you can hear in England immediately after a football game. The first time I came to this city I was chatting with a woman who told me that the thing she hated about Washington was that everyone talked politics 24 hours a day. I guess it's why I love being here!

This evening I went to Bob Carr's class at George Washington University (though the class is held at the Hall of States close to the Senate side of 'The Hill' and Union Station.) We were comparing and contrasting ethics rules in Congress and the British Parliament. What a great group he has - a really nice group of people, intelligent and engaged. I guess it counts as work, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

From there Bob and I made our way to the Newseum, where there was a session in the Annenberg Theater on Campaign coverage in 2012. Candy Crowley, Gwendoline Ifill and Judy Woodruff were talking about their experiences in covering this campaign, and in particular chairing the debates. It was a fascinating insight into political journalism. I learnt a lot.

After a long, very long, day - I was glad to get to bed - but now - fully rested, and drinking a cup of Earl Grey tea, I'm looking forward to another day in the Great city.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Walter Harrison

During the interviews that I have conducted for my whips study, one phrase kept recurring - "the legendary Walter Harrison". He was Labour's Deputy Chief Whip in the House of Commons during the time it had a small, then non-existent majority in the 1970s - and his hard work kept the government going, despite incredible challenges.

Of all the individuals I have researched, he is the most interesting. There are some great stories told about him. Only last week some colleagues at Westminster urged me to try to get an interview with him. Sadly that will not be possible, as he passed away on Friday. As yet, only one of the newspapers (The Daily Telegraph) has published an obituary. I will be looking out for others - they will be worth reading. There is a play currently on at the National Theatre called the House, which centres on his life. It has completely sold out - though there are rumours it may return in another theatre. It has been on my wish list since I first heard about it.

On my twitter (jdm_progressive) and Facebook (jdavidmorgan) morning, I have posted links to a couple of videos that tell something of Walter Harrison's time and activities as a whip. You are cordially invited to view them. You'll understand why, in my office, there is just one photograph on my wall of a whip - Walter Harrison. RIP.


A busy day in Alexandria. Most of the morning and lunchtime was spent ringing voters. Virginia law apparently does not permit the printing of party labels for candidates at the lower levels of government. Consequently, as well as finding out whether individuals are inclined to vote for a particular party, it is necessary to tell them who the 'party list' are. It makes for quite a long 'conversation' - except, with the volume of unsolicited phone calls, few people would answer the phone. I'd have been tearing my hair out if I got such a low response rate from telephone canvassing in Britain. But perhaps this is a taste of things to come.

I also had some very interesting conversations in which British and American campaigning was compared and contrasted. The sheer cost of a campaign in the US was worrying.

This afternoon I got to stand out in the sun, on a beautiful, cloudless 'fall' day. I was handing out "sample ballots" to voters who were voting early, or in the local jargon "absentee voters in person". Until 3rd November, people who might not be able to vote on election day, can cast their vote at special centres.  To remind them of the party candidates, lists are offered to people as they approach the polling place. While I was there both the main parties had people handing these out. Some were refused, and many only took the list for the party they generally supported.

Tonight I'm watching the final debate between the presidential candidates. Then it's off to bed as I'm doing a live interview on BBC Radio Northampton on their breakfast show. 7-25 UK time, but 2-25 here in Virginia. There's now an iPhone app called 'BBC iPlayer Radio' which allows you, in addition to the main BBC stations, to listen live to local stations. I have been able to use it here in the USA to listen to BBC Radio Northampton. You can too - even if you are out of the range of the BBC Northampton transmitter!

While waiting for my bus, I videoed this 'panorama' of the junction of King Street and Washington Street, the very centre of Alexandria.

Monday 22 October 2012

The week begins...

Sunday was a day for reading the papers - looking at campaign literature which had been received by my hosts (if ever I hear a complaint from an English voter about the amount of leaflets, letters and phone calls received in the run up to an election - I can tell them they don't know they're born - here it's a deluge!!!) and catching up with friends. We also went to Leesburg (took a lot longer than expected - with major traffic hold-ups), but worth it - it's a lovely historic town and a super lunch was had.

I'm about to get out of bed - it's just gone 5-00am - and I'm being driven to Huntington Metro Station - the far end of the yellow line. I'll get off at King Street in Alexandria & visit a few coffee shops before turning up at the Alexandria Democratic Committee's offices. It's the Campaign HQ for Jim Moran, the Congressman for Virginia's 8th (Congressional) District. The local elections - for Alexandria's City Council are also being run from there. On my way in I will have passed the office in Huntington where the three campaigns - for Obama; for Tim Kaine (running for US Senate) and Jim Moran are being run for the area. I'll be there later in the week.

So - I shall get ready, and will post again later. If you have any questions, either put them as a comment or email me on jdavidmorgan@googlemail.com

Sunday 21 October 2012

Relaxing in Alexandria

After arriving late on Friday night (having travelled from Birmingham to Amsterdam to Detroit to Washington)  - I spent a relaxing day on Saturday. Just befor lunch I went to the market in Alexandria. You'd think that there's an election on! Both the Democrats and Republicans had street stalls. Petitions are being signed; stickers handed out; and questions answered. Other candidates - for the city council, have their stalls and the whole city is covered with street signs.

Early voting started this week in Virginia - and I popped round to the Central Election for Alexandria - where short queues had formed. One was to povide the required identication documents, the other was to vote. Details of all the candidates and offices were posted on notices. Outside the local Democrats handed me a "sample ballot paper", which highlighted who the party candidates were - and there are a lot of offices to be filled - from the President; to the Senate; the House of Representatives; and the city council. While candidates for the latter have party affiliations, this isn't stated on the ballot paper.

In the afternoon I went for a walk around the local neighbourhood (Stratford Landing), Lots of yard signs are already up. My hosts received a few phonecalls from the political parties and their supporters. Tonight I've been flicking through the TV channels - it's going to be impossible to ignore the fact that there is an election on!

Tuesday 16 October 2012

The language of statutes needs to be very precise. In the UK the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel is responsible for drafting Government Bills. A copy of the latest drafting guidance (a PDF of 84 pages) is available via the link below - and makes fascinating reading.

Monday 15 October 2012

My Research

I am currently researching, and now writing up my thesis, on whips in the UK Parliament and US Congress. This weekend, I was reviewing the challenges faced by whips in the 1974-79 Parliament. This excellent video tells the story of the events leading to the Government's fall.

Sunday 14 October 2012


On July 28th 1897 a number of Conservative MPs were at celebrations of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and absent from the House of Commons. The Government lost a vote on the Second Reading of the Isle of Man (Church Building Acts) Bill, by 58-64. The Prime Minister rising immediately, said: “It is evident that the attempt to carry on business during the Jubilee celebration is not wholly unattended with difficulties. In these circumstances, I beg to move "That this House do now adjourn." [Ministerial cheers, laughter, and Opposition cries of "No!"]” (HC Deb 28 June 1897 vol 50 cc672-3), that motion to was lost. A number of matters were deferred, but the third defeat, again on much reduced numbers, was suffered on the motion “That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again” relating to the Education Endowments (Ireland) Act 1885 Amendment Bill. (Hansard HC Deb 28 June 1897 vol 50.

Saturday 13 October 2012

Labour Party Conference

Sadly it was not possible to “blog” from Labour Party Conference as I had hoped – a mixture of computer problems (a ‘dodgy’ netbook) and very poor wifi signal in my hotel. In addition I was extremely busy during conference – and since my return have been wholly ‘absorbed’ in writing up my Ph.D.
I did, as promised, make some videos while I was there – and I will be uploading them to this blog as soon as I get a chance.

So here is the start of my “Conference Diary” (albeit a fortnight late – though as I’ve been typing up comments from Dick Crossman’s diaries – that’s relatively recent!) 

I arrived on Saturday 29th September. The Women’s Conference was on – but I’m not eligible to attend that. However the first events for delegates to the main conference began in the early evening. I attended two receptions – the first at the Town Hall, to welcome people to Manchester. The second was in the conference centre. Below is a video of the remarks made by the Party Leader, Ed Miliband 

Friday 12 October 2012

EU wins Nobel Prize

The European Movement has issued this statement -

"The decision by the Nobel Committee to award the 2012 Nobel Peace prize to the EU is of symbolic significance. It is a recognition of the role the EU has paid in the preservation and spread of peace, democracy and the rule of law across Europe over the past 60 years", said Petros Fassoulas, Chairman of the European Movement UK.

The EU has been an agent of stability across the Continent, the ambition to join this club of economic and political co-operation contributed to the fight in South as well as Central and Eastern Europe against dictatorship and Communism respectively and eventual membership of the EU cemented democracy in all these countries.

What started as a Community of 6 nations has become a Union of 27 that has united a continent that only a few decades ago was ravaged by 2 world wars and was facing the prospect of nuclear conflict.

The EU today is facing challenges of institutional and economic nature. But, as efforts by Member State governments and public sentiment across the EU has shown, there is still strong support for the process of integration and commitment to make the EU work even better for its members and their citizens.

The award of the Nobel Prize is a reminder of the EU's achievements over the past 60 years and an inspiration to preserve this unique project of international and supranational co-operation and build on its successes. The European Movement calls for the UK to remain at the core of the process of European integration and co-co-operate closely with our EU partners in the efforts to promote our common interests in the globalised world we are part of."

Saturday 6 October 2012

Congressional Ethics

I found this clip while searching for information on the Obey Commission.

Friday 28 September 2012

Off to Conference

Labour Party Conference is this year in Manchester. I spoke to the delegate from Milton Keynes South, Mohammed Khan.

Thursday 27 September 2012

The good news - and the bad news...

The good news is that that I am entering the final stretch writing up my Ph.D. Finally the reading; the interviewing and the thinking are coming together into a single structured paper (well a very long paper!). Soon I’ll be submitting, what I hope is a readable draft.

The bad news is that it has meant that I’ve not been able to keep the Washminster posts flowing. (I hope you noticed!)

The good news is that Washminster is about to enter a new exciting period. I’ll be posting from Labour Party Conference. Because I will also be continuing to hone the Ph.D. paper, I will sadly be foregoing the pictures to accompany posts – and they may be a little raw – but I hope that you’ll enjoy the eye witness account; description and explanation of this annual politics-fest.

Then I’ll be back to the full time work on the Ph.D. and prep for the next “adventure”, which is my visit to Virginia for the last couple of weeks of the Presidential; Senate & House races in that great state. As in 2008, I hope to be posting frequently and fully while I’ll there.

So please keep visiting the Washminster blog. I’ll also be tweeting on ‘jdm_progressive’ during this period.


Thursday 13 September 2012

Quality Law

Today the Political & Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons is holding a hearing into “Ensuring standards in the quality of legislation”. The witnesses will be

Rt Hon Nick Raynsford MP – a Labour MP, who has extensive experience of being in Government and Parliament.

Lord Norton of Louth – THE parliamentary expert, both as an academic, he is Professor of Government at Hull University (and my Ph.D. Supervisor), and a former Chair of the Lords Select Committee on the

Lord Maclennan of Rogart – A former Labour Minister (in the 1974-9 Government), who was a founder of the SDP. He was 35 years in the Commons, and has spent 11 years in the Lords – and is the current LibDem spokesman on the Cabinet Office.

The session can be watched live at From 10.00am [UK]
Go to: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=11413

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Education Select Committee

Yesterday I attended the evidence session of the Education Select Committee which is looking into the GCSE fiasco. I often watch select committees (either in person or via the parliamentlive website), but I’ve rarely felt as angry as I did after hearing from some of the Heads about the impact of the injustice done to some young people.

The witnesses were

Brian Lightman, General Secretary, Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Mike Griffiths, Headmaster, Northampton school for boys, and ASCL President, Russell Hobby, General Secretary, National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), and Kenny Fredericks, Principal, George Green's School, Isle of dogs, and member of NAHT executive.

In the second session – key individuals from Ofqual including Glenys Stacey gave evidence.

Saturday 8 September 2012


Friend of Washminster, former Congressman, Bob Carr – is now teaching an "Ethics and Congress" class at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University [Legislative Affairs Course]- On the reading list is an interesting book which I read last weekend “ The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty”, by Dan Ariely.

Mr Ariely considers how widespread dishonesty is – yes, ALL of us have a penchant for dishonesty and cheating – though we are superb at justifying ourselves and our behaviour (and not bad in conning ourselves either). The book looks at this tendency – why it arises – and what can suppress it. He also discusses a “fudge factor theory”. There are some interesting results from behavioural studies. I would recommend to everyone.

Friday 7 September 2012

APPGs at Westminster

All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are – as the name suggests – parliamentary groups which are open to Members of either House and any party. Many are either issue or geographically based, and may be serious or have a more social side.

There are specific rules for a group to qualify for APPG status. The House of Commons Library has a Standard Note on them which is available at http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN06409.

There is a register of all APPGs which is available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmallparty/register/register.pdf

As a matter of interest,I helped set up the latest All-Party Parliamentary Group on the British Constitution a couple of years ago.

Thursday 6 September 2012

Select Committees

The House of Commons has a number of Departmental Select Committees, who generally have no role in the legislative process (those committees are known as ‘Public Bill Committees’, which meet in committee rooms where MPs sit on either side of the room – like a mini House of Commons – with the Government on one side and the Opposition on the other).

Select committees sit around a horseshoe shaped table – and their role and powers are described in Standing Order 152

152.—(1) Select committees shall be appointed to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the principal government departments as set out in paragraph (2) of this order and associated public bodies….


(3) Each select committee appointed under this order shall have the power to appoint a sub-committee.

(4) Select committees appointed under this order shall have power—

(a) to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to
adjourn from place to place, and to report from time to time;

(b) to appoint specialist advisers either to supply information which is not readily available or to elucidate matters of complexity within the committee’s order of reference; and

(c) to report from time to time the evidence taken before sub-committees, and the formal minutes of sub-committees;

and the sub-committees appointed under this order shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to adjourn from place to place, to report from time to time their formal minutes, and shall have a quorum of three.

(5) Unless the House otherwise orders, all Members nominated to a committee appointed under this order shall continue to be members of that committee for the remainder of the Parliament.

Further information can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/about/how/committees/select/

Wednesday 5 September 2012

The New Football Season

The 2012 American Football season kicks off today with Dallas Cowboys playing the New York Giants – as many readers of this blog will know (and the title might give a clue), I’m a Washington Redskins fan. Their first game is on Sunday in New Orleans.

I’m a subscriber to NFL’s Game Pass – so most Sunday evenings I’ll be watching like on my Desktop computer – or more likely these days – on my iPad. Should I be otherwise engaged (for example during the Sunday evening of the Labour Party Conference, I can watch later. Being the total nerd that I am, I will have my recently purchased “2012 Official NFL Record and Fact Book” at my side.

I also have on my iPhone and iPad the “NFL ’12” and “Official Redskins Feedr” Apps – and of course – as is my practice – I read the sports news in the Washington Post (also through an iPad App.

What is it that I find interesting about this game? It was the references to American Football in political speeches which first attracted my interest (Nixon and Reagan often made references!), but I enjoy the strategic aspects of the game – (hopefully) marching up the field using a series of carefully planned moves – each team trying to outsmart the other. In many ways so much like politics. I even keep my own “playbook” – plays that have been used in Parliament, and particularly Congress (where the scope for innovative procedural tactics is much greater) in order to advance or halt legislative progress.

Are you an American Football fan? Which team do you support? If you'd like to tell fellow readers of Washminster what attracts you to the game - or why you support a particular team - drop me a short piece on jdavidmorgan@washminster.com - which I can then repost here.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Revision for Exams

Below is a video I prepared for my OU Law students last year. Well exams again loom - so, if you have exams coming up - you might find this useful.

Monday 3 September 2012

Carr and Morgan on the Republican Convention

This is a recording (with pictures) of the interview former Congressman Bob Carr and I did last Friday following Mitt Romney's speech at the Republican Convention. The BBC Presenter is Stuat Linnell.

Britain and the American Civil War

As long time members of the Washminster Community know, I am fascinated by the American Civil War (and very grateful to my friend John Dickert for taking me to so many of the battlefields.) Last week C-SPAN rebroadcast a very interesting programme about Britain's role in the US Civil War. Many Brits served in the opposing armies - and of course the war was of great interest to policy makers and politicians in London (to say nothing of manufacturers and their workers, particularly in the North and the Midlands).

The programme can be accessed at


Saturday 1 September 2012

Welcome back...

... to the Washminster Blog. Summer, sadly, is now over [though it hasn't been a great one in the UK] - and a busy Autumn (or Fall) beckons. So Washminster will be publishing posts about

- The US elections – which are on November 6th
- The British parliamentary scene – the House of Commons returns this week, and the Coalition must face Parliament after a stormy summer
- British party conferences during September and October
- Forthcoming exams for my Open Students – but all are welcome to read my revision pieces about the British Constitution; English legal System; EU Law and Criminal Law
- The new American Football season
- The conclusion of the Baseball season – which has been pretty spectacular for the Washington Nationals
- And much, much more…

Please do contact me if there are any subjects you’d like to see posts on – or have a contribution you’d like to make.

Thursday 30 August 2012

Coming Soon....

Washminster will return on Saturday 1st September. Initially I am aiming for a post, on average, every other day - but this will increase shortly. Please do pass the message on about the return of this blog.

In particular this blog should be of interest to those

* who are studying Law and Politics - particularly of the US and the UK
* who enjoy British history
* who enjoy US history
* who are interested in French and EU Government, politics and history
* who enjoying thinking about the practical application of political ideas
* who take an interest in UK, US & French election

so if any of those describe YOU - please subscribe to Washminster. If they describe any of your friends or students - drop them an email - or post about Washminster on Facebook or Twitter.

Many thanks


Monday 20 August 2012

The magnificant aerial photo of Milton Keynes

On 15th March this year I wrote a post about my city, Milton Keynes. Alongside I posted a wonderful photo of an aerial view of the city. (Take a look!) I'm happy to credit Ashley Flynn, who was the photographer.

Tuesday 7 August 2012


Washminster will be returning shortly - with lots on

Elections (USA - Presidential; Senate; House of Representatives - and more!) - a nearby Parliamentary by-election in the UK (Corby)

History - the stories behind developments in the USA; UK; France and Europe.

Exam Revision - especially (but not exclusively) aimed at W200 and W201 students in the Open University

So watch this space....
(in the meantime enjoy the magnificent show that is the 2012 Olympics...)

Thursday 28 June 2012

The Summer Holidays

Washminster has "broken up" for the summer holidays. It will return in early October.

In the meantime it remains a useable resource for Law and Politics students, and everyone wanting to find out more about the working of the US Congress; British Parliament and political and legal history and practice in the US, UK, EU and France. Please use  -

(1) The search engine on the right of the blog "Search This Blog" - use any word that is of interest to you - for example "parliamentary sovereignty"; "separation of powers"; "Washington DC"; "European Parliament"...

(2) The Blog Archive - All previous posts can be accessed via the archive which is structured by year; month; day. Revision posts can be found mainly (but not exclusively) in the months August to October. You can build a useful search strategy by using a combination of (1); (2) & (3)

(3) Most posts have a list of labels - click on any of these to see all entries sharing that label.

Have a good summer - and I look forward to returning to full service in October. Do visit the site occasionally for any updates.

Best wishes


Wednesday 20 June 2012

A brilliant educational video -

It's from the "Horrible Histories", another excellent programme from the BBC.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Alan Turing

This Saturday will be the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing. His significance (for Mathematics; Computing and the winning of World War II) is great - and has been internationally recognised in recent years. (President Obama has often mentioned him).
...and most days he cycled through Furzton (where I now live) on his way to Bletchley Park. Between 4 September 1939 and the summer of 1944, he lodged at The Crown Inn, at Shenley Brook End (It is now a private home). Ronald Lewin has written

"in the first week of June each year he would get a bad attack of hay fever, and he would cycle to the office wearing a service gas mask to keep the pollen off. His bicycle had a fault: the chain would come off at regular intervals. Instead of having it mended he would count the number of times the pedals went round and would get off the bicycle in time to adjust the chain by hand." He is also reputed to have "occasionally ran the 40 miles to London when he was needed for high-level meetings" (he was a talented long distance runner - he also qualified for the 1948 Olympics!).

The most intriguing story is of his silver bars. "In 1940 he buried some silver bars near Shenley. In 1944, 1946 and 1952 he tried to find them and failed. No-one knows what happened to his buried treasure!" As the Shenley Road runs through Furzton - it might be that the silver bars still lie within Furzton! Perhaps another reason why (when the ground has stopped being waterlogged) I should be digging in my back garden.

(for an earlier post - and video on Bletchley Park go to http://washminster.blogspot.co.uk/2009/11/special-relationship.html)

Monday 18 June 2012

The Men Who Made Us Fat

Last week I watched on BBC iPlayer a programme broadcast last night called "The Men Who Made Us Fat". I don't watch much TV these days (essentially 'The Big Bang Theory' and little else), but this is a programme which should be watched widely.

It's a series, which runs on BBC2 on Thursday, made by journalist Jacques Peretti, which goes out at 9pm (though is available on BBC iPlayer for a further 3 weeks). It's an interesting and disturbing story of the actions of Food companies; Lobbying Organisations; Politicians and Scientists. If you are interested in public health issues (as well as your own health and well being), you'll find the programme interesting and challenging. The whole programme is available at


My apologies if you are watching this outside the UK. BBC iPlayer can only be viewed from within the UK. I don't know if the BBC plans to air this series on BBC America or BBC World

There is an informative link at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-18393391

Saturday 16 June 2012

Could Watergate Happen Again?

This series began with my concerns about the dangers of abuses of power. We need to be eternally vigilant. Last week, as part of an anniversary event, the question was posed - Could Watergate happen again?

My argument is that there will always be the temptation to abuse power - and human nature being what it is - such abuse will be self-justified. Since Watergate we had the Iran-Contra Affair - in my view a more serious matter. The participants broke the law; lied to the American people - but convinced themselves that what they were doing was right.

We need investigative journalism; we need active committees (and their members and staff) in Legislatures; most of all we need people to demand accountability.

Friday 15 June 2012

Woodward and Bernstein

Woodward and Bernstein spoke at a special anniversary event at the Watergate Building earlier this week

Thursday 14 June 2012

Spencer Oliver

If you visit the website of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, you will see that the Secretary General is R Spencer Oliver, and that he has been in post since 1992. His biography though doesn't give the reason why he is the subject of this post, which is part of a series on a 40th anniversary which occurs this coming Sunday.

In 1972 Mr Oliver was the Executive Director of Association of Democratic State Chairmen. He worked in the offices of the DNC in the Watergate Building. His phone had a bug placed on it. The other bug was placed on the phone of the DNC Chairman, Larry O’Brien.

Oliver started a lawsuit against those who had bugged his phone. The new Chair of the DNC tried to persuade him to drop the lawsuit, even cutting off his salary to force his hand. I found this interesting article online -

“In an interview with Robert Parry, the author of Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq (2004) Oliver suggested that the wiretap was connected to his attempts to head off the nomination of George McGovern. Oliver was concerned that McGovern would be easily defeated by Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential election. He was therefore involved in a plot to replace McGovern with Terry Sanford.

Oliver believes that Nixon wanted to gain information about his plans so that he could undermine the plot to stop McGovern's candidacy. According to Oliver, John Connally and Robert Strauss, were using their influence behind the scenes to get McGovern the nomination. He points out that McGovern got his share of the Texas delegates on 14th June, 1972. Later that day, Gordon Liddy told the burglars that they needed to return to the Democratic offices at Watergate. Three days later, James W. McCord, Frank Sturgis, Virgilio Gonzalez, Eugenio Martinez and Bernard L. Barker were arrested while breaking into the Watergate offices. Does this mean that the purpose of the second break-in was to remove the bug from Oliver's phone?

Spencer Oliver was convinced that the full story was not being revealed about Watergate. He therefore started a lawsuit against those involved in placing a wiretap on his phone. As he pointed out: "I realized that anybody who received the contents of the intercepted telephone conversation and passed them on, in other words, the fruits of the criminal act, was also guilty of a felony. So that meant that if someone listened to my phone, wrote a memo like McCord had done and sent it to the White House or to CREEP, everybody who got those memos and either read them or passed them on was a felon."

Robert Strauss, who was now Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, tried to persuade Oliver to drop the lawsuit. When he refused, Strauss cut off his pay as executive director of the Association of State Democratic Chairmen. Strauss also worked behind the scenes in order to arrange a negotiated settlement with the Republican Party.

At a press conference in April, 1973, Oliver declared: "I am appalled at the idea of ending the civil suit in the Watergate case through a secretly negotiated settlement and thereby destroying what may be an important forum through which the truth about those responsible may become known. I do not know what motivated Robert Strauss to even contemplate such a step."

Robert Parry (Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq) has pointed out that "Oliver said it was not until spring 1973 that he began putting the pieces of the Watergate mystery together, leading him to believe that the events around the Texas convention were not simply coincidental but rather the consequence of Republican eavesdropping on his telephone. If that was true, Oliver suspected, Strauss may have been collaborating with his old mentor Connally both in arranging a Texas outcome that would ensure McGovern's nomination and later in trying to head off the Watergate civil lawsuit."”

In 1976 Spencer Oliver was appointed as Chief Counsel of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives and during the Iran-Contra Scandal he instigated an investigation of CIA Director, William Casey.
A few years ago, I had to ring Mr Oliver, as we were talking the thought did pop into my head, “I hope nobody’s listening in to our conversation.”

Wednesday 13 June 2012

The Watergate Building

“Watergate” is not just the name of a scandal that brought about the only Presidential resignation in US history, but is an iconic building in Washington DC. I used to stop close to the Watergate (not in, out of my price range!) during my early visits to the city. It isn’t a single building, but a complex of five buildings., covering a site of 10 acres. There is a hotel as well as apartments and offices. There used to be a Safeway supermarket (where I discovered ‘Red Rose Tea’), but that closed a few months ago. It was built in the 1960s, final completion coming only in 1971.

But it was the early hours of June 17th 1972 that made it a household name around the world. The Democratic National Committee had its headquarters on the sixth floor of the Hotel and Office Building (the 2600 Virginia Avenue building) . The famous break in that occurred 40 years ago this weekend was not the only one. In fact it took place because one of the original bugs, placed on May 28th, was not working properly. There is a fascinating 20 page article on the earlier burglary, which seeks to bring together the evidence about what happened where and when at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watergate_burglaries

The famous burglary was monitored from the Howard Johnson Hotel across Virginia Avenue. It is now student accommodation. The burglars were arrested after a security guard, Frank Wills, found that duct tape had been left on the door between the garage and a stairwell. (He played himself in the film "All the President's Men")  The door can now be seen in the Newseum. And as they say, the rest is history…..

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Watergate - Let us never forget

From the time the story was developing (I was a schoolboy at the time), I have been fascinated by Watergate. I might even go as far to say that it developed my life long interest in both US Politics – and the issue of how to control the abuse of power. [I am a lecturer in Constitutional Law – and I always stress (some might say ‘bore for England’) the importance of the first part of Lord Acton’s dictum that “Power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely” – and the consequent need for scrutiny of the use of power].

Over the years I have collected a number of books and other resources about the break in and the subsequent events. If you look at my Facebook profile – (jdavidmorgan) you’ll see that I list “All the President’s Men” as one of my favourite films – I watch that as often as some people watch “The Sound of Music”. If you haven’t watched it – I thoroughly recommend that you do so. Guess what I’m planning to do on Sunday? I have the autobiographies of Richard Nixon, Chuck Colson, G Gordon Liddy, Mark Felt (‘Deep Throat’), H R Haldeman’s “The Ends of Power”; and a copy of the Ervin Committee Report (and of course Woodward and Bernstein’s two books – ‘All the President’s Men’ and ‘The Final Days’). I have the Frost interviews as well as the more recent book and film about them, and many books about Nixon.

It can be too easy in a mature democracy to forget how far people are prepared to go to acquire and hold on to power. Too often we can concentrate on describing political events and procedures; discuss policies and personalities – but we should never forget the importance of scrutinising and controlling the use of power.

Supreme Court

From CQ Rollcall Next Monday is the next time the court might issue its rulings on the constitutionality of the 2010 health care law or the Arizona immigration law. There are only two more scheduled “decision days” left in its term after that.

Saturday 9 June 2012

Margaret Bondfield

On Thursday the 180th anniversary of the Great Reform Act was celebrated (in secret??). Yesterday was another anniversary concerned with the progress of spreading power. It was 83 years since Margaret Bondfield was appointed as Britain’s first woman cabinet minister.

In Northampton (where I lived for just over 20 years), the Labour Party used to hold an annual Margaret Bondfield dinner. Ms Bondfield had been the MP for Northampton in 1923-24, a period which saw the first (minority) Labour Government. She lost that seat at the October 1924 General Election, returning in 1926 as the MP for Wallsend. There is a short biography of her on the Union History website. She was an active trade unionist – beginning whilst working as a shop assistant. Before entering Parliament she had become the first woman chair of the TUC. I remember meeting an old lady who recalled running around as a little girl carrying ribbons, while Ms Bondfield was campaigning in Northampton.

Born in 1873, she died in 1953.


Friday 8 June 2012

The Hansard Society

A search of this blog will reveal that the Hansard Society gets a lot of mentions. It’s one of the most important groups encouraging involvement in and discussion of Parliamentary Government. There is a journal “”Parliamentary Affairs”, which has some excellent scholarly articles – and frequent seminars and meetings. These are held across the UK, but the ones at Westminster (usually in Portcullis House) are open to the public, and worth attending. As it is within the Parliamentary Estate - and the Society enjoys a high level of support from across the political spectrum - it attracts top speakers and fellow attenders. The annual audit of Political Engagement is both scholarly – and of tremendous use to those involved in British politics (especially at the grassroots level)

Anyone interested in the work of the Westminster Parliament (as a student; an academic; a political activist or a citizen), and now the regional Parliaments/Assemblies in the UK, should seriously consider joining the Hansard Society. They have an excellent website – which can be accessed at http://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/

I'll be attending next weeks AGM - and hope that over the coming months many more people will support and join.

Thursday 7 June 2012

A Triple Diamond Jubilee

Today is the 180th anniversary (Triple Diamond? 3 * 60) of the Great Reform Act 1832 being signed into law. It was a significant step towards the establishment of a democracy (though it was another 86 years before half the adult population got the vote – and another 11 years before equality in voting rights was achieved).

The Prime Minister who brought about this first widening of the franchise was Earl Grey (yes, it was named after him!).

The National Archives website has this commentary -

In 1832, Parliament passed a law changing the British electoral system. It was known as the Great Reform Act. This was a response to many years of people criticising the electoral system as unfair. For example, there were constituencies with only a handful of voters that elected two MPs to Parliament. In these rotten boroughs, with few voters and no secret ballot, it was easy for candidates to buy votes. Yet towns like Manchester that had grown during the previous 80 years had no MPs to represent them.

In 1831, the House of Commons passed a Reform Bill, but the House of Lords, dominated by Tories, defeated it. There followed riots and serious disturbances in London, Birmingham, Derby, Nottingham, Leicester, Yeovil, Sherborne, Exeter and Bristol. The riots in Bristol were some of the worst seen in England in the 19th century. They began when Sir Charles Weatherall, who was opposed to the Reform Bill, came to open the Assize Court. Public buildings and houses were set on fire, there was more than £300,000 of damage and twelve people died. Of 102 people arrested and tried, 31 were sentenced to death. Lieutenant-Colonel Brereton, the commander of the army in Bristol, was court-martialed.

There was a fear in government that unless there was some reform there might be a revolution instead. They looked to the July 1830 revolution in France, which overthrew King Charles X and replaced him with the more moderate King Louis-Philippe who agreed to a constitutional monarchy.

In Britain, King William IV lost popularity for standing in the way of reform. Eventually he agreed to create new Whig peers, and when the House of Lords heard this, they agreed to pass the Reform Act. Rotten boroughs were removed and the new towns given the right to elect MPs, although constituencies were still of uneven size. However, only men who owned property worth at least £10 could vote, which cut out most of the working classes, and only men who could afford to pay to stand for election could be MPs. This reform did not go far enough to silence all protest.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

The Kennedy Dream

Whilst listening to TSF Jazz while marking today, I heard the latter part of a song being played. I was good music, but the title intrigued me – “The Rights of All” – I investigated further (what a wonderful thing a Google search is!) and discovered the album – “The Kennedy Dream” by Oliver Nelson. After listening to it, I am happy to recommend it to you.

Nelson was a sax and clarinet player from St Louis, who also composed and arranged. This album was recorded in 1967. Sadly he died at the early age of 43, in 1975.

Scott Yanow writes –

Oliver Nelson was a distinctive soloist on alto, tenor, and even soprano, but his writing eventually overshadowed his playing skills. He became a professional early on in 1947, playing with the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra and with St. Louis big bands headed by George Hudson and Nat Towles. In 1951, he arranged and played second alto for Louis Jordan's big band, and followed with a period in the Navy and four years at a university. After moving to New York, Nelson worked briefly with Erskine Hawkins, Wild Bill Davis, and Louie Bellson (the latter on the West Coast). In addition to playing with Quincy Jones' orchestra (1960-1961), between 1959-1961 Nelson recorded six small-group albums and a big band date; those gave him a lot of recognition and respect in the jazz world. Blues and the Abstract Truth (from 1961) is considered a classic and helped to popularize a song that Nelson had included on a slightly earlier Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis session, "Stolen Moments." He also fearlessly matched wits effectively with the explosive Eric Dolphy on a pair of quintet sessions. But good as his playing was, Nelson was in greater demand as an arranger, writing for big band dates of Jimmy Smith, Wes Montgomery, and Billy Taylor, among others. By 1967, when he moved to Los Angeles, Nelson was working hard in the studios, writing for television and movies. He occasionally appeared with a big band, wrote a few ambitious works, and recorded jazz on an infrequent basis, but Oliver Nelson was largely lost to jazz a few years before his unexpected death at age 43 from a heart attack.

Saturday 2 June 2012

French Elections - outside France

The first round of the legislative elections are a week and a day away. For the first time there are geographical districts for those living outside France. A special programme has been made about the elections in these areas.

Friday 1 June 2012

Parties in the House of Lords

There are a significant number of "Crossbenchers" (Peers who are not allied to, or "take the whip" of, any political party) - but the House is, in voting terms, dominated by the three major parties. [However, the power can rest with individual crossbenchers - who can, at present, tip a vote either way]

Once the hereditary peerage tipped the Lords massively in favour of the Conservatives. Many of these who enjoyed inherited wealth as well as their seat in Parliament - were members of, or at least very sympathetic to the Conservative Party. [Of course there were also a disproportionate number of Liberals - remnants of the Whigs and their successors - but some hereditary Labour Peers].

The Life Peerages Act 1958 led to a major change over time - as most newcomers were not hereditary peers, but appointed for life.

In 1984/5 There were 405 Conservatives; 123 Labour and 84 Liberal/SDP members (out of a House of 937). By 1994 the balance had shifted even more towards the Tories - 481 peers sat on the Conservative benches (46.3% of the whole House).

The House of Lords Act 1999 removed the right of most hereditaries to sit in the House. Some hereditaries stayed on - as part of the 92 who remained - most after election by their peers. Some were granted life peerages which secured their seats.

The balance shifted immediately - in the 1999/2000 session there were 225 Conservatives; 195 Labour and 61 Liberal Democrat peers.  By the end of Labour's period in office, the House consisted of

185 Conservatives (26.2% of the House) 211 Labour (29.9%) and 72 Liberal Democrats (10.2%).

No Government ever had a majority in the House - but Conservative Governments were defeated a lot less frequently (especially when non-aligned hereditary peers were naturally more sympathetic). In 2004/05 - when Labour had a majority over a hundred in the House of Commons - it lost 55.2% of whipped votes in the Lords.

By June 2011 the numbers of Government Peers (now Conservative and Liberal-Democrats) had risen to 39.1% of the House (the Labour Government only enjoyed a membership of 29.9% of the House). Some members of the coalition want the makeup of the House of Lords to mirror the proportions in the House of Commons ((which is course was disproportionate to the votes cast at the election)).

The danger is that a loaded House of Lords will be less likely to carry out its function of being a break on a Government. The Commons already resembles a rubber stamp. Would it be good for British democracy if the House of Lords became one too?