Tuesday 24 April 2012


This is post number 1776 on Washminster. Appropriately it is time for a break.

As many of you know, I am moving towards the final stages of my doctorate. I am setting aside the next 100 days to concentrate upon writing up the thesis. Due to the other demands on my time (I am continuing to tutor on the Open University’s W200; W201 and Y186 courses), I feel that it would be best for me to partially suspend Washminster until early August. I will be posting the occasional article – particularly where they relate to the courses I am teaching, or have particular important in relation to practice and procedure in the UK Parliament and US Congress. So please do occasionally pop back to Washminster during this period.

Monday 23 April 2012

House of Lords Reform

Today the Joint Committee on the Draft House of Lords Reform Bill

The Report comes in three volumes, which can be accessed here - Vol 1; Vol 2; and Vol 3. There is an alternative report prepared by a number of members of the committee available at http://www.houseoflordsreform.com/

A debate will be held in the House of Lords next Monday.

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Homeward Bound

The trip to Washington is almost over. I'm writing this at Dulles Airport. From the window of Terminal B(where I am sitting) the Space Shuttle (which flew over the city a few hours ago is sitting. I've posted a photograph on my Facebook page (this is an iPad1 - so I can't take and save photos). It's been an interesting fortnight. Yesterday I spent the afternoon in the gallery of the House of Representatives - and chatted to some interesting people. Unlike the Commons and Lords - business is not continuous. I'll be writing up some of my experiences in the days to come. Now I have an opportunity to catch up with some reading as I fly home.

A Park for a Chief Justice

Sunday 15 April 2012

Saturday 14 April 2012

Far from Perfection

As I speak these words into my voice recorder, the sky is a beautiful shade of blue; there are no clouds; and the trees across the Capitol Hill park are various shades of green. Pink and white bloom abounds. The bright sunshine reflects off the dome of the Capitol Buiding and all seems peaceful and magical. Yet this same building is coming under attack by people who want to throw out the Senators and Representatives.

One thing is clear - there is a distrust, even a hatred, of the current political settlement. Citizens want to hold those who take powerful decisions accountable. Yet politicians seem incapable of standing up against the well paid lobbyists. The members of Congress seem to be in hock to the very corporations that they should be controlling.

In the temples of democracy there has been stalemate for many years. Very little is being achieved - the House of Representatives is merrily passing legislation that it knows that the Senate and the president will reject. It's all gesture politics.

To find a solution we need to have a deep reflection on the health of our democracy - here in the United States but also in my own country of birth the United Kingdom and across Europe. Democracies and those in the legislatures seem to be further and further removed from the people they represent. One of the key causes may be that as democracy has flourished it has become more and more important that the political messages are got across to the electorate. That costs money and without state funding it is coming from the pockets of wealthy individuals and corporations. These are not something for nothing deals. The rich and powerful want their views represented and acted upon. That may be against the interests of the rest of us.

We have to face up to the challenge that democracy needs active citizen involvement. Without it our democracy slides into a rough market place where many "citizens" can only look on - frustrated and angry.
[Recorded in the Capitol Grounds - Friday morning]


Monday 9 April 2012

A Free University

I do it at home - but while I'm in Washington DC, I've been doing it more - and that is watching C-SPAN programmes. Although primarily known for its live broadcasting of the House of Representatives and the US Senate - C-SPAN has programming which goes out 24 hours a day on 3 TV channels and a radio station. It is available on cable TV in the US, but can be accessed via the internet or through an app (I use the app on my iPhone and iPad). There is also an extensive library of programmes from previous years.

All this adds up to a first rate free university, full of lectures - documentaries and a wealth of primary materials. As I write this I am in a home in Northern Virginia - it is 7.40 on Easter Sunday morning - and I am listening to a C-SPAN programme on my iPad - "Edmund Burke and the origins of modern conservatism". David Norcross is delivering an interesting, informative lecture to the Citadel Military College.

Each day I check the text schedules on the internet (and these have hyperlinks to the programmes themselves). I listen to, or watch programmes which look interesting - which will extend my knowledge and understanding. It may be a history documentary; or a lecture on political philosophy. Perhaps it covers a current controversy or the progress of the US Elections. I wish I had time to watch everything of interest that is on offer. I don't need to worry about time the broadcast is actually made - since I'm actually watching programmes in the video library. (Note for readers outside the US - you need to remember the time difference. Your browser in Britain may think it is noon, so shows you the schedule from 12.00 - wheras you need to look backwasrds at 7.00 (the 'previous' 24 hour schedule) which is the time in the Eastern US)

The complete covereage of Chamber proceedings of both Houses of Congress (plus many committee proceedings); plus broadcasts of political events gives an excellent source of primary materials. They are useful for learning about practice and procedure.

I thoroughly commend C-SPAN - and invite you to explore how it can enhance your understanding (and frankly) enjoyment of politics; history and many other related subjects.

Springtime in Virginia

The view from the home I am staying in

Sunday 8 April 2012

The Slippery Slope

English law has long recognised that a person can protect themselves when under attack from another person, even when the result is the death of the attacker. That might surprise you if you've read some of the claims of the British newspapers such as the Daily Mail. In fact, juries are prepared to bend over backwards to acquit where someone has killed whilst facing a violent intruder.

The most famous case where the press, and some politicians, claimed the law denied the right of self defence - was that of Tony Martin - who killed when his property was being burgled. But the full law report needs to be read. The jury convicted because they heard evidence which convinced them that Martin went far beyond what was necessary or acceptable.

Despite The facts – and the House of Commons Library did an excellent paper on research into cases of claimed self-defence – which showed how far juries would go in refusing to convict – there have been demands to change the law to make self defence even easier to succeed with.

The trouble is this can allow killings which are in truth, unjustified. In the USA we have seen the recent tragedy of Trayvon Martin who was killed by a vigilante.

Today the Washington Post has an article showing how the number of killings has increased with “Stand Your Ground” Laws. In Florida they have tripled. Are they letting people get away with murder, literally!

The Duke

The office in which Bob Carr works is undergoing some redevelopment. As a result there is a temporary entrance at the side. As I went in I noticed a wall mural opposite showing Duke Ellington, one of my favourite jazz musicians. (He was brilliant on so many counts - he wrote over a thousand compositions - created an incredible sound - and since you were going to ask, my favourite (but there are so many I love) is Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue, as performed at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 7th 1956). There was a plaque nearby indicating that the modern building stands on the site where the Duke was born.

Saturday 7 April 2012

Former Majority Leaders in the Senate

Overnight I listened to an interesting programme on C-SPAN Radio which involved an event at the Bipartisan Policy Center, honouring former Senators Howard Baker and Bob Dole. It gives some useful insights into the working of the US Senate. As I spent a considerable time yesterday writing about the recent history of the Senate and it's leadership - this was a particularly well timed broadcast. A number of key leaders attended and spoke. Although I am in Washington at the moment, I was able to listen to it in exactly the same way as I do when I am at home -3500 miles away - on my iPhone through using the C-SPAN App. The video can be viewed at http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Bakera

Friday 6 April 2012

From your correspondent in Washington...

I arrived in Washington late on Wednesday night. I had written a post from Amsterdam - but just as I was going to publish the free wifi period ended. Reposting when I next had wifi seemed a little ridiculous. It was great to have on board wifi whilst flying from Detroit to National Airport in Washington. I caught up on my emails and posted on Facebook. Yesterday was spent in the city. I took the metro to Capitol South - got my first close up view of the Capitol Building since my last visit ( away far too long - I need an excuse to come here more often! Any offers will be gratefully received, and seriously considered). Later in the day I met a good friend of Washminster, Bob Carr. I'm writing this in bed (it's before 6am) - before heading back into the city (I'm currently in DC, but close to Rock Creek - so rural, yet so close to the political centre). On the way in we passed a number of deer! I hope to do a bit more posting during the day. If any friends of Washminster are in town & fancy meeting up - I'll be around for a few more days. Drop me an email (jdavidmorgan@googlemail.com) or ring me on my cellphone (202-658-9717).

Wednesday 4 April 2012

En Route

This morning I begin my latest visit to Washington DC. However it will be 10.59 EDT (3.59am Thursday) when I finally arrive at Washington National Airport. I will be visiting the airports of Birmingham, Amsterdam and Detroit on the way.

While I’m over there I hope to conduct some further interviews and access some primary material unavailable in the UK, for my doctorate. I also intend to visit some of the places I have yet to spend time at – such as the Newseum. My intention is also to make some videos (as on previous visits) and to comment on and explain how the Federal Government works. I shall also look at State and local government, and report on how the Elections are shaping up in the Northern Virginia and DC areas. (I may even hop into Maryland!). I also look forward to returning to some of my favourite haunts such as St Elmos in Del Ray; Tortilla Coast on Capitol Hill – and of course – the Capitol Building itself.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Holding to Account

Yesterday, the Independent newspaper published an article about Margaret Hodge, the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. It is one of the oldest committees currently in existence, and has over many years been the major committee for overseeing the use of public money. It has the National Audit Office report direct to it. By convention, the Chair is a member of the main Opposition party.

The article describes the role and work of the PAC, but the focus of the article is on Ms Hodge’s to hold senior civil servants to account before Parliament. Of course that has faced some resistance, due to the doctrine of individual ministerial responsibility. That doctrine has Ministers responsible before Parliament for the actions of the Departments they head.

Fans of “Yes, Minister”, will no doubt applaud Ms Hodge’s efforts – with its portrayal of hapless ministers constantly outwitted by cunning and clever civil servants. The reality is somewhat different.

The article can be accessed here.