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?