Tuesday 4 November 2014

Election Night

Today is election day in the USA. These are the times that polls close in the various states - and special attention will be paid to the key Senate races. Exit polls should be available from the times below -

The times are GMT (UTC for those whose prefer not to refer to Greenwich in London - though personally Greenwich Park and the Royal Observatory there - where you can stand on the Meridian line - is one of my favourite places in London)

Midnight: Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia
00:30 am: North Carolina, Ohio, West Virginia
01:00 am: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee
01:30 am: Arkansas
02:00 am: Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska,
New Mexico, New York, South Dakota, Texas, Wisconsin, Wyoming
03:00 am: Iowa, Montana, Nevada, Utah
04:00 am: California, Idaho, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington
05:00 am: Hawaii
06:00 am: Alaska

Monday 3 November 2014

Campaign Contributions and Partisanship

Last week Don Wolfensberger published the following article in Roll Call. I have a great deal of respect for his column and his work. It's an article worth reading -

An interesting debate is swirling around next Tuesday’s midterm elections for Congress. It involves the extent to which the sources, amounts and uses of campaign contributions will affect not only the outcomes of various hotly contested races but the makeup, policy agenda and processes of the next Congress.

The 2010 midterms returned Republicans to power in the House after four years of Democratic rule. They also brought in a wave of hardline tea party conservatives who made any kind of cooperation between the House, Senate and White House nearly impossible. The re-election of President Barack Obama in 2012 did not alter that dynamic. If anything, it made governing even more problematic as the 2013 government shutdown amply demonstrated.

Two events this month helped highlight the nexus between campaign financing and polarization in Congress.

The Bipartisan Policy Center convened a roundtable Oct. 16 that brought together scholars, political practitioners, good government groups and journalists to discuss whether the current state of campaign financing is responsible for the increasing level of polarization and gridlock in Congress. 

The Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs hosted the second event Oct. 20 in Austin, “Mastering Congress: Political Reform 50 Years After the Great Society.” The program featured two former Texas congressmen who serve on the BPC Commission on Political Reform, and two political scientists who are coauthors of an award-winning book on the increasing role members of Congress play in raising money for their party campaign committees and other candidates.

Dueling duos of academic election experts kicked-off the former roundtable. Tom Mann and Anthony Corrado, governance studies fellows at the Brookings Institution, take issue with those who assert that campaign finance law restrictions have weakened the parties and strengthened outside groups that tend to support more extreme candidates. They maintain that parties are as strong as ever but that the Republican Party “has veered sharply right in recent decades” producing an “asymmetric polarization” characterized by an unwillingness to compromise and a set of “unusually confrontational tactics.”

University of Massachusetts political scientists Ray LaRaja and Brian Schaffner say their research at the state level suggests Mann and Corrado “could be wrong.” Their study indicates that, “states with party-centered campaign finance laws tend to be less polarized than states that constrain how the parties can support candidates.” This is because party organizations tend to fund more moderate, pragmatic candidates. Both sides of the debate concur that recent campaign financing developments are not the overriding cause of increased polarization but have certainly exacerbated it.

Eric Heberlig of the University of North Carolina and Bruce Larson of Gettysburg College, co-authors of “Congressional Parties, Institutional Ambition, and the Financing of Majority Control,” told the Austin conference about the explosive, coordinated growth since 1990 in campaign giving by members of Congress to their party committees and other candidates. Today, party leaders importune their members to give generously to their party campaign committees. The leadership establishes quotas for overall giving to the party depending on a member’s position in the leadership or on committees.

Consequently, members spend less time on their legislative work in Congress and more time raising campaign funds for their own re-election and their party. Former Reps. Henry Bonilla, R-Texas, and Charlie Gonzalez, D-Texas, agreed that members now spend at least one-fourth of their time attending fundraisers and dialing for dollars. Committees consequently are less involved in serious policymaking as party leaders increasingly shape the legislative agenda to satisfy party campaign contributors.  The former congressmen say this shift was especially noticeable beginning in 2006 (Bonilla) or 2010 (Gonzalez).

The increasing role of Super PACs and wealthy, independent donors in recent election cycles poses more unanswered questions about the impact of campaign giving on the agenda and processes of Congress. If there is some correlation between the growth and sources of campaign spending, on the one hand, and legislative outcomes in Congress, then record-breaking campaign spending this cycle could either make the 114th Congress even more gridlocked than its predecessor or more unified and productive around a few select issues — all depending on which party wins the Senate.

Don Wolfensberger is a resident scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and former staff director of the House Rules Committee.

Vulnerable Republican Seats

CA31 (Dem+5)
An “open seat” which is currently held by Gary Miller [GOP]. However latest polls suggest that the seat is leaning towards the Democrats. Chabot has not been able to raise as much funding as his opponent, or other GOP candidates in the area. See the LA Times article at http://www.latimes.com/local/political/la-me-pc-two-gop-fundraising-20141016-story.html

Paul Chabot [GOP] – Stresses that he is a “Military Officer - Small Business Owner - Law Enforcement Veteran”. http://paulchabot.com/
Pete Aguilar [Dem] - small business owner and Mayor of Redlands. http://www.peteaguilar.com/

NE02 (GOP+7)

Rep Lee Terry [GOP] – Member of the House since 1999, who has survived a number of close re-election contests. He had promised at his first election only to serve three terms – but is now seeking election to his ninth Congress. Currently the seat is rated as a "toss up" by Cook and a "toss up/tilt Democrat" by Rothenberg. http://leeterry.com/

Brad Ashford [Dem] – A member of the Nebraska State Legislature, where he has served as the chairman of the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee. http://bradashfordforcongress.com/


Some "Toss Up" Races for the House

AZ01 (GOP R+4)

Rep Ann Kirkpatrick [Dem] –In 1980, she became Coconino County's first female deputy county attorney. In 2004, she began teaching business law and ethics at Coconino Community College. Former Member, Arizona House of Representatives. Ranking member of the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Vulnerable over Obamacare in a State in which even Democrat legislators are trying to change or dismantle the law.

Andy Tobin [GOP] – AZ House Speaker.

AZ02 (GOP+3)

Contains the SE of the State including roughly 2/3rds of Tuscon

Rep Ron Barber [Dem] - vulnerable over Obamacare in a State in which even Democrat legislators are trying to change or dismantle the law. Owned & operated a small business called Toy Traders/Stork’s Nest, allowing families to trade and buy children’s toys. Worked at AZ Division of Developmental Disabilities for 30 yrs. Worked for Gabby Gifford as her District Director.

Martha McSally [GOP} – Retired Air Force Colonel (first female fighter pilot to fly in combat). Was a national security advisor to Senator Jon Kyl on issues including terrorism, cyber security & missile defense. Served as a Professor of National Security Studies at the George C Marshall Center in Germany. Stood against Ron Barber in 2012.

CA07 (Even)
The district includes suburban Sacramento and much of Sacramento County. This includes Folsom (see Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’), but now an important Intel Campus.
Rep Ami Bera [Dem] – physician, who became Sacramento County’s Chief Medical Officer. He went on to become a Clinical Professor of Medicine and Associate Dean for Admissions and Outreach at University of California, Davis . Obamacare was a big issue in the 2010 election in which he lost.
Doug Ose [GOP] – a former Congressman for CA03 who served from 1999-2005, and who chaired a Government Reform sub-committee. He has focused on making Obamacare the centre of the election, though his website is currently stressing the water issue. http://www.dougose.com/
CA52 (Dem+2)
The district covers most of the city of San Diego, running along the coast, taking in many of the Naval installations, ports and beaches. Part of the town of La Jolla to the north is also in the district.
Rep Scott Peters [Dem] – freshman who won after re-districting removed some of the most heavily Republican areas. A lawyer and environmentalist. http://www.scottpeters.com/
Carl DeMaio [GOP] – A businessman with an interest in Government Reform. Like Peters he has served on San Diego Council. http://carldemaio.com/

Sunday 2 November 2014

Elections to the House of Representatives

It's Election Day in the USA on Tuesday. Already many people will have voted - in what is sometimes described as "early voting". Certain places in a State may be open for a period before election to allow people who might not be able to vote on Election Day to cast their vote. Postal voting is available in some places.

All seats are up for re-election, but most will be won by the current incumbent or their party. Rothenberg suggests that there are 170 Democrat "safe seats", whilst the Republicans have 223 "safe seats". The battle is over the fate of approximately 50 seats. The key number is 218, which would give a majority in the 435 seat House. The Democrats need a net gain of 17 to win such a majority - and Rothenberg rates only 14 Republican seats to be in play; whereas the more cautious Cook reckons that one Republic held seat "leans Democratic"; 6 Republican seats are a "toss up"; 5 seats "lean Republican"; 13 "marginal seats are "likely Republican" (but to make matters worse 3 "likely Republican" seats were Democrat held in the 113th Congress. 16 Democrat seats are regarded by Cook as "toss up").

Rothenberg reckons that 11 seats (9 Democrat and 2 Republican seats are "pure toss up" - these are AZ01; AZ02; CA07; CA52; FL02; IA01; IA03; IL10; MN08; NY01; WV03)

*Note - the shorthand used here gives the two letter code for each state - used by the US Postal Service (see here for the full list) with the number of the Congressional District - so CA52 means the 52nd Congressional District in California - the map at the top of this post shows the district)

Saturday 1 November 2014

The last days of campaigning

"The Hill" produced this list of meetings & visits for the last days of the campaign -

President Obama to speak at Wayne State in Detroit on Saturday, Nov. 1; 7 p.m
Obama is campaigning on behalf of former Rep. Mark Schauer running against Gov. Rick Snyder and Rep. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township.
Obama will travel to Philadelphia for a campaign event with Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Tom Wolf on Sunday, Nov. 2; and to Bridgeport, Conn., for an event with Gov. Dan Malloy and other Connecticut Democrats.

Hillary Clinton to rally for Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) on Saturday, Nov. 1
The possible 2016 presidential contender will headline a women's rally for Landrieu.

Ben Carson to campaign for Rep. Bill Cassidy at Tea Party rally Saturday, Nov. 1; 2pm
Cassidy is trying to unseat Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Bill Clinton returning to Iowa to stump for Rep. Bruce Braley on Saturday; 2pm
The former president will headline an "Iowa Votes" rally with Braley in downtown Des Moines on Saturday, and then appear at Braley's Blues and BBQ fundraiser that evening in Waterloo. Braley is locked in a tight battle with Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to campaign for Dan Sullivan in final days of Alaska Senate race
Cruz, a Tea Party favorite, will join Sullivan on Saturday and Sunday for get-out-the-vote rallies in four of the state's main population areas -- Anchorage, the Mat-Su Valley, Fairbanks and the Kenai Peninsula. Dan Sullivan is looking to unseat Sen. Mark Begich (D).

Vice President Biden to stump in Las Vegas Saturday, Nov. 1
Biden hopes to boost Democratic voter turnout and counter a Republican early voting advantage that’s approaching 20,000 ballots cast so far. Democrats worry strong GOP voter turnout will threaten Rep. Steven Horsford, (D-Nev.), an incumbent few worried about early in this election cycle.

Michelle Obama to campaign for Democrats in western Illinois on Saturday, Nov. 1; 11 am
The first lady will make pitches for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline and Sen. Dick Durbin just three days before Election Day. Event will take place  at the Wharton Field House, a 6,000-seat indoor arena in in Moline, Ill.

Rick Santorum heads to Iowa Saturday night; 6:45 pm
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, who is exploring a possible Republican bid for president in 2016, will appear in Waterloo and Cedar Falls in support of get-out-the-vote efforts for Iowa Republican Party candidates.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) rally for Iowa Senate candidate Bruce Braley
On national calls, Reid and Warren will join  Progressive Change Campaign Committee by phone for a national Call Out The Vote shift for Braley.
11:40am Eastern - Reid / 5pm Eastern - Warren

Alaska GOP Welcomes Mitt Romney to Anchorage, Monday Nov. 3
2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney will be joined by U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan, Governor Sean Parnell, and Senator Lisa Murkowski, among other distinguished guests.

RNC Chairman Priebus campaigns in Wisconsin on Governor Scott Walker’s Bus Tour on Saturday Nov. 1
Priebus will campaign with Governor Scott Walker on the “Continuing Wisconsin’s Comeback” Bus Tour, which is a get-out-the-vote effort for the governor’s reelection bid.

Democratic senators to join Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) in Virginia
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and former U.S. Rep. Rick Boucher will speak at events across the Commonwealth in support of Sen. Mark Warner’s reelection campaign

Georgia Senate Debate on Sunday, Nov. 2; 11-12 pm  
Former charity executive Michelle Nunn (D) and businessman David Perdue (R) will face off in the last debate before Election Day.

Dicey III

Thursday 30 October 2014


The UK Parliament has a regular opportunity to quiz the "head" of the Executive branch of government - the Prime Minister. For half an hour each Wednesday when the House of Commons is sitting, Members have the opportunity to put any question to him. This contrasts with the ordinary question times, at the start of business on Mondays to Thursdays, when questions must relate to the relevant departmental minister's responsibilities.

But how much in-depth scrutiny is actually achieved? Judge for yourself. Could "PMQs" be improved? and if so what changes are necessary?

Monday 27 October 2014

Worth watching

Chris Cillizza writes in today's Washington Post

"For an election that few people are paying attention to, it’s turning into a pretty exciting one. There are at least 11 Senate races in which the outcome is far from certain, with about a week left before voters go to the polls Nov. 4.

That’s an unusually high amount of uncertainty this late in an election. Typically, the playing field winnows with every passing week as party committees (and candidates) are forced to make fish-or-cut-bait decisions on races that just don’t look winnable. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan handicapping service, had just seven “tossup” races in 2010 and six in 2008. Today, it rates 10 races as tossups."

Indeed this is an election in which anything could happen. There have been many reports that voters are slightly more likely to turn out to vote for Republican candidates - which could mean that the House of Representatives will remain in GOP hands - and the Senate could see a Republican majority. But neither result is a foregone conclusion. No particular issues seem to have galvanised voters. So we may have to wait to see what the mood is next week.

While there may be little apparent interest in the election campaigns (I loved the depiction of this election as "the shiny object election" - the latest thing to come along excites the pundits - but there is no great theme or issue to engage voters for any length of time) - the results WILL be important. The direction of the USA will be set for the next two years - and just drifting will be bad for that country, and the world.

Saturday 25 October 2014

Dicey - Hero or Villan?

This morning I'll be discussing the British doctrine of "Parliamentary Sovereignty" with my Open University W201 class in Oxford. It's an interesting doctrine (some writers refer to it as "Parliamentary Supremacy"). We'll be looking at where the idea came from; what it means; and whether it is valid in the 21st Century.

It's impossible to ignore the contribution of A V Dicey. He was a significant writer on the workings of the British Constitution - but first and foremost a teacher. He knew how to impress an idea on his students minds - and keep it there. Any student of constitutional law would spend their limited time wisely if they searched their textbooks for summaries of key UK doctrines - the Rule of Law; Parliamentary Sovereignty - by Dicey. He recognised the value of "three points". I'll talk to my students this morning about his three points on Parliamentary Sovereignty. I won't even have to glance at my notes. They are instantly memorable.

But was Dicey right? Do his three points accurately represent the doctrine? Is it a useful doctrine anyway? Is it in fact a hindrance to the development of modern constitutional law - and at the heart of Britain's problematic relationship with the EU; and various international treaties that we are subject to?

I personally think it is outdated; and the cause of unnecessary problems - BUT Dicey's three points are an excellent way of explaining - and setting out the grounds for debate. His clarity is useful for revision - and a good framework for undertaking critical analysis.

So over the next few posts I'll use the three points to explain the doctrine.

Tuesday 21 October 2014


I'm down at Westminster to attend a couple of hearings of the Education Select Committee (for some research I hope to present at next year's Political Studies Association conference). Whilst drinking a coffee at the "Despatch Box" in Portcullis House, I looked through the weekly "Select Committees: Meetings in Public in week beginning...."

And there are a number of potentially interested meetings that I might attend - though some clash, and others are on days when I will be elsewhere - thank goodness for the archive on the parliamentary website which allows people to watch the meeting at a time of their convenience.

So what tempts me?

Of course, the meetings today & tomorrow of the Education Select Committee - two ongoing inquiries, and tomorrow has the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan (no relation), appearing for the second week running - this time on the subject of Academies & Free Schools.

Also at 9-30 this morning, so I can't attend, is the Justice Committees hearing on "Impact of changes to civil legal aid under LASPO";  The Culture, Media & Sport Committee will hold a hearing on the Future of the BBC at 10-30. Former MP & and now reader in Law at Cambridge, David Howarth, will give evidence, along with Jack Straw & James Arbuthnot on "The Standards System in the House of Commons" at 13-30.

Tomorrow the Public Accounts Committee will take evidence from the leading Treasury Civil Servants on "The Whole Government of Government Accounts", not very sexy, but of key importance! In the afternoon the Procedure Committee wil hear from a Minister on "Written Parliamentary Question-answering performance in 2013-14". Finally ( in the sense of hearings that I have a particular interest in) there is an evidence session on "What next on the redrawing of parliamentary boundaries" to be held on Thursday.

Sunday 19 October 2014

Westminster Hall

In typical British fashion - changes to our political institutions come slowly. Yet in recent years there have been a number of very positive improvements to the working of Parliament. One has been the introduction of "Westminster Hall Debates". These allow for debates outside the main chamber. There is usually more light than the heat associated with Chamber debates.

Further small reforms have been proposed - and the House of Commons Procedure Committee sets out the history of the committee and the rationale for the reforms it proposes. It's a short report - and well worth reading.

The report is available here.

Despite the name - the debates are not held in the magnificent Westminster Hall itself (one of the finest and largest medieval halls in Europe), but in a committee room off the Hall.

Saturday 18 October 2014

The 1964 Elections

It will shortly be fifty years since the election of 1964. This trailer for an hour long documentary explains the significance of that election. It has also reminded me to put Theodore White's "The Making of the President, 1964" on my reading list for the next few days (I have just physically popped up to the library annex (otherwise known as the 2nd bedroom in our home) to get my copy.

Friday 17 October 2014

A Select Committee in action

This week I attended a hearing by the Education Select Committee. The Secretary of State (the senior minister in a Government Department - and usually a member of the Cabinet) for Education, Nicky Morgan (no relation!) answered questions about the "Trojan Horse Affair" - an attempt to take over some schools in Birmingham.

The Chair is a Conservative MP, but he presses the Conservative Minister at particular points and is quite critical. There are two other Conservative MPs present; one Liberal Democrat and Four Labour MPs.

Further information about the committee can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/education-committee/

The recording can be viewed here - http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=16059
(warning - you can see my arrival as the public are admitted, just after the DfE officials have entered - wearing my red tie!)

Thursday 16 October 2014

Oversight in Congress

The Congressional Research Service is part of the Library of Congress. It is a fantastically useful resource for members of both Houses, enabling them to have quality; well researched materials to aid them in their work. As long-term readers of this blog will be aware, I am a huge fan of CRS - and much appreciative of the quality of their staff and their output.

One of their most useful documents is the Congressional Oversight Manual. It both explains the tools of oversight, and is a practical manual. It can be downloaded from -


It is also a useful document to reflect upon - how can legislatures (or for that matter any body which exists to ensure that government services are accountable to the people they should be serving - and that includes local councils as well as national legislatures) be effective in their work. What are the issues and the tools?

Wednesday 15 October 2014

Confessions of an addict

I have to confess - I love elections. The first one, that excited my interest, was the 1970 General Election. I was ten years old! My father took me to a number of election meetings. I met & got the autograph of Roy Jenkins (Chancellor of the Exchequer & former Home Secretary). I also met George Brown (Deputy Leader of the Labour Party & former Foreign Secretary), who refused to sign my autograph book - he lost his seat days later!!!

In 1974 I became actively involved - handing out leaflets for Geoff Edge; and cutting up a copy of the electoral register to glue onto cards for use on election day. (How I appreciate computer printouts now!). At the Walsall North by-election I did my first door-to-door canvassing. Subsequently I ran for the Westminster Parliament, twice - and the European Parliament - as well as running for council (even being elected to Northamptonshire County Council).

US elections have fascinated me since 1972. I have flown over to Virginia for the 2004; 2008 and 2010 Elections. As an academic I have presented papers on the 1974 congressional elections. I have quite a library on US and UK elections - as well as practical and academic books on political marketing and elections. I also have Le Monde's results for French elections going back a number of years!!!

Thanks to reprints, the "The Making of the President" series  is once again available.

Tuesday 14 October 2014

Creating a Constitution

To better understand constitutions, it can be useful to look at a real-life creation of a national constitution.

The classic example is the US Constitution - which was discussed at a convention held in 1787. There is an excellent set of resources at http://teachingamericanhistory.org/convention/. Although it was a closed-door convention (because the view was that deliberation would be enhanced if members felt free to express their honest opinions, rather than be looking over their shoulders to avoid criticism) - James Madison made extensive notes - so we can follow what was said and done. The key issues are also discussed in the Federalist Papers. (Very useful for anyone studying Constitutional Law - not as a description of a constitution - but food for thought about what matters need to be addressed. I'm recommending it to my W201 students!)

A recent C-SPAN programme on James Madison and his role in the creation of the US Constitution can be viewed here.

Monday 13 October 2014

British Library Events

Last week I attended an excellent presentation by Amy Walter (National Editor of the Cook Political Report) about the US elections. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and informative evening. [held at the Conference Centre of the British Library - there are some excellent events on there, do say hello if you attend a future event & see me there - forthcoming events can be seen by clicking on the relevant month - October 2014; November 2014; December 2014. It's also worth keeping an eye on the Eccles Centre website - http://www.bl.uk/ecclescentre

Ms Walter's talk, and subsequent Q&A session was an excellent briefing for the forthcoming elections. She looked at the political map of the US, and explained why congressional elections were very different from Presidential elections. The Republicans are on the back foot at the Presidential level, but on very solid ground for the Congressionals. The impact of the tea party and voter ID laws were discussed.

The Cook Report website can be found at http://cookpolitical.com/ - Amy Walter's weekly column
can be found at http://cookpolitical.com/author/amy-walter/

Her recent comment about the 2016 Presidential Election is worth keeping in mind - "The most important skill for those remaining on the field is that of endurance. Pay attention to how candidates do when they are under duress, not just how they are doing while in the limelight. One bad week/month does not equal the end of a campaign. A bad response to that bad week/month, however, suggests a campaign that’s not equipped for the long- haul."

Sunday 12 October 2014

Halloween is Coming

As Halloween approaches - I'm sure you'll have children coming round to trick or treat. That's great - and its nice to see local kids having fun. Perhaps you are a Mum or Dad (or grandparent) thinking of something special to celebrate Halloween with the family?

Well - it doesn't HAVE TO involve confectionery. The local shops may be pushing sweets and chocolates - but with sugar now being linked by scientists to dental health problems; obesity; diabetes; heart disease; depression and dementia, it is time to ask - "is this what we want for our kids?"

Join a campaign that is growing. It started in the US, but is relevant to us here in the United Kingdom. Let's start to turn the tide against the companies who - for their own profit (but at the cost to individuals - and the taxpayer who picks up the tab for the consequences of the epidemics of obesity; diabetes & dementia) - seek to "push sugar".

I'm #FedUp with sugar and I'm pledging to have a #HealthyHalloween. Join me! http://thndr.it/1E4t90Y”                            

Saturday 11 October 2014

Online Voting

C-SPAN recently aired a discussion about Online voting. Damon Wilson of the Atlantic Council introduced the programme - which highlights that organisations recent report on online voting by saying-


The Report can be downloaded in PDF format from here.

The C-SPAN programme is available at

What are your thoughts?

Friday 10 October 2014

Recall of MPs Bill

This bill is due to be debated in the House of Commons on Tuesday - where, at the end of the debate the House will vote on whether it be given its Second Reading. The House of Commons Library - which is an excellent non-party-partisan body - has produced a research paper about the bill.

The research paper can be downloaded in PDF format from http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/RP14-53.pdf

Conseil des ministres

The French Government provides a useful summary of matters dealt with at the meeting of (the French equivalent of the Cabinet). Last week's newletter can be found at http://www.gouvernement.fr/newsletter/34

It is possible to subscribe to an email - and the good news is that this can be viewed in a number of different languages, though you need to sign at  http://www.gouvernement.fr/recevez-nos-actualites

The membership of the Conseil is set out (in English) at http://www.gouvernement.fr/en/composition-of-the-government

Thursday 9 October 2014

The Senate Firewall

It was reported earlier this week that the Democrats regarded the states of Iowa; North Carolina and Colorado as key to holding control of the Senate. There are other important races - but these are the ones that they see as key to the final outcome of this years Senate campaigns.

Colorado is currently held by Mark Udall, who won it in 2008. Republican Wayne Allard had been the Senator whose seat was up for re-election, but he retired. In the year that Barack Obama won the presidency (with 54% of the vote in Colorado), Udall won with 52.8% of the vote. Obama lost ground in 2012 with a majority of 137,858 over Romney. That constituted a Democratic vote of just 51%. Cory Gardner is the Republican challenger.

Iowa is an open Senate seat, with the retirement of Tom Harkin - who was one of the so-called "Watergate Babies" elected to the House of Representatives in 1974, and who won election to the Senate ten years later. Bruce Braley for the Democrats, and Joni Ernst for the Republicans have been fighting a close battle. Obama won the state in 2008 (54%) and 2012 (52%) - losing 6,396 votes on the way. This a race to keep a close eye on!
Kay Hagan has her work cut out to hold on to her Senate seat representing North Carolina. At the last presidential election, Romney beat Obama by 50% to 48%. At the same election a Republican, Pat McCrory, won the race to be governor by 55% to 43%. The two houses of the State Legislature are held by the Republicans. In the US House of Representatives the NC delegation has 9 Republicans and 4 Democrats. Politics in America 2014 commented, "Republicans are eager to knock off Hagan in the 2014 elections, but her actions as a first-term senator have set her up for a spirited defense." The Republican challenger is Thom Tillis, the current Speaker in the State House of Representatives.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

Departmental Select Committees

An increasingly important forum for accountability is the Departmental Select Committee System in the House of Commons. Backbench MPs are appointed to committees which monitor the work of a specific department. The appointment is for the whole parliament, though members may move on early - sometimes because they are appointed to one of the frontbench teams; or another committee; or for any other reason. Chairs of the committees meet regularly (as the Liaison Committee) to question the Prime Minister.

Unlike parliamentary questions, there is an opportunity for in-depth questioning of a witness.

There is an excellent film about the committees which was made for the Parliamentary website.

There is a very useful report from the Liaison Committee looking at the work & effectiveness of the committees. It is available here.

Monday 6 October 2014

Congressional Elections

We are now less than a month away from Election Day in the United States. Whereas in Britain, we minimise the number of different elections on the same day - in the US, voters can face a barrage of different electoral contests. Obviously, there is no presidential election this year - but every voter has a chance to elect, at least, a member of the House of Representatives. About a third of states will also have an election for their Senator - and there may be various State and local elections to vote on too.

This blog will highlight the Congressional Elections. So in the next month, I'll be posting about some of the individual races.

If you'd like to see a sample ballot - click here. This is what voters in Fairfax County, Virginia - in the 10th Congressional District will see - or to be more accurate - what they can already see. Already voters can go to the polls with "In-Person Absentee Voting".

Saturday 4 October 2014

Party Conferences

I was in Birmingham this week - though not to attend the Conservative Party Conference. I was visiting my mother and giving a law tutorial - but couldn't miss the impact that the Conference was having in the city. My buses were diverted - and whilst sitting in Starbucks, I saw many delegates walking down New Street wearing their conference passes.

But I did attend the previous week's Labour Conference in Manchester - and if you look back at previous posts in earlier years - you'll see that I have described and explained what goes on inside a party conference.

In the USA Party Conventions are held before each Presidential Election. In Britain, party conferences are held annually (and sometimes more frequently). I had the privilege of reading the earliest Labour Party Conference reports whilst I was undertaking a political history research project. Today of course, the primary audience isn't the delegates - or the other people attending the conference in person - but the wider public. It is the venue for major policy statements - and particularly in the run up to a General Election (and Britain's is due on May 7th next year) - it is the opportunity to showcase the policies which each party will be pushing during the election.

Friday 3 October 2014

Monday 1 September 2014

Arguing About Stare Decisis

(the doctrine of precedent)

Does it provide -
  • Certainty?
  • Efficiency?
  • Flexibility?
Or does it promote
  • Uncertainty?
  • Fixity?
  • Unconstitutionality?
[Slapper and Kelly briefly outline the arguments on  pages 144-153 of their book "The English Legal System - 14th Edition].

Other books develop these - and put other arguments. If you are taking a Law Degree exam (English Legal System - or the Open University's W200 course), it is worth summarising the arguments about the strengths and weaknesses of the doctrine of precedent. Then prepare short arguments - one version arguing for the utility of the doctrine and other arguing that it has more disadvantages than advantages. How would you put across each argument? How would you anticipate objections? Should you face an invitation in an exam to discuss precedent you'll have developed the knowledge and flexibility to answer it. Remember, there is no right answer. An examiner is looking for evidence of critical evaluation; and an ability to present a logical argument.

You should also be able to explain the "mechanics" of the doctrine - can you describe and explain
  • the significance of law reporting?
  • the rules about which courts bind which?
  • when previous decisions are not binding? [and Young v Bristol Aeroplane Co Ltd]
  • 'Ratio decidendi'?
  • 'Obiter dictum'?
  • Overruling?
  • the Practical importance of Precedent?

Thursday 3 July 2014

Standards in the House of Commons

The House of Commons wants your views on the standards system
The Standards Committee is holding an inquiry into the standards system in the House of Commons and is inviting written submissions from the public to inform the inquiry’s findings.
The inquiry is looking at the current system for considering complaints about MPs and ways the system could be improved.
The areas being examined include:
·         self-regulation in the House of Commons by MPs
·         the role of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Standards Committee
·         investigating complaints about MPs
·         penalties for MPs
To help inform submissions to the inquiry, a sub-committee looking at this issue has published an ‘issues and questions’ paper, setting out key questions and providing detailed background information.
The ‘issues and questions’ paper covers:
·         the role of MPs in the context of political parties, Parliament and the electorate
·         the current House of Commons standards system, including:
o   the role of the Standards Committee
o   the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards
How to submit evidence
Detailed information on the preferred format for written evidence and where to send it is on the Committee’s webpages here: The Standards Review sub-committee issues call for evidence
If you would like to contribute a written submission to this inquiry, please read the ‘issues and questions’ paper for the key questions being asked by the Standards Committee and for background information on the current system in place. The deadline for submissions is Friday 8 August.
General guidance on submitting evidence to Select Committees is also available online.
More information
·         Standards Committee

Wednesday 4 June 2014

The Queen's Speech

For information and analysis of today's speech - where (the poor) Queen has to announce her Government's programme as if it were her own [There must be a ph.d. for someone comparing the language of these speeches during her reign - and how it changes with administrations].

Go to:

BBC News: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-27693435
Daily Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/queens-speech/10874138/Queens-Speech-Live.html
The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/queens-speech

Tuesday 3 June 2014

Today in Parliament

With a new session about to start, it's worth remembering that there is an excellent report on each day's proceedings provided by the BBC. It is broadcast live on BBC Radio 4 at 11.30 each night when either House has sat. It is repeated during the Today Programme as "Yesterday in Parliament" The website is http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qtqd

If you aren't available to listen live - there is a podcast - available to sign up for at http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/tip. Old editions are available there for thirty days - so if you have a few hours to spare, you can catch up before the new session starts tomorrow!

Monday 2 June 2014

A New Session

This week the Palace of Westminster will see the State Opening of Parliament. This will mark the start of a new session of the 2010 Parliament - and its last. It will run until dissolution prior to the General Election.

There's an informative publication on State opening available here. If you are going to watch it, you'll learn the government's legislative programme for the session. (This has been heavily trailed - and the next few days will see newspapers, TV & radio analysing the announcements). But the best part of the day is watching the ceremonies - many rooted in events from British history. On Tuesday the palace will be searched - but it'll be more than the usual police and their sniffer dogs. The Yeomen of the Guard will ceremonially search the palace - a memory of the search which led to the arrest of Guy Fawkes in 1605. Sadly that may not be televised.

You will see the traditional slamming of the door in Black Rod's face as he approaches the House of Commons. He will have marched down the short passages between the Lords, where the Queen, seated on the throne, sent him to summon the Commons. To make the point that they will not do everything the Monarch demands the Speaker orders the doors closed. After the third knock, he relents. It is a reminder of the Commons' independence (from the Queen - sadly not of the Executive - Her Government.)

Sunday 1 June 2014

Washminster is back!

... and thanks for your patience.

A little background. I now run two blogs - "Washminster" which covers matters related to the British Parliament; the US Congress; the European Parliament; and French politics generally. If you look back at previous posts you'll see that I interpret "matters related" very generously. The history behind each of them fascinates me - and helps an understanding of some of the quirks that are associated.

Do have a look at some of the previous posts - this blog has been running for over seven years - and has "reported" on trips to Washington and France - I have been a candidate for the European Parliament and worked part time at Westminster during that period. My paid work now is limited to teaching Law on two Open University courses - so there's quite a legal angle on some issues - and lots of revision and other learning material.

As Washminster revives do send me your comments - and suggestions for topics to post on.

Friday 9 May 2014

Some thoughts!

It'll be a little while before Washminster is up & fully running (I'm running myself - for a council seat in Milton Keynes - so with all the leaflets to deliver and voters to talk to, my time is a little limited at the moment).

So - to keep you going - I pose a couple of questions - but there is no three hour exam limit!

Q1 “It is the first responsibility of every citizen to question authority.” (Ben Franklin). Discuss.

Q2 "The tyranny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy." (Charles de Montesquieu). Discuss.
Q3 "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." (Lord Acton). Discuss.
Q4 What relevance do these quotes have to modern democracies like those in the United States; the United Kingdom; France; and the European Union?
Comments are most welcome


Wednesday 7 May 2014

Many Thanks

Thanks for all the comments about Washminster. As a result I will be bringing the blog back - and am currently working on a schedule for posts.

I may be a little tied up in the next few days - as I am a candidate in the Shenley Brook End ward for Milton Keynes Council (Nothing better for writing a blog dealing with politics and government than regularly updated experience on the front line!!!)

However Washminster should be back in the next couple of weeks


Wednesday 23 April 2014

Is Washminster to return?

The return of Washminster - albeit with a slightly different focus - is under active discussion.

It is proposed that the New Washminster will build on its foundations of providing resources on the US Congress; UK Parliament; and UK Legal Studies - and provide background and comment on events within six areas

* The United States (still with a focus on the US Congress)
* The United Kingdom (maintaining a solid foundation of items about the UK Parliament and matters related to UK Law - English Legal System, Constitutional Law, EU Law)
* France
* The European Union
* China
* Matters of International interest

A proposed new logo can be seen above.

Please do make any comments and suggestions.


Thursday 27 March 2014

Revising for Law Exams?

Washminster is written by an Associate Lecturer on the Open University's W200 and W201 Law courses. These cover what more traditional universities may describe as

  • English Legal System
  • EU Law
  • Constitutional & Administrative Law
  • Criminal Law
As a result there are a number of posts designed to assist with exam revision in these subjects (and revision techniques generally). Most of these were published in the August/September of each year (immediately preceding the OU exams).

If you are facing exams (Law Degree; Law A-Levels), do feel free either to use the search engine to the right of this post - or browse through the posts in date order (year & month).

Monday 17 March 2014

Thank you

I will no longer be maintaining the Washminster blog. I've enjoyed posting about so many subjects since this blog was started in March 2007.

This resource will remain, I hope, available for the foreseeable future - so whether you are a law student wanting material on UK Constitutional Law; English Legal System; EU Law - or a student wanting general materials on study and revision - do use the search engine on this page,

So much has been put into this blog - that there is something to cover most interests. The blog can be searched by date or by keyword in the search box,

Many thanks to everyone who has inspired or helped with posts - but especially, I want to thank you for reading Washminster

With every best wish


Friday 14 March 2014

The First of the Nixon Tapes

When the taping system was installed, Alexander Butterfield explained to the present how the system worked. The transcript is available here.

The audio can be listened to here.

This conversation took place sometime between 7:56 am and 8:58 am on Tuesday 16th February 1971.

Thursday 13 March 2014

Wednesday 12 March 2014

The Watergate Tapes

I was in Oxford today for a conference on Watergate: 40 years on. I presented a paper about the Watergate Effect on the November 1974 elections entitled, "Who's the Daddy: The Influence of the Watergate Scandal in the Election of the "Watergate Babies".

But the conference's highpoint was a spell-binding hour and a half during which Alexander Butterfield, Deputy Assistant to President Nixon; and John R Price, Special Assistant to President Nixon for Urban Affairs - shared their memories; observations and thoughts about Richard Nixon. I can't express how incredibly fascinating their talks were - and will return to some of them in later posts.

The video below shows Butterfield before the Senate Watergate Committee - and captures the moment when the investigation takes a completely new turn - and the rest, as they say is history...


Thursday 6 March 2014

Parliamentary Privilege

In these days when legislatures and their members are so often distrusted and under attack from the media; conspiracy theorists; and individual members of the public - the term "parliamentary privilege" seems a needless provocation. Why should MPs; Congressmen and other legislators have privileges that the people they represent don't have?

The answer can be found throughout history. Legislatures, and democracy itself, have come under attack from outside. Powerful interests have sought to intimidate Parliaments and parliamentarians. Parliamentary privilege is designed to ensure that legislators can do the job we expect of them.

Robert Maxwell - himself a former MP - demonstrated effectively how criticism of powerful individuals can be silenced. His strategy was anyone who dared criticise him - or point out what he was doing - faced the EXPENSIVE threat of being sued for defamation. Truth is a defence to such an action - but failing, even on a technicality can bankrupt the individual sued. Maxwell knew that individuals, and those who could uncover wrongdoing would be silenced by that fear. So it proved to be.

MPs can bring up allegations in Parliament - which, without 'parliamentary privilege', could lead them to face the reality of legal action. Legal aid isn't available - and a powerful individual like Maxwell can (and in his case, frequently did) hire the most expensive lawyers. If the defendant has costs awarded against them, they can be financially ruined. In any case to defend an action they need to get good legal representation. Defamation law can be a great good - allowing an individual to protect themselves from malicious and damaging assertions. But it can also be used to suppress free speech.

Some sections of the press can do a great job in uncovering wrongdoing - but a newspaper's editors need to take into account the danger to their publication of being sued. That's what Maxwell knew - and counted on. Parliamentarians receive complaints from their constituents about the actions of powerful individuals and companies. Sometimes it is necessary to use parliamentary privilege to expose and hold to account. The use of privilege is taken seriously [the Committee of Privileges in 1986-87 stated "We should use our freedom of speech...with the greatest care, particularly if we impute any motives or dishonourable conduct to those outside the House who have no right of reply."- and a legislator who abused the privilege could find themselves in deep trouble with the legislative body itself.

In 1955, Kim Philby was named in the House of Commons as a Soviet spy. The academic author of a textbook on Constitutional Law, Hilaire Barnett commented - "...which surely would not have been made without the protection of privilege."

In its disputes with the Stuart Monarchs - and in response to James I's assertion that Parliament's rights were derived only from the 'grace and permission of our ancestors [former Monarchs] and us [James I using the 'royal we'] - the House of Commons asserted in its Protestation of 18th December 1621 that

"every member of the House of Parliament hath, and of right ought to have, freedom of speech to propound, treat, reason, and bring to conclusion the same"

Last week the Court of Appeal ruled on the issue last week - this report is from the BBC:

"John Bercow has said he is "absolutely delighted" that an attempt to sue a former Football Association boss for libel over comments he made to a parliamentary committee has failed. Lord Triesman made corruption allegations against some members of the sport's governing body, FIFA, in 2011. But the Court of Appeal ruled he could not be sued, as he had spoken while protected by "parliamentary privilege".

House of Commons Speaker Mr Bercow called this a "victory" for Parliament. Lord Triesman, a Labour peer and former minister, was part of the team involved in England's failed bid to host the World Cup in 2018. In 2011, when he appeared before MPs on the Commons Culture Committee, he made corruption allegations against some members of FIFA. Worwawi Makudi, former head of Thailand's football federation, attempted to sue Lord Triesman, former FA chairman, for defamation. Mr Makudi has denied any wrongdoing and Lord Triesman's allegations...

The Court of Appeal ruled last week that the comments to the committee had been covered by the legal protection of parliamentary privilege, established by the Bill of Rights in 1689, which bars MPs' and peers' proceedings from being "questioned in any court or place outside of parliament".

The chairman of the Culture Committee, Conservative MP John Whittingdale, said this was "a significant re-establishment of the rights of this House". Had the court decided otherwise, it could have had a "severe effect in terms of preventing us exposing truth", he added.

Mr Bercow, who wrote to the Court of Appeal last year expressing his views, said he had shared the "grave concern" of Mr Whittingdale and that he was "delighted... the court found as it did". He added: "That was a victory not just for Lord Triesman but for the precious principle of parliamentary privilege and a victory for Parliament itself." "

Erskine May, the handbook of Parliamentary procedure, defined privilege as being "...the sum of the peculiar rights enjoyed by each House collectively as a constituent part of the High Court of Parliament, and by Members of each House individually, without which they could not discharge their functions, and which exceed those possessed by other bodies or individuals. Thus, privilege, though part of the law of the land, is to a certain extent an exemption from the general law."

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Cycling Around Furzton

I was so nice to see the sunshine! I decided to go for a cycle around Furzton, which is part of Milton Keynes. I know I won't be in line for an Oscar - this was a video cam strapped to the front of my bike - and the "soundtrack" is from the editing software. But if you have any preconceptions about Milton Keynes being a concrete city - see what it's really like. The Lake is a balancing lake designed to limit the flooding which used to occur in the Loughton Valley. This winter it has been severly tested!!!

Tuesday 4 March 2014

Pepper v Hart

I mentioned the case of Pepper v Hart in yesterday's post. It was quite a breakthrough - prior to the decision, it was not possible to argue using Hansard, what the "intention of Parliament" was. While there were good reasons for the original rule, it did seem strange that the one document which recorded the reasons for introducing a bill and the aims of the proposed legislation couldn't be used.

The speech of the Minister or member who brought forward the bill during Second Reading usually sets out the "mischief" which the proposed legislation sets out to address. MPs and Peers will use the legislative process to get explanations about the intended effect of specific words and phrases. Ministers may seek to assure the House about the meaning (and what is NOT intended).

The House of Commons Library produced a paper on the decision - and what we may now call "The rule in Pepper v Hart". The paper states -

"Following the decision in Pepper v Hart in 1993, if primary legislation is ambiguous or obscure the courts may in certain circumstances take account of statements made in Parliament by Ministers or other promoters of a Bill in construing that legislation. Until that decision, using Hansard in that way would have been regarded as a breach of Parliamentary privilege.”

The paper is available here.


Monday 3 March 2014

Lawyers Obits

I was going to write a post about some of the judges that law students will recognise from law reports. I intended to start with Lord Denning. The first page I came upon to undertake some research was the Daily Telegraph's obituary - and I became distracted.

The Telegraph has a whole series of obits about people associated with the law. I thoroughly recommend taking a look around. It can be accessed at


It is of course being added to all the time! It covers not just judges; but  famous barristers and solicitors (though their fame may derive from other activities); academics (students may recognise the names of certain textbooks); and others involved with the law.

I also discovered that "Hart" of Pepper v Hart was the first person to win Mastermind! (I used to take students on unofficial tours of the Palace of Westminster - when I was a full time law lecturer, and before I worked at Westminster & had a pass! - and I took one group in to hear arguments in that case - and we saw the actual judgment being delivered - it just happened that we were there on the days!)

Law is certainly a profession which produces some interesting characters!