Monday 26 January 2015

The 1970s

A large part of my current research concerns the House of Representatives during the 1970s, particularly the 94th Congress. It was an interesting time on Capitol Hill, but of course what happened there reflected wider issues in society. I've been undertaking background reading as well as specific research into particular events and individuals. So it was exciting to hear that C-SPAN had recorded and broadcast an event at the American Historical Association, which took place earlier this month. It focused on the 1970s - and I spent yesterday evening watching the programme.

The broadcast can be viewed here - I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Friday 23 January 2015

The France Show

This annual event moves this year from Earls Court to Olympia. I'll be popping down to it, as I have for the last few years. While I have no intention (or the resources) to buy a property in France - there is much to see - that could take up all three days of the show.

I enjoy the various presentations - particularly the "Flavours of France" - where some excellent cooks share their experience and recipes. I ended up going for two days last year - and much of it was taken up with this. There is also lots of material on the French Language - both resources to buy and presentations to attend.

Then there is the "tourism" part - lots of stalls giving ideas for trips and holidays through out France.
Finally there is a section for buying French products - from food to other gifts. It was at the French show that I signed up for an offer to subscribe to the New York Times (which has been fantastic - both for current news - and archives (and as a researcher into US political history - that has proved a very valuable online resource).

In addition there are wine tastings - I'm planning on extending my knowledge of Bordeaux wines - and of course there is the Property Show.

For further information - press ICI

Thursday 22 January 2015

The Greek Elections

The Elections in Greece on Sunday could have a big impact on the future direction of the European Union, let alone the country itself.

The BBC has produced a guide to the main parties contesting the election - which is available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-30913028

Background to the election - and its implications for the EU are discussed at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-30635821

Channel 4 recently broadcast an interview with Alexis Tsipras, the leader of Syriza.

Saturday 17 January 2015


I have little time for the view that politicians should bury their differences and "just sort things out." It ignores the reality that there are genuine differences in approach to solving problems - even over whether a matter is a problem or not. The whole idea of democratic institutions is that they are places for genuine differences to be talked through (Parliament - comes from the word "to talk"). Genuine disagreement lies at the very heart of democracy.

But that doesn't mean that there need be lack of civility - or even a "two tribes" approach. I'm now a "retired" politician - and have had many 'vigorous' debates with those I disagree with - but that doesn't mean I regard Tories or Republicans as "the enemy". The enemy are those who would destroy democracy and replace it with a system where those who take decisions are wholly unaccountable; who would deny me (and others) our hard fought for right to think & speak & live freely. I have good friends who are Tories and Republicans.

And so the increasing partisanship in Congress does distress me. Not only is it unnecessary - it puts the people we serve off politics.

I shall be buying the book that the following C-SPAN programme discusses

Monday 12 January 2015

Commemoration of Hiroshima

This year will see the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the first nuclear bombs. The Department of History at Reading University have arranged an evening symposium in February to commemorate this terrible event - and to discuss the lessons and consequences.

"In 2011, the University of Reading received a remarkable and moving gift from the University of Hiroshima in Japan: a roof tile collected from the riverbed near the hypocentre of the atomic bomb attack of 6 August 2015. The gift was made in recognition of the fact that the University of Reading had sent books in response to an appeal by their Japanese counterparts in 1951, as part of a project to establish an international peace library. The University of Hiroshima also donated the original ten volumes Japanese manga series, now part of the University of Reading Special Collections. The tile and the volumes will be on display on the day of the event.

The atomic weapons that demolished Hiroshima not only had devastating effects on its population at the time of the bombings and throughout the lives of those who survived, but also began an arms race between the US and the Soviet Union that shaped the entire history of the Cold War. Was there a degree of rationality and reason behind the colossal build up? Did nuclear weapons cause the Cold War? Did they contribute to its escalation? Did they help to keep the Cold War cold? Was the nuclear arms race a product of Cold War tension rather than its cause?

At a time of global economic and political uncertainty and the emergent threat of international terrorism and nuclear proliferation, these are important questions that still need further investigation. The purpose of this symposium therefore is to explore new academic research on the history of nuclear weapons during the Cold War."

Thursday 8 January 2015

Final Day of Conference (Belated)

It's been a very busy few hours (well 50 hours +) since the APG conference finished.

The first session was a panel on "The Discipline of Politics in America: Origins, Problems and Prospects" - an excellent title, since we covered history of the discipline of political science (and associated disciplines), philosophy and thoughts on where the subject may develop in the future. Louisa Hotson traced the development of various lines of thought, with an emphasis on Chicago - and took us through hopes and disappointment. Nathan Pinkonski discussed Leo Strauss. Stephen Welch looked at the positivist basis of American political science.

The final session included John Berg on the politics of coal - tracing the various reasons why this subject has been so important in American politics (as it has been in British). Ron Mendel discussed the Occupy Movements of 2012, while the final paper by Richard Johnson, of the University of Oxford - "Deracialisation: Re-examination of a political strategy" was of such quality that he was awarded the postgraduate prize for best paper.

It was an act of genius for the founders of the APG annual conferences to arrange them for the first days of the new year. This was my fourth conference - and each has set the new year off to an excellent start. They have been interesting and thought provoking. As an added bonus - the APG involves a really nice group of people. Fun and stimulating!

Tuesday 6 January 2015


I will be posting about this morning's final sessions from the APG Conference later - but, as of now, I am at home in front of two computer screens - awaiting the opening of the 114th Congress.

The New Congress is due to meet at noon (EST) - 5pm here in Milton Keynes. If you wish to watch it live follow the link

House of Representatives


Monday's Final Panel

The final session for Monday covered much ground. William Sheward from the University of Winchester presented a paper entitled, "Today's Democrats: Lyndon Johnson's Heirs No Longer?" It covered the changes in the Democrat Party in the last fifty years. It included an interesting look at the ideas of Elizabeth Warren. I'm sure that we are going to be talking about her for a long time.

Robert Williams who is currently based at the University of Huddersfield discussed the Ohio Libertarian Party, which he has stood as a candidate for in recent years.

Marie-Catherine Wavreille from the Universite libre de Bruxelles presented some of her ongoing research into ballot proposition campaigns. She had analysed, as part of her work for a doctorate, the position that elected offices played in such campaigns. She is doing some very interesting work and a number of people commented on how much they are looking forward to seeing future results of her work.

The session finished with a paper that I presented on the reforms associated with the early 1970s in the House of Representatives. The paper looked at the long development which came to its climax in the weeks following the 'wave' election of 1974 and the entry into Congress of the "Watergate Babies". If you are interested in a copy of my paper - do email me on jdavidmorgan@googlemail.com & I will send you a pdf copy. Any comments would be welcome.

The APG held its AGM then we adjourned for a very pleasant meal and evening at a local Indian Restaurant. The conference continues this morning. 

Monday 5 January 2015

Thinking about the frameworks

There are more papers at the American Political Group conference than time available, so we have to select particular panels to attend. Thankfully contributors have been encouraged to circulate papers - so it is possible to read papers from panels that one has not been able to attend.

The first two sessions today involved concurrent panels. This morning after hearing from John Herbert (see previous post) I listened to a paper from Howells Williams on Reagan & Clinton's use of the language of family values.  That was followed by Eddie Ashbee (Copenhagen Business School), who challenged us to be explicit about the approaches we are taking to analyse and explain events and policies.

This afternoon we have for session 3 a single panel. The discussion centres around a seminal paper written a few years ago by Paul Pierson, "Increasing Returns, Path Dependence and the Study of Politics" (American Political Science Review 94:2 (June 2000 pp251-267). Eddie Ashbee summarised the concept of path dependence. The costs of change are so great, that - save for an intervening crisis - a particular path will continue to be followed. That will narrow future choices. Once a particular path is followed it becomes more difficult to recover the alternative choices which were not followed. Therefore a particular crisis, or a particular election, sets a new direction which outlasts the crisis/election and can outlive later less significant events or elections. The 1979 UK and 1980 US elections paved the way for a direction that has continued to this day. There is now no way of retracing our steps - other than by a massive crisis.

Perhaps this lies behind the commonly held view that it doesn't matter which party you vote for. However wins an election is constrained by the direction the previous party has chosen. I think that is mistaken. Most of the time the State is like an ocean liner - a "U" turn isn't possible. By the time the turn of the wheel takes effect, the liner has moved many miles in the original direction. .BUT, a small shift - say by one degree - will, over thousands of miles, change the destination. A vote in ANY election can make a small difference in the short term, but the new path - over the long term - can lead to a very different destination. A vote at a major crisis, can make a faster, even longer lasting change.

I have diverted from the discussion as it evolved in the hall - but then, it got me thinking.....

When do Presidents invoke the names of predecessors?

John Herbert (University of Keele) is presenting his paper called "Speaking in Political Time: The Deployment of Former Presidents in Presidential Rhetoric". He has analysed the use by presidents of the names of particular predecessors. He has classified the various purposes for invoking their names. It's a useful reminder that Presidents rarely really speak "off the cuff". There are good reasons for using a former President to put a particular message across. Sometimes it is to associate a popular former President with the incumbents policy. (Sadly Jimmy Carter's name is not used for this purpose - but Reagan's is). Other times it is used to show the other party in a bad light compared to more respected former Presidents of that party.

I look forward to the paper being published. It was a thought provoking read & a well argued presentation. I think I'll be listening a lot closer to Obama when he gives his next State of the Union.

If you are following the APG Conference - thel hash tag on twitter is #apgconf41

First Panel at APG

The first presentation this morning was given by Helen Knowles, a British born academic teaching at Skidmore College in New York State. Her subject was a lawyer from the mid 19th Century called Joel Tiffany, who wrote "A Treatise on the Unconstitutionality of American Slavery." She presented an interesting picture of one of a small number of individuals who argued that the silence of the US Constitution on slavery, meant that it had no constitutional basis. Tiffany himself wrote the treatise,  at the suggestion of a wealthy supporter of abolition, but - like many things in his life - Tiffany took  little further interest in the issue. Yet the treatise has been reprinted in recent years by those who are interested in arguments about the original intent of the Constitution.

She was followed by Alex Waddan (Leicester University) whose paper was entitled "Implementing Obamacare: The Case of Medicaid". A very interesting paper (which is part of a wider academic collaboration looking at the implementation of the Affordable Care Act) highlighted the important point that passing a law isn't the end of legislating - but just the beginning. Implementation is the way law becomes a reality. Without it, laws just remain pieces of paper. Medicaid expansion created particular problems, as the Supreme Court struck down the sticks, whilst leaving the carrots for states. As a result the expansion which should have benefited millions, has been successfully resisted by many states. Waddan considers the various factors which led different states to position themselves. The story isn't finished yet, but the book that is planned will have some useful food for thought for future legislators.

From Glory to Gridlock

Andrew Rudalevige presented his keynote address to the American Politics Group at its conference opening at the Midland Hotel, Manchester. A typically fascinating presentation from Professor Rudalevige which contained good and bad news. The good news is that Obama's presidency has actually achieved a lot - but the bad feeling about worsening gridlock is justified. Looking ahead - is there a way out? Partisan is actually becoming more marked - as some fine graphs demonstrated.

Many of us have been brought up (particularly in the UK) with the illusion that the US President is the most powerful man in the world. The Constitution did not provide for that - and perhaps the illusion is due less to the skill of particular presidents, than Congress' abdication of power. Well we will see as the 114th Congress convenes this week whether a legislature wholly controlled by a single party will successfully weaken the President - or whethe Obama can skilfully divide and rule a party with many internal divisions.

US politics has always been interesting - but is it about to get more interesting (and/or frustrating?). Do send me your thoughts.

Sunday 4 January 2015

A New Year

The holidays are over - and I find myself in sunny Manchester (no kidding, it's a beautiful sunny, 'refreshing' day in the city. The Annual Conference of the American Politics Group is about to begin. As ever, there are a number of interesting papers to be presented and discussed. The nice thing about APG is that it encompasses a number of disciplines - with of course politics and history being well represented - but lawyers and economists are also here. (I'm a law and political science specialist myself, with a passion for history. Economics well! as Leo said on the Wing West Wing - Economists were put on the earth to make astrologers look good).

We are staying at the Midland Hotel - which is a delight. I normally only spend time at fringe meetings here during party conferences - and this is the place where the top people stay (I go for the cheapest place I can lay my head, for the few hours we get to rest during party conference). Thankfully we got an affordable deal! I'll be posting during the conference - I'm just off to registration & to meet old friends; At 6pm Professor Andrew Rudalevige is giving the keynote address on "The Obama Presidency and Congress: From Glory to Deadlock" - then we have the Conference Dinner.