Tuesday 31 January 2017

St Stephen's Chamber

I'm looking directly at the windows and exterior wall of St Stephen's Chapel as I write this. In some senses it has become a "forgotten" treasure. Today - as some people queue to get a seat in the Visitors' Gallery in the House of Commons - they will wait in what seems like a large waiting room. Others will hurry through as they make their way to meeting their MP in Central Lobby or to visit one of the committees. Yet this was the space occupied by the House of Commons for the longest period of its history. It was here that King Charles I was rebuffed when he (and an accompanying armed band of soldiers) marched on the House to demand that the Speaker tell him where five of his least favourite MPs were. (4th January 1642) At the other end of the chamber, Spencer Perceval became the only British Prime Minister to be assassinated. (11th May 1812) This was where Amern independence was debated - where the struggles to abolish the slave trade and widen the franchise were fought.

If you visit the Palace of Westminster, you may only take photographs here and in Westminster Hall. Currently there is an interactive guide to the history (with pictures of what the chamber looked like at different periods of its history). It's well worth going to use it.

You can also see where the Speaker's Chair stood; where the Table of the House was; Where the Chamber ended and the 'Lobby' began. There are also some fine painting showing scenes from British (and world) history

- and for anyone who participates in pub quizzes: the answer to the question of who the "five members" were is

- John Hampden
- Arthur Haselrig
- Denzil Holles
- John Pym
- William Strode

Monday 30 January 2017

The Relevance of History

My apologies if you have already read this on one of my other blogs - I have 4 blogs (jdm_progressive, Washminster, jdmeducafe, and JDM's history explorer) - each with its own purpose. This blog is designed for those with an interest in the working of U.K., US & European Politics). The others deal with Progressive Politics, History; and 'learning'. Please feel free to explore all or any - though today, I'm publishing this post in all of them)

I'm writing this whilst taking a cup of tea in the British Museum. It's a wonderful building full of  items of great historical interest from around the world. Though it was built up during the period of the British Empire - when some people had some very stupid ideas about the superiority of certain races - it is an excellent antidote to such idiotic ideas. Think the West is superior to the Islamic world? - visit the wonders in Room 34; worried that the future has been ceded to the Chinese? (Thanks President Trump), then see how great China has been over the centuries. Discover the many heritages that have been  combined to make the United Kingdom.

It is particularly important that we don't forget the lessons of history. At the moment we would do well to recall the consequences of aggressive nationalism - and how quickly some turn to scapegoating others. We need to face up to the worst of our history - as well as be encouraged by the best.

Today is 30th January - a significant day in British history. Back in 1215 (The Magna Carta - Runnymede) - the principle was established that no one - NOT even the King - was above the Law. Charles I forgot that. He hoped for a passive Parliament - and when he didn't get that - he tried to live without calling Parliament - and when that failed - he tried to intimidate parliamentarians (his attempt to arrest five MPs in the chamber have led to a ban on any monarch entering the chamber of the House of Commons) - eventually he went to Nottingham and declared war on his own country.

On this day in 1649, after a trial in Westminster Hall (which he refused to recognise - since he believed himself to be above the law) - he was executed outside the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall.

So remember this day, that important principle, which lies at the heart of British (and American) History and current law.


Wednesday 25 January 2017

The EU Negotiators for Brexit

As we expect the imminent production of a parliamentary bill to authorise the Government to trigger Article 50, a brief view of 3 important players.

European Commissioner 1999-2005, 2010-14, Chief Negotiator in charge. Member Assemblée nationale 1978-93, Minister 1993-97, 2007-09. Guardian Profile.


Rapporteur for the European Parliament on Brexit. Leader of the Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe Group, EP. Former Belgian PM 1999-2008. Politico Profile.


Belgian Diplomat, a one-time chief of staff to former European council president Herman Van Rompuy, will lead a “Brexit taskforce” of EU negotiators. Guardian Profile.

A link to Euractiv's Top 50 in the negotiations can be accessed here.

Friday 13 January 2017

The Candidates in "la primaire de la gauche"

A week on Sunday, supporters of the Parti socialiste and associated parties of the left, will participate in a primary to select a candidate to represent them for the French presidential election. Not all left wing parties are participating, but the winner is likely to be regarded as the mainstream candidate opposing François Fillon (Les républicains) and Marine Le Pen (Le Front national). The election has two rounds, with the two candidates gaining most vote on 22nd January going forward to the second round on 29th January.

The candidates are -

Manuel Valls - Prime Minister under President Hollande from 2014 until December 6th 2016.  His

website is http://manuelvalls.fr He has been a member of the Assemblée nationale, Interior Minister and Prime Minister. He ran for the Parti socialiste nomination in 2012, describing himself as "Blairiste" or "Clintonien".

Arnaud Montebourg - His website is http://www.arnaudmontebourg-2017.fr. He told the UK

Guardian that he saw himself as a French version of Bernie Sanders. Like Valls he ran for the nomination in 2012. He was Minister for Industrial Renewal from 2012-14, serving under both Ayrault and Valls

Benoît Hamon - A former Minister for Education (April - August 2014); MEP 2004-09 and a leader of the left wing at the 2008 PS Reims Congress.  He resigned from the government in August 2014  in protest as Hollande's "abandonment of a socialist agenda" His website is https://www.benoithamon2017.fr


of the left wing at the 2008 PS Reims Congress.  He resigned from the government in August 2014  in protest as Hollande's "abandonment of a socialist agenda" His website is https://www.benoithamon2017.fr

Vincent Peillon - Also a former Minister of Education (and former teacher 1984-92; 1993-97), he was elected as an MEP in 2014, having served in the Assemblée nationale in 1997-2002. L'Express has described him as "à équidistance de Manuel Valls, et des frondeurs" [halfway between Valls and the PS rebels on the left]. His website is http://www.vp2017.fr

was elected as an MEP in 2014, having served in the Assemblée nationale in 1997-2002. L'Express has described him as "à équidistance de Manuel Valls, et des frondeurs" [halfway between Valls and the PS rebels on the left]. His website is http://www.vp2017.fr

Sylvia Pinel - Leader of the moderate and social-liberal centre-left Parti Radical de Gauche. Minister

of Territorial Equality and Housing under the Valls premiership, leaving in February 2011. Her programme can be found at http://www.partiradicaldegauche.fr/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Projet-SP_final.pdf

François de Rugy - A member of the Assemblée nationale since 2007, he is a former member of

EELV (Europe Ecology - The Greens) but formed his own party - Écologistes! - after breaking with EELV over their alliances with the left-wing Front de Gauche. His website is https://www.derugy2017.fr

Jean-Luc Bennahmias - An MEP for 10 years from the South of France.

He formed his own party - the Front démocrate in 2014. His website is http://jlbennahmias2017.fr

If you read French, there is a full description of each of the candidates here.

Useful sites for following the Primary are -

France 24 - English, French - Who are the candidates?
Le Monde - Primaire de la gauche
Le Point

Wednesday 11 January 2017

Congressional Statistics

Congressional Statistics play an important role in political science. I have often used a book which was regularly produced called "Vital Statistics on Congress". Unfortunately buying the book on a regular basis was an expensive proposition (and fills up the shelves!). It is no longer produced in book format. Brookings Governance Studies recently released an updated version - which is downloadable for free. I downloaded the 8 chapters onto my iPad, then opened each of them in  "iBooks".

Click here to access the free download.

You can also sign up to receive free updates - visit this page.

The Eight Chapters are-

1 Demographics of members of Congress
2 Congressional Elections
3 Campaign finance in Congressional Elections
4 Congressional committee data
5 Congressional staff and operating expenses
6 Legislative productivity in Congress and Congressional workload
7 Congressional action on the federal budget
8 Political polarisation in Congress and changing voting attitudes

Tuesday 10 January 2017

The Rules Committee

Old friends of 'Washminster' will know that I have a particular interest in the Rules Committee of the House of Representatives. I enjoy watching the committee in action (sadly, I can normally only do this online  - the Committee Hearings Archive is available here. However, I do go to watch in person when I'm in Washington DC).

The Committee has two roles - it is responsible for overseeing and proposing amendments to the Rules of the House of Representatives. One of the main items of business on the first day of a new Congress is a debate and a vote on rules amendments.

It's other role is to grant 'rules' to draft legislation - which, if adopted, govern how a the debate on that particular draft legislation is conducted. (or as more elegantly put in the CQ's 'American Congressional Dictionary' - "a privileged resolution reported by the Rules Committee that provides methods and conditions for floor consideration of a measure or, rarely, several measures...With few exceptions, major non privileged bills are taken up under the terms of such resolutions.")

The website of the Rules Committee can be found at https://rules.house.gov. If you are interested in the working of the House of Representatives, this is a website well worth visiting. It's "Parliamentary Bootcamp" is an excellent course in the rules and practices of the House. There are also links to the House Manual and House Rules (note - we are awaiting the editions for the 115th Congress - but the amendments to the Rules adopted can be found here. and a section-by-section analysis here.)

Monday 9 January 2017

Planned Confirmation Hearings in US Senate

Tuesday, Jan. 10

Position: Attorney general
Nominee: Sen. Jeff Sessions
Background: Alabama Republican Congressman
Committee: Senate Judiciary
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 10 and 11.

Position: Homeland Security secretary
Nominee: John Kelly
Background: Retired Marine general, former U.S. Southern Command chief
Committee: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs
Confirmation hearings: Jan. 10 at 3:30 p.m. in SD-342 Dirksen.

Wednesday, Jan. 11

Position: Education secretary
Nominee: Betsy DeVos
Background: Billionaire, philanthropist, Republican megadonor
Committee: Senate HELP
Confirmation hearings: Jan. 11 at 10 a.m. in 430 Dirksen.

Position: Transportation secretary
Nominee: Elaine Chao
Background: Former Labor Secretary under the George W. Bush administration, deputy secretary of transportation under President George H.W. Bush, member of Trump’s Asian Pacific American Advisory Council for the campaign, married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
Committee: Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 11 10:15 a.m. in Senate Russell, Room 253.

Position: Secretary of State
Nominee: Rex Tillerson
Background: CEO of Exxon Mobil
Committee: Senate Foreign Relations
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 11

Thursday, Jan. 12

Position: Housing and Urban Development secretary
Nominee: Ben Carson
Background: Retired neurosurgeon, former GOP primary rival
Committee: Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 12 at 10 a.m. More here.
Recent Coverage:
— Trump picks Ben Carson to be HUD secretary
— Carson’s nonexistent governing experience? Not a problem
— Ben Carson: My mom kept us out of public housing to avoid 'danger'

Position: Commerce secretary
Nominee: Wilbur Ross
Background: Billionaire private-equity investor, founder of the private equity firm WL Ross & Co.
Committee: Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation
Confirmation Hearings: Jan. 12 at 10 a.m.

Week of Jan. 16

Position: Labor secretary
Nominee: Andy Puzder
Background: CEO of CKE Restaurants, which include the Carl’s Jr. fast food chain
Committee: Senate HELP
Confirmation Hearings: The week of Jan. 16


Position: Health and Human Services secretary
Nominee: Rep. Tom Price
Background: Georgia Republican Congressman, House Budget Chairman
Committee: Senate Finance
Confirmation Hearings: TBD, the HELP Committee is tentatively set to hold a confirmation hearing on Jan. 18. This is a courtesy.

Trump and China

The Washington Post has produced a useful guide to the background to the row Trump provoked over Taiwan.

Other useful sources on the US-China relationship can be found at -

Washington Post
China Daily
Brookings - John L Thornton China Centre


Last year President Obama made a speech to the two Houses of the Canadian Parliament. It's worth watching and listening to. (Justin Trudeau's words are also worth listening to - so, if you have time, don't skip the first 9 minutes of this video). I would particularly draw your attention to the following words in the President's speech, very relevant now! -
"I think we can all agree that our democracies are far from perfect. They can be messy, and they can be slow, and they can leave all sides of a debate unsatisfied.  ... But more than any other system of government, democracy allows our most precious rights to find their fullest expression, enabling us, through the hard, painstaking work of citizenship, to continually make our countries better. To solve new challenges. To right past wrongs.
Democracy is not easy. It's hard. Living up to our ideals can be difficult even in the best of times. And it can be harder when the future seems uncertain, or when, in response to legitimate fears and frustrations, there are those who offer a politics of "us" versus "them," a politics that scapegoats others — the immigrant, the refugee, someone who seems different than us. We have to call this mentality what it is — a threat to the values that we profess, the values we seek to defend. "

Friday 6 January 2017

Following the House of Commons (particularly Oral Questions)

The Commons Business App can be found in the AppStore as "Commons Order Papers" - you can download for each sitting day the business papers for the day ahead. The one for next Monday is available now (we are currently in a recess - normally the papers are only available after the previous day's business has finished.

Part I is 'Business Today' - click on ''Business Today: Chamber" - that has all the oral questions set down for that day. Not all will be asked, when time runs out, remaining questions get only a written answer.
Part II is 'Future Business'

The Parliamentary website is www.parliament.uk

Follow the following tabs -

- Parliamentary business
  - Publications & Records
    - House of Commons business papers
      - Question Book (from this page you can download the PDF of dates and deadlines - direct link http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-table-office/Oral-questions-rota.pdf)
        - Questions for oral answer on a future day
(This comes out every day and lists questions up to the third parliamentary day from the date of issue.

Hansard is also available on the parliamentary website
- Parliamentary business
  - Publications & records
    - View & search Commons & Lords Hansards - direct link https://hansard.parliament.uk

Wednesday 4 January 2017

Election of the Speaker

First day back at the gym, and as there is wifi, I listened to C-SPAN on my iPhone. As luck would have it, my go on the treadmill (walking machine or whatever trendy title it has now) coincided with the rebroadcast of the speeches made by the defeated candidate, Nancy Pelosi - and the re-elected Speaker, Paul Ryan. These speeches are part of the proceedings on the first day of the Congress.

C-SPAN has an app that allows you to listen to the live feeds of C-SPAN Radio; and the three TV channels. I listen to it sometimes during the night. During the day I prefer to watch the TV via C-SPAN's website. There is also a searchable archive of all programmes broadcast ( which as a researcher into Congress (increasing specialising in its development from the 1970s - is an invaluable resource - and allowed me to watch yesterday's proceedings this morning - I was driving home from Bath).

There is also a Congressional Record app available - Also an invaluable tool for both researching & following Congress.

Nomination of Speaker

Yesterday was the first meeting of the new, 115th, Congress. One of the first matters dealt with in the House of Representatives was the election of the Speaker. The clip below shows the nominations of Republican, Paul Ryan and the Democrat, Nancy Pelosi.

Paul Ryan won by 239 to 189.

Tuesday 3 January 2017

First Day of a new Congress

At noon, Washington DC time, (5pm GMT) a new Congress will start. I normally watch both the House and Senate - thanks to the miracle of the Internet - https://www.c-span.org/. I'm afraid that Congress isn't as precise with its timings as the UK Parliament.

Key events today in the House of Representatives will be The Election of the Speaker (How many will 'rebel' and fail to vote for the current leader of their own party?); the collective swearing in of members, and the debate on changes to the Rules of the House.

Well worth watching!

As this New Year develops, this blog will be commenting upon & explaining many of the events in Congress - keep watching this space....!