Saturday, 30 October 2010

Parliament and Congress

Back in 1972 Kenneth Bradshaw and David Pring brought out a classic book "Parliament and Congress". Now in the Twenty First Century the former Clerk of the House of Commons, William McKay [Editor of the current version of Erskine May] and the former Parliamentarian of the House of Representatives, Charles Johnson, [who was responsible for versions of 'House Practice' and 'House Manual'] have brought out a successor. They discussed the book on C-SPAN's Q & A.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Gubernatorial Races

As you would expect this blog has concentrated on the Senate and House races in Tuesday's forthcoming US Elections. But while the British continue to debate whether it is a good idea to have a number of elections and a referendum on the same day, many US voters have a number of votes to cast - in addition to the Congressional elections.

A number of States will be choosing their Governors. The Democrats will be defending 19 governships, whilst the Republicans defend 18. The latest ratings from Cook can be viewed here. California is currently held by the Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger . The race to replace him pits Jerry Brown (Democrat) against Meg Whitman (Republican). A map of California (and its 53 congressional districts) is available here.

In the last forty years four of the eight Presidents have been former Governors (Carter (Georgia), Reagan (California) , Clinton (Arkansas), and George W Bush (Texas)) - while Nixon failed to win the California gubernatorial race in 1962 against Pat Brown, father of Jerry.

(Nixon's "last press conference", 1962 - after his defeat in the California gubernatorial election)

C-SPAN reports on gubernatorial races can be viewed by clicking the link on the name of the State.


Thursday, 28 October 2010


Blanche Lincoln is fighting to save her seat in the Senate. Cook regards the race as "leaning Republican". CNN reported earlier this week that, "she is losing the woman vote to Republican John Boozman by eight points. She performs strongest in the east, while Boozman wins every other region of the state." Lincoln continues to fight to the last minute - and this week she released this video

The State has three "open seats" in the House of Representatives - The 1st District (north east of the State) has been represented by the Democrat Marion Berry since 1997. (not to be confused with the former Mayor of Washington, Marion Barry). The seat is listed by Cook as a "toss up". It is being contested by Chad Causey, Berry's former Chief of Staff and Republican Rick Crawford, a "farm broadcaster". Vic Snyder is also standing down - in the 2nd District. His seat, in the centre of the State and which includes Little Rock, is being fought for by Democrat Joyce Elliott and Republican Tim Griffin, the the research director of the RNC in 2004. This seat is listed by Cook as "likely Republican". John Boozman has vacated his 3rd District seat in order to run for the Senate. Republican Steve Womack is the likely winner of the race against David Whitaker (New York Times rates this seat as 'solid Republican' while their "FiveThirtyEight Forecasts" puts Womack's chance of winning at 99.9% (down from 100% on October 15th))  

The fourth district (is being defended by Democrat Mike Ross against former Miss Arkansas, Beth Anne Rankin. The seat is ranked by Cook as "likely Democratic".

Wednesday, 27 October 2010


I noted on Monday that some of my family from South Wales moved to the anthracite coal city of Scranton. Some moved on from there to Denver, the major city in Colorado. That state will attract some interest in the elections next week.

The Senate seat currently held by Michael Bennet is listed by Cook as a "toss up". Bennet replaced Ken Salazar, who resigned his Senate seat in 2009 in order to take up the post of Secretary of the Interior. He is being challenged by Ken Buck. He beat the "establishment" Republican candidate, Jane Norton in the primary. He was favoured by tea party activists and has been controversial up to the election, reportedly telling a rally “Sen. Inhofe was the first person to stand up and say this global warming is the greatest hoax that has been perpetrated … the evidence just keeps supporting his view, and more and more people's view, of what’s going on,”

Three of the State's seven districts are regarded as competive. Ken Salazar's older brother John, who has served in the House of Representatives since 2004, is vulnerable in the 3rd District. The seat, which accounts for over half of the State's land mass - in the east and south - is a Cook "toss up". His Republican opponent is Scott Tipton. The Fourth District - in the West of the State was won in 2008 by Betsy Markey from Marilyn Musgrave. It is currently listed as "leans Republican". She faces a challenge from Cory Gardner.   Ed Perlmutter, has represented the 7th District (covering the Denver suburbs on three sides) since 2006. He is being challenged by the Republican Ryan Frazier. Cook rates the seat as "leans Democratic".

The Denver Post's election website is accessible from here.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

A Week to Go

A week today and it will be election day in the US. Early voting is possible in many state. According to a list published in Roll Call Vermont was open for early voting from September 20th, with South Dakota from 21st. If you are a voter in the US check the last day, and what documents you are required to bring with you. Louisiana ends early voting today, and the final day does vary between states.

If you want to follow the news direct from the US, the following websites are available

USA Today
Washington Post
New York Times
Los Angeles Times

Monday, 25 October 2010


The State of Pennsylvania is usually of electoral interest - but 2010 will focus national attention on a number of key races. The state has, as does every state - however large or small - two seats in the Senate, and 19 in the House of Representatives. The senior Senator in the 111th Congress has been Arlen Specter - who has represented the State since 1981 - 28 years as a Republican - but since April 2009 as a Democrat.

The Senate seat is being contested by Pat Toomey (Republican) and Joe Sestak (Democrat). Cook describes the race as a "toss up". Rasmussen reported on Friday that while Toomey's support has held up - Sestak's has increased sharply, bringing Toomey's lead down to only four points. President Obama will be in Philadelphia on Saturday.

A number of the House seats are also competitive

PA03 - is currently held by Kathy Dahlkemper (Democrat), serving her first term in the House. She is being challenged by Mike Kelly. This has been a Republican leaning seat - which in 2008, the year Dahlkemper was elected, McCain won the district - by just 17 votes. It is the most north-western of the Pennsylvania districts - which includes the city of Erie. Cook has this leaning Republican.

PA04 - is listed by Cook as leaning Democratic. The district is on western side of the state, to the north and north east of Pittsburgh. Jason Altmire has served two terms. He is being opposed by Republican Keith Rothfus.

PA06 - is held by Jim Gerlach, the Republican incumbent who has served this south eastern district since his election in 2002. Cook lists the seat as "likely Republican". It may be closer than would have been expected since Gerlach announced initially that he would not stand for re-election in order to run for Governor, but rejoined the race in January 2010. Gerlach's Democratic challenger is Manan Trivedi, an Iraq war veteran. The redrawing of the district for 2002 led democrats to claim that who argued it "looms like a dragon descending on Philadelphia from the west, splitting up towns and communities throughout Montgomery and Berks Counties"

PA07 - the seat which Joe Sestak is standing down from to run for the Senate. The resulting "open" seat is now listed by Cook as "leans Republican". Bryan Lentz is fighting to save the seat for the Democrats - and faces Patrick Meehan, formerly the federal prosecutor for Philadelphia. The seat covers suburban Philadelphia and most of Delaware County.

PA08 - The northern suburbs and Bucks County (named for the county in England that I technically live in - Milton Keynes is now a Unitary authority) make up the 8th District, held in the 110th & 111th Congresses by Patrick Murphy. He is another veteran standing in Pennsylvania for the Democrats. He is opposed by Mike Fitzpatrick. Cook regards this seat as a toss up.

PA10 - Chris Carney also has served in the 110th and 111th. Also like Murphy his seat is listed as a "toss up". The district covers the north east of the State. The republican challenger is Tom Marino.

PA11 - a district, to the south of the 10th, which includes Scranton (home of the American version of "The Office" - and a city which some of my family emigrated to in the early part of the twentieth century. When we spent a family holiday in the Poconos we visited the city - which struck me as architecturally reminiscent of the area in South Wales where my family came from) and Wilkes-Barre. For more on this area see my post of 24th FebruaryPaul Kanjorski is the Democratic incumbent. President Clinton will be coming to support him tomorrow in his home town of Nanticoke (Tuesday 26th). His Republican opponent will be Lou Barletta, who is making his third attempt to unseat Kanjorski. This seat is also listed as a "toss up"

PA12 - Currently listed by Cook as "leans democratic", theis was the seat held since February 1974 by Jack Murtha. His successor, Mark Critz won the special election (the American name for what Brits call a "by-election) on May 18th. He is being challenged by the Republican Tim Burns. His website asserts "My name is Tim Burns and I am NOT a politician". I try to be balanced and non-editorial in this blog - but nothing irritates me more than candidates who make this claim. Not only are the people making it politicians in fact - they show the attribute they claim to hate most - they lie. The district in the south west of the state.

PA17 - Tim Holden's seat is listed as "Likely Democrat". He has represented the seat which CQ describes as "East-Central" of the State, and which includes Harrisburg, since 1993. His Republican opponent is Dave Argall.

So eyes will, again, be on Pennsylvania.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

50 Years ago today...

Songwriter Charles Dumont brought his song to Edith Piaf....the rest is history

Whips in the House of Lords

All Whips in the House of Lords are members of Her Majesty’s Household. Unlike whips in most legislatures, they speak regularly in the Chamber, often being the main – or secondary – spokesperson for one or more Government departments in the Lords. The “Captain of the Honourable Corps of the Gentlemen at Arms” is the Lords Chief Whip. The Deputy Chief has the title “Captain of The Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard

Chief Whip: Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Con)
Deputy Chief Whip: Lord Shutt of Greetland (LD)

Baronesses in Waiting
Baroness Northover (LD) : Baroness Rawlings (Con) : Baroness Verma (Con)

Lords in Waiting
Earl Attlee (Con) : Lord Astor of Hever (Con) Lord De Mauley (Con) :
Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Con) : Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Two Years Ago?

As the mid terms approach, I am reminded how different the mood was only two years ago. I attended the rally on election-eve in Manassas (you can see me behind the gentleman in an orange jacket (wearing a green jumper - it was very cold!)

One of the videos I took at the rally captures the mood

Friday, 22 October 2010

POTUS & FLOTUS - pre-election plans

Obama will headline rallies in Bridgeport, Conn., and Chicago, and participate in a canvassing event in Philadelphia on Oct. 30. The next day Obama will head to Cleveland with Vice President Joe Biden for his final rally of the campaign season. ... The White House has said the president plans to be in Washington on Nov. 1, the Monday before the election, and on Election Day. ... Michelle Obama will campaign in Las Vegas and Philadelphia on Nov. 1."

Whips in the House of Commons

The Chief Whip; Whips and Assistant Whips are Members of the Treasury. The Treasurer; Comptroller & Vice Chamberlain are members of Her Majesty’s Household

Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury [Chief Whip]  Patrick McLoughlin MP (Con)
Treasurer of HM Household John Randall MP (Con)
Comptroller Alistair Carmichael MP (LD)
Vice Chamberlain Mark Francois MP (Con)

Lord Commissioners
James Duddridge MP (Con)
Michael Fabricant MP (Con)
Brooks Newmark MP (Con)
Angela Watkinson MP (Con)
Jeremy Wright MP (Con)

Assistant Whips
Stephen Crabb MP (Con)
Philip Dunne MP (Con)
Robert Goodwill MP (Con)
Mark Hunter MP (LD)
Norman Lamb MP (LD)
Chloe Smith MP (Con)
Shailesh Vara MP (Con)
Bill Wiggin MP (Con)

An American Senator (whilst paying tribute to Michael Jopling, prior to his standing down from the house of Commons - he now sits in the House of Lords) explains about whips in the British Parliament.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Glenn Beck

Saturday Night Live pokes some fun at Glenn Beck

Should we get rid of whips?

As I am currently working on a study of whips in the UK Parliament and US Congress, I was very interested in the Ten Minute Rule Bill proposed by Wellingborough MP, Peter Bone. Although the Bill got its first reading on Tuesday - there is little chance of it progressing further. Mr Bone was using the prime time opportunity to make criticisms of the system of whipping in the House of Commons.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con):  I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to disqualify for membership of the House of Commons any person who holds the office of Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, Deputy Chief Whip, Government Whip, Assistant Government Whip, Chief Opposition Whip or Assistant Opposition Whip; and for connected purposes.

I am introducing the Bill to rebuild trust in politics. We have a problem in Parliament. A Bill

"gets sent to the House of Commons where it's debated without diligence-because automatic guillotines cut time short. It's passed without proper scrutiny-because standing committees for Public Bills are stuffed with puppets of the Government. And it's voted through without much of a whisper-because MPs have been whipped to follow the party line.

We've got to give Parliament its teeth back so that people can have pride in it again-so they can look at it and say 'yes: those MPs we elect-they're holding the government to account on my behalf.'"

Those are not my words, but the words of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. One may even say that his words are uttered in the same spirit as those of Edmund Burke, the great Conservative thinker, who in 1774 said of the perfect Member of Parliament that

"his unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice . . . to any set of men living."

That is what we as Members of Parliament should do, and what Parliament itself was set up to do. We should be acting on behalf of our constituents and, using our "'unbiased opinion" and "mature judgment", scrutinising every piece of legislation that comes our way to hold the Government properly to account, regardless of party politics. But Burke could surely not have foreseen how difficult it is today for a Member of Parliament to live up to his ideal. Sadly, all too many of us do indeed succumb to pressure from a very particular "set of men living"-that is, the flatterers, cajolers and sometime bullies who make up our party Whips.

Parliament was originally intended to act as a check on the Executive and to hold it to account, yet with the advent of the party and such concepts as party loyalty and party manifestos, Members of Parliament have put their individual judgment to one side increasingly frequently and, more often than not, are treated by the Whips as little more than sheep. In fact, the Whips even divide Members into groups which they call flocks. These flocks are then blindly herded into Division Lobbies and told to vote a particular way on a subject that they know nothing about. Many Members of Parliament today go through the Lobby not even knowing what part of the Bill they are voting on.

Such behaviour is an insult to our constituents and to British democracy. It was particularly bad under the last Labour Government, when the Whips, working in secret, skilfully used flattery, enticement, patronage, threats and downright bullying to get Members of Parliament to ignore their better judgment and, in many cases, the opinions of their constituents, and vote in whichever way the former Prime Minister wanted.

The ways of the Whips Office are, by their very nature, secretive. After all, what party would want the public knowing precisely to what lengths a few men and women will go to secure what they arrogantly assume to be the best option for the country?

Let me give the House just one story, an example of how the Whips blatantly use disinformation even in the current Session. The disinformation in question concerned the Backbench Business Committee. The Whips sent an e-mail to Members claiming that the Committee had decided always to hold its business on a Thursday and to table motions for discussion only a day or so before. Both those alleged facts were completely incorrect. It was in fact the Whips Office that decided that the debate should be on a Thursday, against the advice of the Wright report, and the Committee should have been given earlier days in the parliamentary week, not Thursdays. It was also entirely untrue to state that the Committee tabled motions only a day or so before the debate; the Committee normally provides several weeks' notice. The purpose of that disinformation was clearly to show the Committee in a bad light to Members, because it will inevitably take power away from the Whips.

It is frankly astonishing to think that, in an age when employees have more rights than ever before, and workplace bullying has thankfully become increasingly unacceptable, Members are still treated in such a manner. If I were to treat my staff in that way, even for an instant, I would quite rightly be taken to an employment tribunal and sued faster than you can say, "Your career is over." Yet, it is through those unsavoury and often underhand methods that the Whips use to ensure that the party line is strictly obeyed. The public are therefore denied independent-minded Members and, indeed, the Parliament that they deserve.

What is more frustrating is that the individual members of the Whips Office are often very talented Members who would be better employed helping to run a Department or seated on the Back Benches holding the Government to account, rather than wasting their time as Whips. In my experience, Whips are extremely hard working and carry out their functions, including their pastoral care, with great diligence. Nor am I saying that they have not in the past usefully performed certain functions to ensure the smooth running of the House, such as communicating Back-Benchers' views to the leadership and vice versa, and organising House business. Yet, with the admirable and long-awaited changes to Parliament which our new Government have already enacted, such as setting up the Backbench Business Committee and the soon-to-be-created business of the House committee, business could be organised perfectly well without the Whips and the usual channels.

Although my Bill would abolish the position of Whip, it would not abolish the Whips Office, an entity already run by civil servants and which would continue to deal with day-to-day House administration. As for the channels of communication between the leadership and Back Benchers, in each party there are vocal Back-Bench groups, such as my party's 1922 committee, which perform such a function admirably and efficiently.

The position of Whip could be made redundant easily. The only role left for Whips to perform is that of strong-arming Members and ensuring a less democratic and efficient Parliament as a result. The public are clearly crying out for a change in the way that Parliament operates. They want a less powerful and overbearing Executive, and Members who are able to represent their views and use their judgment, not Members who act just as Lobby fodder in order to rubber-stamp the decisions of the Executive, blindly following the party's view and not even knowing what Bill they are voting on.

This Parliament is moving steadily towards a separation of its powers from those of the Executive. My Bill is a further step on that progressive journey. In fact, it would benefit not only British democracy but the British economy. Following recent events, the public have become increasingly irritated by the scale of expenditure, yet by abolishing the Whips' positions we would save approximately £6.5 million per Parliament in ministerial salaries-a quite extraordinary amount. Surely it is only right that alongside the Prime Minister's plans to reduce the number of Members of Parliament, we make at least some effort to reduce the size of the Government.

I should like to end by quoting the words of a man who I know has the best interests of our democracy and our country at heart:

"We will give the House of Commons more control over its own timetable so there is proper time for scrutiny and debate. We will make MPs more independent, with more free votes so that they can vote as they wish and not as they're told to."

Those were the words of our new Prime Minister, uttered in 2009 in his powerful speech about rebuilding the connection between Parliament and the people. I am introducing this Bill to try to help the Prime Minister to achieve his aim.

The Bill was allowed to proceed to first reading - MPs can vote to refuse that - but one MP did speak up on the subject -

Mr David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) (Con):  I yield to no one in my admiration for my hon. Friend the Member for Wellingborough (Mr Bone), who has a proven track record of raising thought-provoking questions. His speech has raised a thought-provoking question in my mind-why he has not given much more weight to the pastoral care that the Government Whips Office, and indeed the Opposition Whips Office, gives to individual Members.

I make this point not because I am a Whips' nark-although it is for other hon. Members to judge whether that is the case-or because I am a member of that formidable trade union, the ex-Whips Office, but rather because in the past six months I have had experience of the personal advice, support and care of Her Majesty's Government's Whips Office. That has been given to my staff and to me; it was necessary after my temporary leave of absence after the general election.

I suggest to hon. Members that they view the Whips Office, or the Opposition Whips Office, as being bit like the NHS. We hope that we never need it, but it is very good to know that it is there if we do. That has been my experience. All of us in this place come into politics because we want to serve, and that calling brings with it its own unique demands. I am not for one second suggesting that we are a special case in that sense, but I would suggest that most other jobs have very highly developed human resources or personnel departments that individuals can go to. In this House, we do not have a similar support network-except, that is, for the Whips Office. The House relies on the Whips Office for the delivery of pastoral care. In my case, that has resulted in my full return to health and a full recovery. I hasten to add that I do not want to overdo it-it was not just the Whips Office that delivered my speedy return, but the Whips Office contributed to it, and I must say that I am enjoying it hugely.

It is for those reasons that I oppose the Bill. I am aware, however, that there is important business to be got through this evening, and I will therefore not force the matter to a Division.

My studies are exploring many of the issues (and a lot more besides) raised in that brief debate.


Russ Feingold, the Democratic Senator since 1992, faces a contest which Cook has listed as a "Toss Up". Feingold, a co-author with John McCain of Campaign Finance legislation. CNN/Time issued a poll last week that showed him trailing by eight points. He is a native of Janesville, Wisconsin - a city which has been the home or birthplace of California Governor, James Budd (1895-99), who served in the House of Representatives (CA 1883-5) - as did Stephen Bolles (WI 1939-41); Bob Carr (MI 1975-1981, 1983–1995); Harmon Sweatland Conger (NY 1847-51); Gilbert Nelson Haugen (IA 1899-1933);  Ithamar Conkey Sloan (1863-67); Charles Grandison Williams (1873-83) and the current Congressman for the First District, Paul Ryan.

Feingold is being challenged by Ron Johnson (Republican), their websites can be accessed here - Feingold; Johnson.

District 07 is an open seat. David Obey, who has sat in the House of Representatives since 1969 - and is the current Chair of the Appropriations Committee is standing down. The seat, listed by Cook as a "Toss Up", is being contested by Julie Lassa (Democrat) and Sean Duffy (Republican). The Seventh District is in the North West of the State. Ron Kind's district is listed as "leaning Democratic". He represents the 3rd District which is the South West seat. Kind gained his Masters degree at the London School of Economics, and worked as an intern for Leicester West's MP, Greville Janner.

The other competive seat is the 8th District where Steve Kagen is defending the seat he first won in 2006. The Eighth is the North Eastern district which includes Green Bay.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Republican Message

I recommend reading Ornstein and Mann's "The Broken Branch", which detailed the dire situation Congress was in after 12 years of Republican rule. I'd welcome your comments on either/both the video and the Ornstein/Mann thesis.

Rule IV House of Representatives

The Hall of the House is the subject of Rule IV. It defines the purposes for which the Hall can be used - "only for the legislative business of the House and for caucus and conference meetings of its Members, except when the House agrees to take part in any ceremonies to be observed therein."

In addition the rule lists the people who may be admitted

(1) Members of Congress, Members-elect, and contestants in election cases during the pendency of their cases on the floor.
(2) The Delegates and the Resident Commissioner.
(3) The President and Vice President of the United States and their private secretaries.
(4) Justices of the Supreme Court.
(5) Elected officers and minority employees nominated as elected officers of the House.
(6) The Parliamentarian.
(7) Staff of committees when business from their committee is under consideration, and staff of the respective party leaderships when so assigned with the approval of the Speaker.
(8) Not more than one person from the staff of a Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner when that Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner has an amendment under consideration (subject to clause 5).
(9) The Architect of the Capitol.
(10) The Librarian of Congress and the assistant in charge of the Law Library.
(11) The Secretary and Sergeant-at-Arms of the Senate.
(12) Heads of departments.
(13) Foreign ministers.
(14) Governors of States.
(15) Former Members, Delegates, and Resident Commissioners; former Parliamentarians of the House; and former elected officers and minority employees nominated as elected officers of the House (subject to clause 4).
(16) One attorney to accompany a Member, Delegate, or Resident Commissioner who is the respondent in an investigation undertaken by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct when a recommendation of that committee is under consideration in the House.
(17) Such persons as have, by name, received the thanks of Congress.

All other persons are to be excluded from the Hall and its Cloakrooms. There are limitations on the rights of former members when they are lobbyists.

The Gallery has special areas set aside for certain people (Rule IV 6)

An express provisiom forbids the knowing distribution of political campaign contributions within the Hall or the rooms leading to it.

There is a short article about the Hall here.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Britain & Europe

EU: UK Membership - Wriiten Question

Lord Stoddart of Swindon -

"To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they intend to take to honour the pledges made by the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary that "Britain will be in Europe but not run by Europe".

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): This Government intend to play an active and activist role in the EU to ensure its success. We will champion vigorously the interests of the UK in the EU and work together to further our shared agenda. There are things that the EU can do better and we are confident in the UK's ability to drive forward change and move the EU in the right direction.

The Government have agreed that there should be no further transfer of sovereignty or powers from the UK to the EU over the course of this Parliament. The Government will also introduce a Bill in the autumn that aims to increase democratic and parliamentary control, scrutiny and accountability over EU decision-making. We are clear in our objective to restore democratic accountability of the EU and ensure that the British public are engaged and active participants in the UK's future within Europe.

The Bill will introduce a referendum lock so that any proposed future treaty that transferred competence or power from the UK to the EU would be subject to a referendum. This will also include any ratchet clause that would amount to a transfer of power or competence from the UK to the EU.

The Bill includes a sovereignty clause as set out in my Statement of 6 October 2010.

A Deluge of Announcements

This is a busy week in British Politics. Tomorrow the Spending Review will be unveiled (though it has been heavily trailed in the media). For further details see the BBC site and the Treasury website.

On Monday written statements were made on Energy Policy , and the National Security Stategy. Today details of the Defence Review will be announced by the Prime Minister. (BBC Website)


Chris Dodd announced in January that he would not be seeking re-election for his Connecticut seat in the US Senate. That leaves an "Open Seat". In the US the "incumbency factor" has a much greater impact than in the UK. Individuals have to raise a much greater proportion of the funding for re-election than British MPs, where a significant amount of the funding comes from the Party. A long established Senator or Congressman can attract funds more easily than a challenger. So when the incumbent stands down, there can be a much greater opportunity for the other party to seize the seat.

The Senate seat is listed by The Cook Report as a "Toss Up". The categories used by Cook are "Solid Democratic/Republican"; "Likely Democratic/Republican"; "Lean Democratic/Republican" and "Toss Up". Of the 19 seats currently held by the Democrats, 9 are listed as "Toss Up"; 3 Leaning Republican and 1 Solid Republican. 2 Republican seats are "Toss Up"

The State of Connecticut is the highest-income state in the US, but has consistently backed the Democrats in recent Presidential Elections - and in The Senate, Dodd has represented the State since 1980, while Joe Lieberman has been the Junior Senator since 1988. He was the Democrat Vice Presidential Candidate in 2000, but has been an Independent since losing the Democratic Primary in 2006. He remains a registered Democrat and caucuses with the Democrats in the Senate.

But the Governor of Connecticut is a Republican. Jodi Rell is up for re-election and her race is also seen as a toss up.

The Senate Candidates are Richard Blumenthal (Democrat) - website - and Linda McMahon (Republican), former World Wrestling Entertainment CEO. - website.

House races in Connecticut will also be of national interest. First time Congressman Jim Himes' district CT04 - is listed as "Leaning Democrat". He represents a district which runs from the New York outskirts along the coast of Long Island Sound. It includes Stamford and Bridgeport. These are the centres of Democrat support - while areas dominated by wealthy commuters to New York provide a base for the Republicans.

Christopher Murphy in the 5th District is also vulnerable. He has served two terms, but was an architect of the healthcare legislation. Cook was listing the seat - which covers the North West of the State and includes Danbury and Waterbury - as "Leaning Democrat", but an October poll commissioned by the website CT Capitol Report suggest he may be trailing 49.7% - 44.3%.

Democrats in the 1st District (John Larson - Central Connecticut, including Hartford); the 2nd District (Joe Courtney - the Eastern half of the state) and the 3rd District (Rosa DeLauro - South, including New Haven and Milford) seem to be more secure.

A list of Connecticut newspapers (with links) can be found here.

Monday, 18 October 2010


The Senate race in Nevada has gained especial attention - as the Majority Leader's seat is at risk. Harry Reid has represented the State since 1986. Republicans would love to unseat the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, as they did in 2004 with Tom Daschle - the first time a Senate majority leader had lost a seat since 1952.

Reid had sat in the House of Representatives for two terms prior to his election to the Senate. His autobiography is called "The Good Fight" - subtitled "Hard lessons from Searchlight to Washington". Searchlight is the mining town he grew up in. He was an amateur middleweight boxer - but politics became his passion. In the Senate he was elected as the Whip and took over the leadership of the Senate Democrats after Daschle's defeat. His official campaign site is http://reid.senate.gov/

Opposing him is Sharron Angle, a former Republican member of the Nevada Assembly. She is associated with the "Tea Party" movement. Her website is http://sharronangle.com/

The third district of Nevada also has a race to watch. Dina Titus is defending the seat she won from the Republicans in 2008. The Cook Political Report described this as "a Democratic toss up", as does Larry Sabato.

The State of Nevada has only three districts - Shelley Berkley (Dem) represents urban Las Vegas; while the Republicans hold the Junior Senator's seat (John Ensign) and the 2nd District (Dean Heller)

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Week Ahead - From Politico

THE PRESIDENT'S WEEK AHEAD, per the White House: "On Sunday, the President and the First Lady will travel to Cleveland, Ohio. ... In the afternoon, the President and the First Lady will attend an event for Governor Strickland at a private residence in Cleveland, Ohio. The President and the First Lady will then travel to Columbus, Ohio. The President and the First Lady will attend a fundraiser for the DNC at Ohio State University. ... Later, the President and the First Lady will deliver remarks at a rally for the DNC at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. ...

"On Monday, the President will host the White House Science Fair celebrating the winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions. In the evening, the President will attend an event for the DSCC in Rockville, Maryland. On Tuesday, the President will sign an Executive Order to renew the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics at the White House. On Wednesday, the President will meet with his national security team for his monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan in the Situation Room. Later, the President will travel to Portland, Oregon to attend a fundraiser and a rally for Gubernatorial candidate John Kitzhaber. The President will then travel to Seattle, where he will spend the night.

"On Thursday, the President will hold an event in Seattle, and will then attend a rally for Senator Murray. Later, the President will travel to San Francisco, California. In the evening, the President will attend a dinner for the DNC. The President will spend the night in San Francisco. On Friday, the President will travel to Los Angeles, California where he will attend events for Senator Barbara Boxer and for the DNC. Later, the President will travel to Las Vegas, Nevada where he will attend an event for the DNC and later an event for Senator Reid and the DSCC. The President will spend the night in Las Vegas. On Saturday, the President will travel to Minneapolis, Minnesota to attend an event for Gubernatorial candidate Mark Dayton, and will then attend an event for the DCCC."

THE VICE PRESIDENT'S WEEK AHEAD: "The Vice President will be in Wilmington, Delaware [this weekend]. There are no public events scheduled. On Monday, the Vice President will attend an event for Mayor John Callahan in Allentown, Pennsylvania. On Tuesday, the Vice President will travel to Vancouver, Washington, to deliver remarks at a rally for Senator Patty Murray. Later, the Vice President will attend an event for Senator Barbara Boxer in San Francisco, California. The Vice President will then travel to Reno, Nevada, where he will spend the night. On Wednesday, the Vice President will join the President's meeting with his national security team on Afghanistan and Pakistan via videoconference. Later, the Vice President will deliver remarks at a rally for Senator Harry Reid in Reno. On Thursday, the Vice President will attend an event for Governor Martin O'Malley in Chevy Chase, Maryland."

Look quickly, or it will be over....

The Senate, to avoid the possibility of recess appointments - which would undermine the Senate's power of confirmation - has regular 'pro forma' meetings. Further information on the legal issues is available here.
It also serves the purpose of satisfying the constitutional obligation that neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other.

This one occured on Friday.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

House Cloakrooms

The House of Representatives has two "cloakrooms" - one for each party - but the humble name hides an important centre of power. C-SPAN describes them as "long, narrow L-shaped enclosed rooms at the back of the chamber. Many Members enter and leave the floor by going through their party's cloakroom, and it's the first place staff look for missing Members."
"The cloakrooms control all the action" of the parties "on the floor, including speaking time, order and organization. These rooms are closed to all except Congressmen and a few of their trusted staffers, and have their own phone numbers."

The rooms have places to sit quietly, or to talk (even to conspire!). Food and drink may be consumed. (they have snack bars (basic diner food, e.g. hot dogs, sandwiches, and soups) Most importantly they are an information hub.

The republicans use the name for their internet information hub - accessible here.

The work of the Democratic cloakroom is described by Donnald K. Anderson in the video below

C-SPAN reports "Besides Members and congressional staff, many journalists call the cloakroom for the most up-to-date information on these vital matters. Because of the overwhelming volume of calls each cloakroom has its own taped scheduled floor hot-line, updated throughout the day. Here are the numbers. All area codes are (202): House Republican, [001] 202 225-7430. House Democratic, [001] 202 225-7400. "

Friday, 15 October 2010

Rule III House of Representatives

Rule III deals with the duties of members
  • to be present within the Hall of the House during its sittings, unless excused or necessarily prevented, and shall vote on each question put, unless having a direct personal or pecuniary interest in the event of such question.
  • to vote personally
Delegates (from American Samoa; District of Columbia; Virgin Islands; Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands) and the resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico only have voting rights in the Committee of the Whole House on the state of the Union. They have the same rights in standing committees as Members of the House.
There are 435 members of the House of Representatives - a figure established in Statute (Reapportionment Act of 1929). Therefore 218 votes are needed to ensure a majority. As noted above the voting rights of delegates are limited.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath on Lords Reform

This was the speech that Lord Hunt made introducing the short debate on Lords Reform.

He begins by paying tribute to Lord Acton, who was an active member of the House of Lords - and would attend regularly, despite living in Iowa. He took a keen interest in both British and US Politics. Other members of the House of Lords were saddened to hear of his death, and I took was very sorry to learn of the death of a lovely man.

The debate can be watched in full here.

Lessons concerning Government Formation

Today the Political and Constitutional Reform Committee will take evidence on the subject of "Lessons from the process of government formation after the 2010 general election". Evidence will be taken at 10am from David Laws MP (lead negotiator for the Liberal Democrats in the negotiations for a Coalition) and Lord Adonis (Chief negotiator for Labour after the General Election) and Director, Institute for Government (at 11.00am).

The session will be held in the Wilson Room, Portcullis House - and will be viewable live (and on archive) here.

The Committee has prepared these background notes


The government and civil service took steps before the election to prepare for a situation in which no single party had an absolute majority in the House of Commons.

In February 2010 the Cabinet Office published a draft of a chapter on ‘elections and government formation’ proposed for inclusion in a new Cabinet Manual. The House of Commons Justice Committee took evidence on this document towards the end of the last Parliament, and recommended that the chapter should spell out with greater clarity the timing and nature of restrictions on the activities of a serving government before and after a general election.

2010 general election

The constitutional arrangements described in the draft chapter were put to the test by the results of the 2010 general election, in which no one party won an absolute majority in the House of Commons. This was the first time since 1974 in which such a situation had presented itself. Gordon Brown, the incumbent Prime Minister, remained in post until an alternative government had been formed. This took several days. The civil service continued to work with the incumbent government, while at the same time assisting the three largest political parties in their coalition negotiations.


There is no formula for deciding who should form a government following an election at which no one party achieves an absolute majority in the House of Commons.

The incumbent Prime Minister has in theory the right to remain in government until he or she has explicitly lost the confidence of the Commons. It has been argued by many that the incumbent Prime Minister is constitutionally required to remain in post until he or she is able to indicate a viable alternative to the Sovereign. This view contrasts with the description of Gordon Brown by parts of the media after the election as a “squatter” in Downing Street.

There is also no set timetable for the political process of government formation. Nick Clegg has reportedly described the timescale in which the current government was formed as “extraordinarily compressed” and Gordon Brown’s departure, when it happened, as having come from “out of the blue”.

The coalition programme for government, which resulted from the successful negotiations between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, included proposals for political reform, some of which had been in the manifesto of neither party. This raises questions about the origin of these proposals, the implications, if any, of the fact that they lack a popular mandate, and, potentially, the process for deciding whether to implement them.


1.What constitutional and practical lessons are there to be learned from the process of government formation after the 2010 general election?
2.How, if at all, should the process be changed for the future?
3.Were there any departures in practice from the principles of government formation set out in draft before the general election?
4.Were these departures justified?
5.Was the draft Cabinet Manual chapter on elections and government formation drafted in a satisfactory way, and has the subsequent consultation been adequate?
6.What impact did media pressure have on the position of the incumbent Prime Minister and coalition negotiators?
7.Could and should this impact have been mitigated?
8.What is the origin of those constitutional proposals in the coalition programme for government which were not addressed in the manifesto of either party?
9.What are the implications, if any, of the fact that these proposals lack a popular mandate?
10.Are there more satisfactory models for coalition and government formation in use elsewhere in the world, or in other parts of the United Kingdom?
11.Should the head of government or Cabinet require the endorsement of the House of Commons, by way of an investiture vote?

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Mrs Thatcher

I must admit - I am not one of Margaret Thatcher's admirers. I remain very critical of her policies; her impact on British society (though she did say - "there is no such thing as society" - for the full quote, in context, go here); and her legacy of eurosceptism and "Thatcherism"

Yet, Washminster can still wish Mrs Thatcher a happy Birthday. She is 85 today. She is still occasionally seen in the House of Lords, where she sits as as Baroness Thatcher, of Kesteven in the County of Lincolnshire. A biography of her can be found here.

Oral Arguments in the Supreme Court

The oral arguments in the Snyder vs. Phelps case (the group from a "church" who have been protesting at funerals of soldiers) were heard at the Supreme Court on Wednesday 6th October 2010.
It is possible to listen to the arguments - with pictures of the participants provided by C-SPAN - here.

The active involvement of the Supreme Court Judges is to be noted. Each side has 30 minutes to present their case, and the questions from the Justices can take up almost all of that time! For further information on oral argument before SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) see here (particularly Rule 28).

Details of the facts - from the Citizen Media Law Project website -

The Westboro Baptist Church is a fundamentalist Christian church that contends that God kills soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan as punishment for America'stolerance of homosexuality and for the presence of gays in the U.S. military. The church operates a number of websites, including www.godhatesfags.com, on which it disseminates its rabidly anti-homosexual views. The church has gained notoriety for staging protests at the funerals of U.S. soldiers in order to draw attention to its message.

Albert Snyder's son, Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was a U.S. Marinewho was killed on March 3, 2006 during active service in Iraq. His bodywas returned to the United States, and his family held a funeral forhim on March 10, 2006 in Westminster, Maryland.

Westboro Baptist Church pastor and founder Fred Phelps and members of his congregation picketed Matthew's funeral, holding signs expressing anti-gay, anti-American, and anti-Catholic slogans, including "God hates you" and "You're going to hell."

Westboro Baptist Church also posted an essay on its website entitled "The Burden of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew A. Snyder." In the essay, statements indicated that Albert and his wife “raised [Matthew] for the devil,” “RIPPED that body apart and taught Matthew to defy his Creator, to divorce, and to commit adultery,” “taught him how to support the largest pedophile machine in the history of the entire world, the Roman Catholic monstrosity,” and “taught Matthew to be an idolator.”

The transcript of the oral arguments is available here.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Portcullis House

I'm spending much of the day in Portcullis House - the most recently built part of the Parliamentary Estate. It is a fine building - which led to some controversy, as its costs, originally estimated at £165m in 1992 - turned out to be £235m. A report into the cost overruns was never published. When she opened it, the Queen commented that "the building complemented and contrasted with the Palace of Westminster" - a judgement that I would agree with.

Portcullis House has a number of offices for MPs as well as a series of rooms used for committee meetings. These are a vast improvement on the cramped offices and acoustically challenged committee rooms in the Palace itself (though a cramped room in the Palace is more sought after by MPs - on the same grounds that the nearer an office is to the Oval Office in the West Wing, the more prestigious it is - howver small it may be)

The parliamentary website has a series of pages on the history; architecture and energy saving characteristics of Portcullis House, which is accessible here.

The Parliamentary background to the American Revolution

On Sunday morning I had a long lie in - I wasn't sleeping, but listening to a fascinating audio presentation in Stanford University's "The American Founders and their World". The third presentation in the series - which is available free at iTunes is called "When Abigail and John met George and Charlotte, or, the American Rebellion Viewed from London"


Andrew O'Shaughnessy explains the parliamentary background to the American Revolution - painting pictures in words of four of the key players - George III, Lord North, Charles James Fox and Edmund Burke. He describes the mood and politics of the House of Commons at the time - and the constitutional issues governing their behaviour. Other figures are also introduced. Well worth listening to!

The whole series is worth downloading and listening to. In the third presentation Edith Gelles discusses the travels of John and Abigail Adams.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Former Speaker Betty Boothroyd attacks Lords Reform

The short debate on Lords Reform - held today in the House of Lords - introduced by reformer, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, provoked a strong response from some opponents, particularly from the former Commons Speaker Baroness Boothroyd. The BBC report can be read here.

Political Humour - Christine O'Donnell

In case you haven't seen them - some of the spoof videos about controversial Tea Party Senate candidate.

And an early clip of COD - up against Eddie Izzard

Summary of Report by Political & Constitutional Reform Committee

The Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill seeks fundamentally to change the political establishment in the UK. We regret that it is being pushed through Parliament in a manner that limits both legislative and external scrutiny of its impact, and may consequently undermine the Government's intention to restore the public's faith in Parliament. Given constraints of the legislative timetable we have conducted this inquiry with the aim of producing a report which we hope will assist the House at the Committee stage of the Bill.

For primarily political reasons, the Bill links two sets of provisions that could have been considered separately. The Bill does not include proposals on reforming the House of Lords which would have allowed the composition of Parliament to be developed in the round. While we welcome the decision to hold a referendum on the introduction of an alternative vote system rather than introducing such a fundamental change solely through legislation, we note that there is no clarity as to when this or future administrations will hold referendums on issues of constitutional importance.

The current timetable for the referendum is tight. If either House substantially amends the rules for holding the referendum the Government may have to reconsider the timing of the vote or run the risk of serious administrative difficulties which could undermine the outcome. This is a particular concern in the light of the facts that: the Bill will need amendment to allow the referendum and other elections to be held using the same facilities; the Bill is unclear whether funding restrictions apply to the media; and the Electoral Commission has expressed concern over both the wording of the referendum question and the design of the ballot papers.

While we agree there may be a case for reducing the number of MPs from 650 to 600, the Government has singularly failed to make it. We recommend the Government assesses and, if possible, mitigate through amendments, the likely impact of the wholesale redrawing of constituency boundaries on grassroots politics.

Members of the Committee have tabled an amendment which would ensure all four Boundary Commissions can utilise the full 5% variation in electoral quota according to clear and consistent rules. There is no alternative to using the December 2010 electoral roll to determine constituencies, whether the flaws in the register undermine the equalisation requirement is a matter for the House.

The proposed exceptions to the electoral quota requirement make sense but the House may wish to consider further exceptions where there is evidence that voters are prepared to be under-represented to preserve strong local ties. Public consultation on the boundary changes will be vital to the perceived legitimacy of the Boundary Commissions' decisions and we have tabled amendments we believe will enhance that process. We also recommend the Secretary of State's power to alter the recommendations of the independent Boundary Commissions be limited to the correction of errors, and that the "payroll vote" in the House of Commons be reduced in line with any reduction in the overall number of MPs.

The Full Report is available Here

Rule II House of Representatives

The second rule of the House of Representatives concerns other officers and officials. Unlike the Speaker - who, by convention is a member of the House (the Constitution does not restrict it to members - and in fact in 105th Congress two former members were nominated), the other officers are non-members. The rule distinguishes between official elected by the House

and Offices, whose head is appointed. The Elected Officials are

The Clerk - duties are related to the conduct of House business, they are further described here.
The Sergeant at Arms - responsible for maintaining order and security. A factsheet is available here
Chief Administrative Officer - deals with operation and financial matters of the House. More details here
Chaplain - officers a prayer at the start of business, and some pastoral responsibilities. Further details here.

The Offices are

Office of Inspector General
Office of General Counsel - provides legal assistance and representation to the House
Office of the Historian.

In addition statute provides for the following offices

Government Accountability Office (GAO)
Office of Compliance
Office of Legislative Counsel
Congressional Budget Office (CBO)
Office of the Law revision Counsel
Office of the Parliamentarian

For a list of other House offices, commissions, and joint entities go here.

Sunday, 10 October 2010


--, per the White House: "On Sunday, the President will travel to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to deliver remarks at a DNC 'Moving America Forward' rally. ... On Monday, the President will host a meeting with infrastructure stakeholders at the White House. Later, the President will travel to Miami, Florida to attend events for the DCCC. On Tuesday, the President will host a 'Moving America Forward' town hall meeting sponsored by the DNC at George Washington University in Washington ... On Thursday, the President will host a youth town hall live on MTV, CMT and BET. On Friday, the President and the Vice President will travel to Wilmington, Delaware to attend an event for Senate candidate Chris Coons. On Saturday, the President will travel to Boston, Massachusetts to attend events for Governor Deval Patrick and for the DSCC. On Sunday, the President and the First Lady will travel to Cleveland, Ohio to attend an event for Governor Strickland. They will then travel to Columbus, Ohio to attend an event for the DNC."

From: Politico Playbook

Congress Changes

The first televised House session - April 19th 1979. Some faces have aged a little (how young Al Gore looked then!) - but the issues sound familiar

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Oldest Living Congressmen

There are two former Congressmen - William Walsh (pictured - Dec 2009) and Perkins Bass, who are both aged 98. They also are both fathers of Congressmen! A list on Wikipedia (OK it's a source to be taken with a great pinch of salt - I once found a claim that the Peer who I sat next to was the Deputy Chief Whip in the House of Lords - he was surprised as I was by this news - which had no basis in fact - but the article cites both the Congressional Biographical Directory of the United States 1774–present and the The Political Graveyard as sources - I haven't fully checked out the raw data, but am prepared - as long as no one relies on the claims - to accept it) - lists the 100 oldest surviving members of Congress - the 100th oldest is 85 years, & 283 days.

Perkins Bass first sat in the House of Representatives on January 3, 1955 - later that year John Dingell - who still sits in the House, joined him (though Bass is a Republican and Dingell a Democrat). Lord Glenamara, better known to most people as Ted Short, is still alive and a member of the House of Lords (I've not seen him there, but he has a Life Peerage) was also born in 1912.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Lou Dobbs Interview

Extracts from Lou Dobb's interview.

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Arrest and Detention

The rules on arrest and detention before charge are designed to protect civil liberties (specifying the limited circumstances in which a person can be arrested and detained - and providing safeguards whilst in detention) and also to protect the integrity of the criminal legal system (the Timothy Evans case is an example of abuses which led to a tragic miscarriage of Justice.)

The Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984 sets out the main rules. Key Sections include

s24 Power of Arrest
s28 Duties upon the police arresting - to inform of the fact and reason for arrest
s30 Duty to take person to a police station as soon as practicable
s36 & 37 Custody Officers
s40 Requirements for periodic reviews of the detention
s41-44 Extension of detention beyond 24 hours

Codes of Practice also govern conduct of detention - for a list and further information, see here.

A further Washminster post on PACE can be accessed here.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Rule I - House of Representatives

The first of the rules of the House of Representatives concerns the Speaker. It does NOT define how the Speaker is chosen. [This is done, as per the Clerk's statement in the Congressional Record "pursuant to law and precedent - the most important being Art 1 Section of the Constitution. The procedure is described in Chapter 34 Section 3 of "House Practice"]. Instead it deals with key tasks and roles of the Speaker. The Structure of Rule One is

1 Approval of the Journal

2 Preservation of Order - this is described in greater detail in House Practice, Chapter 16 D - Disorder in Debate & E - Critical References to the House, Committees, or Members.

3 Control of Capitol Facilities

4 Signature of Documents

5 Questions of Order - power of the Speaker to rule on, subject to appeal to the House. (A Speaker's ruling can be overruled by the House)

6 The required form of putting a question - "Those in favour say "Aye". Those Opposed, say "No"

7 The Speaker's discretion as to whether to vote

8 Appointment of a "Speaker pro tempore"

9 The responsibility for developing a system for drug testing

10 Designation of members to travel on Congressional business

11 Committee Appointments - "The Speaker shall appoint all select, joint, and conference committees ordered by the House" - and may remove them.

12 Powers to suspend business and to postpone/reconvene the House.

As noted above, a valuable resource to the working of the rules is "House Practice"

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The English Legal System

There are two ways of looking at the English Legal System - by Courts or by personnel.

The highest Court  is now the Supreme Court. It is the final court of appeal in the English Legal systems. Although the European Court of Justice (ECJ) makes rulings which s2(1) of the European Communities Act 1972 requires the British courts to apply - "All such rights, powers, liabilities, obligations and restrictions from time to time created or arising by or under the Treaties, and all such remedies and procedures from time to time provided for by or under the Treaties, as in accordance with the Treaties are without further enactment to be given legal effect or used in the United Kingdom shall be recognised and available in law, and be enforced, allowed and followed accordingly" - there is no appeal to the ECJ. Preliminary rulings can be requested under Art 234 of the Treaty, but this procedure can only be used while an English case is in progress.. Similarly the European Court of Human Rights is not an appeal court. The Human Rights Act 1998 s2(1) says that "A court or tribunal determining a question which has arisen in connection with a Convention right must take into account any—.(a)judgment, decision, declaration or advisory opinion of the European Court of Human Rights...", and an individual can still bring a case against the British Government in the ECHR in Strasbourg.

The Courts can be classified into civil and criminal courts, although there are some overlapping jurisdictions. In general criminal cases will be heard in the Magistrates Courts and more serious cases in the Crown Court. Civil cases are generally heard in either the County or High Courts. The Court of Appeal is divided into a Criminal Division and a Civil Division. A diagram of the structure of the courts can be found here.

The Court's Service (HMCS) is responsible for managing the magistrates’ courts, the Crown Court, county courts, the High Court and Court of Appeal in England and Wales.

The hierarchy of the Courts is important for the application of the doctrine of precedent. The judgements of the Supreme Court (and its predecessor, the House of Lords) are binding on all courts below it. It can decide to break with its own precedents. The Court of Appeal is bound by the Supreme Court and its own precedents (save for the circumstances set out in Young v Bristol Aeroplane). Divisional courts of the High Court have adopted the rule laid down in Young's case although judges sitting at first instance are not bound to follow the decisions of other High Court judges although they tend to do so for the sake of certainty. Crown Courts can only create a binding precedent when a High Court judge is sitting. The decisions of County and Magistrates courts do not create binding precedent.

The correct way to an address a judge is set out here.

The Legal Profession is made up of Judges, Barristers and Solicitors. The judiciary includes professional judges as well as part time, lay magistrates. An excellent resource on the different types of judges and magistrates can be found here.

Individuals can be represented, or take advice from Solicitors or Barristers. The Law Society is the body which regulates Solicitors. It also oversees the training of solicitors - and designates which degrees are "qualifying law degrees". The Bar Council oversees Barristers.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


Each of the Chambers that this blog focuses upon has its own rules. In Congress the main place where these rules can be found (don't be misled into thinking that all "rules" are to be found in the rulebook - there are other places they can be found - and some are "unwritten rules") are the Rules of the House of Representatives and the Rules of the Senate. At Westminster the similar documents are the Standing Orders (there are Standing Orders for Private Business, but I will be looking at and linking to the Standing Orders for Public Bussness) of the House of Commons [recent amendments] and the House of Lords.

In a new series on Washminster, I will be working through the rules/standing orders. It has struck me in my recent reading of leading characters in the four Houses, that learning the rules of the relevant chamber has been key to their personal and political sucess. As Donald C Bacon wrote of Nicholas Longworth, he "buckled down to learn the House's rules and precedents as well as its customs and traditions". Longworth became Speaker - and one of the House Office Buildings is named after him.

I will use the "labels"  - HoC Standing Orders, HoL Standing Orders, HoR Rules, Senate Rules - to assist you should you need to search for these series using the search engine.

One of the most obvious differences is in the number of Rules/Standing Orders - actually it is mainly a matter of style - while the Commons has a different numbered rule for each committee - the House of representatives puts all the committees under Rule X.

For the record -
House of Commons 163 (actually194 [additional rules, for example 152A, 152B, etc minus 4 repealed])
House of Lords 86
Senate 45
House of Representatives 29