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(This ran over a week ago, but on a weekend when many people missed out. With the British elections nearing, this is a great (and entertaining) primer on British government, elections, and the difference between "Britain", "England" and "UK" -- kos)

This is a primer for Welshman's promised series (with me, Febble, not Hebble) on the forthcoming general election in the UK. As there was quite a bit of interest shown in the series, it would be good to get some recommends so that this diary can stay up long enough for those interested to see it - thanks!

Britain, notoriously, and unlike most sensible countries, has an unwritten constitution. This, I am rapidly discovering, is because when you write it down it looks so bloody daft.

The Lord Chancellor presents the Queen with her speech (written by the prime minister), inscribed on goatskin.

However, here goes:

The Queen

Like you, we have a Head of State.  Your Head of State is a President, and you elect him/her (or try to).  Our Head of State is a monarch, and is selected by recombinant DNA and assortative mating.  However, whereas your Head of State has real power, derived from his mandate (if not his man-date), ours has none.  Any funny business, and either s/he loses his head, or we hire the Dutch to invade Devon.  

So the prime function of the Queen is not to exercise power, but to prevent others from exercising it.  She's a dummy variable (stats joke), a tombstone entry (data-base joke), a washer (engineering joke), a buffering compound (chemistry joke).  

Nonetheless, technically, Britain is ruled by "the Crown" through Parliament.


Parliament is the equivalent of your Congress, and, like Congress, consists of an upper and lower house, known as the Houses of Parliament, which also refers to that spiky building on the Thames with Big Ben at one end, properly called the Palace of Westminster.

The upper house is the House of Lords (as in "Englishmen dearly love a Lord").  And no, we do not elect the members of the House of Lords either.  In the past, Lords, like monarchs, were selected by recombinant DNA and assortative mating, i.e. one of your ancestors happened to be made a Lord.  However, in recent times, non-hereditary life "peerages" were created, by which you can be made a Lord for life (regardless of your DNA) but your first-born son will not automatically take your place at your death. You can also be a Baroness (a female Lord).  Certain bishops are de facto Lords ("Lords Spiritual" as opposed to the "Lords Temporal") and also sit in the House of Lords.  Very recently (under Blair's tenure) most (but not all, embarrassingly) the hereditary peers (another name for Lords/Baronesses) were booted out. They are still technically Lords, but don't have a seat in the House of Lords.  Top judges are also Lords, but don't "sit in the Lords" either, being part of the judiciary not the legislature.  Actually, even in the bad old days not all Lords "sat" in the Lords - if your brother was a Duke he got your seat- but I digress. As I say, it all looks even sillier written down.  (And a seat in "the Lords" is different from one at "Lords", which is a cricket ground....)

Where were we?  Oh yes: nowadays, the House of Lords (and Baronesses) consists of (mostly) non-hereditary appointed life-peers drawn from the ranks of the "great and good" (quotes essential to the concept - Harold Wilson notoriously appointed the maker of his favourite raincoats).  In addition, in an attempt at a more demotic balance, Blair has introduced "people's peers" (the not-so-great-but-still-good).  As a peerage means you are kept warmly wrapped in ermine until the end of your days, the average age of members of the House of Lords is about 93 (that is almost not a joke).  Peers may or may not take a party whip.  Peers not affiliated with a party are called cross-bench peers.

The House of Lords, however is a revising chamber only.  Primacy in parliament rests, counter-intuitively, with the lower house, the House of Commons (as in "never wear high heels with slacks - it looks common.")  Members of the House of Commons are actually elected, and it is from this electoral mandate that it derives its sovereignty.  This sovereignty is embodied in elaborate ceremony at the State Opening of Parliament.  The Queen's throne is in the House of Lords (see illustration above).  She issues a royal summons to the House of Commons to attend the Queen's Speech.  The summons is delivered by a man in a fancy suit called Black Rod.  At his first attempt to deliver the summons to the Commons, the door is ritually shut in his face.  He has to knock three times on the closed doors (with a black rod - duh), respond to the challenge "who is there?" with his title ("Black Rod!") before he is admitted.  He then delivers the summons.


What all this means is that when we have a General Election in Britain, we vote for new Members of Parliament (MPs) to sit in the House of Commons and represent our constituency.  There are a total 659 constituencies in the country and they are smallish, smaller than counties.  I live in Nottinghamshire which has 11 constituencies, and 4 of these cover the city of Nottingham itself.  Each returns one MP to the House of Commons.  When you vote, you vote for an MP to represent your constituency, and, in theory at least, your interests.  

Parliamentary candidates

Political parties select candidates, by various arcane procedures that vary from party to party and from time to time, so that although you are voting for an individual candidate, you are also voting for that candidate's party, as the new government will be drawn from MPs belonging to the party with the most successful candidates.  MPs sometimes live in the constituency but often don't.  Candidatures of constituencies that are "safe" for a particular party will be allocated to prominent members of that party to ensure that if the party gains enough seats to form a government, it will have enough competent MPs to run the country.  Notoriously, Peter Mandelson, Labour's urbane, gay ex-spin-meister, is the MP for Hartlepool, a hardbitten northern port where they live on fish and chips and mushy peas (don't ask).  Peter Mandelson allegedly mistook the mushy peas for guacamole.


We vote using paper ballots, usually at a polling station (though postal voting is growing - more on that later, perhaps), and the votes are counted by hand, under public scrutiny.  If the vote is close, there is a recount.  When all candidates are satisfied with the count, the result is "declared" by the "returning officer".  The candidate with the most votes (a plurality not a majority) wins that constituency and is "returned to parliament" as MP.  It is therefore a First-Past-The-Post system.

Elections are traditionally held on a Thursday, and the votes are counted overnight.  By morning of the next day usually enough constituencies will have been "declared" that one party will already have an overall majority of MPs in the House of Commons.  

The government

When that happens, the Queen invites the leader of the majority party (provided the leader has actually won his/her seat) to "form a government", consisting of ministers, one of which is the "prime" minister, i.e. the leader of the winning party, who moves into number 10 Downing Street that day.  Technically, she could ask the other guy, but she might lose her head.  The Queen always refers to the government as "my government", and at the opening of a new Parliamentary session, she makes a speech - the "Queen's speech" - in which she announces "my government's" program for that session.  This is probably the closest we have to your "state of the union" address.  

The government is the executive, as opposed to parliament (both houses) which is the legislature.  But as government ministers are also Members of Parliament, these roles are not as separate as perhaps they should be.  

The prime minister

The prime minister is the leader of the winning party, invited by the queen to form a government.  The prime ministers appoints ministers (less than "prime"), who are usually, but not always, drawn from the House of Commons (occasionally there's a Lord), and a subset of these ministers are appointed to form a cabinet.   The prime minister is also called "First Lord of the Treasury" (again, don't ask - he's not a Lord, and doesn't have much to do with the treasury if Gordon Brown has anything to do with it).  The Treasury is actually run by the Chancellor of the Exchequer ("second Lord of the Treasury", also not a Lord), currently Gordon Brown, who lives next door to the Prime Minister at number 11 Downing Street, and is responsible for the national budget. (Actually, Brown currently lives in the prime ministerial flat at number 10, and Blair lives in the rather larger flat at number 11, as he has more kids.  But don't tell anyone I told you.)  

When the Prime Minister wants to call a general election, s/he has the right to ask the Queen to dissolve parliament, and the election can be held a minimum of 17 days later.  There has to be an election at least once every 5 years.

So to take stock:

Our prime minister is not constitutional the equivalent to your president, and we do not vote for her/him.  

The only people in Britain who will vote for Blair at the general election are the voters of Sedgefield, Blair's constituency. It is perfectly possible (though unlikely) that they will vote for someone else (it is a "safe" Labour seat).  What we vote for is an MP who is a member of the party that we want to form a government.

Party leaders (and therefore potential prime ministers) are selected by methods that vary from party to party, and depend on the current state of that party's constitution.  They are not part of the country's constitution.  We have no equivalent of your primaries.

In the Labour party, the leader (and a "running mate") is voted by members of the parliamentary Labour party (Labour Party MPs), the rank and file of the Labour party (I got a vote, and voted for Blair) and trade unionists (I got another vote, and used that for Blair as well).  Getting rid of a party leader (including a governing prime minister) is also a party matter, and methods vary from party to party and from time to time (Tories used to offer a "pearl-handled revolver in the library").  Margaret Thatcher was brought down by her own party, while still in office.  Harold Wilson (Labour) resigned while in office, apparently voluntarily.  Most prime ministers survive as leaders of their party until their party loses an election.  Blair, I sincerely hope, will not.

While the prime minister appoints ministers and cabinet members, all (apart from the odd stray Lord) are elected MPs (which at least spares us Condoleezza Rice).

Although an election has to be called at least once every five years, the government's term is not fixed.  Even if the leadership of the governing party changes, meaning that there is a new Prime Minister, there does not have to be another general election until five years have elapsed since the last one.  

This means that one of the big perks of being prime minister is that you can choose when to hold your election, and do it at really short notice.  Sometimes elections are forced on governments, if they lose a vote of no confidence in the Commons.  It happens more often than you might think.

Because, as in the US, we have a First-Past-The-Post system, it is possible for the party with the most seats to win fewer than half the votes.  It is also possible, as in the US, for the winning party to have fewer votes than the losing party.  

This is a major bar to the emergence of a third party as a serious force in parliament.  Also, gerrymandering of constituency boundaries happens, generally in favour of the governing party (duh, again).  So at present, the boundaries favour Labour, and the Tories will have to do very much better than Labour to win a majority.   This means that a lot of tactical voting takes place, so that if your sitting MP is a Tory, and the person best placed to unseat him is a Liberal Democrat, you might vote for the Lib Dems, even if you want a Labour government.  Or variants of the above.

Also worth noting:  

The United Kingdom consists of three and a half countries (yes, we call them countries): England (the biggest in terms of both land mass and population), Scotland (my native land), Wales (where Welshman lives) and a bit of Ireland.  Some of these countries have different laws and legal systems (Scotland for instance); some have devolved parliaments (intermittently, in the case of Northern Ireland), with members elected by residents of those countries.  As people, we tend to identify ourselves as "English" or "Scottish" rather than "British.  In fact, strictly speaking, only England, Scotland and Wales form "Great Britain". The full name of the whole caboodle is "The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland".  But you can't really say "I'm Ukish". The United Kingdom is also part of the European Union, and so we also elect Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).  EU laws form part of our constitution.

And finally:

As I said, it all looks pretty daft written down.  It is not a product of Intelligent Design.  However, I will stick my neck out and say that, warts and all, it is a tribute to the merits of Natural Selection.  You'd never design a constitution like ours from scratch, but it has evolved in response to selective pressures including civil wars, revolutions, and over-weening monarchs, and although it creaks, it sort of works.  A sort of warthog, in fact. The Queen is useful by being useless - she is a block to prime ministerial power without wielding any herself, and serves a harmless conduit for patriotic sentiment, enabling us to lambast our prime minister cheerfully without feeling we are insulting our homeland.  Plus, of course the whole Royal family is excellent low-brow entertainment, and although they are expensive to keep, at least we are preserving some splendid ancient buildings and parkland at the same time.  

And believe it or not, our logically indefensible House of Lords is a remarkable institution, owing at least some of its merits to its non-elected status.  As no Lord has to worry about a constituency or re-election, they can cheerfully ignore their party whips, and as age and experience often breeds wisdom, they can be bloody useful, as recently when they managed to curb the worst of the idiocies of Blair's attempt to shaft civil liberties.  

(But our unelected upper house has still got to go.)

Any questions?
Update 14.33 GMT: some corrections (thanks to commenters below!) Total number of MPs in the House of Commons now stands at 659. Each represents one constituency. Female Lords are not Dames (who are female knights, i.e. sirs), but Baronesses. For more enlightenment see Gary J's comment below

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 12:23 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Welshman will link (4.00)
    to this diary from diaries in the series.
  •  Excellent and timely, Febble! I will link (4.00)
    to your diary from my own on the revelation that Blair knew from MI6 that Bush was fixing the intelligence to support his policy of war posted earlier this morning.

    Someone has already asked me how the election works.

    BTW, is it two weeks or three weeks between calling and holding the general election?

    "Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing - after they have exhausted all other possibilities." Winston Churchill

    by LondonYank on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 03:19:14 AM PST

    •  17 days, I believe (4.00)
      elapses from the dissolution of parliament not including weekends and public holidays.  MPs cease to be MPs from the data.  The request to the Queen to dissolve parliament is before that, of course - not sure how long it can be before.  I will try to find out.
      •  God, I'm such a nerd (none)
        I can't type "date", my fingers automatically type "data". Election occurs 17 working days after dissolution of parliament.

        Still haven't find out how much notice the prime minister needs to give the Queen to dissolve parliament.  It isn't a lot, and it is generally in in his/her interests to make it short.  That way the governing party's campaign can hit the ground running while the other lot scramble their their resources.

        •  Electoral timetable (none)
          Looking at British Electoral Facts 1832-1999, compiled and edited by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher I see that there is a General Election Timetable 1918-1997.

          In 1997 the election date was announced on March 17, the old Parliament was dissolved on April 8, nominations closed on April 16, the election was on Thursday, May 1 and the new Parliament assembled on May 7.

          There was a longer than usual campaign as the Conservative government was behind in the polls and wanted time to change voters minds. The plan did not work as Labour had a landslide victory.

          There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

          by Gary J on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 04:56:26 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Also, in 1997, Major had no choice (none)
            his time was up.
            •  Actually, he did. (none)
              During wartime or national distress, Parliment may add a year to it's term. There were no elections between 1935 and 1945.

              Okay, by elections to fill vacancies, but they weren't compeditive.

              Major could have determined that there was a national emergency and asked his supporters to add a year to the parlimentary term.

              But as a practical matter....

              •  Theoretically, yes (none)
                But he would have been raked over the coals for abusing a provision meant for serious national emergencies.  I can even imagine the Queen intervening to prevent such a naked self-serving move.  Say what you will about her, but she does take her role very seriously.

                Of course, in the US, that sort of raw abuse of power would be hailed by the GOP as "visionary leadership."

                •  House of Lords (none)
                  The House of Lords retains full power to reject bills to extend the maximum term of Parliament as an exception to the normal Parliament Act limitation of its legislative powers to just delaying legislation insisted on by the House of Commons.

                  There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

                  by Gary J on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 02:21:31 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

  •  Recommended (4.00)
    with thanks, and one small request.

    Could you do a companion piece, "A Short Guide to Cricket"? With special attention to the scoring system, please. Never made a lick o' sense to me.

    •  PS (none)
      By the way: Blair will win again.
    •  No way. (4.00)
      I'm a girl.
    •  How could she .. ... ... (4.00)
      shes also scottish!!!

      "My mind is aglow with whirling transient nodes of thought, careening through a cosmic vapor of invention."

      by Ecosse77055 on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 04:53:27 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Short guide to cricket scoring (4.00)
      I am a member of the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians, so I suppose I should try to help. I am not trying to explain the game as a whole, just the scoring system.

      You score in cricket, as a batsman, by scoring runs. This can be done in several ways.

      The simplest is to hit the ball and get to the other end of the pitch (a strip 22 yards long with a wicket at each end) without you (or the batsman at the other end who is running to the end you came from) being out. This is designated as one run. You can repeat this process as often as you can, although it is rare to be able to complete more than four runs from one hit.

      At one time cricket was played in open fields so all runs were actually run. As the game developed and became a popular sport purpose built cricket grounds and lots of spectators appeared. As gambling on the game was also rife it was found that the ball sometimes disappeared into the crowd and the fieldsman might be obstructed. The boundary was invented to keep spectators away from the play. As a result when the ball was hit over the boundary four runs were awarded. Subsequently a hit over the boundary where the ball had not bounced was awarded six runs.

      There is also a provision for five penalty runs when the ball hits a helmet left on the ground.

      No doubt this post has promoted confusion but I hope it is of some assistance.  

      There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

      by Gary J on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 05:18:17 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  On your knees everyone.. (4.00)
        "I am a member of the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians"

        I have never been in the presence of such a person. I am awe struck.

        I am told people like this read Wisden (the annual cricket statisical almanack) before going to sleep every night. He can tell you how many leg breaks and googlies Jim Laker bowled for the ten wickets that he took against the Australians (or did he bowl off breaks?).

        This man is the ultimate predecessor of the Star Treck geeks.

      •  OK, thanks, that's a start (none)
        But what about overs, wickets, and innings? And how does a game end?

        And why is it that whenever people talk about cricket they begin saying things like "He can tell you how many leg breaks and googlies Jim Laker bowled for the ten wickets that he took against the Australians (or did he bowl off breaks?)."

        •  A game ends when it is finished (4.00)
          or after time has run out due to rain.

          Some visitors to England from foreign parts consider the game of cricket to be a mystical ceremony to summon rain:

          Two aliens were visiting Earth to research the local customs. They split up so that they could learn more in the time allowed. When they met to share their knowledge, the first alien told of a religious ceremony it had seen.

          "I went to a large green field shaped like a meteorite crater. Around the edges, several thousand worshippers gathered. Then two priests walk to the centre of the field to a rectangular area and hammer six spears into the ground, three at each end.

          Then eleven more priests walk out, clad in white robes. Then two high priests wielding clubs walk to the centre and one of the other priests starts throwing a red orb at the ones with the clubs."

          "Gee," replied the other alien, "what happens next?"

          "Then it began to rain."

          We are all neutrons, looking for a nucleus to disrupt.

          by NeutralObserver on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 06:27:14 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  I couldn't help thinking : (4.00)
            of this:

            The Rules of Cricket for Foreigners

            A Foreigner will possess the essential knowledge of cricket when he fully understands the following:

            You have two sides: One out in the field and one in.

            Each man that's in the side that's in goes out and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out.

            When they are all out the side that's out comes in and the side that's been in goes out and tries to get those coming in out.

            Sometimes you get men still in and not out.

            When both sides have been in and out including the not outs,

            That's the end of the game.


            as I was trying write this diary.

            •  And that reminds me (none)
              of the two little skunks, In and Out. One day Out was in and In was out. The mother skunk sent Out out to find In and bring him in. So Out went out searching for In so he could bring him in, and finally found him. You know how he found him? In stinked.
          •  "A game ends when it is finished"?? (none)
            Reminds me of a friend of mine who used to say things like, "Do you realize that this time last year was just one year ago?"

            I don't suppose you'd like to attempt a clarification?

            •  It all depends on what length of game you are (none)

              Essentially there are two types of game

              2-innings and 4-innings

              In a 2i game, the first side bats and the second fields (offence/defence). Then at a certain point they change over, the offence becomes the defence and vice-versa.

              In a 4i game, usually played over 3-5 days, each side has two bites at being the offence.

              The criteria for changing over are:

              • a certain number of overs have been bowled
              • the offence side is all out (like 3-outs in baseball, except in cricket 10-outs are required)
              • the captain of the offensive side 'declares' ends the innings because he/she thinks that his side has enough runs and wants a go at blasting the other side out.

              An over is 6 balls, ie the bowler has bowled 6 balls down the wicket a batsman. This may not be the same batsman for the full over as

              • a batsman may be out and a new one comes to the wicket (like in baseball)
              • the two batsmen may 'cross' having run up and down the wicket an odd number of times. For example, batsmen Fred hits the ball and he and Bill (who is at the bowling end of the wicket) run two runs, Fred faces the next ball. If they ran one run, Fred is now at the bowling end and Bill faces the next ball.
              • a batsman may retire hurt, common causes being 'broke finger', 'broke rib', 'ball penetrated face-guard', 'ripped a muscle running'

              An over may be more than 6 balls due to 'no-balls', these are when the umpire judges that a bowler has infringed the rules for bowlers. The batting side are given a bonus run for the no-ball and the bowler has to bowl an additional legal ball.

              A batsman is out when

              • the ball is caught without hitting the ground first (just as in baseball)
              • the ball hits the wicket and knocks one of the bails off (little pieces of wood balanced on top of the three vertical stumps)
              • he is judged by the umpire at the bowling end to be 'leg before wicket' (don't ask me to explain this it would take a diary) but essentially it means that the ball has hit his leg and if it hadn't it would have hit the wicket. Not sporting old chap.
              • he is run-out before reaching the crease (like being tagged before touching the base in baseball)
              • he is stumped by the wicket-keeper (catcher). This means the ball has gone past batsman and wicket, the keeper has caught it, sees that the batsman is out of his crease (not touching base), and knocks the bails from the wicket with his hands whilst holding the ball.
              • a batsman can also be out for 'impeding a fielder' or stopping one of the defending side from reaching the ball. Fair play and all that.

              If your confused, so am I, but you did ask.

              We are all neutrons, looking for a nucleus to disrupt.

              by NeutralObserver on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 07:52:01 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  There are a few more ways to be out (none)
                Hit the ball twice


                Timed out (If a batsman has got out, the next one has three minutes to get to the wicket)

              •  Wow. I'm impressed. (none)
                That's the clearest explanation I've ever had.

                Many thanks!

                Now I just need a set of flash cards and a few hours of review.

                I'll the check the BBC, too, but I doubt it will be as helpful as what you've written.


              •  You forgot twenty20 cricket as well. (none)
                Great game.
              •  Or to put it another way... (none)
                "You have two sides one out in the field and one in .

                Each man that's in the side that's in goes out and when he's out he comes in and the next man goes in until he's out .

                When they are all out the side that's out comes in and the side that's been in goes out and tries to get those coming in out .

                Sometimes you get men still in and not out .

                When both sides have been in and out including the not outs , THAT'S THE END OF THE GAME !"

                HOWZAT !!!!!

              •  Movie recommendation (none)
                Good explanation, Neut. For those who don't understand how cricket works, let me recommend a movie called "Lagaan." It's out of Ballywood, and in some ways it's a typical Ballywood musical, but in some ways it's quite atypical.

                Executive synopsis: It's the time of the Raj in India. An Indian village runs afoul of the local British commander and he decides to punish them unfairly by hiking up the land tax ('lagaan'). A charismatic villager challenges the British to a game of cricket. If the villagers win, they will no longer have to pay the lagaan. If they lose, the villagers have to pay triple lagaan.

                The kicker is, the villagers have no idea how to play cricket, and only about a weekend to learn. So they get a concise explanation that allowed me at least to be able to follow the game on the screen. I now have some small idea what the cricket scores mean when the BBC World Service reports them.

                •  I Watched Bollywood (none)
                  Man, I thought it'd be awful, having heard that it was over three hours long and featured lots of songs and musical numbers (I hate musicals).  So I saved the DVD until a moment when absolutely nothing else needed to doing, and nothing else was at hand to amuse me.  

                  Well, it's a FUN movie!!!  Do NOT let the 3+ hours and all the musical numbers stop you from watching it.  The songs are all really sweet (and not sickeningly so) and melodic, and best of all, they don't sound anything like something out of an Andrew Lloyd Webber production.  And I've never imagined that cricket could be so gripping!

                  I highly recommend the movie!

            •  If you are seriously interested in learning more (none)
              then the BBC (as usual) has a good intro into the game.

              We are all neutrons, looking for a nucleus to disrupt.

              by NeutralObserver on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 08:04:35 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  that drives me wild! (none)
              pulls up at gas station...

              'oh, we're at the gas station!'

              real existential

              why? just kos..... *just cause*

              by melo on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 08:30:53 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  Proposal... (none)
            create the Intraleague Association of Cricket and Baseball.

            Have Sosa and Ramirez play on a pitch and get Tendulkar and Waugh to play on a diamond.

            The "IROC" of hardball!

            "But then I viddied that thinking is for the gloopy ones and the oomny ones use, like, inspiration and what Bog sends." -- Alex de Large

            by rgilly on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 04:55:16 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  And how does a game end? (none)
          Usually when all the Pommie batsmen have thrown away their wickets for not very many runs (esp when playing against the Australians).
        •  A great online intro to cricket.... (none)
          is here:

          It includes a discussion of the differences between cricket and baseball, for people who are familiar with the latter.  As a longtime baseball fan, I found the whole site extremely useful in figuring out cricket.

      •  Me too! (none)
        Well, I used to be.  Never thought I'd encounter one on Kos!
      •  Sloths and anteaters (none)

        Wonderful!  I am a longtime baseball fan, with a keen appreciation of statistics.  (Ask me about the only known unassisted triple play where no fielder touched the ball :)  

        Seven years ago I spent a few weeks driving idly though Wales. Early in the trip, I was flipping through the dial and found a cricket match on the radio.  The hypnotic, time-lapse movie quality of the "action" reminded me very much of the endless baseball broadcasts I've listened to on the US interstates.  

        I didn't spend too much time listening closely at first -- I was busy dodging the occasional sheep and the suicidal weekend motorcycle gangs.  Eerily, without even trying, I began to understand much of the action.  Cricket and baseball are cousins -- distant, like three-toed sloths and anteaters, but cousins nonetheless.  

        However, there was one major aspect of cricket that was completely undeciperable -- the names and functions of the different fielding positions.  Mid-off? Gully? Slip? Square leg?  Colorful, but obscure.  Fortunately, the announcers weren't in any great hurry, so I had plenty of time to speculate.  I did notice that late in the afternoon, the commentators sounded suspiciously like Harry Carey.  (Exalted Chicago Cubs announcer, notorious for his research in broadcasting and alcohol.)  Perhaps the afternoon tea break is but a metaphor...

        I'm still not an expert, but am planning to have a lazy holiday at the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean.

        •  OK, I'm asking :-) (none)
          <i>Ask me about the only known unassisted triple play where no fielder touched the ball </i>

          Am assiming you're talking about USA major league baseball. I checked the stats page, and only 12 recorded unassisted triple plays, the last one being in 2003. The stats are three second basemen, two first baseman and seven shortstops.  But all are fielders.

          Tell me. Enquiring minds want to know!  :-)

      •  Holy Shit -- (none)
        I am a member of the Association of Cricket Statisticians and Historians

        This was a comment I never in my wildest dreams expected to read on dkos.  As an Indian and a cricket fan (is there another kind of Indian?) I am pleasently surprised by this post on a monday morning.  Reminds me of home........  

        so do you think you guys have a shot at the ashes this year?

        Anyway now I know who to ask when I have some obscure question on the laws of the game like --

        (if you dont know about cricket stop reading this it will be very very confusing) -

        I know that if a day gets rained off in a test match, the follow-on can be enforced with only a 150 run lead but what if 2 days get rained off? does the lead required for a follow-on change?

        •  Follow on Query (none)
          So far as the Ashes are concerbed England have a chance but not much of one as Australia are an awesome team. The current England team is the strongest for many years, but Australia have been demolishing good sides in recent years and do not seem to be weakening. Still hope springs eternal at least until the series actually starts.

          The follow on is covered by Law 13 of the Laws of Cricket (2000 code, 2nd edition). The Law provides for the possibility of a follow on if there is a lead on first innings of 200 runs in a game of 5 days or more, 150 in a match of 3 or 4 days, 100 in a two day match and 75 in a one day match.

          There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

          by Gary J on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 10:53:05 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  La, la, la, la (fingers in ears) (none)
        I never want to learn the rules of cricket scoring because on the occasion when I happen to hear a cricket report on the radio it sounds so delightfully, mystifyingly ridiculous, and I'm sure understanding it would spoil the comedy...
    •  Give it up... (none)
      ...I believe that only people born in the Commonwealth are genetically capable of understanding cricket.

      I spent a few weeks in the UK once, and determined to figure out cricket. I bought a childrens' book on how to play cricket, read through it, and thought I understood it all - overs, innings, leg-before-wicket, the whole thing.

      Then I went out and tried to follow an actual game. I had no clue whatsoever what was going on!

      "The past is never dead. It's not even past." -- William Faulkner

      by GreenCA on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 12:32:01 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  very interesting (none)
    but I'll tell my fellow Americans what they really need to know: chips to UKers (haha) are "freedom" fries to us, they say "safe" instead of the slang "cool", and our "hot," as in "damn, she's hot" is "fit." and "bloody" is supposed to be vulgar even though we all know UKers just hate paper cuts.

    really though, interesting diary.

    p.s. correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure primaries are not part of the US constitution. I think they are more of a tradition, like that so-crazy-it's-brilliant black rod thing.

    Among politicians the esteem of religion is profitable; the principles of it are troublesome. - Benjamin Whichcote

    by hazydan on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 04:03:06 AM PST

    •  I always wondered about the US primaries (none)
      Thanks for telling me.

      Glad to know the American political system appears to have some random mutations as well.

    •  i heard (none)
      that britons also really like to say "BOOYAKASHA!"


      •  'Safe' is so nineties (none)
        and as for those two, I think you mistyped 'britons' when you meant to type 'Ali G'.  

        My only other bit of advice to Americans wanting to break the ice in the UK is: nobody's impressed that you're a Monty Python fan, so just stop telling everyone you meet that.  

        •  Figured as much. (none)
          Suddenly, they're hilarious in the US, although nobody here seems to know why they are now "in". Perhaps we just adopt other countries' cultures 30 years late, when it's suddenly "uncool" to do so. And one of the founding members of the cultural bit has died (like Graham Chapman).

          They are funny, though... I've been watching the repeats since 1974. And Dubya is The Upper-Class Twit of The Century. Just watch his coordination some day.

          •  No, you misunderstand (none)
            We're mostly fond of them too, it's just that you get no credibility points for having your finger on the pulse of British culture by showing a familiarity with a forty-year-old TV show.  

            If you want to impress people with your up-to-the-minute Anglophilia, drop references to Coupling, Spaced, League of Gentlemen, Phoenix Nights, or Little Britain instead.  Red Dwarf will do in a pinch :-)  

            •  How about BBC world news, does that count (none)
              British food is best avoided, but british television is somewhat patable

              I usually watch the last 5 minutes of The Weakest Link while waiting for the BBC news, and the promos I see look funny, not that I ever watched "The Office"

            •  Sure.. (none)
              but what about Red Dwarf, Are you being served,  All creatures great and small, and of course Doctor Who?

              Does that automaticall grant one "safe points" or... out one as a wee bit of a nerd?

              The Democratic party needs to adopt its own moral and values principles (clawed)

              by cdreid on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 05:37:30 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  All getting long in the tooth now (4.00)
                ...especially Dr Who, which first aired the week JFK was assassinated.  It would be like us raving about that great new show Laugh In.  

                As for AYBS, that's an embarrassment we'd rather not be reminded about, and more a way to cause your hosts offence than please them.  It's as if we brought up the whole David Hasselhof phenomenon, for which your government still has not adequately apologised.  

                •  Who Returns!!!! (none)
                  After a 16 year hiatus apart from a couple of odd special short episodes, Dr Who is to hit BBC television screens with a new series this Saturday.  Teasers look amazing though the camp horror of green painted bubble wrap monsters seems to be missing.

                  As this is a political forum you might like to know that the First Minister of Wales (ie Prime Minister in the Welsh Assembly) was due to be interviewed the day they were shooting a big episode in Cardiff, the new series' producton centre. Unfortunately he was met by a makeup assistant from London who did not know him. He was on his way to be made up as a "Tree Monster" when some of the locals recognised him.

                  "Little Britain" is a very popular comedy sketch series and some catchphrases or characters are crossing into common use and have cropped up in satires already. References to it is very cool. The linking comedy narration is done by Tom Baker who used to play Dr Who. These phrases include:

                  "I am the only gay in the village" from a character in a Welsh village where he patently is not the only gay.

                  "Bitty". Used to request a snack by an adult man who still breastfeeds from his mother.

                  "yeah but, yeah but" The intial part is usually repeated many times by a very dim teenage delinquent girl.

                  "I am a lay-deeee" Catchphrase of an unconvincing transvestite. As in when asked to put a lead sheet over his testcles to allow an x-ray "But I am a lay-dee, I don't have testy-clay. Well perhaps little lay-dee's testy-clay."

                •  Python, Hasselhof (none)
                  It's as if we brought up the whole David Hasselhof phenomenon, for which your government still has not adequately apologised.  

                  I'm still awaiting an apology for that myself...

                  Monty Python completely took my head off and reattached it another way back when they first reached American TV in the late 70s. I've never been the same since. So while I realize it's hardly a hip cultural reference, it is an important part of my upbringing.

                  Anyway, if I really want to show I'm up on the latest in British culture, I'll mention that I like the Goon Show.

                  "The past is never dead. It's not even past." -- William Faulkner

                  by GreenCA on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 12:46:30 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                •  What about "The Kumars?" (none)
                  I thought I'd bust a gut laughing when Rajiv came out wearing a Star Trek uniform in honor of Patrick Stewart being his guest.

                  or does that label me as hopelessly unhip?

            •  Oh Smeg! (none)
              Forgot about that one! (And I've got a jar of mango curry for just that occasion, too!)
        •  *agrees* (none)
          Bear in mind that the only type of people who regularly quote Monty Python in the UK tend to be the same people who speak fluent Klingon and spend their weekends making Tron costumes then posting the pictures on the net.

          You can see that you therefore do not score any popularity points for claiming membership to this elite troupe.

    •  Primaries aren't a tradition (none)
      They are required by law. Not the constitiution, which requires the President be elected by specially elected electors.

      The Supreme court ruled in Bush v. Gore on the election of electors, who had to vote by a certain date to take part in the real presidential election in December.

    •  Primaries are party procedures (none)
      I believe. I'm not sure there's any law at all governing them, though that could be an exaggeration.

      All parties officially designate their candidate by vote of delegates to a national convention. Technically, when you vote in a primary you are voting for a delegate. Now I'm pretty sure that in every state the delegates are committed to a particular candidate when they run, but that may be a recent procedure and may be governed by the state parties. In other words, it could easily be changed.

      This may also be a recent change in procedure. I vaguely recall that Lincoln was selected after many ballots and I thought that as recently as the 1960s conventions were still affairs in which it wasn't entirely determined going in, who would be nominated.

      Now I'd like a primer on the UK party system.

      •  Presidential primaries are newish (none)
        Used to be there were a lot of superdelegates (party insiders), so the nomination was decided in the stereotypical smoke filled room during the convention.  Now, there are some superdelegates, but usually the primaries decide it-but not neccessarily.  For example, on the show The West Wing, right now, it is unclear who the Democratic nominee for president will be (well, in theory, although we all know Matt Santos will win in the end).  The convention will be on this week's show, this Wednesday.

        Now, for all other offices other than the presidency, the primary is a bit more simple.  Winner-take-all, and you can only vote in one party's primary (but, in practice, you can pick which party you want to vote for-so if you are a Republican, and want to fuck with the Democrats, you could change your registration to Democratic and then vote for the least electable Democrat, but this happens fairly rarely).

        Well, except for Lousiana, where the primary is on election day, and if nobody gets more than 50% (of all parties) the top two canidates have a runoff.  But they are weird. (although this is a good example of how election rules are mostly set by the states and not the Federal government)

        •  What's the scenario? (none)
          For example, on the show The West Wing, right now, it is unclear who the Democratic nominee for president will be (well, in theory, although we all know Matt Santos will win in the end).  The convention will be on this week's show, this Wednesday.

          What's the scenario for this uncertainty? Does Santos have X number of committed delegates, but it's not a majority?

          (although this is a good example of how election rules are mostly set by the states and not the Federal government)

          But is it state law or just state party procedure, as I was guessing? Can't every party in theory do things differently, hold their primaries on different days and decide on a state by state basis whether delegates are committed?

          •  Answers (none)
            The scenerio is twofold for Santos.  First, there were three canidates running which gained significant delegates (although one, Vice President #1, dropped out due to yet another sex scandal (which is why he resigned the Vice Presidency in the first place), leaving behind Santos and VP #2).

            Second, there are some superdelegates.  These are party insiders who vote however they feel like it.  There aren't nearly as many of these as there used to be, but there are still some, and, in theory, they could decide an election.

            In any case, it's going to a second ballot, unless VP #1 tells his delegates to vote for one guy or the other.

            As for primaries, they are both state law and party procedure.  Basically, party procedure is codified in state law, except when state law is different then the way the parties want it to be (such as in Lousiana).  Each state decides thier own rules, which usually but not always are what the parties want, unless they go to court to overturn said rules and suceed (as happened in California awhile back).  It's a mess.

  •  Why the variable election date? (none)
    I can see the advantage for the governing party in being able to call the election at a time that suits themselves, and I can see why, once established, no party in power would seek to get rid of this freedom.  But is there any good constitutional reason for it?  Is there some advantage to not having a fixed pre-scheduled election date?
    •  There will be historical reason (4.00)
      but probably not a "good constitutional reason".  As I say, the British Constitution is not a result of Intelligent Design.  I think the 17 day rule was to stop the monarch dissolving parliament and not replacing it (as Charles I tried to do) and the prime minister's prerogative in requesting dissolution is also to do with limiting the power of the monarch.

      In fact most of the British Constitution, from Magna Carta onwards is to do with limiting the power of the monarch.  Although reasons for each mutation may now be obsolete, the results are on the whole useful for a modern constitution.  Sometimes not.

      •  Just because it bears repeating... (4.00)
        ...I'll repeat it.  What Febble said: The British Constitution Was Not Designed.  It makes no sense to ask why a feature is different from America's.  (America's Constitution was designed, so it makes sense to ask why it was designed the way it was. Britain's, like Topsy, 'jes' growed', so it's full of "Panda's Thumbs")

        Historically, parliament was just a talking shop of advisors that the monarch called and dissolved as convenient; there was neither a minimum nor a maximum term.  As Parliament grew in power, a maximum term was built in to stop governments going on forever, but there is no reason to bolt on a corresponding minimum term rule.  

        Now, if you ask the question why should such a rule not be added today, I ask you to consider the way in which Britain's constitution is not like America's: our Executive is not elected at all, it's nominated by the Head of State, and preserved from involuntary dissolution at the pleasure of the Legislature. To give the Executive a minimum term in office would be to take that power away from the Legislature, and make the Executive absolutely unaccountable to anyone until the next election.  I think most of us prefer to keep that 'checks and balances' element in place instead.  

        The best way to think of it in US terms is if

        • your President was not elected by a college whose delegates happen to be the same in number as Congress, but instead were Congress, and if further
        • the President had to be a Congressman, and had to choose the Departmental Secretaries from the ranks of Congressmen, and if
        • the Head of State (who was not the President) could dissolve that Congress at any time and force them all to go get re-elected within a month, or if
        • they could do it to themselves by self-destructing (which is what a Vote Of No Confidence In The Government effectively does).  
        •  Damn I just thought of something (none)
          Effectively the Legislature is self-destructing even when the Head of State 'dissolves' it, since IIRC in Britain the HoS can't do that without their consent.  Which leads me to the theoretical but absurd position where the Prime Minister might want an election, but can't get his own party to agree to it, so they aggressively refuse to self-destruct, like a sort of hostile Vote Of Yes-Confidence In The Government.  

          I can't think of a reason why they would do that, and of course the majority party's resistance to their own leader's desire for an election would either have to be stupidly close to universal (so that the rebels aren't outvoted by a combination of party loyalists and the Opposition) or backed by the Opposition itself (and why would they do that?)

          But it does seem to be a theoretical possibility, even though you can't get there from here unless everybody goes completely barmy.  

          •  Reserve Powers of the Crown (none)
            The convention of the Constitution is normally that the Monarch acts on the advice of the Prime Minister in office. In extreme circumstances the Monarch (or a Governor or Governor General on behalf of the Monarch) can disregard that advice. This invariably causes a constitutional crisis, so the British Monarchy has been very cautious about using the reserve powers, for a very long time.

            This is supposed to be the remedy for situations like those when the Prime Minister has lost the support of Parliament (as demonstrated by a vote of no-confidence or the refusal of financial legislation to carry on the government) but refuses to resign or advise a dissolution or a Prime Minister who has just lost an election wanting to call another one immediately.

            There are various cases in Australia and Canada during the 20th century.

            For example in Canada in 1925 there was a badly split Parliament with no majority party or obvious coalition or viable minority governmemnt. The Liberal Prime Minister advised another dissolution but the Governor General thought the Conservative leader might form a viable Ministry. Embarassingly this proved not to be the case so the Governor General had to give the dissolution anyway.

            There was an intensely controversial action by the Australian Governor General, in 1975, in dismissing the Labor Prime Minister (with a majority in the House of Representatives) and replacing him with the Liberal leader on condition that the opposition controlled Senate granted supply (which it had been refusing to do for the Labor government) and that the new Prime Minister advise a dissolution of both houses.

            However, a Governor General, who has a limited time in office, might find it easier to use the reserve powers that a Monarch hoping to retain the throne for a lifetime and pass it on to her heirs.

            There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

            by Gary J on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 02:15:12 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  That can't happen because (none)
            the Parliament does not have a say in whether or not it is dissolved.  The Queen dissolves Parliament on the advice of the Prime Minister alone.  Once it has happened there is no more Parliament to express an opinion about anything...
            •  Didn't John Major (none)
              threaten to go to the queen and disolve parliament when facing down rebels in his own party?
              •  I don't think so (none)
                But I do seem to remember him calling for--and winning--a vote on his leadership among Conservative MPs.  Not the same thing as a vote of confidence of the House of Commons, but he was trying to shore up his own power within his party.

                Of course, this could be my fevered imagination talking.  I'm too lazy at the moment to do the actual research.  ;-)

            •  No Confidence Vote (none)
              Technically, everything Parliament does must be approved by the Queen (just as the President must sign bills into law in the U.S.) However, her role is simply to rubberstamp them. If she ever exercised her veto power, there would be a Constitutional Crisis.

              A No Confidence vote is no different. If Parliament passes a resolution asking to be dissolved, the tradition is that the Queen dissolves it. This has happened numerous times, when the government loses its majority due to death, defection or a coalition falling apart.

              •  I'm not aware of any cases where the Parliament (none)
                has passed a resolution asking to be dissolved.  If the Commons passes a no-confidence motion in the PM, the PM would by convention resign and the Queen/King invites someone else to become PM.  The sovereign only dissolves the Parliament on the advice of the PM.  This advice may follow a no-confidence motion as a means of resolving uncertainty/instability in the Commons, but I don't think it has involved a resolution of the House.
        •  Could you explain for me- (none)
          Two things (if you will):

          1. What was happening in BlackAdder III when the Stupid Prince had spent all of his money on socks, and Pitt the Younger was trying to get rid of him- there was a one-vote margin in Parliament, so they tried to buy a vote- an MP died, so they decided to run Baldrick in his place. They said it was a 'rotten borough', and so they could get away with it. What the hell is a 'rotten borough'? (I don't think it has anything to do with Colin the Dachsund.)

          2. Understood that the Monarch is sort of there to keep Parliament from overrunning things. History shows that it goes both ways on occasion. But I was reading the other day on the 'Merciless Parliament' during Richard II's reign (mid 1380s) and am amazed at how much they got away with. The king being a minor was a factor, but still... It may be because I'm an American, but dammit, this is my field, and it makes me feel incredibly stupid that I can't figure out why a Monarch would have to say "Mother May I", much less have to put up with it when Parliament says "no".

          "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." -Karl Marx

          by Lainie on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 12:56:57 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  translations (none)
            1. 'borough' simply means 'area'. Rotten I assume refers to 'corrupt'. Hence, it's a corrupt area, so they can get away with buying votes and  running Balders.

            2. Bear in mind, you're talking about the mid-1380s. I don't thinkg societal parallels can be drawn with a time over 600 years ago. I'd guess that 99% of what went on then would sound bonkers to modern liberals.
            •  zero for two, sorry :-) (none)
              Taking your points in reverse order

              1. sorry, no, you're thinking of the original series, 'The Black Adder'.  The third series 'Blackadder III', was set in the Regency, so 'only' two centuries ago, not six.  

              2. electoral districts had been fixed and constant since the mediaeval period, but of course the population was not fixed and constant, especially once the Industrial Revolution got under way in the late eighteenth century.  So by the early nineteenth century, some major cities had few or no representatives (because they'd been little villages in mediaeval times) while others, which were once substantial population centres, had shrunk so that they had so few registered voters that you could literally go door to door and personally bribe them to vote for you.  These were the 'rotten boroughs'; they'd decayed to almost nothing.  

              After the Reform Act, districts were altered every ten years or so, so that they were always representing a roughly equal part of the population, and so it is today.  Most electoral districts ('wards') represent about 50,000 people.  
              •  One out of Two, Surely? (none)
                Point 2 was discussing the merciless parliament of the late C14th, rather than the wierdnesses which got swept away in 1832 - so 600 years was accurate.

                Turning to that point though, I don't know the specifics of the merciless parliament but I suspect the fact that it occurred during a regency is important. My vague recollection was that it was a way that various magnates (and, more importantly, their clients) pursued feuds and property disputes at a time when the crown's ability to knock heads together and keep local animosities in check suffered by the monarch being a minor.

                Parliaments of the medieval period were very different to what has developed since the mid-C17th - their principal role was to discuss the crown's need for extra cash. How long they sat and how long until the next one was called depended upon how desperately the extra money was needed and how many concessions were made on either side when the dickering was done. Monarchs put up with parliament precisely because parliament had control of the nation's purse-strings - in an ideal world the crown was supposed to manage everyday expenses from the privy purse (ie the monarch's personal estates), but practically speaking there was never enough cash to run the govt. even in quiet years, never mind if the king wanted to go and biff the French or something; so in actuality monarchs had to go to parliament for more on a pretty regular basis. Charles I decided not to play that game and managed to rule by decree for about a decade and a half (chiefly via various off-book revenue generating tricks) but eventually a crisis blew up that required some serious emergency cash and then the game was up.


                •  Money. I should have thought of that. (none)
                  Corruption and power plays seem to be about money at the root. Thanks for the tip off. Hmm... Now I wonder about the Burley affair, and what Arundel stood to gain by it...

                  "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." -Karl Marx

                  by Lainie on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 10:39:46 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                •  You're right (none)
                  I misread Jonman and Lainie as only talking about Blackadder and rotten boroughs... my bad.  
          •  Before the 1832 Reform Act (none)
            Some constituencies had declined in size so there were only a few voters in each constituency.  There was also no secret ballot, so one candidate could easily bribe all the voters.  See here for more details and a nice contemporary cartoon.  The most famous rotten borough was Old Sarum, which only had thee houses and eleven voters.
            •  Cool! (none)
              Thanks for the link- that was a really good one!

              "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." -Karl Marx

              by Lainie on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 10:41:24 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  The City of London (none)
              There is still one remaining rotten borough: The City of London. Instead of allocating a single vote to each person, most of the votes are allocated to corporations based on how much property they own and how many people they employ.

              Fortunately, this only applies in local elections, but it's still openly corrupt. Although the body they elect is called the "Corporation of London", it's a real city council (headed by the Lord Mayor) with real government powers, in particular control of the police and the local tax rates.

              Before he was elected, Blair promised to reform the City of London government/corporation. What he didn't say until afterwards was that his reforms actually made it even more rotten, by reducing the relative share of votes given to people. (It used to be about 50:50, but now businesses get about 90% of the votes, human beings about 10%).


              •  Precisely (none)
                The City of London is the last remaining pre democratic municipality. It only has a thousand or so residents and they are massively outvoted by the business vote, which is completely indefensible. As you noted instead of sweeping away this anachronism Blair made it worse.

                This is quite important because the Corporation of London is immensely wealthy and is the planning authority for some of the most expensive land on the planet.

                Personaly I would abolish the Corporation and merge the City with the neighbouring City of Westminster. The big financial institutions of the square mile would hate such a policy, which is probably a good reason to do it.

                There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

                by Gary J on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 02:45:02 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

    •  I don't know if it's related, but (4.00)
      the government can potentially lose a vote of no-confidence at any time, thus forcing a General Election. Would fixed terms remove the threat of no-confidence votes ?

      And, for those still reading, and still interested in the foibles of our system, recall Margaret Thatcher's demise: she was deposed by a vote of the conservative MPs alone (strictly speaking she resigned before the final vote would have ousted her.) John Major was then elected leader of the Conservative Party, by the Conservative MPs and was asked to be Prime Minister by Her Majesty. While the British Public doubtless welcomed Thatcher's dismissal, they played no part in it.


      •  Budget vote is the only 'no confidence' vote (none)
        You have to go back to Joe "who" Clark to find a circumstance of a no-confidence vote ... obviously there was a little bit of talk of it in the latest budget, yet, Paul Martin was smart enough to satisfy everyone and please no one to basically 'avert' this potential crisis!

        All other votes (non budget) aren't crucial enough to the leading of the country (and in a potential losing vote situation, the Prime Minister pretty much is smart enough to declare it an open vote -- thus avoiding any potential nastiness)

        So -- in short!!! ... a fixed term doesn't really effect what could happen with regard to a failed budget vote

        As for the 'ascension' issue -- this happens pretty regularly, Paul Martin, Kim Campbell, john turner being relatively recent examples ...

        finally, i would agree with some other sentiments on 'fixed terms' or lack thereof -- in that it avoids the year or more of rhetorical governance that leads up to 'election day'

        •  Modern British Practice on Confidence Votes (none)
          1. You can have an explicit vote on a motion either that the House has confidence in the government or has no confidence in it. If the government is defeated on such a motion it must either resign or advise a dissolution (last done by James Callaghan in 1979 when his Labour minority government lost by a single vote in the Commons, 311-310).

          2. Financial votes were traditionaly considered matters of confidence, but the government has some wriggle room as to whether a particular vote counts. In the 1970's minority governments defeated on amendments to the Finance Bill tabled a motion of confidence and when this was won carried on. Presumably this technique would not work if the House rejected the whole Budget so that the Ministry could not obtain supply.

          3. Any vote that the government designates as a vote of confidence is one. This is the last defence of a Prime Minister desperate to bring party rebels to heel. It is not a tactic to be used often, but the Major government did do it to get the Maastricht Treaty through Parliament. On 22nd July 1993 a government motion on the Maastricht Social Protocol was rejected 324-316. The next day the decision was reversed 339-301 on a confidence vote.

          There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

          by Gary J on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 03:12:19 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  We use a similar system in Canada. (3.66)
      The flexible date has certain advantages for the power in party. They have a mandate for UP to a certain period, however they will often exercise it a bit early if a recent policy decision has them riding a wave of popular support.

      The converse is that there exists the notion of a vote of no-confidence which can bring down a government forcing an early election.

      By keeping dates flexible we also eliminate the staged sequence of events that turns the last year of a US election into a three-ring circus ofposturing through primaries etc which pretty much obscure the actual running of the country by rhetoric.

      From an election being called to execution in Canada is a period of usually about three months. And finance / proceudral laws ensure that all parties and candidates for parties are on a fairly equal financial footing.

      I think ... therefore I'm probably overqualified for public office

      by zeppomarx on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 05:41:02 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  One consequence (none)
        of the flexible timetable is that the government's election timetable is tailored to the timetable of its policy program, not the reverse.  Either way, both are manipulated, but this method does ensure that the timetable of the program is prioritised over the timetable of the election.
        •  Not always for the positive though. (none)
          For example a government in good standing has been known to call the election prior to considering a course of action that they know will have negative political ramifications in the hopes that they will then have a few years to get past the public focus of it before needing to call another.

          I think ... therefore I'm probably overqualified for public office

          by zeppomarx on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 06:13:17 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Snap elections (none)
            I've heard that it's a bit dangerous for a party to call a snap election like this, just because people will think "what hey here are they trying to pull something?" and be somewhat less likely to vote for the party in power.

            Nobody lends money to a man with a sense of humor -- Peter Tork, "Head"

            by Field Marshall Stack on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 09:31:55 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

      •  And to become the leader, or even a minister (none)
        you have to have experience, unlike in the U.S., where telegenic charisma and lack of experience are the main prerequisites for a presidential candidate.
        •  Yes (none)
          Parachuting an unknown entity into a leadership convention simply not feasible under these systems. In the US, NOT having been a federal legislator is actually a plus as there is not voting record for people to dissect. Up here, having experience is a pre-requisite for high office.

          I think ... therefore I'm probably overqualified for public office

          by zeppomarx on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 06:10:39 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  One of the reasons why state governors (none)
            are so popular for candidates for the US presidency. Only their home state knows (or cares) what laws they signed in, they have some executive experience, and they have the ambition and ego. It is rare that we get a legislator-turned-president. The last one of any note, who wasn't previously a VP, was John Kennedy. John Kerry would have reversed that trend, but that voting record is sometimes hard to overcome.
          •  What about Trudeau? (none)
            Wasn't he in government for a very short time before becoming Liberal leader in Canada, and then PM?

            He wasn't a total unknown, but he had little experience of running for office or sitting in Parliament.

        •  Another thing, though, (none)
          is the potential nepotism that can go on in the split between the less official role of party leader and the official role of PM.  Paul Martin, who was challenged by Sheila Copps in the leadership stakes, effectively punished her dissent by manipulating the selection of candidates in her riding, which essentially turfed her from Parilament.  (Correct me if I got this wrong?)

          In Canada, too, the Senate -- which is closer to the House of Lords than the U.S. Senate -- is a place where party loyalty can be rewarded, with the effect that the Liberal party -- which has been the dominant Canadian party for the last 50 years or more -- uses the Senate as its own little fiefdom of patronage.  Perhaps the only non-daft policy proposal of the erstwhile Reform party (Canada's wingnuts) is the establishment of an elected Senate, though they would want to make representation tied to region rather than population.  This would give Western provinces a disproportionate weight of Senators, to redress the perceived overrepresentation of Eastern Canada through House of Commons "ridings" (constituencies).  

          Nothing requires a greater effort of thought than arguments to justify the rule of nonthought. -- Milan Kundera

          by Dale on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 07:10:12 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's the moral principle of representing (4.00)
            land area, as opposed to numbers of people. The Western provinces are huge, but, compared to Ontario and Quebec, underpopulated. So they feel they ought to get a louder voice than they are entitled to on the basis of population, and for that purpose, they have looked to the US Senate as an example.

            Actually, that's being a little unfair. Regions of Canada do have diverse interests. It's possible for central Canada to have an overheated economy that needs restraining, while the Prairies are still suffering recession.

            But certain unscrupulous politicians at both the federal and provincial level have made a career of fanning regional resentments for their own advantage. This may be good for them, but it is not good for the country. It is important that people in Winnipeg feel they are Canadians first, and Manitobans only in a very minor, secondary, utilitarian way. Provincial premiers, for obvious reasons, want to reverse that priority. And the Tory/ Reform/ Alliance/ Conservative party has a long history of trying to increase regional rivalries.

            I am not in favour of any change that would have the effect of enshrining divisiveness. Canada has a hard enough time staying together. We need to work at it, consciously and constantly. We must not allow politicians to drive us apart to serve their own selfish interests.

            Massacre is not a family value.

            by Canadian Reader on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 08:42:04 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Power of the Crown (4.00)
      In the Middle Ages Kings in England summoned Parliaments when they felt like it, usually to spread the blame when raising taxes to fight wars.

      There was no prescribed term for a Parliament. It existed for as long as the King wanted. A Parliament usually only lasted a few weeks. In many years, particularly when the Barons had the King under their thumb, several Parliaments were called.

      From Tudor times (1485-1603) onwards Parliament's usually had a longer duration, but were still held when the King or Queen wanted.

      Under the Stuart King's Parliament became more assertive. When Charles I was reluctantly compelled to call an English Parliament in 1640, after 11 years without one, he dissolved it quickly. Instead of doing what the King wanted and raising funds to fight the Scottish rebels (the Covenanters who did not like the King's religious policies), the House of Commons insisted on arguing about grievances.

      The King found he had little luck in raising funds or troops, so he had to call another Parliament. This was the Long Parliament, in whose name the English Civil War was fought. Its relevance to this post was that, when the King was still trying to be conciliatory, he accepted that Parliament should not be dissolved without its own consent. This was not forthcoming until 1660.

      The Cavalier Parliament, elected after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, was left in being for many years.

      The old system of the King summoning Parliaments when and if he wanted and dissolving them at his pleasure continued up to the Glorious Revolution (1689-90). After that Parliaments were given a maximum duration, at first three years, then in the 18th century seven years and from 1910 five years. The Royal power to dissolve Parliament was left unaltered and is now exercised on the advice of the Prime Minister.

      There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

      by Gary J on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 05:48:52 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks, Gary J! (none)
        I am embarassingly non-expert in British history. Any howlers I should fix?

        I love the English 17th century, but because of the music and art and poetry, not the politics!

        •  Congratulations (4.00)
          You have summarised the position very well. Producing a commentary on our constitutional arrangements in such limited space is a formidable task.

          There are some points of detail which I can comment on.

          Dame is the female equivalent of being a knight not a peer. Female life peers are usually called Baroness or Lady.

          The present House of Lords does have elections (of a sort)for the representatives of the Hereditary Peerage, 92 of whom still remain in the House after Blair's 'first-stage reform'. For example when the Liberal Democrat peer Earl Russell (who I once met and drove from Slough Railway Station to Windsor Liberal Club) died recently he was replaced by the Earl of Glasgow following an election by the surviving Liberal Democrat hereditary peers in the House. Lord Glasgow won all three votes (I think that was the number, from memory). The spirit of the Rotten Borough of Old Sarum lives on.

          The present House of Commons has 659 members. There have been boundary changes in Scotland so the next House will have 646 members (England 529, Scotland 59, Wales 40 and Northern Ireland 18). All are, as you mentioned, elected from single member constituencies. There were some multi-member constituencies before 1950, but single member has been the norm since 1885.

          You suggested that part of the Labour advantage in the House of Commons comes from gerrymandering. That is not quite true. Constituency boundaries are drawn up by independent boundary commissions, who do not take account of the distribution of party support.

          The reasons why there are pro-Labour biases in the electoral system come from various factors. As the size of constituency electorates varies (as we use more varied criteria than just the census population used under American re-apportionment law) and the smaller ones tend to be urban Labour seats, that produces one bias. The over-representation of Scotland and Wales (more Labour inclined countries than England) also contributed, although this bias will be considerably reduced by the post devolution boundary changes in Scotland. Thirdly Labour support tends to be more concentrated than Conservative and Liberal Democrat support. In 1983 Labour won 209 seats for 28.3% of the vote in Greeat Britain and the Liberal-SDP Alliance (now the LibDems) got 23 seats for 26% of the GB vote. In 1997 the Conservatives won 165 seats for 31.5% of the GB vote.

          There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

          by Gary J on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 06:51:03 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  More on the pre-1950 multi-member constituencies (none)

            I've never heard of this.  Please elaborate.

            •  Multi member constituencies (none)
              When commoners began to be represented in Parliament, in the 13th Century, each English county represented in Parliament received two members. Each borough or city given Parliamentary representation also had two members, except for London which got four.

              As time passed more Parliamentary Boroughs were created, Usually the English ones had two members but a small number of single member Boroughs were created.

              When Wales began to be represented, in the 16th century, all but one of the new Counties was given one seat in Parliament and groups of Boroughs were given one seat each.

              In the Tudor period another anomaly was created. There were two neighbouring Boroughs (Weymouth and Melcombe Regis) which were always quarelling. The Privy Council got so fed up with dealing with the problem that they merged the Boroughs. However as both had two seats in Parliament and it was unthinkable to remove an established right, the merged Borough joined London in having four seats in Parliament.

              By 1679 the last English County to have been unrepresented in the House of Commons (Durham) was given two seats. The whole of England and Wales was then represented in the English House of Commons.

              In 1707 the Union of Parliaments added 45 single member constituencies from Scotland.

              The Union with Ireland added more seats in 1801. Irish counties, like those in England but unlike those in Scotland and Wales, got 2 members. Most Irish Boroughs got one, but were not grouped in Districts as in Scotland and Wales.

              The last change before the Reform Act of 1832 was that the Borough of Grampound in Cornwall was disenfranchised for corruption. Its two seats were given to the County of Yorkshire which then had four members.

              The Reform Acts between 1832 and 1918 made various changes which led to one, two, three and four member constituencies. By 1885 the single member constituency was the norm but those Boroughs which retained two seats were not divided into two single member seats, but left as multi member constituencies.

              In 1918 the Fourth Reform Act reduced the number of two member Boroughs to twelve. In addition four University constituencies had two members and Combined Scottish Universities had three.

              By the 1922 General Election the Irish Free State had become a Dominion unrepresented at Westminster (which eliminated Trinity College, Dublin's two members). However Northern Ireland was given a new pattern of Parliamentary seats, which created three two member County seats.

              The multi-member Territorial constituencies, after 1918 and indeed before apart from a Victorian experiment with the limited vote, gave each voter as many votes as there were seats to be filled. The electors did not have to use all their votes if they did not want to. The winners were the two (or whatever) candidates with the largest number of votes.

              The multi-member University seats, between the elections of 1918 and 1945, used the Single Transferable Vote method of proportional representation.

              From 1950 all Parliamentary constituencies in the UK were single member. University representation on Parliament was abolished.

              There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

              by Gary J on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 03:56:08 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

  •  recommended (none)
    and I am going to print out and save  -- to let those in my AP Government class who want to take the exam in Comparative Government have something less dull than the usual texts to help them understand.

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

    by teacherken on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 04:40:19 AM PST

    •  The "unwritten" constitution (4.00)
      statement should be explained then. It is an often repeated claim, but it bears clarification. It really means two things: there is no single document called 'The Constitution' and secondly, some rights are derived and understood rather than explicitly codified.

      There are plenty of documents that form important parts of the constitution: The Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights
      etc. The Bill of Rights in particular foreshadows several US bedrock rights.


      •  all of that is in the books they will use (none)
        what I like is the sense of humor and breeziness about the piece  -- that can help young people better grasp some key ideas.

        Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

        by teacherken on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 05:19:54 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Important to remember... (none)
        ..that the big debate is whether or not to accept the European Union Constitution. This will change a great deal of what exists now in the UK in terms of what is written and unwritten.

        Please note: Jerome is going to do a similar diary to the British Election one to cover the French referendum debate on this new Constitution. I shall refer to what Jerome plans again in the first of our UK diaries.

        No more important and powerful change to our unwritten consitution has come from our signing up to the European Convention on Human Rights.

        Many people in the UK don't realise the powerful impact of interfacing with the European legal system in this vital area of the constitutional process.

        The most significant clash between our practice and the remainder of the EU, that to date has been managed well, is between the exercise of law in many European countries through interpretation of statute compared to the UK reliance upon precedent.

        That is, in Europe courts continually refer back to the original drafting of the legislation in its decisions, so that the interpretation is being continually revised and updated. In the UK, what was decided before is the precedent that determines the latest decision. Fascinating if you are an Armando - which I am not.

        •  Sheesh, should have said: (none)
          "No more important and powerful change to our unwritten constitution has come than that from our signing up to the European Convention on Human Rights.

          That errors like this should have come straight after jane Knowles excellent diary about writing good posts  :(   :(

        •  NON NO NO (none)
          Maybe inadvertently you have conflated a couple of things and have posted a very misleading synopsis.

          First, the European Union Constitutional Treaty is not quite as radical as your post suggests. Most of it consolidates existing treaties. There are some new structures and provisions, significantly for Euro-skeptics it allows a country to withdrawn from the EU for the first time.

          Your post also implies that the European Convention on Human Rights is part of the EU. It is not but instead is a convention that forms part of the Council of Europe who organise the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The Council of Europe is much wider than the EU and the UK was a signatory to the Treaty long before it joined the EU's predecessor.Being a signatory to and implementing the provisions of the Convention is however a virtual pre-requisit for a country seeking membership of the EU

          The Human Rights Act was passed by this government and for the first time incorporates the Convention into British law. Prior to that appeals under the Convention all had to be referred to the ECHR in Strasburg. Now such appeals can be considered domestically. Currently this is done by the House of Lords (or rather its Judicial Committee as the highest court in the country) but Blair has proposed the instigation of a Supreme Court as part of the reform of the Lords generally.  

          The change has meant that appeals are very much quicker and appeals to Strasburg are vastly reduced thereby saving the country's reputation as having one of the worse records of losing human rights appeals. Contravening laws cannot be struck down but must be reconsidered by Parliament.

          It should be noted by our US cousins that the UK has excluded itself or "derogated" from parts of the Convention for Anti-Terorism legislation. These now allow restrictions to be placed on someone "reasonably suspected" of being involved in terrorism. The most severe require derogation and include a form of house arrest without conviction of any offence.

      •  There's also the matter of precident (none)
        If an royal or minister's predecessor's have done, or refused to do something, they can or can't do it anymore, respectively.

        For instance, every Prince of Wales who had survived puberty has committed adultery. Thus, Chuckie was bound by duty to pork Camilla.

        no shit.

    •  Comparative Government (none)
      Way off-topic- but can taking the AP Gov course alone prepare you for taking the exam in Comparative Government? Or do you have to take a separate course? Asking because I will be taking AP Gov next year, so maybe I can prep for the Comparative Gov exam as well.
      •  not really (none)
        i took both 4 years ago.  the comparative test has nothing to do with american gov' tests on 5 countries' political systems.  we had france, UK, russia, mexico and china.  you might be able to learn them on your own but you won't get the info in your AP gov course.  
  •  you mean In-breeding, right ??? (none)
    selected by recombinant DNA and assortative mating

    cause we've got that here too, we usually don't elect them President though, but this guy snuck through somehow

    placemarker comment, I'll be back

  •  UK Parliament Home Page (none)
    says Commons consists of 659 members. Do some constituencies have multiple MPs?

    "George W. Bush is not only the worst president in American history, he is the worst man who has been President."--J. Miller

    by Yosef 52 on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 05:16:15 AM PST

  •  Excellent job Febble (4.00)
    I have come to the see our monarchie(netherlands) the same way you describe yours. I used to think the monarchie was a useless outdated institution, but since Bush I have come to appreciate it. In time of crisis people rally around the queen who has no political power, so we are free to question and bash our prime minister.  

    I am realy looking forward to your and Welshman's diaries. Keep up the good work.

    •  Excellent point. (4.00)
      I find that one invaluable aspect of media representation of government in Canada (based on the same system) is that because you often see the PM being shouted at in Question Period, or accosted at the bottom of the steps in an informal media "scrum" -- rather than stage-managed press conferences, or surrogate press-briefings -- there is less knee-jerk veneration of the office of PM, and consequently a little more criticism of the PM himself.  The split between the monarchy (or Governor-General in Canada) and the House of Commons is one device that, cosmetically at the very least, keeps our PMs from developing God-complexes, even if they sometimes develop asshole-complexes.

      Nothing requires a greater effort of thought than arguments to justify the rule of nonthought. -- Milan Kundera

      by Dale on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 07:18:48 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  So, what's the story... (none)
    ...I heard (or read) recently about putting up an alternate, very popular candidate to vie with "Toady" Blair in the upcoming election?  This doesn't jibe with your comment about his seat being relatively impregnable.  Brian Eno's name was mentioned in that regard, which reinforced my confusion regarding all things British (which your excellent diary helped to dispel somewhat - thanks).

    At any rate, giving Blair the boot would be the biggest gift the Brits have given the US since, I don't know, they relinquished the colonies.  Hyperbole? Maybe not: if Blair were to be defrocked, our chances of regaining our lost Republic would be significantly improved.

    Three Huzzahs for Eno?  

    Ignorance is the art of ignoring (Bruce F. Cole)

    by nailbender on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 05:17:22 AM PST

    •  From yesterday's (none)

      David Shayler, the former MI5 officer, announced yesterday that he intends to stand against Tony Blair in Sedgefield in the general election.

      Brian Eno has been looking for someone to stand against Blair, and seems to have found someone.  Blair's majority in Sedgefield is 17,713 (large).

      •  If that is right, David Shayler... (none)
        ...will sink the ambitions of those wanting to see a credible, popular candidate go up against Bliar.

        Whatever truth in Shayler's MI5 revelations, and there is probably a great deal, his personal presentation of himself is - shall I say -unfortunate.

      •  Thanks for the links (none)
        Very informative.  Shayler sounds a bit like Daniel Ellsberg, no?

        So Blair's Sedgefield majority is 17k out of how many total?  What would the minor candidates expect to draw, and if they stood down, what would the likely prospects be for a spoiler?

        I'm wondering about a letter-writing campaign from Americans appealing to Sedgefieldians (?) to do the right thing and send a message to the world, putting the Toady one out to pasture.  How much trouble would it be to get some email addresses for the local newspapers?

        Ignorance is the art of ignoring (Bruce F. Cole)

        by nailbender on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 06:00:34 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Just a guess... (none)
          but I imagine this would be every bit as bad an idea as... oh, I don't know, say, American fundamentalists trying to pressure Canadian MPs to vote against gay marriage. Or the recent letter-writing campaign from Britain to Ohio.

          As in... it would be quite likely to have an opposite effect to the one intended.

          People tend to be quite protective of their right to make their own decisions without the interference of outsiders. Protective -- to the point where that feeling sometimes overrides a person's original inclinations on an issue.

          Massacre is not a family value.

          by Canadian Reader on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 08:54:27 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  A bit of (none)
            reverse psychology might work though no?

            Say twenty or thirty thousand letters from God Fearing Americans demanding the British people stand up for Blair as he is Bush's partner in God's plan to bring "ragheads" to "the light". .. eh??

            The Democratic party needs to adopt its own moral and values principles (clawed)

            by cdreid on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 05:49:59 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  A total of 40,258 (4.00)
          votes were cast in Sedgefield at the last election.  Of these, Blair got 26,110 (64.9%).  The Tory came second with 8,397, followed by the Liberal Democrat with 3,624.

          Now it starts to get silly:

          The UK independence party got 974, the Socialist Labour Party 518, the Monster Raving Loony Party got 375, and a Ms Helen John got 260.

          We have a democracy, you understand.

          •  The Monster Raving Loony Party? (none)
            Nader wouldn't have been the canidate, would he?

            In any case, other than the fact we don't have joke parties (we have plenty of parties that are jokes, but that is not why they were formed), this is not much different than our elections, in that we have a bunch of minor parties that run canidates in many elections (in some states-in others it's really hard for a non-Democrat or Republican to get on the ballot).

            For example, in California, we have six parties that run at least a few canidates in every election (Democratic, Republican, Green, Peace and Freedom (California-only far-left party, similiar to Green), Libertarian (social liberal, fiscal conservative small government party-almost anarchists), and American Independent (called The Constitution Party outside of California-far right, believe government should be based on the bible)).  And two parties (Reform and Natural Law) collapsed since the 2002 elections, so there used to be eight.

      •  MI5? (none)
        I know that MI6 is y'alls badass spy agency, but what's MI5?

        Great diary!

        "A society that values its privileges above its principles loses both." - Eisenhower

        by DriverDem on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 07:07:39 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Here you are: (none)
          from the MI5 home page

          The Security Service (MI5), based at Thames House in London, is the UK's security intelligence Agency, responsible for protecting the UK, its citizens and interests, at home and overseas, against the major threats to national security. Eliza Manningham-Buller is responsible for the work of the Security Service, for which the Home Secretary has Parliamentary accountability.  Meanwhile, the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), based at Vauxhall Cross in London, is primarily responsible for gathering intelligence outside the UK in support of the government's security, defence, foreign and economic policies.  John Scarlett is responsible for the work of SIS, for which the Foreign Secretary is accountable in Parliament
        •  MI5 is to (none)
          the newly constituted FBI (under the "patriot act") as MI6 is to the CIA.
        •  MI5 is counterspy (none)
          In Ian Fleming's novels, James Bond was MI5, which accounts for its being the more famous agency, but it means you're not supposed to see scenes of Bond being a spy himself.  
          •  Five (none)
            Were established in 1909 by the great Guy Liddell, originally as an odd hybrid between a branch of military intelligence (hence MI) and the police, in response to concerns about German espionage, and also communist (and other foreign exile group) activity. Their first success was rolling up the complete German spy network in the UK during the summer of 1914 - they had a full list of names, and on mobilisation the cops fanned out and grabbed the lot.

            In 1939 they achieved something similar, and went on to operate the Double Cross system, under which German agents were given the choice of death or cooperation - the ones who opted to cooperate were used to feed fake information to Berlin.

            Unfortunately, the spooks at 5 missed a serious threat - the fact that both they and MI6 were being infiltrated by the KGB. In the interwar period, 5 spent a lot of time watching British communists of no significance and playing politics. They didn't spot the Soviet spies until the 50s, when they recovered with force. With folk like Martin Furneval-Jones and Peter Wright in charge, they led the way in exploiting the VENONA codebreak and a variety of scientific advances in pursuing Soviet spies. Their triumph was the 1971 expulsion of 105 KGB men from the UK.

            MI5 has frequently been accused of partisanship. Some officers in the postwar period, Wright being exhibit A, were very right wing indeed and there are rumours of efforts to discredit PM Wilson. But it's a lefty tradition to be convinced you are being spied upon.

            MI5's bigger roles more recently involved Northern Ireland, drugs, and now, of course, Islamist terrorism. It is part of the Home Office but has a further responsibility to the Cabinet Office Intelligence Co-ordinator. Traditionally, senior MI5 men are often cops, unlike MI6.

          •  I believe he was in MI6, (none)
                 but Ian Fleming himself was in MI5!
      •  When were they last polled ??? (none)
        Blair's majority in Sedgefield is 17,713 (large)

        have they had a chance to vote since March 19th, 2003 ???

        they might see Blair a bit different now

  •  Febble is a damn commie! (4.00)
    How dare she bring our monarchy into disrepute like that. Just before the wedding of Charles and ....who is it?

    In truth, I admire this diary enormously. She absolutely brings out the weirdness of the whole constitutional system that somehow seems to work.

    Even some of its strange traditions have key purposes. As febble says, Black Rod having to knock three times is a reminder of the relationship between the Commons to the Monarchy and the ability of us common folks to act awkward if we want to. It would be nice if George Bush had frequent, even if comic, reminder of what the Constitution meant.

    Oh, and as far as the monarchy goes, I think polls show a majority favouring this being phased out after the current Queen no longer rules. I am surprised at who and how many people share this view (the Golf Club is always my litmus test for such things. By their nature they are "conservative and patriotic". The sort of sweaters they wear tells you this. Yet, sampling there first told me that the damn Iraq war had become hugely unpopular and recently told me that the monarchists are dwindling numbers).

    I think the only thing now keeping the monarchy going is 1 - We have the Australian problem of not knowing what the heck to replace it with which wouldn't have its own accompanying problems 2- the adherence of certain elderly ladies who attend Women's Institute  afternoon tea, biscuits and talks on the crochet work of Queen Victoria 3- the support of all those who receive petty gongs and baubles to validate their life's work - like Bill gate's knighthood 4- all you Americans who remain fascinated with it and will give inordinate attention to events surrounding like, for example, that wedding of Charles with whats-her-name.

    Oh, and when he joins us, probably Peter will be a passionate monarchist. But then, for such strange and anachronistic views is why I am so delighted he has shown himself willing to be a part of the General Election diaries.

    Great diary Febble.

  •  An Interested American (none)
    As an American living in England (yes...England, not one of the other countries that make up the UK - I know, mistaking one of these contries for another is a common mistake that my people make), I want to thank you for your diary.

    I've been fascinated by the government while I've been here, and no one I know has been able to lay out its workings as succinctly as you have...well done.

  •  Why do you consider this counterintuitive? (none)
    First, let me say, I enjoyed your explanation of the British system.  

    Second, in many respects, I believe it is superior to the USA's.  The fact that the Prime Minister is a member of Parliament, routinely subject to "Prime Minister's Questions," tends to produce intelligent and articulate executive leaders as opposed to the USA's system that allows idiots like Bush to become President and basically hide from informed scrutiny and his public face is handled by others.

    I did find this statement odd:

    >>Primacy in parliament rests, counter-intuitively, with the lower house, the House of Commons (as in "never wear high heels with slacks - it looks common.")  Members of the House of Commons are actually elected, and it is from this electoral mandate that it derives its sovereignty.<<

    Why is it that the one body emanates from the electoral will of the people is counter-intuitively "lower" than the unelected House of Lords?  That arrangement of "primacy" accords with my intuitions.

    Do you have news about Delaware's Legislators, Corporations, Government? Please send it to me:

    by Dana Garrett on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 06:08:12 AM PST

    •  You're right, because you (none)
      have the right intuition!

      But any people are surprised that the "lower" of the two houses has primacy over the "upper".  But the reason, as you say, is because only the lower is elected. In Britain, the common people have primacy over the toffs.  Surprising, but true.

      One worthy argument against reforming the House of Lords is that once it has its own electoral mandate, it may compete with the Commons. Not an undefeatable argument, but it does mean we have to handle the reform with care.

      •  I've always understood lower and upper (none)
        to represent the direction that legislation goes in its journey 'up' to being signed into law.  

        Commons --> Lords --> Royal Assent

        (I leave out the commons-lords-commons loop that legislation has to go through if the upper house bats it back down to the lower for alteration)

        •  Lower/upper (none)
          That makes sense for UK, but of course not for the US, where bills (except "money bills") may originate in either house.

          Conventionally, the upper house is understood to be the less "popular" house, that is the one that builds in a conservative (small c, but can be large C, too!) bias by not being apportioned according to population. Obviously this works for the US (where Wyoming gets as many Senate seats as California) as well as UK (where the Lords are not even elected at all).

          Just to complicate matters further, there are a few countries that elect their senates in a single national district but their "lower house" in districts that are not strictly apportioned by population: Colombia and Uruguay among them. Really, their senates ought to be called the lower house, but since they are "Senado" they are the "upper house." Confused? Yeah.

          Often the upper house has less power, precisely because it is less democratically legitimate. But in the US (as well as the Latin American cases I just mentioned) the upper house is at least as powerful, and arguably more so than the lower house.

          •  Action versus inaction (none)
            The UK system of lower to upper to monarch = action. The unelected upper house can send back and make recommendations but can be overturned in a technical vote by the lower (elected) house. The monarch will always sign.
            Now lets look at our US system. It was designed to maximize check and balance. The whole system is designed for inaction. The upper house or lower house or head of state can all effectively veto.
      •  The "lower" house (none)
        in the US actually has "primacy" as well though not many people realise that. An individual senator has more power than a congressman.. but as a whole the house of representatives has the ultimate power. The power of the purse.

        Not one CENT can be spent out of the US treasury without originating in the House. You cannot introduce a budget in the senate and then send it to the house. It is literally unconstitutional.

        The Democratic party needs to adopt its own moral and values principles (clawed)

        by cdreid on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 05:53:00 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Is this true exactly? (none)
          I'm a bit embarassed by my ignorance, but here goes.

          Bills for taxation must originate in the House of Representatives, but budget resolutions come out of the Senate all the time.  Is it really true that budgets (at least the spending portions) can't start in the Senate?

    •  Word. (4.00)
      Question Time is the best hour of TV programming you can watch, with the possible exception of the West Wing.

      I always loved seeing Ian Duncan Smith get up, make a complete ass of himself bashing Tony Blair, and then seeing ol' Tony raise up and deliver an oratorical spanking to the Tories. Mike Howard isn't nearly so clever.

      What similar jonesin' matchups would people like to see in Congress? Babs Boxer vs. Brownback? Ted Kennedy vs. Coburn? Or best of all - Bush vs. Robert Byrd?

      Forget universal health care. I think instituting Question Time should be #1 on the progressive agenda.

      "A society that values its privileges above its principles loses both." - Eisenhower

      by DriverDem on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 07:14:48 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Word. (none)
        Yes, I never miss Prime Minister's Questions on  C-Span unless I can't help it.  There is nothing comprable to it in the USA.  It's truly enviable.

        Do you have news about Delaware's Legislators, Corporations, Government? Please send it to me:

        by Dana Garrett on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 07:20:38 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  But They Don't Have Checks and Balances (none)
          It's good TV, but the opposition party in the UK is essentially powerless most of the time (exceptions: on the occasional vote on which the party whips let individual MPs vote their conscience; or a situation in which there is no majority party....but in the UK the latter is VERY unusual).  Otherwise, because party discipline is usually pretty absolute, the government can largely do whatever it wants.  All the opposition has is the ability to noisily confront the PM and his/her ministers every week. (And as fans of question time know, the MPs are much less polite to one another than our Congresspeople are).

          With Congress and the White House in the same hands, things aren't so different here (the the Senate's rules give Dems there a modicum of power), but most of the time our government is divided.

          As much fun as PM's question time is, I still prefer our system.

          Start doing the things you think should be done, and start being what you think society should become. -Adam Michnik.

          by GreenSooner on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 02:42:08 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Well, not checks and balances as we know them (none)
            True, there is no real check on the majority party. However, there is a very real check on the executive that we do not have in the US. The PM can lose his position between elections if the party no longer wants him or her. Just because you do not see this happen often (though it happened to Thatcher) does not mean it is not an effective check. The PM must always be sure not to excede the tolerance of his or her fellow (co-partisan) MPs, because that is his or her constituency.

            Our president, on the other hand, is unassailable due to his fixed term. If he has a majority in the House, there is amost no chance that anything other than the very most egregious malfeasance could ever lead to impeachment.

            In the UK, there is also an informal check in the form of the opposition party. No, it cannot stop a determined and disciplined majority party and the PM it maintains in office. However, the Question Period gives it an institutionalized weekly (while Parliament is in session) forum to embarrass the PM. This is all played out before public opinion, and is essentially on ongoing campaign. Sometimes the PM and his/her party back off. They know that the Opposition cannot veto anything, but they know that it can raise a stink and that it might haunt them in the next election.

            In our system, on the other hand, there is no clearly identifiable leader of the 'opposition' until the "out" party chooses its presidential candidate. In the meantime--that is most of the time--there is no equivalent in the out party to the role the President serves for his party. And because the incentives for party discipline are so much weaker in the presidential system (for many reasons that I won't go into here), the out party simply can't function as a coherent Opposition (with a capital 'O') to the same degree as is the case in the UK.

            Despite all this, the UK system is not my favorite. I would prefer a parliamentary system with coalition governments. But that, too, is a topic for another day. (And, no, in case you are wondering, I do NOT mean the Israeli model, which I do not like. More like the German, New Zealand, or Spanish models--all parliamentary systems, but with more checks and balances because no one party governs all by itself.)

            •  Depends on the Party (none)
              I  believe that in the UK the mechanisms for removing a party leader are entirely a party matter. And this is actually done more easily (and democratically) in the Conservative Party than in Labour.  So while Thatcher did lose her position as leader this way (all it took, I think, was a simple majority vote of Tory MPs), it would be nearly impossible for Blair to do so.  I can't remember the details of the way this works in the Labour Party, but practically it's nearly impossible for a Labour PM to be removed by his own party as Thatcher was (though I suppose the party could revolt and join the opposition in a vote of No Confidence, but that would be, in effect, tearing the party itself apart).

              Start doing the things you think should be done, and start being what you think society should become. -Adam Michnik.

              by GreenSooner on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 05:22:30 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Easier yes, more democratically, no (none)
                Thatcher was brought down by her MPs.  For a Labour leader to be toppled, it requires a vote at Conference (either the annual Conference, or a specially convened one, triggered by 20% of the Party's MPs). All party members then have a vote, as do affiliated trade unions, as do the MPs.

                It's not ideal, but it's surely better than the way the Tories elected Michael Howard - having dumped Iain Duncan Smith on a vote of the MPs, the MPs then unanimously crowned Howard the new leader to prevent the ordinary members from having a vote. This was because the only time the members voted, they chose the hardline and hapless aforementioned IDS over the presentable and popular Ken Clarke.

                •  Yes, you are right, but consider a scenario... (none)
                  Thanks to the two of you for clarifying/correcting the points I made on how a PM can fall.

                  It is correct that it is up to the party to decide how to select and remove its party leader (who is, when the party has the majority, also the PM).

                  However, this is to some degree a distinction without a difference, or with only a small difference.

                  Suppose the majority of Labour MPs wanted to dump Blair, but the majority of the larger Labour selectorate with the authority to select/dump a PM wanted to retain him. In that scenario, the MPs could still bypass the rest of the party by moving a no-confidence motion. Highly unlikely, because this would precipitate a major internal party crisis and probably a new election that they might well lose.

                  But no party rules can really trump the constitutional convention that the PM serves at the pleasure of the majority of elected MPs.

                  For better or worse, the Conservative party rules allow the MPs of the party the discretion to change a PM/party leader, and thus they could replace Thatcher with Major without ever having to risk an open split (or a formal no confidence vote) in parliament.

      •  You can also watch all the proceedings (none)
        of Parliament on the Internet at

        Parliament Live TV

        We are all neutrons, looking for a nucleus to disrupt.

        by NeutralObserver on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 08:23:04 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  ooooh! (none)
        Bush vs. Byrd --- you made me go all shivery with anticipation there.

        If I'd known it was harmless, I would have killed it myself!"

        by Alan in Phoenix on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 06:10:24 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Small nitpick Febble (none)
    I believe Dames are female Sirs (Knights) and that female Lords are Baroness's.

    e.g. Dame Maggie Smith and Dame Ellen McArthur don't have seats in the Lords.

    Other than that CHEERS, great diary.

    We are all neutrons, looking for a nucleus to disrupt.

    by NeutralObserver on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 06:10:56 AM PST

    •  Damn, you are right. (none)
      I will fix, along with some other things.

      Bloody titles.

      •  Not to be picky, but female Lords (none)
             may also comprise Viscountesses, Countesses, Marchionesses, and Duchesses, may they not?
             They can't all be Baronesses...
        •  All members of the House of Lords (none)
          no matter what their title of degree, are also Baron or Baroness something. That was the distinction that enabled them to sit in the Lords.

          The life peers only have that title.

          We are all neutrons, looking for a nucleus to disrupt.

          by NeutralObserver on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 09:25:38 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Sorry that should be (none)
            all aristocratic members. Does not apply to the bishops and judges.

            There are those of course who have a title but can't sit in the Lords, even before the reforms.

            Prince Edward for instance, he has the courtesy title Count, but is not a Baron. Charles on the other hand was able to sit as he holds a Barony.

            We are all neutrons, looking for a nucleus to disrupt.

            by NeutralObserver on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 10:04:13 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  No, sorry, that's incorrect (none)
            Not all peers above the level of baron possess the additional title of baron.  For example, the Earl of Stockton (descended from the former Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who was ennobled a few decades after his retirement) is also Viscount Macmillan, but is not a baron.  (Here's the relevant listing in Burke's Peerage, the guide to the British nobility:

            Another random tidbit: there are a small number of hereditary titles above the level of baron/baroness that may be inherited by women.

        •  Titles of Peers (none)
          The hereditary Peerage is divided into five degrees, with a corresponding male and female title. Any peer can less formally be referred to as Lord or Lady but there are special styles of address for the more senior ones, like Your Grace for a Duke.

          Baron (or Lord in the Peerage of Scotland)= Baroness (or presumably Lady).

          Viscount = Viscountess.

          Earl (corresponding to the continental Count but using a title derived from the Norse Jarl rather than the Latin Comes) = Countess.

          Marquis (or Marquess in Scotland) = Marchioness.

          Duke = Duchess.

          A complication is that the male titles can indicate an actual peer (Duke of Norfolk) or the courtesy title given to his eldest son (Earl of Arundel and Surrey) who will not himself be a peer until his father dies (unless created one or as sometimes happened he was summoned to Parliament in his father's lifetime by a Writ in Acceleration). The husband of a peeress in her own right is not given a courtesy title by virtue of the marriage.

          Similarly the female titles may denote a peeress in her own right or more commonly is the courtesy title of the wife or widow of a peer.

          There are further types of courtesy titles. The younger sons and daughters of the higher peers are styled Lord (first name) (surname). For example the nineteenth century Prime Minister Lord John Russell had this kind of courtesy title and was an MP before he was created a peer as the 1st Earl Russell.

          Life peerages are all in the degree of Baron. The Crown does have a prerogative power to create Life Peers of higher degree but the Wensleydale Peerage case ruled that Life Peers created under the prerogative rather than under a statutory power do not have a seat in the House of Lords.

          This short essay is not a comprehensive statement of everything about Peerages, but I hope that American readers will appreciate how much trouble their ancestors saved by becoming citizens a Republic and not having to worry about peerage law.

          There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

          by Gary J on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 02:56:56 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  What an marvelous, bloody mess... (none)
    Wish I had gone to Oxford when I had the chance. Great diary and I have a question, where does the Church of England fit into all this?

    Note to GWB, numbers don't lie, unless you lie about the numbers.

    by Ralfast on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 06:37:00 AM PST

    •  Hoped no-one would ask... (none)
      as I don't have the answer.  The Queen, as well as Head of State (of the UK) is also Head of the Church of England (but not of the Church of Scotland,  which is presbyterian, nor of the Episcopal church of Scotland, which is Anglican, and therefore in Communion with the Church of England).

      The Church of England is therefore the Established Church, but with luck, not for much longer, as there is a strong move to disestablish.  The movement opposed to this one is called antidisestablishmentarianism which is the longest word in the Oxford English Dictionary (or used to be).  

      That is the limit of my knowledge.

      •  Disestablishmentarianism (none)
        There's been a strong movement to disestablish since the Oxford Movement of the 1830s, so one shouldn't hold one's breath.

        "The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation." - Pierre Trudeau

        by fishhead on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 07:06:20 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Sorry...could not help myself... (none)
        I'm weary of established religions, as I'm sure a lot of the English are, with the 7 Year War, multiple behadings of Queens and such....

        Note to GWB, numbers don't lie, unless you lie about the numbers.

        by Ralfast on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 08:57:54 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The Great Advantage of Established Religions (none)
 that in modern countries with them, people tend to take religion less seriously.

          The notion that the strict separation of church and state is actually good for religion isn't just something we separationists say to lull fundies into accepting the First Amendment.

          Start doing the things you think should be done, and start being what you think society should become. -Adam Michnik.

          by GreenSooner on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 02:45:11 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Unless you live in (none)
            Iran or in Taliban controled Afghnistan. The idea of divinely ordained political power, or viceversa is something that I am very, very weary of....

            Note to GWB, numbers don't lie, unless you lie about the numbers.

            by Ralfast on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 08:39:34 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Absolutely (none)
              That's an important caveat indeed.

              I was thinking of liberal democracies with established religions, like most European countries today, where religion is a lot less politically important than it is in the U.S. (in the past, of course, many of these countries went through bloody wars over religion).

              Though I don't like the current place of religion in our public life, and feel that that place is related to the separation of church and state, I am nonetheless a hardcore separationist, so I suppose I may actually agree more with your comment than with my own!

              Start doing the things you think should be done, and start being what you think society should become. -Adam Michnik.

              by GreenSooner on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 05:18:55 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  The peace of Europe (none)
                has been bought with nealy 3,000 of war. There is no place on the sub-continent (which it what it easy, since Europe belogs to the larger Asian landmass) not stained in blood. Wars of all kinds have been waged in the fields of Europe, using every weapon short of nukes. While many Americans are dismissive of their own history, with children wondering why they should learn from the past and leaders that refuse to do so, European, by en large can not escape their history, they embrace it, learn from it and try to do better, that why even in countries like England, with state religions, people know better than to rant and rave about it. They know the price payed at the hands of those who proclaimed that they were ordained by heaven (or history, race and destiny) to rule.

                The curious thing it that was a lesson first taught by men like Voltaire, excuted by the Founding Fathers of the American Republic and npow perfected by the Europeans.

                I guess it is true what they say, what goes around comes around...

                Note to GWB, numbers don't lie, unless you lie about the numbers.

                by Ralfast on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 09:37:39 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

      •  Are you sure about the Scottish church? (none)
        I know that when she is in Scotland on official business she's a Presbyterean.
      •  catholics need not apply (none)
        Since this appears to  be all catholic/ all the time for the mass media, with the death of il pape, it might be instructive to note that a part of the british "constitution" not mentioned is the requirement that neither the head of state nor his/her spouse may belong to the roman catholic church.
        •  No Popery (none)
          When the Act of Settlement was passed it was to ensure a Protestant monarch and firmly prohibit a Catholic one. This was a burning issue a few years after the Catholic King James II (of England) and VII (of Scotland) had been deposed. The Catholic branch of the House of Stuart promoted two rebellions in 1715 and 1745-46.

          I do not think that in the modern UK there is much anti-Catholic feeling, outside Northern Ireland and the west coast of Scotland anyway.

          The UK has never had a Catholic Prime Minister, although Tony Blair comes close. His wife and children are Catholics and Blair sometimes attends Mass, although the Catholic hierarchy have ruled that as a non-Catholic he can't take communion.

          Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith and the current Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy are also Catholics.

          Roman Catholic Cardinals in Britain seem to speak out to the general public more than they used to and they have rather eclipsed the Bishops of the Church of England.

          The law was altered a few years ago to permit a Catholic to be Lord Chancellor. I imagine when we next get around to tidying up the law on Royal succession the anti Catholic provisions will be repealed. They are almost certainly inconsistent with the Human Rights Act 1998 so it is unlikely that anyone (except the Rev. Ian Paisley) would seriously object.

          There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

          by Gary J on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 03:47:30 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Judiciary? (none)
    Thanks for the great diary.  Very informative.  

    Can you tell us about the judicial branch?

    •  Judiciary (4.00)
      The UK contains three legal jurisdictions. England & Wales and Northern Ireland are common law countries. Scotland, which is guaranteed its seperate legal system by the Act of Union, is a European style Civil Law jurisdiction.

      Judge's are appointed by the Queen, acting on the advice of Ministers. They do not have to be confirmed by anybody and hold office during good behaviour. In theory a Judge can be removed by the Queen if an address to the Crown requesting that is sent to her by both Houses of Parliament. This was last done to some Irish judges in the 19th century. In practice an erring judge is invited to have a chat with the Lord Chancellor and he then resigns.

      The higher English & Welsh Courts (which very counter-intuitively are collectively known as the Supreme Court of Judicature of England and Wales) consist of the High Court (broadly civil trial court, comprising three divisions Chancery, Queens Bench and Family), the Crown Court (criminal trial court) and the Court of Appeal (divided into civil and criminal divisions). The Northern Irish sysytem is similar but with less complexity due to the smaller number of Judges.

      The Scottish system, with which I am not very familiar has a civil court (the Court of Session) and a criminal court (the High Court of Justiciary). Appeals are dealt with by the Inner House of the Court of Session. I think that description is reasonably accurate, but a Scot may disagree.

      The only UK wide court is the House of Lords, in its judicial capacity. This includes the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (who are members of the House of Lords). They have appellate jurisdiction in all matters except Scottish criminal cases (excluded by the Act of Union).

      One of Blair's, lets change the constitution without consultation or sufficient thought, initiatives is to replace the Law Lords with a Constitutional Court independent of Parliament. The plan appears to be stalled because the Judge's do not like the possible buildings for the new court which the Lord Chancellor has suggested.

      I do not have the energy to include the European Courts in this post, but suffice it to say they are of growing importance.

      There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

      by Gary J on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 07:24:54 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  British sense of humor (none)
    I have always appreciated the British sense of humor. I just had not realized it extended to the unwritten constitution. Good post and I look forward to the others comments.
  •  Great diary. For my British friends: (none)

    When you have a chance, and you are not blogging or on Dkos (like myself) please visit my UK website.  I launched my company in the UK one year ago, and we are doing great.  

    If you'd like to "spruce up your room" or your kids room... have a look at HomePlates UK:

    We turn your plain boring white switch covers into gorgeous covers -- with no rewiring.  (I invented a cover which fits over all brands of your UK covers.)  

    I'll be back over there in September -- perhaps we can schedule a Dkos meetup?!

    Let me know.

  •  Argument for monarchy (4.00)
    The greatest argument for the UK's head of state being the monarch is but two words:



  •  Any other foreigners here? (none)
    I'd love to see some other folks describe their home country's political system to us Yanks. For the longest time, I was under the impression England (the UK, Great Britain, whatever) used a proportionally representative system, until a British (English? Perhaps technically Welsh?) friend of mine corrected me. Very illuminating.

    So seriously... any Germans here? Indians? French? Help us out!

    "A society that values its privileges above its principles loses both." - Eisenhower

    by DriverDem on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 07:18:55 AM PST

    •  Liberal Democrats (none)
      The Liberal Democrats (under various names) have been fighting for PR for decades. In most of Europe, the Liberals (under various names) have historically been the third largest party, but as a centrist party they are often the kingmakers in a PR system.
    •  Febble and Gary J did a tremendous job (none)
      explaining the Westminster-style of government, which can be transposed, with few alterations, to the former Dominions (Canada, Australia, NZ) and quite a few former British colonies.
    •  OK, I'll do the Scandinavian monarchies (4.00)
      I know, not the center of the galaxy exactly, but hey...

      Sweden, Denmark and Norway, like the UK, are constitutional monarchies wherein the heads of state have a purely ceremonial role; their influence is confined to the occasional address to the nation, and even those are supposed to stand aloof from the political fray. Formally, however, the King or Queen is head of the Executive Branch, and the government is technically his/her Council.

      The legislative branches are the real seats of power due to the principle of 'parliamentarism,' according to which a government must be tolerated by a majority in the parliament. Unlike in the UK, a proportional electoral system ensures that this  is no trivial requirement, and changes of g'ment can occur within a parliamentary term of office. Ministers may but need to be recruited among MPs.

      MPs are nominated by the parties in each county or province. The grassroot plays a significant role here. The electoral system is highly proportional; this makes for a lot of minority and coalition governments (sometimes both at the same time, as we now have in Norway). In Denmark, though not in the other two, the PM has the power to dissolve the parliament - an option giving the Executive more clout. This was recently done by Conservative PM Jens Vogh Rasmussen, who won a comfortable reelection by timing the election well.

      The Judiciary is independent; judges are appointed by the government and do not need to be confirmed. There are courts on local, regional and national levels. I shan't bore you with the details here.

      Summing up, I suppose one might compare the whole system to the structure of a corporation. Voters are the equivalent of stockholders; elections are their stockholder's meetings; political parties are their factions. The parliament corresponds to the Board (a huge one with sub-committees), which appoints and supervises the Executive. The PM is the CEO, answerable at all times to the Board. The Judiciary falls outside this analogy, which to be sure is a rough one.

      Politics is the entertainment branch of industry. - Frank Zappa

      by Sirocco on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 09:43:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I'm hoping.. (none)
      I second that motion. I'm a Canadian whose total wisdom about my own government can be summed up with - `It's brilliant in that it's so fabulously dull'. The last time I became absolutely livid about anything that happened here was the disclosure that an anti-gay marriage advertising campaign was receiving American funding . Given that I believe good governance should be boring and tedious, suitable only for those unlikely to appreciate screaming hordes, I like it just fine that way. I'm obviously not the person to attempt to provide a Canadian version of this diary; I'm a little visceral. But I would love to read one, and would be very appreciative to the person who volunteered to fill in my own enormous educational gaps.
    •  Second that (none)
      I'm a kind of an Italo-phile. I'd love to hear more about the Italian political system.
  •  This is wonderful, and (none)
    thank you very much for such a clear and funny explanation.  The BBC Phineas Finn series long ago got me hooked on Trollope's Palliser novels, and I've probably read them all 3 or 4 times.  

    I had gradually built up some vague sense of how your elections and government worked, at least back in the 1800s, and found it fascinating.  It is so safe to be brought up to date on the subject.    

  •  Weren't the Lords more representative than the Com (none)

    I read somewhere (maybe the Economist) that the heredetary Lords were more representative of the variety of British livelihoods than the Commons.

    Reason being, MPs are generally wealthy solicitors, while there was many a penniless Lord (the fortunes of the family having taken a turn for the worse).

    --- Reality-based since 1965

    by grytpype on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 07:37:13 AM PST

    •  Nah. A penniless aristocrat (none)
      is still more like an aristocrat than a working man. I don't take seriously the idea that the Lords has anyone in its ranks who represents poor people, except for those life peers who came up from a working-class background through a career in the Commons and retirement to the Lords.

      Who knows what the Economist is blathering on about.  Probably they're making some point about large landowners representing farmers better than actual career politicians do.  

    •  I think the Economist is correct n/t (none)
    •  Well, they are more representative (none)
      of rural Britain, as they own more of it.
      •  But what about the life peers? (none)
        especially the cross benchers, but also some of the Labour members.  See Allan Bullock.
        •  I'd like to see the Lords more representative (none)
          but I'm certainly glad the "in-built Tory majority" has gone.  It was a disgrace, the Westminster car park filling up with Range Rovers whenever there was a narrow vote.

          I still have a hankering after a non-elected upper house though - life appointments maybe, and from community nominated candidates.  I do think it is a strength that the Lords have no vested interest in voting other than with their consciences.

          I don't know.  No system's perfect.

          •  "I've Been Picked For Legislator Duty" (none)
            How about appointment to the upper house by random lot of eligible voters? It gets around the "PM's crony" drawback and the "inbuilt Tory majority" issue without making the upper chamber an alternative career path for professional politicians.

            It'd also be democratically representative, but in a way distinct from the commons and one perhaps more suited to a revising, as opposed to an originating, chamber - so it gets around the "undermines the democratic legitimacy of the commons" argument (not that I have much patience with that one myself - it seems to be a figleaf for those who actually quite like the idea of an electoral dictatorship).


            •  Kudos (none)
              I'm not sure if you realize it, but you stumbled across one of the arguments made by those who favored keeping all the hereditary peers in the House of Lords.  Essentially, they argued that nobody can help being born into a title, and therefore this randomness ends up representing a greater cross-section of society.  Or something.  It might be more compelling if the peerage resembled society at large, which of course it doesn't.

              The random-citizen idea you suggest was used, however, to great effect in selecting a commission to study and recommend a new voting system in British Columbia.

              Too bad the US political system is so ossified that pigs will sprout wings and fly before anything even remotely similar to this happens here.  We're barely a functioning democracy, let alone a model one.

  •  Beautifully done.... (none)
    I'm coming back to read this more thoroughly later on. recommended++

    Be careful lest in casting out your demons,you cast out the thing that was best within you----Nietzche

    by gilgamesh on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 07:41:01 AM PST

  •  Links on judiciary, C of E, and other subjects (none)
    This diary was very well done! Back in 1993, I was an intern at the House of Commons, and am still enough of a UK politics geek that I have my ReplayTV box set to record every Questions to PM on C-SPAN. :)  

    There are great online resources that could help answer some readers' questions.

    General information:, including some great PDF downloads at

    Church of England:

    Court system:
    and the judiciary:

  •  Threre is one part of Parliamentary procedure (4.00)
    that I would love to see incorporated into our Congress, and that is Question Time!  

    Can you imagine Bush having to stand at the podium and submit to questions by members of Congress, once a week, every week?  (With or without electronic coaching devices!)

    Would be the best entertainment in town.

  •  Dear Welshman, (none)
         I know the U.S. must get rid of its King George II and also the slavery-era Electoral College, but when do you think Britain will

    1. get rid of its monarchy, which is racist, by the way---when did Britain have its last black head of state?

    2. get rid of the peerage (I know from reading the Guardian that various reforms may be due for the Lords),

    3. get rid of state religion?

         It makes it harder to fight the kooks in Saudi Arabia (and elsewhere), who have monarchy and state religion, when "great democracy" Britain itself has a monarch (who must be German, like Hitler, because of the 1703 Act of Settlement, I think it was 1703) and state religion.


    4., when is Britain getting a written constitution? (Israel needs one too.)

         "I speak from experience", since I was arrested in Britain during the Queen's Golden Jubilee, wearing a Sex Pistols t-shirt and waving a BLACK HEAD OF STATE FOR BRITAIN sign while marching in a protest against the monarchy.
         (See the Guardian article about my arrest, "'Execute the Queen' protesters arrested: Anti-royalists held for five hours after Tower march", at,,727573,00.html .)
         Fortunately, I sued the Old Bill (Metropolitan Police) and they paid me 3500 pounds and wrote a letter of apology for my false arrest.

         I would not mind full independence for Wales (and Scotland, and Northern Ireland), by the way, at least as long as they have to suffer under the English monarchy. A (People's?) Republic of Wales might not be a bad idea...

         So what do you think? I would appreciate your wisdom.

    •  You didn't ask me, but here's my 2p: (none)
      I'd like to keep the monarchy, but have the monarch chosen yearly from nominees from local communities, rather like the MBE is now.  Not elected, as that would give him/her power, just supported.  And I'd like to see all British ethnic groups represented.

      I'd like to disestablish the Church of England.

      I'd like to see the religious education part of the 1944 education act drastically rewritten.

      I'd like to reform the Lords, have an elected upper house, with some form of proportional representation, but with only a small proportion re-elected each time to preserve stability, and to counter-balance to the Commons.

      I'd like some more constitutional stuff written down.

      I'd like more power devolved to regional government.

      And most of all, I'd like to see the people of Britain take a more active role and interest in the way their country is governed.  It is something I really admire about Americans!

      •  Thank you Febble (none)
             for your hardly-feeble pro-American sentiments. (I think most American activism actually consists of overeating and watching porno and football, but...)

             As for monarchy, I think there should at least be a popular referendum on it, just as there may be for ratifying the European Union constitution. I would hate to see Britons choose monarchy, but at least they would have a choice, and show that the people are the real sovereign in Britain.....

      •  Whoops (none)
             I thought Welshman actually wrote the diary! Just looked again, you wrote it of course. Thanks for doing that, sorry for my blunder.
      •  I agree with the sentiments but.. (none)
        you write "And most of all, I'd like to see the people of Britain take a more active role and interest in the way their country is governed.  It is something I really admire about Americans!

        The percentage voting is very similar in both countries. I have the exact figures for each that I shall put in the election diary, but they are both around the 60% mark (UK a couple of points less).

        US Representatives are appointed by around 37%, not dissimilar than our elections for MEPs. Exact figures  and comaprisons will be given later.

    •  At first I thought this was parody... (4.00)
      but after reading it all the way through I recognized traditional British radicalism... which is comforting in a way, because a system that can make room for eccentric sentiments like this, is clearly strong enough to endure a long time.

      Could be interesting, if Britain ever did get rid of its monarchy. You see, Canada has been making good use of the very same powerless monarchy to stabilize our government. You take that away, and we'll have to choose: either Charles remains nominally King Charles of Canada (as represented by the Governor-General) even if he is deposed in the UK, or we will have to change our system for Head of State.

      And I just know that some damn fools will want to go for an American system, or at least an elected President. The whole point of having a ceremonial Head of State with no power -- is to block elected politicians completely from wrapping themselves in people's loyalty to their country, which they should never, ever be allowed to do. The pernicious effects of that are most obvious right now in the US, but it is a danger everywhere the Head of State is elected.

      Massacre is not a family value.

      by Canadian Reader on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 10:11:29 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  What is eccentric (none)
             about having a democratic republic, without a state religion?

             Isn't this becoming the recognized global norm?

             Thank Jesus. (Though, unlike England, I wouldn't impose Him on the people through state religion; that is eccentric, and, in fact, evil.)

        •  Established Religion (none)
          The situation is different in each part of the UK.

          In England, the Anglican Church of England, which is just about still in communion with the Episcopal Church in the United States is the established Church. It was once a mighty force in the land but now is a dying irrelevance, weighed down by an enormous infrastructure and inadequate popular support to sustain it. It should be disestablished both because it would be better for the temporal realm and for the Church itself.

          The only significant effects of the establishment is that the state gets to nominate Bishop's and other senior Anglican clergy, which does reduce the risk of religious enthusiasm. Some of the senior Bishop's get seats in the House of Lords whilst they remain in office, but they usually prefer to espouse socialism rather than more specificaly religious themes.

          Scotland has an established Presbyterian Church of Scotland. It does not have seats in Parliament. Whilst I would support disestablishment I do not know if there is any demand for it in modern Scotland.

          Wales and Northern Ireland do not now have an established religion. It was conceeded, in 1918 in Wales and in 1871 in Ireland, that it was silly to have Anglican establishments when the majority of the population were members of other denominations.

          As with so much else in the British Constitution the status or religious establishments is illogical and contrary to sound constitutional theory but sort of works.

          There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

          by Gary J on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 03:43:12 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  I'm so glad you agree (4.00)
        I tend to be in a very small minority in British gatherings, in supporting the idea of the monarchy while recognising they are complete prats.

        It bugs me that people moan that Charles is unfit to be King.  Of course he's unfit to be King.  That's the whole point (or, as it was explained to us at high school, he would be the titular Head of State only, snorck snorck).  If it mattered whether he was fit or not, that would be to imply that he would have power.  Historically most of our monarchs have been prats.  It is the constitutional limits on the powers of pratdom that give us our democracy.

        Frankly, I think the big drawback of the US system is that there is no Magna Carta to limit the power of the president.  That is scary.

        •  I think your (none)
               "Queen for a Day" comment above is not all bad, the one about being selected, from various nominees and ethnic groups.
               In a sense, then, that would be an abolition of the traditional mono-ethnic monarchy. Which is fine with me.

               I wonder if Britain would really suffer if the "selected head of state" which you propose were not called the King or Queen any more. Maybe just...Head of State, Steward, or President or something.

               Again, "King" has that horrible Saudi Arabia ring to it.
               AND, as noted above in this thread, the potential powers of the monarch are horrifying; not having to accept the proffered Prime Minister election winner, etc. (There is some Jeffrey Årcher novel where the election is a tie, and Queenie chooses, of course, the Tory candidate to be PM.
               So the Queen does have power, and too bloody much, for my warrant. ...
               Just as Georgie Porgie does here. You're right that we should have a Magna Carta or such to constrain him; there is our Constitution, but he seems intent on abolishing the good parts...)

          •  I started to have a different opinion about the (none)
            monarchy, when I realised there seems to be some psychological need for a "Royal Family". Countries where there is no crowned head of state, often have a family which is looked upon as something resembling a "Royal Family" anyway, and I don't like mixing political power with this perceived image.
          •  Actually no (none)
            if I understand it right.

            AND, as noted above in this thread, the potential powers of the monarch are horrifying; not having to accept the proffered Prime Minister election winner, etc. (There is some Jeffrey Årcher novel where the election is a tie, and Queenie chooses, of course, the Tory candidate to be PM.

            The British monarch "invites" the political leader of the strongest party (with the most seats in parliament) after an election to form a government. In other words the election winner.
            It´s then up to him/her to get a majority in parliament to support the new government.
            And since the British system tends to produce a majority for a single party, it would be pretty silly for the monarch to try and choose anyone else.

            And regarding that Jeffrey Archer novel.
            Don´t remember the name right now.
            But if we´re speaking about the same one, his book scenario was a "hung" parliament IIRC. With neither Labour nor Tories having a majority.
            And with the LibDems/Liberals-Social Democrats (don´t remember the exact name) as the deciding factor.
            IIRC the King in the book was then privately informed that the LibDems had decided on a coalition.
            So he invited both the Labour and the Tory candidate to inform them whom he would choose to form a government. Choosing the guy that would be supported by the LibDems too and so would have a majority in parliament.
            Oh, and by the way, that was the Labour candidate!
            And not the Tory one.

            •  I'll have to read more about it, but (none)
                   at least someone above said the monarch didn't have to accept the proffered new Prime Minister. Worth looking into, perhaps.
                   ...As for the novel, I don't remember the name, but I thought the Tory won. As our friend Jeffrey Archer would like, and he was in charge of the universe portrayed in the novel...    
              •  Well (none)
                as Febble said:

                When that happens, the Queen invites the leader of the majority party (provided the leader has actually won his/her seat) to "form a government", consisting of ministers, one of which is the "prime" minister, i.e. the leader of the winning party, who moves into number 10 Downing Street that day.  Technically, she could ask the other guy, but she might lose her head.

                The point is that she could "technically ask the other guy". But since that "other guy" doesn´t have a majority in parliament to support his government that would be pretty -uh - pointless, not to mention silly.

                •  Good point, (none)
                       but some rigamarole could occur, e.g., if Queenie declines to accept the proffered PM at first, perhaps some opportunistic MP's from the PM's party could decide, "Oh, I'll join the other party to form a majority for them, and I'll be rewarded", and a kind of coup could occur...
                       I don't know if that's technically possible, but I wouldn't be surprised if it were.
                  •  Actually, it did happen (none)
                    in 1974, when there was a hung parliament. Heath's government was in trouble (there was a miner's strike and an energy crisis) and he called an election, which Heath lost, but Labour didn't win.  The Tories got fewer seats than Labour, though.  However, the Queen still invited Heath to form a government.  I think the logic was that he would remain prime-minister until someone else won an absolute majority.  But he couldn't form a government.  Harold Wilson, the labour leader tried to form a coalition with the Liberals, but failed.  He became prime minister anyway, with a minority government, and called a another general election a few months later, which he won by three seats.
                    •  Balanced Parliaments (none)
                      One of the points at which the Monarch has some real power is who to invite to form a government when no party or coalition of parties with a recognised leader has a majority in the House of Commons. This tends to be a more common problem in continental Monarchies with proportional representation.

                      Someone has to act as referee and try to find a person to nominate who will hopefully form a government which will last for at least a few months. In the British system that person is the Queen.

                      In Sweden the umpire job was transferred from the King to the Speaker. In some continental countries the Monarch is insulated from possible political problems by asking an elder statesman to talk to all the parties to see what ideas emerge.

                      There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

                      by Gary J on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 03:19:31 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  The kicker, though.. (none)
                        Is that a "King's" government - ie one put in by the monarch without winning a majority - would fall by definition at the first sitting of parliament. The opposition would call a confidence vote on the Queen's Speech debate (the first in any parliament) and that would be it.

                        Labour people tend to be convinced that they will always be the losers in this - but on the only two occasions when it happened (1924 and 1974(1)), a Labour government resulted.

                        •  Yes ... (none)
                          the Monarch or whoever must try to find someone who can command the support of the House of Commons. It is not necessary for him to have a positive majority if he can avoid opponents having a majority against the government on a matter of confidence.

                          It is often the case that not every party in Parliament wants a new election at the same time and on the same issue, so a minority government can hope to delay an election for months or even years. That was the case with the Labour minority governments you mention. It is also the case with the minority government currently in office in Canada.

                          There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

                          by Gary J on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 03:57:57 PM PST

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  Well said, Gary J (none)
                            When no party has a majority, the head of state, whether a monarch or an elected president (as in France or Poland, for example) might have some influence for precisely the reason you indicate.

                            In constitutional monarchies where it is typical for no party to be in the majority (principally where there is proportional representation), constitutional reforms or conventions have generally taken the discretion out of the hands of the monarch.

                          •  No overall majority (none)
                            You forget that in the Scottish Parliament there is no overall majority and there is a joint Labour/Liberal Democrat administration. This has resulted in some policies that are the envy of the rest of the UK like free student tuition for tertiary education and free care for the elderly who are too well to be in hospital but too infirm to be outside a care home.

                            Actually in the event of a similar position in Wesminster. there is no action needed by the monarch initially. The Prime Minister remains in office until he or she resigns. The Government could continue until defeated by a vote of confidence or its equivalent. The PM could then request another election which would be granted unless the PM does not lead the largest party. In that event the monarch could ask the leader of the largest party if they could form an administration.

                            It has to be said that in the event of a hung parliament, very swift negotiations would go on over the weekend to agree a coalition.

                            Constitutional students may also like to note that the Crown or its agents is strictly excluded from interfering in the Commons. That is why the door is slammed in the face of Black Rod who can only enter with the permission of the House in the form of the Speaker.

                            This is also the reason that the police, as agents of the Crown, are excluded from the Commons. The person currently in charge of securtity is the "Sargeant at Arms" and his officials. That is why the pro-fox hunting ban protestors who invaded the Commons floor were tackled by a group of men in knee breeches and frock coats wearing a sword. This even extends to the environs of Westminster. Police are allowed to control entry for security with the Commons' permission and even the traffic lights in Parliament Square strictly do not apply to MPs on their way to the House.

    •  Responses (none)
      1. We'll probably not get rid of the monarchy for a long time to come. It's worth too much in terms of tourism dollars(for which you ker-azy yanks are the most prominent offenders). And we'll have a black kind after the US gets it's first black President (David Palmer doesn't count). Go Oprah 2008!

      2. The House of Lords has a definite purpose in the running of the government. That's going nowhere any time soon. The method of getting into the House of Lords is indeed under review currently.

      3. The 'state' religion is irrelevant to the majority of the British. It's in a huge decline, and is viewed as more and more of an oddity by the non-religious. I see no problem with it currently.

      4. If it ain't broke......
  •  My humble opinion (none)
    I have always supported the idea of a non lected upper house. I think it has made it a pretty partisan-less place for the most part and that prevents extremism from taking root.

    I would hate to see it become elected, as i hated to see more and more life-peers added in place of hereditroy peers for this reason.

    It doesnt smack of representation and democracy, but with so much power held in the handas of the executive and parliament, I think having a non ideological revising house has proven to save britain from terrible mistakes many times.

    you should also diary how in Britain we dotn vote for judges, dog catchers, city engineers, prosecutors or any of those types of positions. they are all civil servants.

    We basically just vote for an MP in our constituency, an MEP for the EU mparliament, and a local councillor, and occasionally a referendum item.

    there is no ballot initiative process, we dont vote on any issues (unless its a referendum) or taxes

    Let the Democratic Reformation Begin

    by Pounder on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 08:33:48 AM PST

    •  House of Lords (none)
      The election of peers would have consequences on the stability of the system. Elected members in the Lords would defeat the whole purpose of the upper chamber. I would imagine that elected peers would be more subject to pressures from the party whip to toe the line. The recent terrorism legislation is a case in point: Blair had to compromise with the House of Lords because he knew the bill would not get out of Parliament in its original form. The current system worked to put limits on a bad piece of legislation.
      •  that is my concern too (none)
        even with appointed lords i think you run that risk.

        I felt strongly about this when i lived in Britain, I feel even more strongly about it now having seen the damage unchecked ideology can and does do when one party controls everything, especially for a long time.

        Let the Democratic Reformation Begin

        by Pounder on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 09:41:47 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Revising Chamber Design (none)
          It is not impossible to have a government responsible to two elected Chambers, as in Italy. The Australian system also works (apart from the 1975 crisis I mentioned in a post above) with a government responsible to the House even though there is an elected Senate.

          However if a body is required which is democratic but not elected I would suggest selection by sortation (ie by having a lottery to choose a random cross-section of the population). You can see how this might work by examining the Citizen's Assembly in British Columbia, which recently looked in to proportional representation.

          There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

          by Gary J on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 04:11:54 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  BC deliberative democracy (none)
            The Citizens Assembly in British Columbia is a marvelous model of deliberative democracy.

            But the specific case for which it was used was to discuss and recommend a new electoral system (which BC voters will vote on this May). How would it work as a permanent revising chamber of the legislature?

            While we are on the topic of Canada, I wonder if anyone here who is Canadian or knows Canada can comment on their senate. It is unelected. In practice senators are all appointed by the federal government, though with regional balance an informal citerion. I always found this odd, and I know it is a matter of ongoing controversy in Canada, but they can't ever agree on how to change it.

            •  Yes, it sure is... odd. (none)
              And yes, it's a recurrent Canadian grumbling point. But it somehow works reasonably well anyway, and (see my other comment in this thread) Canada is NOT likely to change it any time soon. We will need at least another couple of decades to get over the repercussions of the last time we considered changing our constitution.

              Massacre is not a family value.

              by Canadian Reader on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 09:56:45 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  Innovation (none)
              It is difficult to say how the BC Citizens Assembly model would work as a permanent revising chamber because it has not been tried.

              However if the basic idea of democracy, as the rule of the people at large, is sound then in theory a random cross-section of the population should be able to perform public functions. This is, after all, the basis of the Jury system.

              It might be necessary for the proponents and opponents of a measure to structure the argument and present evidence, in a similar way to lawyers arguing a case before a Jury. This is perhaps slightly different from an elected chamber, where the politicians tend to believe they know everything.

              I do not claim to have all the the answers, but I think the idea is interesting and an attempt to explain how you can have democracy without professional politicians and the development of a political class divorced from the general population.

              There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

              by Gary J on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 01:03:02 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  I swished we had similar diaries (none)
    about the German and French consitution and than make a constitution bashing party ...

    Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

    by mimi on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 08:40:59 AM PST

    •  and italian n/t (none)

      why? just kos..... *just cause*

      by melo on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 08:53:52 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Good news for you! (none)
      Jerome a Paris will be starting a diary following the format of the UK Election diary to cover the French voting on the EU Constitution!
      •  Oh, wonderful - thank you - now isn't there any (none)
        German constitutional law knowledgable writer who could cover the German constitution here? I wished there were a German of the caliber of Jerome a Paris around, who would post and write from time to time for dailykos.

        Hey my German fellow countrymen, where are you?

        Oh, so Jerome is not covering the French constitution, but the EU constitution, ok. I thought I could get a comparison between US, UK, FR and GER constitutions. After that I would be ready to conquer the EU constitution.  But I would really like to understand how the separation of powers, voting rights, and Federal vs. State rights are handled in the different constitutions.

        Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

        by mimi on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 10:31:14 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sigh! (none)
          You do know, don´t you, how complicated (and sometimes downright unpractical) the German "Basic Law" is? :)

          Got a cold right now but if I find the time, I´ll try to write something about the German constitution in the next few days. Depends on my cold and my workload though!

          •  Actually, I think (none)
            compared to the US constitutional laws our "Basic Law" seems to be "crystal clear"... :-)

            Hey, here my motherly advice for a "cold medicine" that actally works within eight hours.

            4 liter of very hot "Erkaeltungstee aus dem Reformhaus" oder der Apotheke.

            1 extra long very hot shower

            8 hours of deep sleep under three layers of 3 goose feathers sleep covers without ever letting any cooler air under the cover.

            Sweet sweating ! And after that you sweat a bit over our "Basic Law" ... Gute Besserung. :-)  

            Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

            by mimi on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 11:49:16 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Thanks for the advise (none)
              mother! :)

              The "running nose" right now keeps me away from bed so I´m still reading and commenting on DailyKos.

              But seriously, how to explain the f*cked-up relationship between state and Federal laws in Germany?
              Better said, the percentage of Federal laws which now need state approval in the "Bundesrat" to become laws?

              Back when the "Basic Law" was written in 1949 that percentage was somewhere in the low 20% IIRC.
              Now it´s somewhere in the 70-80s percentage.

              •  Well, yeah, I sit in the US and am really (none)
                upset, because my usual spontaneous reaction to the US constitution and its legislative process are one of criticism. I started to think very negatively about the US electoral process, the sometimes awful and bizarre consequences of the US Federal System etc. til I learned to my amazement that Germans have their own problems with their constitution. I have even no knowledge whatsoever about the British system and am absolutely enthusiastic and delighted about Febble's diary and GaryJ's comments. I think it's terrific to have such diaries here.

                "Der Spiegel" gave me a glimpse of the problems of the German " Konsensfalle , but I haven't read it yet. I know it's very complicated. I had never the courage, time and stamina to research it all by myself, but I hope it will be my favorite hobby once this awful country, which is called the US, allows me to retire.

                I am so frustrated about my own ignorance, because I don't get in a position to educate myself about it in the little time I have to read this material with the little brain I have left to absorb it.

                I am not a student anymore and not able to retire to have all the time I would need to understand this stuff. I am mad about that very fact. So, I am out on a look to charme anybody I come across with specific knowledge about those issues to WRITE A DIARY about it and start an international comparative constitutional debate here.

                I think you should call me "grandmother", BTW.

                Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

                by mimi on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 04:44:41 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Ohh! (none)
                  Okay then, grandmother. :)

                  Today I started to look for some detailed information about the German political system to answer one of your other posts.
                  I´m now trying to copy it to use it for the complete overview.

                  And well, I knew the "outlines" of the German system and of course also the problems today, but the details are even more complicated than I thought!

                  The voting system with its "Erststimme" und "Zweitstimme" is not that hard to understand.
                  But look at how the "Zweitstimmen" translate into actual seats and you start shaking your head.
                  Not to mention worrying about how to explain that in English.

                  By the way, are you an American citizen?


                  •  no, I am still German citizen (none)
                    but could become American citizen, if I wanted to (unless I have forfeited all my chances with the Bush administration for being such a lousy socialist Bush basher). So, before I haven't studied all the pros and cons of the American constitution vs. the German one, I remain a woman without a country, who was dropped off at the other side of the Atlantic by accident and then forgotten to be picked up again.

                    Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

                    by mimi on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 07:04:11 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Mimi (none)
                      You aren´t a "woman without a country"!

                      I do understand your situation about being a "grandmother" :) at the other side of the Atlantic.
                      Back in the 1990s I thought about emigrating to the USA too.

                      Anyway, you are a German citizen and so by definition you are NOT a woman without a country! ;)

                •  MImi (none)
                  I have completed my summary of German politics.

                  Would you care to act like an editor?
                  Tell me what´s wrong, what´s unclear...
                  Did I miss anything?


                  A short guide to the German constitution and electoral system
                  by Detlef

                  Some commenters in the excellent diary "A short guide to the British constitution and electoral system" by Febble  asked for similar diaries dealing with the political system in other European countries.

                  Although I can´t hope to match the style of that diary here´s my try on the German system.
                  And to make it easier to compare I´ll  try to follow that diary structure too.

                  The German constitution, the "Basis Law", was written in 1949 for the new "Federal Republic of Germany".
                  It relied heavily on the older "Weimar Republic" constitution with changes thrown in to prevent the rise of a new Hitler.
                   It was explicitly called "Basic Law" and not constitution because it was supposedly just a provisional constitution for "West Germany" till the reunification of Germany.

                  Nobody back then thought it would take decades...

                  Diaries :: Detlef 's diary ::

                  When reunification actually happened in 1990 however, most West Germans were comfortable and even proud of "their" Basic Law so calls for a new Constitutional Convention didn´t find much support.
                  And so the "Basic Law" with some changes is now the constitution of the reunified Germany.

                  Unlike the American founding fathers however, we typical Germans weren´t satisfied with just a few short articles. The "Basic Law" right now consists of around 150 articles.
                  Most of them can be changed with 2/3 majority but a few, dealing with basic human and political rights and the form of government (democracy and elections) can´t be changed, ever.

                  The Head of State

                  In Germany, like in the USA, the Head of State is a President.
                  However due to our experiences with a "strong" directly elected President in the Weimar Republic leading to the rise of Hitler, the Presidents now are mostly ceremonial figures.
                  Travelling and representing Germany, making speeches and signing laws.
                  Sometimes called the "state notary public".

                  A German President only has real political powers in two narrowly defined cases.
                  If, after a Federal election the new parliament ("Bundestag") fails three times to elect a new Chancellor with an absolute majority of votes, the President then can decide either on new elections or nominating the person with a relative majority to form a minority government. Such a case hasn´t happened till now.
                  And in the second case, if a government loses a vote of no confidence, the President can call for new elections. That had happened two times but only because the government deliberately wanted to lose
                  that vote and get new elections. That practise is frowned upon.

                  The President is elected by an "Election Convention" for a 5 year time. A second term is possible.
                  The convention consists of all of the parliament members and a like number chosen by the state parliaments according to political party percentages. The parties in the state parliaments can choose anyone they want to represent them so their numbers normally include some "famous" and/or "popular" people.


                  Like the USA and Great Britain, we´ve got two houses too.
                  The "Bundestag", similar to the House of Commons in Great Britain and the House of Representatives in the USA.. Elected however somewhat differently. With election rules much more complicated!

                  And the "Bundesrat", representing the German states. "Somewhat" similar to the US Senate.
                  If I understand it right, the US Senate consists of 100 Senators. Two from each state, regardless of state population. And normally directly elected?
                  With the idea to give states, especially smaller states, some political influence in the legislative.

                  The key difference is that the state representatives to the German ,,Bundesrat" are sent directly from the state government. And are obliged to follow the "orders" on how to vote from the state government.
                  That´s actually a tradition dating back to the 19th century when Bismarck first reunified Germany in 1871.
                  (Before that time, for centuries all German states were sovereign independent countries.
                  So it´s pretty obvious why each of the states wanted to retain as much influence as they could.)

                  Today the number of "votes" any state has depends on the state population. The "smallest" states like the city states of Hamburg or Bremen have 3 votes, the maximum for the most populous states is 6 votes.
                  As you can see, slightly tilted in favor of the small states too.

                  Laws passed by the "Bundestag" require the formal approval of the "Bundesrat" when vital interests of the states (tax laws, education, etc.) are concerned. In other cases (defense, foreign policy, etc. ) the "Bundesrat" has a right of objection, which can be overruled by the "Bundestag".
                  Voting in the "Bundesrat" is always regarded as particularly interesting if the parties forming the majority in the "Bundestag" differ from those forming the "Bundesrat" majority, although there is no automatic party-line voting in "Bundesrat" decisions.

                  The votes of each state must be cast en bloc (i.e. they must all be either "yes", "no", or "withheld"). It is not possible for votes to be cast individually. Every individual state government must reach an agreement on the issue at hand before voting takes place in the "Bundesrat". One member of a state delegation, the "vote caster", casts all of his state's votes.

                  Oh, and I should add that German Federal laws are classified in two different "groups".
                  Laws dealing only with Federal topics ("Einspruchsgesetze"). That would be for example defense, foreign policy etc.
                  Such laws are first voted on in the "Bundestag" and then send to the "Bundesrat". If the "Bundesrat" doesn´t confirm the law, it goes back to the "Bundestag" again.
                  And the "Bundestag" then can "overturn" the objection of the "Bundesrat" with an majority vote again in support of the law. It then becomes law without the support of the "Bundesrat".

                  The second group of laws would be Federal laws concerning or influencing state interests (many tax laws, education etc.). And all laws considering changes of the constitution.
                  These laws are called "Zustimmungsgesetze".
                  Here the "Bundesrat" has to confirm the law.
                  If they don´t confirm it, the law becomes a topic in the "Vermittlungsausschuss" (moderation comittee ?). With 16 members from the "Bundestag" and 16 members from the "Bundesrat" trying to reach a compromise.

                  So in summary the "Bundesrat" is not as independent as the US Senate but much more influential that the British House of Lords.


                  The 299 constituencies are required to be roughly equal.
                  Meaning that the population (able to vote) in one constituency should differ no more than 15%  from the "average" constituency.
                  If it differs more than 25%, new election borders have to be drawn.

                  The German President nominates a seven person boundary commission. Two of the members are the President of the German National Statistics Bureau and at least one judge of a German Federal Court.
                  Existing political borders should be respected.
                  They absolutely have to be respected in case of state borders.
                  They should be respected - as far as possible - in case of county, town or city borders.

                  Elections for the "Bundestag"

                  That´s a bit more complicated than in the USA or Great Britain.
                  The German electoral system attempts to combine majority and proportional representation, it is called a system of personalised proportional representation.

                  Each voter has two votes, the first vote (Erststimme) is given directly to one of the candidates in their respective constituency. The successful candidate is elected on a on a straight or relative majority. One half (299) of all seats in the Bundestag is thus filled by representatives directly chosen.

                  The second vote (Zweitstimme), however, can only be given to the state list of candidates (Landesliste) drawn up by the parties in the 16 federal states (Bundeslaender). The remaining 299 seats in the Bundestag are then distributed among the parties in proportion to the number of second votes cast for their respective lists using the so-called Niemeyer method of calculation.

                  In order to limit the danger of fragmentation produced by the proportional representation system, the 5% hurdle was introduced. The Federal Electoral Law stipulates that, in distributing seats from the state lists, only those parties are to be taken into account which poll at least 5% of the second votes. This 5% clause does not apply to parties

                  • which have won at least three constituency seats, or
                  • which represent a national minority (for example, the Southern Schleswig Electors' Association , the party of the Danish minority in Schleswig-Holstein, or the Sorbs in the Free State of Saxony).

                  A party may benefit from what are known as "overhang" seats if, on the basis of all first votes cast, it has obtained more seats in the ridings of a particular state than it would be entitled to according to its share of second votes received in that state. These "overhang mandates" are added to the 598 seats in the "Bundestag".

                  Federal elections are held every four years.
                  Frown, frown!!!
                  Unless we once again experience a case of a deliberate vote of no confidence by the government.
                  Which we orderly Germans don´t like!

                  Parliamentary candidates

                  Party candidates running for constituency seats in the Bundestag are nominated in a secret ballot by party members or their delegates.
                  Persons not affiliated with any party may only run as individuals for direct election in a constituency; they cannot submit state lists. Such independent candidates must have the support of at least 200 voters in their district personally signing their nomination.

                  Candidates for state lists are nominated by the state representatives' assemblies of the respective political party as prescribed by the Federal Electoral Law. However, the most common practice is for this function to be carried out by the state delegates' assemblies or the party conferences. They, too, would be overburdened if they were to compile the lists themselves. In practice, therefore, they decide on lists prepared by the state executives or special commissions, representing a compromise between the preferences of senior party organs, the parliamentary groups, the local councils and the associations connected with and supporting the party.

                  It is possible to virtually guarantee election to a candidate by giving him/her a place well up on the party list if his/her chances of winning a constituency seat directly are uncertain. This often happens with federal ministers or other politicians of special importance to their parties, whose political positions are "guaranteed" (abgesichert) by their respective positions on the list.


                  If you´re a German citizen, you´re probably already registered to vote.
                  Since every resident (German or foreign) in Germany is required to register with the local registration office within 30 days after moving. And they´ll update their election database accordingly.

                  Every German citizen aged 18 or over who has lived or been a permanent resident in Germany for at least 3 months prior to the elections is entitled to vote. The Federal Electoral Law was amended  to allow Germans living abroad to participate in Bundestag elections. Germans residing in a member state of the Council of Europe have the right to vote irrespective of the length of time they have lived abroad. Germans living in other countries may vote for a period of 25 years after leaving Germany. In both cases they must have resided at least three continuous months in Germany before leaving the country.
                  Likewise, every person who, on the day of the election, is 18 years or older and has been a German citizen for at least 12 months, may stand for election.

                  Elections are traditionally held on a Sunday, and the votes are counted overnight.  Normally around 10-11pm we do know which party won the election.

                  We vote using paper ballots, usually at a polling station (although postal voting is allowed too for disabled or sick persons, persons outside their voting district on that Sunday), and the votes are counted by hand, under public scrutiny.

                  If you get suddenly sick on THAT Sunday, you can send someone to the polling station  as late as 3pm on that Sunday with a written authorisation  to get you a postal vote.

                  The government

                  After a Federal election the German President consults with all of the party leaders to determine if a stable government can be formed.
                  If a single party or a coalition government can be formed with a reasonable chance of a political majority the German President then is required to nominate that person (party leader) to be the next German Chancellor.
                  And that person then has three tries to be elected as Chancellor (see above).

                  The Chancellor

                  The Chancellor needs the support of the majority of the German parliament ("Bundestag").
                  Once he/she is elected, she is nominally under law "first among equals" in the German Cabinet too, but she´s the only one actually elected by the "Bundestag" (parliament).
                  (Only the German Chancellor in itself needs to be a member of the German parliament.
                  NONE of the other ministers need to be MPs.)
                  She appoints or dismisses all other ministers and the German President has to confirm these decisions.
                  She´s got the "Richtlinienkompetenz", meaning that she´s in charge of the political "guidelines" the rest of the Cabinet has to follow.
                  So the German Chancellor is the most powerful political figure in Germany.

                  And he/she maybe also be a bit more "secure" in her position than a British Prime Minister.
                  Voting discipline in the German "Bundestag" seems to be higher than in the British Lower House.
                  (Of course the majorities in Germany are much smaller.)
                  And the "Bundestag" on its own can only get rid of a Chancellor by using a "constructive" vote of no confidence. Meaning that they must present an alternative candidate for the job. The resulting vote of no confidence then is an "choice" between at least two candidates.
                  (Another point learned from the "Weimar Republic". And actually invented in the late 1920s by - gasp -
                  the German state of Prussia. The stronghold of democracy in Germany in the early 1930s. 
                  They learned that radical right-wing and left-wing parties might cooperate to take a democratic government down but couldn´t agree on an alternative candidate.)
                  Only the Chancellor himself can call for a "simple" vote of no confidence.
                  (Usually used in situations where his own party/coalition is "unsure" on some particular law. By combining the vote of no confidence motion with the vote about that law, he´s putting pressure on his own political base.)

                  Problems today:

                  The German constitution in 1949 was deliberately created to provide tensions between the executive and the legislation, between the central Federal power and the states.
                  (I should add that the occupying powers back then were in favor of a decentralized Germany.)
                  Especially, anything not mentioned as a Federal job back then was thought to be a state job.

                  And that´s a real problem today.
                  IIRC only around 20% of the Federal laws back then needed explicit "Bundesrat" agreement.
                  Today that percentage is somewhere close to 70-80%.
                  Due to some political games in the last 40 years.
                  For example, a Federal government in the past saying that in return for giving x% of a special Federal tax to the states,  it can now get agreement for Federal law y and z getting some of the powers of the states.

                  Meaning that the competences of the German Federal government and the state governments are right now totally mixed up!
                  And any reforms on the Federal level are now getting watered down  to the lowest common denominator between national and state interests.

                  •  It's only now that I read your article (none)
                    Thank you very much !!! You put a lot of effort and time in this. Let me read it through a couple of times and think about it, before I shoot off my next round of questions. As I am a lay person without legal education it takes some time to understand all of it. Are you a lawyer?

                    The line breaks within paragraphs are a bit disorderly, which makes it a bit harder to read.
                    I hope you will fix it when you place it as a diary.

                    Let me read it, I am not finished yet.

                    Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

                    by mimi on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 06:58:25 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Actually (none)
                      I´m not a lawyer, I´m an engineer!

                      But I was always interested in history and politics.
                      Back in 11-13th grade "Gymnasium" (high school ???) I was the acknowledged "Master of history and political science" classes.

                      Normally I finished every test at 2/3 of the time allocated and then retired to a "public" room to be available to anyone else for "questioning" who had to visit a rest room (toilet ???) during the remaining time.

                      •  well, well ... (nt) (none)

                        Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

                        by mimi on Thu Mar 24, 2005 at 04:50:46 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  Hey (none)
                          I swear it´s the truth! :)

                          Although I admit that it doesn´t say that much about the quality of my "Gymnasium" (nine year secondary school?).

                          I was flattered when a very pretty girl in my history class asked for my help just before the final exams ("Abitur").
                          (Back then in the 1980s the final history exams called for essays/tests on just three topics.
                          Imperialism as in the late 19th century colonialism, the Weimar Republic or Nazi Germany.
                          Two topics out of these three would be chosen for the actual exam. And then the student would have to choose one of the two offered topics.)  

                          Followed by complete amazement when the same very pretty girl - sigh! the memories :) - didn´t know the difference between left- and right-wing parties in the Weimar parliaments.
                          That was pretty disillusioning (sp?)! :)

                          I still like history and politics!
                          And being an engineer I like fact-based history and politics even more! :)

                  •  Power grab of Federal vs. State Laws (none)
                    The German constitution in 1949 was deliberately created to provide tensions between the executive and the legislation, between the central Federal power and the states.
                    (I should add that the occupying powers back then were in favor of a decentralized Germany.)
                    Especially, anything not mentioned as a Federal job back then was thought to be a state job.

                    And that´s a real problem today. IIRC only around 20% of the Federal laws back then needed explicit "Bundesrat" agreement. Today that percentage is somewhere close to 70-80%.
                    Due to some political games in the last 40 years.
                    For example, a Federal government in the past saying that in return for giving x% of a special Federal tax to the states,  it can now get agreement for Federal law y and z getting some of the powers of the states.

                    Meaning that the competences of the German Federal government and the state governments are right now totally mixed up! And any reforms on the Federal level are now getting watered down  to the lowest common denominator between national and state interests.

                    I think the same is true in the US, just the other way around, if I understand it correctly.

                    States have power over legislation so basic, that they should be regulated by Federal Laws to not allow human rights abuses on State level or give ways to circumvent fair election and voting rights for example that should be uniform across the Nation. In other words I often have the feeling that State laws in the US attempt to grab power from the Federal laws in ways that allow the States to "do whatever they like" and that's often "not so good".

                    Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

                    by mimi on Wed Mar 23, 2005 at 08:34:15 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  Just wanted to chime in (none)
                      And identify myself as a fellow German politics nerd, though of 100% American extraction (for the last few generations, anyway--I think my Swiss and German ancestors came over on the boats in the mid to late 1800s).  :-)

                      Whatever became of the official efforts to reexamine German federalism?  I seem to remember reading that a joint federal-state commission had been appointed sometime in the last couple of years.

                      Weird side note: I lived in Bonn at the time it was officially decommissioned as the capital of Germany.  I even have some blurry photos of Johannes Rau and Gerhard Schroeder to remember the occasion.  Ah, good times.  (Except for the city of Bonn, of course.)

  •  God Save the Queen 2005 (none)
         My Sex Pistols shirt said "God Save the Queen", naturally.

         By the way, after the debacle with Prince Harry giving the Nazi salute, I wrote and recorded a Sex Pistols update called "God Save the Queen 2005", which you can hear on my website, at .

         (The song even made the list of the Centre for Political Song at Glasgow Caledonian University, at , for the January 26, 2005 entry:

    "Song inspired by Prince Harry faux pas
    26th January 2005
    Michigan musician, David Boyle, was inspired to record God Save the Queen 2005 (Prince Harry Mix) following recent controversy over Prince Harry's decision to wear a Nazi costume to a fancy dress party. The incident was broadcast around the world and the prince issued a statement in which he apologised for causing offence. The song samples the Sex Pistols' God Save the Queen, Holidays in the Sun and Anarchy in the UK and includes the lyrics: "Heil Harry?/You thought Belsen was a gas?/Time to visit Auschwitz my lad?"")

    •  The link above to my song (none)
           isn't all glowing orange, I guess the whole link'll have to be pasted in. Sorry it didn't come out perfectly on the page.
    •  Oh, you're not British? (none)
      Fooled me, you did. Okay, then before you advocate the end of the British monarchy just as an attention-grabbing device for your music, perhaps you should think a little more about the valuable purposes it serves.

      Massacre is not a family value.

      by Canadian Reader on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 10:17:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  That was nasty, (3.00)
             and untrue. I didn't think about tossing in my music at first, but, for fun, I tossed it in later.

             I could have been assaulted or killed in prison after being arrested in London; think about that.

             France has prospered without the monarchy---yes, they get plenty of tourists, just as Britain would without the monarchy---, and many other countries, INCLUDING the U.S., have done just fine sans Roi ou Reine.

             I know people say monarchy provides stability, etc., but there are other sources of stablility, etc.

             And I can't wait until Canada becomes a republic. Canadians deserve to be free.

        •  We're a lot freer than you are, right now. (4.00)
          And I'll thank you to stop projecting American self-righteousness upon the world. Your system is badly flawed. We emphatically do not want to imitate your mistakes.

          You have excuses, I suppose... your Constitution was written back when people still thought monarchy was the same thing as political power, and you've never fixed that aspect of it, so your President is essentially a term-limited King. That was okay as long as the system of checks and balances still worked, but that's falling apart because of one-party dominance, and you have no backstop. Your President is becoming more and more like a Divinely Appointed King, and now you have to face all of the very same problems that the British already worked through piece by piece -- after 1776.

          Massacre is not a family value.

          by Canadian Reader on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 10:48:07 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Nice touche (none)
                 about freedom. Many folx are fleeing to Canada from U.S., and of course I substantively agree with many Canadian positions, as opposed to Bush positions. So, good point.
                 (America is still pretty free in lots of ways, though, such as press freedom, and even blog freedom...)

                 The one-party dominance in U.S. at present is a nasty problem, but usually does not happen. (Barring election fraud, etc.)

                 But I do not relent in my point that monarchy is racist, and not having freedom to choose one's head of state is a very bad thing.

                 Not as bad as Abu Ghraib or failure to tackle global warming, I suppose, but still bad.

            •  Press freedom... (4.00)
              Yeah, right. Watch a Canadian press "scrum" hammering our PM, a Cabinet minister, or a member of the Opposition, with questions, as they try to get from the House to their offices, and then tell me again you have more freedom of the press than we do.

              As for monarchy being racist, that's just plain silliness, and reveals a common American misunderstanding of what the monarchy is all about these days. As Febble pointed out, the value of monarchy is that it is a powerless placeholder, preventing all elected politicians from turning loyalty to one's country into support for their party, as they would try to do if given the slightest opening.

              It is horrible that displaying an American flag on house or car is interpreted these days as declaring support for the Republican Party. That could never happen under the British system, because the flag is the country, the monarch is the country, and no political party is permitted to squeeze itself in there. The PM is just a working politician, not entitled to a single particle of reverence.

              It doesn't matter who the monarch is -- because if it did, that would mean that the position had power, and the whole point is that it has none.

              So it's okay that the position is hereditary. The list of who gets the job next if the current occupant is unavailable through death or abdication, is determined for, like, fifty or so degrees, according to exact formal rules of inheritance -- more than would ever be required. Who the next monarch is, is fully determined, so no one needs to worry about it, ever. There will always be a next King or Queen. Like a replacement part in a machine. Not a job I'd wish on anyone, really, but it's better that one family suffer that fate for the good of the nation.

              Unless, of course, the Brits suddenly change the rules, which they might do. But I hope they don't.

              Massacre is not a family value.

              by Canadian Reader on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 11:30:49 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  White Queen (2.50)
                     may be good in chess, but not in real life.
                     I don't like Condoleeza Rice, but I am proud that she could be head of state in the U.S.; whereas she could not be in Britain. She's just not Hanoverian enough. Now if she'd been born Condoleeza Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, I mean Windsor...
                     Monarchy is racist, period, except for the "Queen for a Day (or Year)" version that Febble endorses.

                     I am not aware of Canadian press issues in detail, but I will assume you are largely correct. However, while the U.S. press is too docile these days, I believe that the various American laws about libel, etc., provide for more journalistic freedom than anywhere else, or nearly anywhere else.

                     And I could write a whole Ph.D. thesis on this one, but: Tony Blair is himself, essentially, the "Queen-in-Parliament". Lacking a true separation of powers, the British system (much like the U.S. system under Bush!) lets the Prime Minister be essentially a little monarch, with little to oppose him.
                     I agree that the mania of flag-worship is worse in the U.S. than elsewhere, but I am not sure that the separation of "head of state" and "head of government" works quite as well in Britain as you think it does; and, though Canada is not the U.K. but "merely" a Dominion (?), the whole thing does not reflect well on the Great White North either, since it is tainted by association...

                     (And let me repeat what I said in another comment: at least potentially, the monarch has real power, though custom prevents her/him from exercising it. What if custom changes, though?
                     Not to mention the horrific influence, as opposed to direct power, that monarchs exert; I remember a certain Queen Victoria, whose opposition to the liberal William Gladstone had a nasty effect on progress and freedom in Britain.....)

                •  If custom changed, then, obviously, (4.00)
                  that would be because we wanted it to change.

                  Seriously. When dealing with the British parliamentary system, you've got to stop looking for rules on paper. The system evolves to meet modern expectations much better than the American system, exactly because not everything is written down.

                  Queen Victoria was a long time ago. Lots of water under the bridge since then. Many changes. She had far more influence than Queen Elizabeth does, who in turn has had a tiny bit more influence than I think Charles will do. (Although once you get down to almost nothing, it's hard to measure differences.)

                  I resent your notion that there's any "taint" involved. That's downright insulting, and I've been explaining to you why it's an insult over my last several posts.

                  I'm not saying our system is perfect, not by a long shot. You put your finger on one big problem: the leader of a majority government does have too much power. Over the long haul this flaw is self-correcting, since majority governments that abuse their power do tend to get booted out of office, or reduced to minorities to humble them a bit. But in the meantime, a majority government that chooses to be arrogant can do a lot of damage that is sometimes not possible to undo. So that is definitely a concern. (But has nothing to do with the role of the monarchy...)

                  However, I still think, with all its flaws and frustrations, our system is vastly superior to yours. And as for "racism"... and demanding that there be a black Queen... sigh. That's just so American of you. Everything reduces to your obsessive black / white paradigm, which can be traced back to the national traumas of slavery, civil war, and Jim Crow. News flash: the rest of the world isn't like that. The monarch of the Netherlands is a native of the Netherlands. The royal family of the UK is, well, about as British by now as Brits come -- Hanover was a long, long time ago. They'll do, especially for a ceremonial job.

                  And the representatives of the Crown in Canada -- the national Governor-General and the provincial Lieutenant-Governors -- are a pretty decent cross-section of Canadians.

                  It occurs to me that Britain might want to adopt the Canadian system and appoint respected citizens for a term to represent the crown in constitutional matters. Then the Royal Family would have nothing left to do but exist, ineffably Royal. But... I don't think it's likely. I mean, we have the excuse of the width of the Atlantic Ocean for using a representative. And when the Queen is in Canada for a visit, and the timing happens to be right, she does open Parliament in person. So, I don't see what excuse there could be for letting her duck out on her UK job when she's right there in London.

                  Massacre is not a family value.

                  by Canadian Reader on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 01:08:04 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Rules on paper (none)
                         are a good thing. Would life be more orderly if all contracts were merely oral?...

                         "Sorry" for being "American", but it's important that there be a chance for a black---or Asian, or Latina/o, or Native American ("First Nations" to you), or Turkish, or Eskimo, or whatever---head of state.
                         The Netherlands, by the way, would be better off without not only the monarchy, but also the euthanasia and the drugs/prostitution. (Even if the latter are kept legal so as to avoid creating an organized crime problem, still, the spirit that it's morally o.k. to indulge, is digusting, regardless of equality.
                         If I sound like a puritan republican Pilgrim Father (or Mother), sorry, some of us are like that...

                         Sorry about the word "taint"; I could have chosen some other word.
                         I admire Canada greatly, by the way. I wish my country's policies were more like your country's.

                         In fact, if Canada became a republic, it would practically be The Most Perfect Country on Earth... :D

                    •  If Canada became a Republic (4.00)
                      it would be not as good as it is now. It would be a step down.

                      Thing is, Canada already went through some pretty deep Constitutional discussions... and then at the last moment we backed away from the change, shaking our heads. We talked about our Constitution until we were all sick to death of the subject, and all it accomplished was to get every single interest group in the country yelling and screaming to get its own rights hard-coded into the new Constitution, to the exclusion, if necessary, of the rights of everybody else. There was a lot of heat generated, and almost no light. The country near as anything broke apart.

                      So now we have this tacit moratorium on Constitutional debates. The status quo is pretty good. It works. It's good enough, and it's far better than opening that can of worms again. We're not likely to consider anything as foolishly radical as turning into a republic... not until every Canadian who remembers that period of our history is safely dead.

                      I'll let Plutonium Page or Frank or someone like that address your comments about the Netherlands. I suppose it doesn't really matter what you think of their culture, since you're not living there, but if you're going to use words like "disgusting" about their permissive approach to drugs and sex, then I suspect you're going to start to find Canada becoming more and more repulsive, too.

                      As for your remarks about ethnicity... do Governor-Generals and the provincial equivalents count in your view as heads of state? Canada is resolutely multi-cultural, far more so than the States. It's hard to look up stats, because it wouldn't be polite to make a big deal of an appointee's ethnic background -- the convention is always that they are picked for their outstanding community service and respected stature as individuals, which is true -- but there is an observable effort made at ethnic balance.

                      Massacre is not a family value.

                      by Canadian Reader on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 02:00:18 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  ""Radical"" (none)
                             to adopt the republican form of govt. the US adopted in...
                             ...1776? How radical is that? It's ancient.
                             And DON'T forget the Roman Republic!!

                             As for Governor-Generals, they may not be heads of state, but I'm glad they're of diverse backgrounds.

                        •  It would be a radical change for us. (none)
                          Foolish, too, seeing as we've already got something better. Not perfect, but better for us.

                          And, well, I've already given my opinion of the defects in the current US version of a republic... but I also don't think Rome is such a good example.

                          After all, they transitioned all too quickly into an Empire, and if there's one thing Canadians are even less interested in than copying Americans, it's running an Empire of our own!

                          Massacre is not a family value.

                          by Canadian Reader on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 09:02:18 PM PST

                          [ Parent ]

                          •  Well, Roman Republic then, (none)
                                 without becoming an Empire.
                                 Canadians are brilliant folx, they could do republic with becoming an empire, evil or otherwise. Believe, me, I have faith in you people,
                                 as long as you get to vote democratically sans hereditary head of state etc.
                    •  I realy don't understand (4.00)
                      the random lumping together of monarchy, euthanasia and drugs/prostitution, and how getting rid of these things would make Holland a better country.
                      I realy think you don't know what you are talking about. We are not a perfect society, but these issues are not the major problems we face here.
                       The dutch attitude always has been a pragmatic one. Getting things out in the open makes it easier to deal with the problem effectively. I think our euthanasia policy is very humane and thorougly controled option for people who are terminaly ill.  
                      We think people who are addicted to drugs are sick, and need help. Amsterdam is not the Sodom and Ghomorra, Americans think it is. As a teenager I was taught in school the differences between the different kind of drugs. We were taught what kind of chemicals were involved and how they influenced your body.
                       I always found it to be a more effective way to stop a teenager from experimenting then a bunch of moralistic crap from somebody like Nancy Reagan.      
                      •  O.K., but (none)
                             I don't think drugs always necessarily have to be criminalized, especially marijuana for medical uses. Then again, drugs are both dangerous and addictive, and an overly permissive attitude can be even worse than a restrictive one.
                           Also, see today's article "Clarke plots pot U-turn", at,,2-2005123785,00.html , about British Home Secretary Charles Clarke backing off from Britain's liberalized marijuana laws, because of new proof about marijuana's damage to the brain.

                             Sex and drug education are good, but some morality doesn't hurt either.

                             Hereditary monarchy is a diminution of adult responsibility of people to rule themselves, just as prostitution and drugs demean people and sap their will, time and energy, making self-control and productive lives harder. Heck, monarchy is like a drug in itself, a perpetual reality show, of a racist, classist, elitist, hierarchical, exclusive, trivial and cruel nature, all at once.

                        •   There is no more drug use and prostitution (none)
                          here then there is in the US. The policies are not there to promote drug use and prostitution, but rather to decriminalize and demystify.
                          They are there to help people to remain part of mainstream society and not get stuck in a underground life of crime.
                          We have fewer drugusers here then in several other European countries where they have more restrictive policies. We have one of the lowest teenage pregnancy and abortion rates among western countries.

                          The latest survey on teenage sexual behavior shows that teenagers don't have sex at an ealier age then they did 10 years ago. It did show they are using more protection. There were more teenagers using double protection(birth control pill and condoms) then there were teenagers who didn't use any protection.
                          In this country we don't worry so much about a teenager loosing his/her virginity. We do worry about vd, unwanted pregnancy, aids. We want our teenagers to be open eyed and well informed.      
                          As for morality, we don't consider sex immoral, we consider it a natural human exchange. And as to when, how and with whom is up to the individual.        

                          •  If the policies work, fine, (none)
                                 so to speak.
                                 I'm glad that things go well in Holland, at least from your recounting of the statistics!
                                 I don't think some emphasis on morality necessarily hurts, though.
                    •  Well... (none)
                      we can argue about the significance of being a powerless head of state in any of the constitutional monarchies compared to the power the actual leader of the government has?

                      For instance I seem to remember that to be elected President of the USA, you have to be born in the USA?

                      In most European countries you could - theoretically - become the actual leader of the government while being born in a foreign country.
                      You simply need to be a citizen of that European country for a specified time.
                      So perhaps you might tone down "being American".
                      (Not to mention the fact that the American way of a unified "head of state" and "head of the executive" is pretty unique among Western Democracies.)

                      And concerning the Netherlands...
                      I don´t live there so I´m hardly an expert.
                      Somehow I assume that you don´t live there either.
                      If I´m wrong, I apologize!

                      Somehow I do seem to remember that the Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy with a democratically elected parliament.
                      So - surprising as it might seem to a "puritan republican Pilgrim Father" their form of government is entirely up to them!
                      If their form of government satisfies the Dutch, your opinion is - I´m sorry to say - entirely worthless!

                      And "euthanasia".
                      Did you read that Mark Kleiman post?
                      Why is euthanasia right in the USA and Texas if you can´t pay the hospital?

                      Concerning drugs/prostitution.
                      I don´t know if the Dutch or German approach is the right thing.
                      But are you seriously telling me that your "American" approach is working better?
                      You do have less of a drug/prostitution problem in the USA because Americans view it as "disgusting"?
                      If so, please provide a link.
                      I´d like to read it!  

                      •  Then again, (none)
                             of course it's bad to have to be born in the USA to be President. And there are drugs and prostitution here too. Some shame about it is not a bad thing, though...

                             Does the monarchy satisfy all the Dutch? Does it satisfy those who are excluded?
                             Just because a majority decides on a racist practice, that doesn't mean that the practice is right. It is worthless, not my opinion.

                             I agree the US must have better health care, so that the poor can be better taken care of. In this, perhaps the US can emulate Europe or Canada.
                             And they can get rid of their monarchies.
                             We'll all be better off.

                        •  David: I think you're off-base (none)
                          Dear David,

                          Reading through your comments, I can't help thinking that a bit of foreign living would do you some good. You seem to be running on theory, rather than on actual experience.


                          1. Canada, Britain, and Holland would be better off without their Queens. Why? Your opinion seems to be based on a purely ideological conviction that monarchy is bad. Suggestions that the monarchy can actually play a very useful role in separating the Head of State from the Head of Government make no dent in this conviction.

                          2. "Permissive" laws dealing with vice (drugs and prostitution) are bad because they implicitly approve of such behaviour. My experience in Holland suggests no such thing. On the contrary, the general feel outside of Amsterdam is of a very bourgeois country, with very bourgeois values. A bit boring, even.

                          As I suggest in a post below, too many Americans believe implicitly in the superiority of the American way; it's an article of faith. Sometimes, of course, the American way of doing something is excellent; in other cases, however, it ain't necessarily so, and the American failure to acknowledge this seems simply arrogant and ignorant to foreigners who are quite happy with their way of arranging matters. More humility would do wonders for the American image overseas.
                          •  Dear d52boy (similar name to mine), (none)
                                 You are right about the need for American humility. However, I have stressed that our own "king" Georgie is as bad as, or worse than, the monarchs overseas.

                                 You may also be right about Holland and the bourgeois thing. All I know about that Low but sometimes High-on-marijuana (heh) Country is what I read in the papers...

                                  As for separating head of state from head of govt., if UK has to get a president vs. prime minster a la Israel, Germany, etc., fine by me, or at least better than a hereditary white-as-toast monarch.

                  •  Addenda (none)
                         I know Victoria was a while ago, but oppressive customs could always come back.

                         As for Queen Tony, I know that majoritarian tyranny in Parliament is not the exact same issue as monarchy, but I think there are ties in spirit; after all, if you, as P. Minister, are the head of the "Queen-in-Parliament", there is a tendency to think subconsciously, and smugly, that the Crown lieth on thy own head to some extent, not just on Queen Betty's head...

                    •  And if oppressive customs (none)
                      are allowed to come back, our descendants will deserve what they get.

                      Eternal vigilance, y'know...? Just as Americans as a nation deserve what they're about to get, for having allowed their resurgent Fascists to get so close to the reins of power.

                      Massacre is not a family value.

                      by Canadian Reader on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 02:04:51 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                •  Uhh.... (none)
                  Care to explain this:

                  I am not aware of Canadian press issues in detail, but I will assume you are largely correct. However, while the U.S. press is too docile these days, I believe that the various American laws about libel, etc., provide for more journalistic freedom than anywhere else, or nearly anywhere else.

                  Especially why do you think that American laws provide "more journalistic freedom than anywhere else, or nearly anywhere else"?

                  Granted, as a German I only know our own laws.
                  And I know a tiny bit about British press laws.
                  But I have a real problem with a statement like "American laws about libel, etc., provide for more journalistic freedom than anywhere else, or nearly anywhere else".

                  We´re not talking about Africa, Asia or so here.
                  It´s the USA, Canada and Europe.
                  Care to tell me the difference between "journalistic freedom" in the USA, Canada and Europe?

                  •  Well, (none)
                         I don't know in detail, but I have read this, about American press freedom.

                         Does the German press have a special reputation of being uncensored in wartime, etc.? Or the Canadian or British, for that matter?

                         America at least deserves credit for having a written constitution which mentions freedom of speech, in the First Amendment, which no doubt has inspired people all over the world.


                    •  Defending the superiority of the (none)
                      American press and how they use this wonderful right at this time, gives me the impression you are a tad out of touch with reality.  
                      •  They are a little spineless (none)
                             right now, and they let Bush bully them.
                             However, they have had their great moments, and there are advantages, perhaps, to having various privately-owned networks rather than state radio and TV stations as in other places.
                             (I'll note that I hear the BBC does a fair job of objectivity, though, even if they are an "arm of the state".)

                             I also hear that America has this great blog called "Kos" which is the epitome of free speech...

                        •  Noam Chomsky (none)
                          would support you on this. He has often pointed out (in between devastating critiques of the U.S. government) that free expression is highly tolerated in America, and that the "flagship" media outlets such as the WaPo, NYT, and WSJ, despite everything, are good sources of information because they serve an elite ruling class whose members must know the truth. Avoid the editorials, he advises, and read the back pages and the financial section.
              •  You´re right (none)
                in my opinion! :)

                As I see it, we have four alternate solutions in most Western Democracies with varying degrees of influence for the head of state.

                Apologies for any country I didn´t mention! :)

                1) The "US Presidential" system
                   The directly elected US President is head of
                   the executive and head of state in one person.
                   Which can lead to problems if the (revered)
                   "head of state" is also totally partisan in
                   "political party" politics.

                2) The "French Presidential" system
                   The French President is directly elected too
                   and IIRC has lots executive power
                   (Foreign policy, defense,...).
                   Still he needs to appoint a Prime Minister to
                   head the government (executive) and that person
                   needs to have the support of the majority of
                   the French parliament.
                   The problems here should be obvious too.
                   The "head of the state" President is partisan
                   too and has lots of political (executive)
                   And it´s entirely possible (and had happened)
                   that a French President has to work together
                   with a Prime Minister from another party
                   because of the majorities in parliament.
                   In a worst case scenario, that could lead to
                   serious clashes between Presidential executive
                   power and Prime Minister executive power.

                3) The "German Presidential" system
                   The German President is the head of the state
                   with the main function of representing and
                   giving speeches. :)
                   And supposed to be "above" political parties.
                   The German President is elected indirectly by
                   an election college, reflecting the
                   political party percentages at this time.
                   (It was thought that if he/she was elected
                   directly, he would have too much political
                   power and might interfere in everyday political
                   executive matters.)
                   So while he/she is supposed to be above
                   political parties, he is nominated and elected
                   because of support by the political majority
                   at that time.
                   He´s got no executive power but under certain
                   circumstances, he does have a role in the
                   political system.
                   For instance, under certain narrow political
                   circumstances, dissolving parliament and
                   calling for new elections.
                   Or, he has to sign new laws "into power".
                   If he seriously thinks that a new law violates
                   the constitution, he can refuse to sign it and
                   IIRC ask the German Supreme Court to advise
                   And of course he can make speeches "politely"
                   criticizing the German government.

                4) Constitutional Monarchies
                   Like Great Britain, Sweden, Norway, Belgium...
                   Where the monarch as head of state has a purely
                   ceremonial role.
                   Giving the regular address to the nation, and
                   avoiding joining the political daily
                   That of course doesn´t mean that a monarch
                   doesn´t have some actual political influence!
                   If you´ve been there for 15-20 years, you´ve
                   likely seen 2,3 or 4 governments coming and
                   going. That probably would give any average
                   person some valuable experience.
                   Still, one fact remains.
                   They´ve got no "direct" connection with any of
                   the existing political parties.
                   (Unlike possibilies 1-3 mentioned above.)


                •  French system (none)
                  The French president actually has very little executive power. Almost all powers are lodged in the Premier and cabinet. When the Premier comes from a party that is opposed to the President, there is very little the President can do to stop the parliamentary majority and its government from doing what it wants.

                  The main thing the President can do is threaten to dissolve parliament and call a new election. That may sound formidable, but it really is not, unless the parliamentary majority expects it would lose the election. As Chirac, a conservative (Gaullist), discovered several years ago, it can backfire. I think it was 1997. He dissolved parliament and the prickly voters "rewarded" him with a Socialist parliament and he had to cede to a Socialist prime minister for the remainder of the newly elected parliament's term.

                •  So, with what do you compare then the Chancellor (none)
                  of Germany in other systems? What the difference between the powers of a Chancellor vs. the US Presidency vs. the British Prime Minister?

                  How differ the US Senate from the German Bundesrat to the British House of Lords?

                  What are the difference in law writing? How are exactly the separation of legislature and executive in each of the three (or four countries, if you include France) designed and in how far do they differ.

                  I have not understood from the article what the House of Lords are really for. What does Febble mean with the House of Lords being a "revising chamber" only?

                  Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

                  by mimi on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 06:02:40 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Difficult questions first, huh? :) (none)
                    Let´s see...

                    What the difference between the powers of a Chancellor vs. the US Presidency vs. the British Prime Minister?

                    From the explanations in this diary I´d say a German Chancellor is roughly equal to a British Prime Minister.
                    Under law "first among equals" in the German Cabinet too, but he´s the only one actually elected by the "Bundestag" (parliament).
                    He nominates or dismisses all other ministers and the German President has to confirm these decisions.
                    He´s got the "Richtlinienkompetenz", meaning that he´s in charge of the political "guidelines" the rest of the Cabinet has to follow.
                    So the German Chancellor is the most powerful political figure in Germany.

                    Maybe a bit more "secure" in his position than a British Prime Minister.
                    Voting discipline in the German "Bundestag" seems to be higher than in the British Lower House.
                    (Of course the majorities in Germany are much smaller.)
                    And the "Bundestag" on its own can only get rid of a Chancellor by using a "constructive" vote of no confidence. Meaning that they must present an alternative candidate for the job. The resulting vote of no confidence then is an "election" between at least two candidates.
                    Only the Chancellor himself can call for a "simple" vote of no confidence.
                    (Usually used in situations where his own party/coalition is "waving" on some particular law. By combining the vote of no confidence motion with the vote about that law, he´s putting pressure on his own political base.)

                    And compared to an American President?
                    Well, the American President is head of state, head of executive (administration) and CIC of the armed forces IIRC.
                    Thats´three hats compared to the one worn by a German Chancellor (head of executive).
                    The German President is head of state.
                    And in peacetimes the defense minister is Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

                    The German Chancellor can´t nominate judges for Federal Courts. Nominating and electing them is the job of the legislative ("Bundestag" and "Bundesrat") with input from the judicative (other judges).
                    But a German Chancellor (and government) might have more freedom to choose ambassadors for example. A fast search couldn´t find anything definite about that but I don´t think that we have parliament hearings for such nominations like in the USA.
                    (German ambassadors though are usually NOT political appointies but career bureaucrats.)

                    Overall, I think the American President is more powerful than a German Chancellor.
                    First an American President is directly, well more or less :) directly elected.
                    That makes him more independent from Congress. He can survive with an unfriendly Congress while a German Chancellor without a majority in parliament is politically dead and a prospective "elder statesman":)  (in retirement).
                    And I seem to remember that in the USA, a new incoming President usually exchanges a lot of political appointies in the administration.
                    If that´s true, an American President has more people depending on him and loyal to him personally in the administration than a German Chancellor.
                    Most officials in the German administration are public servants, career bureaucrats, and they stay on regardless of the party just in power.
                    Ideally, they are loyal to the government as such but not loyal to a single person.

                    How differ the US Senate from the German Bundesrat to the British House of Lords?

                    A simple question jippee!
                    Gary J covered the British House of Lords already so...
                    If I understand it right, the US Senate consists of 100 Senators. Two from each state, regardless of state population. And normally directly elected?
                    With the idea to give states, especially smaller states, some political influence in the legislative.

                    The German "Bundesrat" too is representing the German states (Bundeslaender).
                    The key difference is that the state representative(s) is sent directly from the state government. And is obliged to follow the "orders" on how to vote from the state government.
                    The number of "votes" any state has depends on the state population. The "smallest" states like the city states of Hamburg or Bremen have 3 votes, the maximum for the most populous states is 6 votes.
                    As you can see, slightly tilted in favor of the small states too.
                    A state can´t split its votes.
                    It´s either yes, no or abstain for all the votes from one state.

                    Oh, and I should add that German Federal laws are classified in two different "groups".
                    Laws dealing only with Federal topics ("Einspruchsgesetze"). That would be for example defense, foreign policy etc.
                    Such laws are first voted on in the "Bundestag" and then send to the "Bundesrat". If the "Bundesrat" doesn´t confirm the law, it goes back to the "Bundestag" again.
                    And the "Bundestag" then can "overturn" the objection of the "Bundesrat" with an majority vote again in support of the law. It then becomes law without the support of the "Bundesrat".

                    The second group of laws would be Federal laws concerning or influencing state interests (many tax laws, education etc.). And all laws considering changes of the constitution.
                    These laws are called "Zustimmungsgesetze".
                    Here the "Bundesrat" has to confirm the law.
                    If they don´t confirm it, the law becomes a topic in the "Vermittlungsausschuss" (moderation comittee ?). With 16 members from the "Bundestag" and 16 members from the "Bundesrat" trying to reach a compromise.

                    So in summary the "Bundesrat" is not as independent as the US Senate but much more influential that the British House of Lords.

                    What are the difference in law writing?

                    Well, here I can speak only for Germany and only for Federal laws.
                    Three groups of people can propose new laws:

                    • The Federal government
                    • The "Bundesrat"
                    • A group of "Bundestag" members
                      (5% of all members needed to sponsor that law.)

                    After a law is proposed, it first gets send to all "interested" parties for consultations.
                    That would be the government with its involved ministries, the "Bundestag" and the "Bundesrat".

                    After that consultation phase, the law proposal reaches the "Bundestag" with every member getting a copy.
                    - First debate about the basic proposals of the
                    - Then hearings in the involved comittees
                      (including changes of the proposal)
                    - Second debate going into the details of the law
                      (with every single member able to propose
                      changes. And with a vote about each proposed
                    - Third debate (changes are still possible) and
                      finally the vote.

                    If a majority supports the law, it then gets send to the "Bundesrat". See above.

                    How are exactly the separation of legislature and executive in each of the three (or four countries, if you include France) designed and in how far do they differ.

                    In Germany, with the exception of the Chancellor NO other minister of his Cabinet needs to be a member of the "Bundestag".
                    (That´s the difference to Great Britain.)
                    Of course, in reality almost all of them are.
                    So you´ve got government members (ministers, deputy ministers) who are at the same time members of the executive (administration) and members of the legislative (parliament).

                    As far as I know (right now) that´s the only "overlap" between executive and legislative in Germany.

                    •  Wow, that was a lot - I will come back (none)
                      but here already what's the most striking difference between the power of the US President and the power of the German Chancellor as the leading figures determining policies of their countries:

                      Can or must the Chancellor approve or reject a law that was proposed, written and agreed upon by the Bundestag and Bundesrat?

                      What happens in the US, if the Congress (house and senate) has passed a bill?  What happens to the bill, if the President refuses to sign it?

                      Can the German Chancellor himself propose a bill by himself? Can the US President propose a bill or just give a recommendation to write a bill? Can the German Chancellor order something comparable to "executive orders" of an US President?

                      Other differences: How can you get rid of the US President versus how can you get rid of a Chancellor? I guess in the US you can only impeach and must be successful doing so. In Germany it's a simple vote of non-confidence, which you can initiate, when the Chancellor is not accountably following a decided upon political program of his own party, right?

                      In the US, I guess, the President can basically do whatever he wants, as there is anyhow no clear cut party program and nowhere is he hold accountable to any stated policy issues he made in the campaign, after he is in office. The US President must do something criminal or unconstitutional to be thrown out of office, right?

                      In the US the President can propose Supreme Court Judges for life and then needs the approval from the House, but once he has the approval the US Supreme Court Justices are there for life. In Germany it's for 12 years, and it's not proposed by the Chancellor. So there is much more division of powers between executive and judiciary in Germany, or not?

                      I come back later. Thanks for your long answer. Very kind of you.

                      Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

                      by mimi on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 04:07:05 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  Sorry I´m so late responding! (none)
                        Can or must the Chancellor approve or reject a law that was proposed, written and agreed upon by the Bundestag and Bundesrat?

                        Definitely NO!
                        A German Chancellor doesn´t have ANY veto rights!
                        As an obviously VERY important member of his political party he can try to influence his party not to propose or support a law the government objects to.
                        Of course if he does this and his party decides not to follow his "wishes", he would be considered politically "dead" and probably replaced.
                        Anyway, once a law is agreed and voted upon by the Bundestag and Bundesrat, he has no choice but to follow that law.

                        What happens in the US, if the Congress (house and senate) has passed a bill?  What happens to the bill, if the President refuses to sign it?

                        I´m on shaky ground here. :)
                        IIRC if Congress passes a bill and the President simply refuses to sign it for a certain period of time, it´ll become law.
                        So a President can demonstrate to the public that he doesn´t like this specific law without getting into a political fight?
                        If the President doesn´t want this bill to become law, he has to actively "veto" it.

                        Can the German Chancellor himself propose a bill by himself?

                        How do you define "by himself"?
                        Legally no.
                        The "German government" as an institution can propose laws.

                        But as I tried to explain, the Chancellor is the "central" person of the whole German government.
                        The only person of the whole Cabinet elected or dismissed by the Bundestag.
                        And by law he´s got the right to choose and dismiss ministers at will.
                        So theoretically he could bully the rest of his ministers to just support his proposals.
                        But if he tried to do that on his own, the party/parties forming the "government majority" in the Bundestag would get pretty upset in a hurry!

                        So in reality proposing laws is a cooperative effort. Before proposing a law, a Chancellor would make sure that he has the support of:

                        • his ministers
                        • his party in the Bundestag
                        • and if possible a majority in the Bundesrat.

                        It just doesn´t look good if too many of your law proposals got shot down!

                        Can the German Chancellor order something comparable to "executive orders" of an US President?

                        I was going to type "LOL"!
                        So let me apologize first!!!
                        Definitely NOT!
                        Germany experienced in the late Weimar Republic just how bad Presidential executive orders could be.

                        Neither the German Chancellor nor the whole German government can issue "executive orders".

                        In my research I even looked at the "laws/regulations" covering a war situation.
                        These allow for example that in case of war and if the whole Bundestag and Bundesrat can´t convene (is that the right word?) a smaller group drawn from this two bodies can make laws during war times. Kind of like an emergency parliament.

                        The same laws/regulations though forbid any restrictions to the "Bundesverfassungsgericht", the German Supreme Court, even in war times.
                        So even in a real war any bill could be challenged by going to the Bundesverfassungsgericht.

                    •  The Chancellor's role? (none)
                      If the Chancellor is head of the executive and has "Richtlinienkompetenz" does that mean he can suggest laws or can he introduce written legislation? If a law is written by MdBs has the Chancellor to approve them? Has he veto rights?

                      Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

                      by mimi on Tue Mar 22, 2005 at 07:43:58 PM PST

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  No, no, no! (none)
                        I was probably unclear what "Richtlinienkompetenz" exactly means.

                        The German Bundestag elects one of their members to become Chancellor. So the Chancellor has to be an elected politican.
                        And so the Chancellor is the only member of the government directly responsible to the Bundestag.

                        Theoretically, once elected, the German Chancellor could just pick anyone as a minister in his government.
                        And the German President would have no choice but to confirm them.

                        Now in reality such a Chancellor wouldn´t last very long. :)

                        But suppose he would do it?
                        All other ministers in his government are "unpolitical", not elected?
                        "Richtlinienkompetenz" merely says that regardless of how you were chosen to be a minister, you still have to follow the political directions of the Chancellor.
                        Because the Chancellor is the political person ultimately responsible to the Bundestag.

                        It´s actually a moot point today.

                        We´ve got coalition governments for most of the time and - in reality - no Chancellor would even dare to choose a government not connected to the parties supporting the government.
                        And in return, high profile opposition to the government from someone inside the government majority parties is pretty low too.

      •  What valuable purpose? (none)
        The British monarchy serves no useful purpose...I've had 42 years to think of one and can't think of a thing.  That's why I advocate abolition of the monarchy (and yes, I am an Englishman). Virtually every nation on earth somehow struggles on without the "benefit" of a monarchy and I think it's time to see if the United Kingdom could manage it, as well.

        Yes, I know, the monarchy is supposed to be "good for tourism"--but the tourists don't actually get to see any of the royals, they see the castles, and those will be available with or without royal parasites--erm, I mean, inhabitants.

        For those of you who cannot conceive of a world without a monarchy, what say we come to a compromise?  We'll pack the royals off to a different Commonwealth country every ten years, so that everyone--Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and England/Scotland/Wales--can know the joy of harbouring Elizabeth Windsor's dysfunctional brood.  Put up with these folk on a full-time basis for a decade and you, too, will become an advocate of making the United Kingdom into the United Republic, and turning British "subjects" into British citizens.

        There are three kinds of people: Those who see; those who see when they are shown; those who do not see.

        by Shadowthief on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 08:07:10 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent job, Febble (none)
    Makes me long for a visit home to soak up all the fun of election night.  Ah, how I miss the Swingometer!
    •  Swingometer (none)
      Which reminds me, someone should explain the important role played by Peter Snow, a journalist who is an enthusiast for high-tech gadgetry which sometimes goes wrong on election night.  In coverage of the 1992 US Presidential election a gadget malfunction caused him to call California for Ross Perot!

      We corrected your deed and based it on miracle, mystery and authority.

      by Fyodor on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 02:24:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  thanks febble (none)
    for such an entertainingly snarky summing up of ol' blighty's operating system.

    you're still a teacher, and a right good one imo.

    write on!

    why? just kos..... *just cause*

    by melo on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 08:51:46 AM PST

  •  prev s/be "give it up" sorry 4 typo n/t (none)

    Those who can, do. Those who can do more, TEACH!

    by teacherken on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 09:08:17 AM PST

    •  Why did I give up teaching? (none)
      Ken, I'm ashamed to say it -  I taught music in secondary (High School) for three years, and after than I was empty. Drained. Bled dry.  I have utter admiration for people who can keep it up, like you!

      I still teach in different ways, though. And I like to write.

  •  I've always wondered (none)
    how the parliamentary system in the UK works.  Thanks for the explanation.
  •  "However Did Zey Vin?" (none)
    --German hotel guest at the end of "The Germans" episode of Fawlty Towers.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy....--ML King, "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 09:19:03 AM PST

  •  Did they scrap the bit (none)
    about Black Rod first demanding the attendance of the Commons for the Speech, and then finally being reduced to begging their attendance? I always thought that was a nice bit of political theatre. As was the rushing of that flipping great mace to the door--they could do some serious damage with that thing if they wanted to!

    "Jedoch der schrecklichste der Schrecken
    Das ist der Mensch in seinem Wahn" -- J. W. von Goethe

    by musing85 on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 09:25:27 AM PST

  •  Would the U.S. be better off...? (none)
    Would the U.S. be better off splitting the jobs of head of state and head of government?

    I've often thought that Americans vote for presidents that project an image they feel comfortable with (let's call this the "ceremonial" side) even if they disagree with their policies (let's calls this the "governmental" side). Take Reagan and Bush: millions of people disagreed with their policies but voted for them anyway, presumably because they projected an image they considered to be more "presidential." Perhaps if the ceremonial and the governmental were split, Americans could still have a president with the image their feel comfortable with, but also have a head of government elected overwhelmingly because of his/her policies. Then the key question would be not "who is head of government" but "which party is in power" because parties are probably more closely associated with policies while personality is more important when judging individual candidates.


    "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

    by vawolf on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 09:34:20 AM PST

    •  No, (none)
           although Reagan etc. are annoying of course.
           Whatever techno-wonk-dorks we elect to govern well will just have to take a few courses in speech and self-presentation, I suppose; it's good for them anyway, and avoids having to split the Presidency into two parts...
      •  The much bigger difference (none)
        between US and UK politics is this: you can't buy TV ads for elections in Britain. It cannot be done. Basta. Each party that fields more than a certain number of candidates gets an equal number of TV spots on all networks funded by the state. Which means that British elections are really mediated by the press.....

        ....which, when you look at our a horrible thought...

    •  Yes, create the post of Prime Minister (none)
      As Febble noted in this diary entry, having a PM separate from the Head of State probably makes ordinary people feel freer to criticize the government of the day without feeling like they are running down the country itself, epitomized by the pomp and circumstance ("Hail to the Chief," etc.) of the head of state.

      The PM would be a liaison between the President and the Congress, would have to answer to Congress, etc.

      Most of all, it would be likely, over time, to make people think more clearly about the consequences of their vote for Congress on the running of the country. It would be clear that a vote for, say Christopher Shays, really is a vote for Dennis Hastert, Tom Delay, etc., to run the country. If you don't like that, vote for the other party. It would make party lines as clear in congressional elections as they are in executive (i.e. Presidential) elections.

      But you'd still have separation of powers, in that the president has the broad constituency and distinctive powers, including the veto (which I would retain). I would not let him or the PM dissolve the House.

      Madison got a lot of things right, but not imagining national parties meant that he could not foresee the tie between all those local races for Congress and the creation of a dominant ruling party in that very Congress. Due to Madion's design, by and large neither do the voters.

    •  Without question, yes (none)
      The current occupant of the White House uses the trappings of office purely to advance his own partisan political agenda, rather than the unity of the nation.

      I have no doubt in my mind that the founding fathers would spin in their graves if they knew what their republic had become--and I seriously doubt they'd create the same system if they were alive today.

      The Frozen Republic by Daniel Lazare is one of the most compelling critiques of the American system.  Well worth reading, even if you think the Constitution was handed down from heaven on high (one of his major points is that it was created by men--flawed like all the rest of us--so why do we give it this holy aura rather than evaluate its effectiveness in the world we inhabit now?).

  •  The Monster Raving Loony Party (none)
    Although it sounds, and is, totally Pythonesque, The Monster Raving Loony Party provides regular candidates in UK elections - particularly in key seats like Tony Blair's.

    A real test for some of you brilliant posters on here. Please explain in all seriousness to our US readers the policies and importance of this party in British politics. To our shame, neither Febble nor I have done so.

    •  When I saw that name upthread (4.00)

      I thought the poster was kidding, but I googled it and sure enough found their Web site. I love their platform.

      We will issue a 99p coin to save on change.
      Tax credits will be paid to nice people. There will be a “total bastard” tax for everyone else.
      In reaction to the old adage, “Children are so honest” we intend to reduce the age of standing for parliament from 21 to 5.
      Police helmets will be re introduced and made even sillier. The higher a police rank then the higher their hat becomes. At Christmas they will be able to put flashing lights on them and generally decorate them. Once they have achieved the rank of Chief Constable the height of their hats will not allow them to leave their office, which they don't anyway.
      Any student who says the word “Like” when not grammatically called for, as in, “Hey, I’m .. Like, going down the… like, pub”, or, “I was, like, don’t do that” will be made to go and stay with George Bush for a week in order to discourage them from other stupid ‘Americanisms’.
      The Houses of parliament will be demolished and replaced by a mobile parliament. This will allow MPs to be picked up in the mornings if their cars won’t start. It will also allow the public to see parliament at work and members will be able to wave to the public as it is going along. It will also cut out any necessity to have regional assemblies as it can park up at different towns and villages throughout the year. On the old site of parliament a large statue of Screaming Lord Sutch will be erected and a loony village will be built where it will be obligatory to enjoy yourself. Pogo sticks will be provided free of charge.
    •  I was about to ask about the Monster Raving Loonys (none)
      and decided to check for a web site. You can find the official web of the Monster Raving Loony Party here.

      I still want to know where they fit into the grand scheme of things.

      "Those who betray the trust...are, in my view, the most insidious of traitors." - George HW Bush

      by DavidW in SF on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 05:11:05 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Natural Suppression of Lobbying ?? (4.00)
    My only nitpick would be that I would have been even better informed by a little expansion of the discussion of what triggers elections, especially the concept of the vote of no confidence. Here's why:

    My first take is that the chance of triggering an immediate election might suppress, and almost certainly change, the nature of lobbying of ministers on individual issues by both human and corporate constituents.

    In the U.S. system, all officials serve fixed terms. Therefore on taking office, they are free to consider each issue on its own. This means that we human and corporate constitutents can and will lobby the representative vigorously on individual issues, and we only have a secondary interest in the electoral implications that come much later.

    In the parliamentary system, even though I want my minister to vote against a certain bill, I must consider that the vote might trigger an immediate election. If my party loses seats or power, my interests can be harmed as immediately as they'd be advanced by the particular vote.

    I continue to feel that the U.S. system is most fair in the most primitive economy where there are not great differences in wealth and power, so that lobbying by the common people remains visible among the lobbying by the rich and businesses. The more complex the economy, the greater the spread of wealth and power, the more the U.S. system must serve only the most powerful interests except when election tim is near. Add to this that all the information systems are the private property of the greatest economic powers, and the U.S. system structurally can only be a corporatocracy.

    If I understand the parliamentary concept of vote-of-no-confidence, it seems that there would be less incentive to lobby on individual issues because at least some issues could trigger a loss of overall power.

    The parliamentary system would in this way appear to balance the influence of very strong and very weak forces.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy....--ML King, "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 09:58:03 AM PST

    •  Spectacular post on lobbying (none)
      Gooserock, you hit the nail right on the head!! A 4 for you. I'd give you an 8 if I could.

      I teach comparative government, and your point about lobbying is one I make to my classes.

      By the way, thanks much to Febble for this highly recommended diary, which I am saving to show to my students in future classes!

  •  Brava, Febble! (none)
    This is one of the most informative -- and entertaining -- dKos diaries I've ever read.

    One topic you or Welshman or Gary J might consider for the near future: your political partiess, how the main ones work, what they believe, who they appeal to, etc. I think I have a fair understanding of Labour (sort of like Democrats if the DLC had dictatorial powers) and Conservatives (Republicans but less religious in advancing their evil causes), but I'm baffled by Liberal Democrats. What do they stand for -- and why aren't more Labourites jumping Lapdog Tony's leaky ship of state to join them?

    Finally, I hope we'll see LOTS of recommended UK diaries in the foreseeable future. Reading them makes it a little easier to bear the current state of U.S. politics.

    •  Hopefully Matt (none)
      ..this will be covered in the regular UK election diaries (to which I now hope Gary J and others will be among the many contributors).

      The diary will consist of contributions from a member of each of three the main parties. They will be explaining their differences in policies and giving broader commentaries as events unfold. Expect lively argument.

  •  Knock-knock (none)
    Who's there ?

    In the future people will wonder why most didn't challenge Bush's excesses
    The truth? Complacency was easier

    by lawnorder on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 10:30:02 AM PST

  •  Ex-MI5 officer seeks anti-war vote to oust Blair (none)
    In Sedgefiled...

    Ex-MI5 officer Shayler seeks anti-war vote to oust Blair in Sedgefield

    David Shayler, the former MI5 officer, announced yesterday that he intends to stand against Tony Blair in Sedgefield in the general election.

    He will be representing neither left nor right, he said yesterday. He said he would campaign on three issues: Mr Blair's credibility and ability to lead 'in the light of his lies over the war'; the prime minister's support of 'the illegal invasion of Iraq', which had put the lives of the British people at greater risk from terrorism; and Mr Blair's 'attacks on democratic rights'.

    Article continues
    Mr Shayler said yesterday: 'If Blair were an American or French president, the electorate would have a chance to remove him from power. As things stand in Britain's increasingly undemocratic society, only the people of Sedgefield have the opportunity to vote him out of power.'

    He said he hoped to get the support of the Stop the War Campaign and was going up to Sedgefield next week to try and get an agent.

    Adam Price, the Plaid Cymru MP who has been trying to set up impeachment proceedings against the prime minister over the way Britain went to war, said earlier this month that exploratory talks were under way to find a 'white suit' anti-war candidate.

    He was referring to Martin Bell, the former BBC journalist and anti-sleaze candidate who unseated the disgraced Tory MP Neil Hamilton in Tatton, Cheshire, in the 1997 election.

    Mr Shayler said yesterday: 'If they want a man in the white suit, then I'll be in the white suit. If there is someone more suitable, then I'll stand down

    Guardian Unlimited Politics | Special Reports | Ex-MI5 officer Shayler seeks anti-war vote to oust Blair in Sedgefield

    In the future people will wonder why most didn't challenge Bush's excesses
    The truth? Complacency was easier

    by lawnorder on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 10:32:05 AM PST

  •  One of the oddest rituals (none)
    (in my opinion) of the British government is the one when the budget for the coming year is announced. The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Gordon Brown at this point in time) walks out of his abode (#11 Downing street) with his wife next to him and shows to the press/world/etc an old beat-up red - briefcase-like box (actually, I heard they made him a new one). Then off to parliment (I guess).  Why his wife has to stand next to him and why they have walk around showing off this red box is quite odd, to say the least!

    And then, someone described to me what happens when the house of lords revises legislation.  If nothing has changed, the proposed law papers are bound up in blue tape and sent back to the house of commons, but if something has changed, the papers are bound in red tape (or maybe the colors are reversed).  This is where the phrase "a lot of red tape" came from.  I guess there was a lot of "red tape" used when trying to get that civil rights law through the parliment.

    •  The Budget Ritual (none)
      Red boxes are the insignia of government power in Britain as civil servants fill them with papers for Ministers to look at.

      The old red dispatch box waved around on budget day until recent years belonged to the 19th century politician William Ewart Gladstone, who invented the idea of combining all the financial legislation in one annual Finance Bill introduced by the Chancellor's mammoth budget speech.

      This procedure was a device to stop the House of Lords interfering with individual fiscal measures. It was unthinkable for them to reject the whole budget, until they did just that in 1909. Now the House of Lords do not have the power to delay money bills for more than one month, but the Parliamentary ritual of budget day is still followed.

      As to why Chancellor's parade their wife on the doorstep of 11 Downing Street I have no idea. Presumably it is a nice photo-op intended to humanise the monster who is about to increase taxes.

      There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

      by Gary J on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 04:48:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Campaign Financing - (none)
    British style would be interesting to hear about.  When I lived there (Kinnock v. Major election) there seemed to be strict limits on the TV time allocated (free?) and how much someone running for MP could spend. And also about the use of each party's plateform in commercials and on billboards.  I came away with the feeling that the campaign efforts really concentrated on the platforms, rather than on the individuals running for the local MP office. Those running seem to stick closely to the party platforms much more so than here in the US.
    •  You are going to love this (4.00)
      Each party contesting a General Parliamentary Election in England is allowed to spend....

      30,000 Pounds times the number of contested constituencies (ones in which that party has someone standing)


      810,000 pounds

      Whichever is the greater.

      This covers the actual election expenses.

      There is then Controlled Expenditure,

      793,000 pounds per election for England

      Additional pro-rata amounts are available for Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland.

      It is all laid down by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000.

      Even 3rd party expenditure is controlled if it advocates on behalf of a party position during an election.

      This money is the expenditure for the 365 day period ending in the day of the election.

      Note that no TV/Radio advertising is allowed. Only Party Political Broadcasts, which must be broadcast free by the major broadcasters.

      This is why British politicians are always ready to speak on TV and radio news/current affairs programs during an election. It is free coverage. But their opponents must be given time on the same or similar programs.

      All parties have to submit auditted accounts of expenditure.

      We are all neutrons, looking for a nucleus to disrupt.

      by NeutralObserver on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 12:24:20 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  To simplify Neutral Observers comments (none)
        In the UK, politicians are allowed to spend an infinitely small amount compared to political parties in the US.

        You can stand as a candidate if you pay a deposit of 900 dollars. You get it back if you get 5% (?) of the total votes.

        There are very tight limits on how much each candidate is allowed to spend, just as there are for each party in total. It is strictly monitored.

      •  Twenty million per election campaign (none)
        Isn't that lovely?  In honour of your greater population, perhaps you could allow your parties as much as ninety million dollars, to be shared among the presidential canadidate and all the members of Congress being elected at that time.  Then another ninety million during the mid-terms.  Not per candidate. Per party.  

        Gotcha campaign finance reform right here, guys.  

  •  How about redistricting? (none)
    Constituencies sound historically deep-rooted, but their voting populations can change over time. Who is in charge of gerrymandering, on what pretext does it commence, and how are disputes resolved? [If you are shorthanded, we have a surplus of expert practitioners we could send over.]

    Face it, Febble, you are Ukish -- and you're all right with me.

    •  There is a national body that does (none)
      under government, but independent

      see their website Boundary Commission for England

      Links from their site to those for the other countries of the UK

      We are all neutrons, looking for a nucleus to disrupt.

      by NeutralObserver on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 11:55:43 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, no gerrymandering (none)
        This is one thing (the only, to my knowledge) that Febble got wrong. The government in the UK does not have the ability to intervene in the creation of constituency boundaries. (Gary J already noted this above, but it is worth reiterating.)

        As far as I know, among all the countries in the world that use single-seat districts, only in the US are elected officials (here, state legislators and governors in most states) allowed to determine district boundaries. Not in the UK, not in Canada, not in India, not in the Philippines.

  •  secret ballot issue (none)
    It might also be constructive to briefly review the non-secrecy of the British balloting system. There's an ID number on each ballot, and that ID number is traceable to the individual voter. While this is "never used" except in cases of tracking "troublemakers," it's the sort of technicality that is generally hidden in cross-cultural discussions like this.

    This sort of thing would NEVER be accepted in the USA.

    •  Well, I never knew that. (none)
      Thanks for the information.
    •  I used to hate the idea... (none)
      ...but I've come round to a different way of thinking since Florida 2000.  
    •  Secret ballot (none)
      The reference number is supposed to be used to investigate electoral fraud. I have heard it suggested that it was routinely used to enable the security services to identify Communist voters during the Cold War, but I have no evidence for that.

      I did however see that the Irish Republic dropped the procedure, which it had retained after leaving the UK, as a result of concerns about ballot secrecy.

      This issue is perhaps one which should be taken more seriously than it has been in the UK.

      There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

      by Gary J on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 05:01:00 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank you Febble! (4.00)
    I love diaries like this, i.e. a diary about a country, written by someone from that country.

    I'm sick of the misinformed know-it-all diaries about European countries, written by Americans who don't have a fucking clue what they're talking about.

    Nice stuff.  Recommended, of course (although a little late).

    One of the great things about books is sometimes there are some fantastic pictures. -- George W. Bush

    by Page van der Linden on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 12:37:28 PM PST

  •  Thanks to febble (4.00)
    For posting a lively, yet largely accurate, description of the British system of government.

    I am not a monarchist and would prefer to see the United Kingdom be made into a republic (with a small "r"), but that is a secondary matter to the actual stuff and substance of politics.  I agree that no one should serve in a position of power if he/she does not have to stand for election--the hereditary peerage can have their titles and castles and whatever else it is they get for having been born to the right mother and father, but they don't get to call me their "subject".

    Before we went off to fight in Gulf War I, a certain colonel addressed us and closed with these words:  "For Queen and country!"  To which many of us uttered but half-agreement.  For country, yes...

    There are three kinds of people: Those who see; those who see when they are shown; those who do not see.

    by Shadowthief on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 12:51:52 PM PST

    •  Nice work, soldier. (none)
           But I think the peerage should be stripped of status as well; otherwise Britain will have an oligarchy.
           (In a novel I am writing on-and-off, there is a horrible moment when a promised "democratic reform" in the British government turns out to be that the peerage---and nobody else---gets to elect the monarch, just as the College of Cardinals elects the Pope and the Electoral College (not the American people) gets to elect the President.
           Of course, the peerage in my novel, which will include some vicious rock stars, etc., chooses the most evil person they possibly can (some villainous royal cousin or such; replacing the true monarch, a young queen who wants to abolish the monarchy but is set aside through some legal maneuver or other); thus proving that even voting rights do not always guarantee a morally worthy result...)
      •  The peers can have their titles (none)
        Let them be called Lord and Lady Snottington or whatever it is they want to be called; it means nothing to long as they exercise no more power in government than I have:  the right to vote for an MP and to petition that MP for a redress of grievances as a citizen of the United REPUBLIC.

        As for the monarch:  they can continue to have their silly ceremonies, but will take not even a ceremonial role in government.  And if Americans are enamoured of them, I will gladly pay a special tax that will fund a a lock, stock, and barrel relocation of the entire dysfunctional family and their damned yappy dogs to America (provided they promise to never, ever return..and yes, that includes Wills).

        There are three kinds of people: Those who see; those who see when they are shown; those who do not see.

        by Shadowthief on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 01:14:05 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  I agree that American tourists (none)
               may be one prop of the monarchy, even though America is supposed to be "democratic". Ugh.
               As an American, I should kindly prefer not to accept the exiled monarchs, though (heh heh).

               Perhaps they can go to Russia, though they might be shot by Bolsheviks, as were the Czar's family...

               Go Cromwell !! (heh)

               (I don't support regicide, but it does happen at times, I suppose. Too bad.)

  •  Returning Officers (none)
    It's worth mentioning I think a little about the returning officers.  As I recall, they are legally bound to provide impartial enforcement of the laws around the election voting and counting procedure, thus avoiding the worst excesses of Cruella (aka Katherine Harris), Ken Blackwell and their ilk.

    Also, I thought the boundary commission (which determines each MP's constituency) was a group of civil servants and technically supposed to be impartial?  Has Blair managed to stack the deck in his favo(u)r in the least decade?

    Excellent diary, by the way.

     - Trendar

    Visit The Blog Roundup - the Best of Politics on the Web.

    by Trendar on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 01:01:35 PM PST

    •  I have been corrected on the matter (none)
      of the boundary commission.  Apparently it is impartial, and Labour just got lucky.

      The voting system in the UK works very well.  There is a potential fraud opening with increased postal voting, and it is a bit too easy to be registered in two places. But there are virtually no queues to vote (after all, when all you have to provide is some plywood screens and a pencil and paper, there is no reason not to provide enough). Also, the actual count is extremely transparent.  The voter places the ballot in a box, the boxes are sealed in the presence of witnesses and transported to the (hand) count, which is public, and televised, so that when the count is complete (within a few hours of close of polls) the declaration is on TV.

      •  The Boundary Commission can be influenced (4.00)
        There are rules for the Boundary commission to follow. Each consituency in each country should be of roughly equal size. For historical reasons - because they lost their own parliament - Scottish constiutencies have fewer electors. This has not been corrected after the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament for the very good reason that Scotland provides large numbers of Labour MPs that rigs the balance in the Commons.

        The Boundary Commission also has to take account of current local government boundaries (sub divisions are known as "wards"), natural boundaries like rivers or motorways (freeways) or "communities". Genarally it takes a region or sub region (say "South London") and produces proposals for new constituency boundaries. It then takes comments including from politial parties about them and is open to receiving different suggestions providing they conform to the general guideline. It is here that the Labour party has been particularly effective at getting boundary changes to their advantage.

        Here is how. Let's take a theoretical example of a city surrounded by suburbs and countryside. The whole area is entitled to four seats. The city centre is mostly Labour, the suburbs a mix and the countryside Tory. One division might be to divide the area into quadrants. This would produce 4 constituenceis with more or less balanced electorates that may well vote so each party gets two. The Labour party on the other hand may suggest 3 City/Suburb constitutencies and 1 "hollow donut" countryside one. This produces three safe Labour and one safe Tory constutuencies. A very simplified example but you get the idea I hope.    

        By the way, counting the votes is secret. If you attend as either a worker or a party representative you have to sign a declaration that you will respect the regulations. This used to have to be in front of a judge or local magistrate. Cameras are allowed if the Returning Officer agrees but these cannot show details, only a long shot of the room. Every candidate is allowed a number of supporters to oversee the count. Televison and the public is allowed to observe the count but not from within the confines of the process. Typically the formal area is roped off from the public or there is a public gallery.

        •  Boundary Changes (none)
          The Scottish constituencies have been re-drawn for the next Parliament, using the same electoral quota as for England. The number of Scottish seats is reduced from 72 to 59. I set out below a link to the text of 'The Parliamentary Constituencies (Scotland) Order 2005.

          The constituencies in the other parts of the UK are the same as in 2001, so the new House of Commons will have 646 members.

          There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

          by Gary J on Wed Mar 23, 2005 at 03:54:12 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  646 members (UK) vs. 435 (US) (none)
            is a big parliament. Compare 435 for our lower house, plus 100 elected senators, despite a much bigger country.

            I have always thought it interesting that we have fixed our Congress at 435 since 1912 (aside from brief increases to accommodate AK and HI until the subsequent census). Britain, on the other hand, increases it with almost every election.

            I think the ideal mechanism is somewhere in between. There is no reason why the US should allow states to gain population yet lose seats in Congress just because other states are growing faster. This would not happen if we periodically allowed the total number of seats to grow. The size of the House is a matter of law, and in the 19th Century it was periodically changed. Why not now?

            On the boundary commission, sure advice is taken from politicians. That is still a far cry from letting politicians draw the boundaries themselves or tell the commissioners how they are to do it.

            •  Boundary Commission (none)
              I agree 646 members is a large Parliament. The House of Lords is also a very large body by international standards.

              There have been ideas of slimming down Parliament discussed in recent years. Last year Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George suggested that the number of MPs should be reduced to around 500 from the current 659.

              Apart from the reduction in Scottish seats, to be implemented for the next Parliament, there appears little chance of major change.

              There is a tendency for the size of the house to increase with each Boundary Review. The quota of average votes per seat used for the new review is based on the existing number of seats. One of the rules permits the Boundary Commission to create smaller than average seats in areas of geographical difficulty. This process applies to each review so there are an extra few seats created each time, which contribute to the quota calculation for the next review.

              It would be more sensible to provide for a total size and then apportion seats within that total, but the British system has no mechanism to do this.

              It is as you point out possible to increase the total size of the US House. Presumably Congress does not want to do that and share out power more thinly. I also suspect that the public would not welcome more jobs for politicians.

              There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

              by Gary J on Thu Mar 24, 2005 at 02:53:54 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Well done, the United States (none)
    for taking an interest in this subject. 200 posts and still going strong. So much for those who say your interests are solely domestic.

    And well done Febble for making what could have been an incredibly dull subject so interesting and all the excellent commentators who clarified a lot of the issues.

    •  actually (none)
      actually, since you don't have a written constitution we're just learning this so we can plot ways to legally take over your country with a minimum of fuss. should be easy, common law is (isn't?) made to be overturned. but apparently all it will take is the kidnaping of the BLACK ROD, and us replacing him with the FREEDOM ROD. or something.

      USA! USA!! USA!!!

      •  Black Rod (none)
        The full title is 'The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod'. Gentleman Usher of the Freedom Rod would just be silly.

        God save the Queen.

        There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

        by Gary J on Tue Mar 22, 2005 at 01:03:05 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  The rod itself... (none)
          could be made of red, white, and blue enamel inlays, with a big eagle at the top.

          Sparklers are optional.

          "But then I viddied that thinking is for the gloopy ones and the oomny ones use, like, inspiration and what Bog sends." -- Alex de Large

          by rgilly on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 04:38:01 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Your short guide (none)
    Hurrah!  This diary should be printed in tiny font on a tea towel and sold to tourists on the model of "Rules of cricket for foreigners" and "How the Scots took over the world."

    We corrected your deed and based it on miracle, mystery and authority.

    by Fyodor on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 02:28:08 PM PST

  •  Sorry for the late comment. (none)
    I just got time to sit down and savor this diary.

    Excellent job! I thought I understood the whole British system but you handed out some tidbits that I hadn't known. The bizarre ritual surrounding the "Black Rod" (sounds like a porn movie) is absolutely delicious!  Yours is the oddest country, and I say that with great respect. I love oddities. They are so human and noble.

    The entire diary makes me nostalgic for the 90s when I spent a great deal of time there on business. I would become glued to the telly watching Question Time with John Major, who was a little dim. It was riotous and funny and acerbic and occasionally wise. It makes our Congress seem a group in need of remedial Oratory, if not Logic.

    "You don't lead by pointing and telling people some place to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case." - Ken Kesey

    by Glinda on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 05:21:26 PM PST

  •  Other diary that's related (none)
    Also in the "recommended diary" list today, but not getting nearly as many comments is one by landrew: "Help Wanted: An Opposition Party."

    It is relevant, because as I posted up above somewhere in the comments to this diary, one of the flaws of our American system is that it makes it more difficult for the party not in the White House to function like a real opposition. When that party is also not in the majority in either house of Congress, there is even more of a vacuum in the "opposition" (though perhaps also more incentive for it to make an effort to get its act together and answer landrew's Help Wanted ad!).

    Well, I won't reapeat myself here. I just wanted to call attention to the linkages to landrew's diary.

    •  There are several features of parliamentary (none)
      democracy that are very attractive to someone familiar with the American system.

      *true opposition parties, as you say
      *a "training system" for politicians, so that those who become ministers have earned credibility and experience by the time they achieve positions of power
      *short, inexpensive elections
      *little legislative gridlock--a party with a majority government can pass any law it chooses
      *flexible election dates--a truly irresponsible government can be forced to call a new election at any time
      *direct confrontation of the prime minister by the opposition party, weekly, in public

      Nothing is going to change in U.S. governmental structures, but greater awareness of these matters among Americans would introduce a healthy dollop of humility (see my post below)... and perhaps add to the number of requests from Americans for Canadian landed immigrant status.  ;^ )

      •  Good points, but about flexible election dates... (none)
        You mentioned:

        "flexible election dates--a truly irresponsible government can be forced to call a new election at any time"

        Technically true, but if a government has a majority, in fact the election will occur when the government wants it to occur. [* see amplification of point below.]

        Very rarely is a government with a majority forced to hold an early election against its will. In fact, probably never. If the majority-party MPs felt the PM was a liability, they would just force him or her out long before a new election would have to occur, and serve out their term under a new PM--or call an early election after voters had warmed to the new PM and would reelect his/her (and thus their) majority.

        [*amplification of previous point:]

        That is, not later than 5 years after the last one, but at a propitious time for the majority. A government that expects to lose--and only such a government--will serve its full five years. A government that expects to win will time the election for maximum benefit and get a new five years (assuming the voters don't upset their best-laid plans).

        •  Yes. I was thinking, of course (none)
          of a situation in which a government lies to get re-elected, and then the truth emerges. If public outcry were strong enough, the majority government could be forced to call a new election or, more likely as you say, the majority party, seeing disaster ahead, could force out the leader who lied.

          Either way, there's a chance to do better, without having to wait a full four years, as we are doing now.

  •  Let's make this a Fox special! (none)
    This review of parliamentary democracy is a healthy antidote to that pervasive American belief that the United States has the best of everything, and that other countries are good or bad according to how closely they emulate America.

    This attitude is a main ingredient in anti-American feeling abroad. Americans are perceived as arrogant and uninformed because... well, because many Americans arearrogant about the "superiority" of their own country, and uninformed about the virtues of other nations' political systems, legal practices, etc.

    Thanks, febble, for helping to put a dent, at least, in Americans' ignorance.

    Now, can we get this produced as a special on Fox?

  •  Sorry to be late read this article (none)
    and what a delight is was. Thank you so much for a wonderful, funny and informative piece.. I am looking forward to the whole series. Actually I can't believe that the US made such a good constitution on the basis of the British common law, or is that wrong?

    I have a lot of questions, which I posted here in response to Detlefs comment.

    You talk a lot about who the Lords are (or not are) but you say little about their role and their power. What do you mean by the House of Lords being a revising chamber only. How do you get rid of a Lord? And what is the meaning of primacy in parliament?

    I also couldn't quite understand this:  

    The government is the executive, as opposed to parliament (both houses) which is the legislature.  But as government ministers are also Members of Parliament, these roles are not as separate as perhaps they should be.

    Who represents the executive? The queen or the Prime Minister with his chosen ministers out of the House of Commons? Do the ministers are also legislators at the same time? How are laws written in the UK?

    Thank you.

    Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

    by mimi on Sun Mar 20, 2005 at 06:22:27 PM PST

    •  I will try to answer some of your queries (4.00)
      although you are raising some massive questions.

      The basis of the British Constitution, ignoring European institutions, is that whatever the Crown in Parliament enacts is law.

      The enacting formula for legislation explains something of what this means.

      "BE IT ENACTED by the Queen's most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:- "

      This explains that the Queen makes laws but only with the consent of Parliament.

      The Kings of England, after the Norman conquest in 1066, made laws. As time passed it was thought desirable to associate the powerful members of society in the decision making, so major landowners (the Lords Temporal) and leaders of the Church (the Lords Spiritual) were summoned to meetings of the King's Great Council.

      The idea then developed that the second tier of society, the lesser landowners, the merchants and the lower clergy should be consulted (so as to more efficiently extract taxes from them). Because they were too numerous to all go and meet the King, they were allowed to elect representatives to the new body called Parliament. This was the origin of the Commons.

      By the end of the 17th century it was firmly established that to make valid statutory law and institute lawful taxes it was necessary to have the agreement of the three elements of the Crown in Parliament - the Monarch, the Lords and the Commons.

      In the next few centuries the Commons became the dominant element in Parliament. The King became constrained by constitutional conventions which reduced the Monarch almost to a figurehead. Monarchs no longer use the Royal Veto on legislation (which is legally an absolute bar to a proposed law - a veto which could be overridden was one of the innovations by the American founding fathers).

      The House of Lords, which had enjoyed equal legislative power with the House of Commons, came to be regarded as less legitimate than the popularly elected House of Commons. In 1909 the Lords breached centuries of convention by rejecting the Liberal Government's budget. After a major constitutional crisis and two general elections in 1910, the House of Lords accepted the Parliament Act 1911 reducing its power over legislation so it could only delay not prevent laws which the Commons insisted on.

      The modern position, after the so-called first stage reform of the House of Lords carried out (very ineptly) by Tony Blair, is that the House is now composed of: -


      1. Life Peers (created under the Life Peerages Act 1958). Eminent people and retired politicians, given a Peerage by the Queen normally as advised by the Prime Minister although some people's peers are now recommended by a Committee (appointed by the Prime Minister).
      2. 92 representatives of the hereditary peers (most of whom were excluded from Parliament in 1999) - chosen in unbelievably complex ways. These are the descendants of someone once given a peerage for one reason or another (such as being a very good friend of the King (or the offspring of such a friendship) or the Champion Cattle Thief on the Anglo-Scottish Border for 1327).  Allegedly they are going to be removed in the next round of reform, but it is quite possible they will survive into the indefinite future.
      3. Law Lords, appointed for life under a Victorian statute designed to provide the highest Court in the land with some Judges who knew something about law. About to be abolished under Tony Blair's plan for a Constitutional Court seperate from Parliament.

      These are ex-officio peers, who leave Parliament when they cease to be Bishops of the Church of England (unless, as sometimes happens they are given a life peerage). Some (the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and the Bishops of London, Durham and Winchester) always sit in Parliament. 21 other English diocesan Bishops get a seat on the basis of seniority of appointment. Bishops are nominated by the Crown and formally elected by a church body in the diocese, but this is in no sense a free election. The modern practice is for a Committee to provide the Prime Minister with two names from whom to recommend the new Bishop to the Queen. It is self evidently absurd for a Church to have its leaders selected by a Prime Minister who may not even be a member of the Church, however it has more control now than in the days when church posts were treated as purely political patronage appointments.

      Now elected by the whole people. In theory all powerful, but in practice normally subservient to the executive which I will deal with in another post.

      There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

      by Gary J on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 02:29:47 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Dear Gary J - I am humbled and ashamed (none)
        and very grateful. I certainly never expected such outstanding answers to my questions. Thank you very much!

        Could we put this up somewhere in dkospedia for permanent display?

        I think I have to read this several times before I really can digest the meaning. I try to come back this evening, because there is sooo much amazing stuff in it I never expected.

        It gets fascinating to try ompare the House of Lord's legislative powers to the US Senators and to the German Bundesrat and that's want I want to be able to do. Thank you again.

        Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

        by mimi on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 03:55:23 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Thank you (none)
          I happen not to have anything else to do just at the moment, so I was happy to respond to you at length.

          There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

          by Gary J on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 04:10:09 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Oh and I am so confused about (none)
        the Lords Spiritual. I guess because I am German I have never learned much about Separation of Church and State, let alone in England. Americans have ovbiously much more knowledge about it.

        So, a Bishop of the Church of England is not elected by the church for life?  One can cease to be a Bishop?

        Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

        by mimi on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 04:10:01 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Bishops of the Church of England (none)
          It is normal for diocesan Bishops to retire. Recently an Archbishop of York was delighted to give up his high office and become an ordinary parish priest.

          I have found an article describing the financial plight of the Church of England and the difficulties of a Bishop aged 62 approaching retirement

          I think the way to look at it is that at one time it was a very great thing to be a Bishop of the Church of England. Many of them had great power and controlled considerable wealth. As such it was important to the King who became a Bishop.

          Nowadays the Church of England is close to a joke. Very few people care what the Bishops think and the Church has less money than it needs to sustain its enormous inventory of grand old buildings and pay a living wage to its priests.

          There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

          by Gary J on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 04:26:23 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Please don't knock Rowan Williams (none)
            This American Episcopalian loves him.  I'm also fond of the retired Bishop of Edinburgh, and primus of the Episcopal Church in Scotland.  He was planning to retire early to run as a Labour candidate for the devolved Assembly, but many gay Christians convinced him that they needed his voice.  So he stayed on and gave up his political ambitions.  Absolutely amazing man.  He baptized my sister when he was rector of our church in Boston.
        •  Lords from other faiths (none)
          You may be interested to learn that as well as the CofE bishops who are there ex-officio, the Chief Rabbi and a senior muslim cleric have been made life peers.
    •  The executive is the government (none)
      consisting of ministers, appointed by the prime minister.

      However ministers are also members of the House of Commons (and occasionally of the House of Lords), which are the legislative bodies.  Legislation is enacted by Parliament.  Bills can be proposed by the government, or by individual MPs ("private members bills").  

      It is not that rare for government bills to be defeated, or at least drastically amended.  Even with a big majority (actually especially with a big majority) there are lots of "back-bench" MPs, i.e. MPs who are not government ministers who may vote with the opposition.  Sometimes ministers do to.

      Anyone else like to comment?

      •  It is all relative (re govt bills being defeated) (none)
        Some folks have a caricature of Westminster as "elective dictatorship" in which the government gets parliament to pass everything it submits, without amendment.

        Clearly that is wrong, for the reasons you noted, Febble, in this comment to which I am responding.

        However, the most relevant thing for a Dailykos thread is, I think, to compare to the US. And here, even in the current Bush era of unified Republican government, bills supported by the executive get amended (and I mean significant content-altering but also even non-germane amendments) or even rejected far more often than bills supported by your government get rejected or subjected to major (and executive-disfavored) amendments in Commons (or Lords).

        It is harder in the US to identify "government bills" because under our separation of powers, technically, all bills originate in Congress, not in the executive. In the UK, most important bills, at least those that pass, originate in the executive.

        The fixed terms and distinct constituencies of our President, Senators, and House members--even those of the same party--mean that they will always have more disagreements--AND THE ABILITY TO ACT ON THEM--than your MPs from the government's party.

        Thanks again, Febble and the many commentators, for a very informative discussion!

        •  What happens if a bill (none)
          that was passed by the House and Senate is not signed and rejected by the President? Is that possible at all or would it always pass, independent of the President's approval?

          Is it impossible for the President to propose a bill? Or can he only recommend Congress to write a bill of his liking and nothing more? Or is he even not allowed to ask for it?

          If he himself or his cabinet decides on new policies, like for example the new stategic defense doctrine, couldn't that policy be reflected later on in executive orders, which are basically laws, even if not written by Congress? Can Congress reject executive orders?

          How much power has the US president to influence the legislators bill-writing process, contentwise?

          Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

          by mimi on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 04:03:15 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  US Legislation (none)
            Extract from Article 2, Section 3 of the US Constitution (setting out some powers of the President)

            "He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information on the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient".

            The Constitution gives the President the duty to report to Congress on the State of the Union and recommend legislation. I believe that it was not until the New Deal in the 1930's that the Executive branch routinely drafted detailed legislation, but only a member of Congress could introduce a bill, whoever drafted it.

            The President's power of veto gives him some influence over what Congress decides, but he has less detailed control that a British Prime Minister or (I presume) a German Chancellor.

            Extract from Article 1 Section 7

            "If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law, in like Manner as if he had signed it, unless the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return, in which Case it shall not be a Law".

            I think that answers your first query.

            Executive orders are not mentioned in the Constitution. They cannot be legislation as Congress has the exclusive power of legislation.

            They seem to be a way in which the executive power is exercised. If the President is validly using the executive powers he has presumably Congress cannot intervene.

            There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

            by Gary J on Tue Mar 22, 2005 at 12:31:41 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  German Chancellor's Veto Rights (none)
              I tried to find out if the German Chanceloor can veto a bill that has been approved by the Bundestag and the Bundesrat and I can't find it.

              I assume he has no such veto power and therefore I think that the German Chancellor has the least power compared to the UK Prime Minister and the President of the US.

              What happens exactly, if the US President vetos a bill? Look here . It happens a lot. Does Congress has to rewrite it? Does it get dropped completely? How can Congress overwrite a veto of the US President for a bill?

              Wow, I am actually proud that our head of the executive, the Chancellor, can NOT influence the legislative process with his veto.

              I also realize that the German Bundesrat has more power (as in check and balance the legislation introduced, drafted and written by the Bundestag) than the House of Lords has on the laws written by the House of Commons or even the US Senate.

              It looks like as if in the US the Senate is basically a modifier of the laws that have passed through Congress. I think the laws are going back and forth between Congress and Senate til they can find a compromise bill in both chambers. But then the US President can actually veto it completely, right? So, the US President seems to be the last decisionmaker over a bill, or is that incorrect?

              In the UK the House of Lord can recommend, but not veto a bill that was written in the House of Commons. Can the Prime Minister then veto a bill that was passed in the House of Commons?

              In Germany a bill can't be passed until both Bundesrat and Bundestag agrees upon it. If there are disputes there are procedures to call the "Vermittlungsausschuss" (like a broker consisting of equal number of members from Bundesrat and Bundestag). Wenn they could broker and come up with new formulated compromise law and when that law has passed, it is handed over to the Chancellor, who signs it, and he then hands it over the German President, who cannot veto it because of the political content of the bill, but only to "edit" it for "obvious" formal mistakes, which I guess never happens. The Chancellor himself can't veto it either. When a bill has been accepted by both chambers, the Chancellor can't veto it. That seems to be a HUGE difference to both the US and UK power of the executive.

              I guess this means that our Chancellor has "Richtlinienbefugnis", what means he can formulate policies and suggest or let draft legislation, but it has to be introduced by the Bundestag and then passed to the Bundesrat, who has a veto right, but the duty to call the "broker" to bring upon a process of negotiating the content of the bill til it can be accepted by both, Bundestag and Bundesrat. After that the bill "is done for good".

              May be someone can correct me in my assumptions.

              Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

              by mimi on Tue Mar 22, 2005 at 08:58:20 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  UK veto (none)
                In theory the British Prime Minister could advise the Queen to veto legislation. This would be an absolute veto which killed the proposed legislation.

                In practice there is a convention that the Royal Veto is not used. The last time it was used was when Queen Anne vetoed a Scottish militia bill in 1707.

                There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

                by Gary J on Wed Mar 23, 2005 at 04:05:43 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  A PM (Chancellor in Germany) has no veto power (none)
                In a parliamentary system like Germany (or, to varying degrees, every country in Europe aside from some of the XSSR) the prime minister is legally the agent of the parliamentary (or lower house) majority. Hence he cannot veto. If he opposes a bill passed by his majority, he could refuse to direct the bureaucracy to implement it, but the majority then could oust him in a no-confidence vote.

                The PM's authroity comes only from the same font as legislation (though upper houses can obscure this somewhat).

                Presidents, on the other hand, have separate authority, and so most of them are given the right to veto bills passed by the legislature (with varying override procedures).

                •  hmm, you know (none)
                  that I am scared about all the power the US President has? Reminds me much of conditions the Weimar constitution had in its design and I am glad we don't have that one anymore...

                  Human life should be governed by truth, freedom, justice and love.

                  by mimi on Wed Mar 23, 2005 at 08:23:29 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Second that! (none)
                    Do you realize that in free elections the Nazi party NEVER got a majority of votes?

                    IIRC Goebbels wrote about the imminent bancruptcy (?) of the Nazi party in late 1932...

                    Until Hitler was chosen by the German President as the next German Chancellor in January 1933.
                    Just imagine a delay of 6 months...

                    <Big sigh>

                    •  I didn't know that.... (none)
                      Thatcher is always portrayed as having won landslide victories, but there were always more votes cast against her party than for it, and of these, the vast majority were for parties to the left of her (Liberals, Social Democrats, Labour).

                      There seems to be a lesson here about unity in opposition to extremism.  I think the trouble is that leaders like Bush and Thatcher (and maybe Hitler) leave good people so stupified with outrage that they splinter, and cannot agree on a viable alternative. And sadly a large minority (if not a majority) like clarity, regardless of whether it is right or not.

                      •  I admit (none)
                        I was going from memory here.
                        Your comment caused me to google Weimar Republic election results.
                        (Overview of the "Reichstag" "parliamentary elections 1919-1933)

                        With the Nazi party NSDAP getting:
                        1928    -  2.63%
                        1930    - 18.33%
                        1932 I  - 37.36%
                        1932 II - 33.09%

                        And in 1933 with the NSDAP fully in power 43.91%.
                        Not even then could they get a "real" majority!

                        During 1932 they were actually going down.
                        Seems to confirm my memory of the Goebbels diaries. The NSDAP was in real financial troubles until Hitler <big sigh!> got nominated as the new German Chancellor by the then - senile - German President Hindenburg.
                        Just six months...

                        If you look at the results, the German Weimar Republic just got overwhelmed by extremists from both the far-right (NSDAP) and the far-left (KPD).

                        Together they had a majority to deny legitimacy to any democratic German government. But on their own they didn´t have a majority to establish their own government.

                        If just the "Reichstag" would have adopted the rules of the Prussian state parliament...
                        Yeah, I know! Prussia = militarism. :)

                        But in fact the state of Prussia adopted kind of a "constructive vote of no confidence".
                        Meaning that if you want to boot out a government you are required to put up an alternative.
                        And since the Nazis and the Communists wouldn´t have been able to agree on an alternative...

              •  US veto (none)
                If the president vetos a bill, then the House and Senate can vote on it again.  If it then gets 2/3s in both the House and Senate, they override the veto and it becomes law.  If not, it dies.

                So, this means that either two thirds of both houses of congress has to support a bill, or one half of each as well as the president.  As a practical matter, neither the Republicans nor the Democrats ever have two thirds in both the House and Senate (I think the Democrats might have had two thirds in the House alone (or close) in the fairly distant past), so as long as at least one of the three is controlled by a different party, nothing totally stupid can pass, unless both parties are in favor of said stupid thing.

                Of course, this isn't true at this moment in time.  In fact, right now, pretty much the only check the Democrats have on the Republicans is the filibuster (which means it takes 60 votes to stop debate on a bill)-and that is merely established procedure, and not a law, meaning the Republicans could (and are threatening to) eliminate it at any time.  Of course, there is one other thing that can happen if they do so-the Democrats could then slow the senate to a crawl so nothing gets down.

          •  What happens is (none)
            (Sorry to be late responding. Hope you're still there.)

            Passed  by House and Senate, but rejected by President: Bill dies, unless reconsidered by Congress and passed in the same form by 2/3 in each house (i.e. veto override.)

            The president can propose whatever he wants, but it is not a bill subject to formal consideration in Congress unless signed by a member. (And, of course, that means there has to be at least one member in each house willing to sponsor the bill.

            And executive orders are NOT "basically laws." All an executive order can do it tell an agency how to implement something already in law, or what specific cases to pay attention to when carrying out their legislative mandate. But it cannot contravene a law, and any order that does must be ignored by the agency or that agency (or rather its officials responsible) are in violation of their mandate and can be hauled before Congress, and/or sued in federal court.

            The only influence the president has over bill-writing is informal. That is, the "bully pulpit" or having congressmen over to the White House or at stump speeches, all of which are meant to show members of Congress that it's in their own political interests to work with the President. Whether they go along or not is their own business.

            •  A couple additional notes... (none)
              If the President doesn't sign a bill within fixed period of time, it automatically becomes law.

              HOWEVER... if Congress adjourns during the ten-day period and the President doesn't sign the bill, the bill "dies" because Congress can't receive the bill. This cannot be overridden.  This is called the "pocket veto" and is rarely used but awesomely powerful.

    •  How to get rid of a Peer from Parliament (4.00)
      Currently there is no way short of a Bill of Attainder (punishment proscribed by legislation rather than a decision of a Court). Some Germans and Austrians were deprived of British peerages as a result of supporting their country in the First World War, but otherwise in modern times once a peer, always a peer.

      As I have mentioned in another post, most of the hereditary peers lost their seats in Parliament in 1999. In recompense they gained the right to vote for an M.P. and stand for election to the House of Commons. Two hereditary peers, known as John Thurso and Michael Ancram who are respectively Viscount Thurso and the Marquess of Lothian, sit in the current House of Commons.

      The current reform proposals for the House of Lords will permit Peers, who are convicted of serious crimes, to be expelled from the House of Lords in the same way that MPs can be expelled from the House of Commons.

      There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

      by Gary J on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 02:49:49 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Revising Chamber (4.00)
      The Parliament Acts 1911-1949 restrict the legislative power of the House of Lords.

      The House of Lords must approve a money bill within one month of it being sent from the House of Commons. If it does not the Bill becomes law in the form last passed by the Commons.

      The House of Lords retains full legislative power to reject a bill to extend the maximum term of the House of Commons.

      For all other bills if the House of Commons and House of Lords disagree and the Commons pass the same bill in two seperate sessions then it can become law without the Lord's passing it.

      As a result of the limitation on the legislative powers and a convention of deference to the elected House, the House of Lords tries to put forward constructive amendments to improve bills rather than indulge in partisan opposition.

      The government also makes amendments in the House of Lords as often modern legislation is complex and inadequately thought out when first presented.

      The House of Lords has the power to make the Commons think again on issues, but normally does not use its full legal powers to delay legislation.

      There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

      by Gary J on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 03:07:10 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  The Executive (4.00)
      The executive power is exercised by the Crown in Council.

      The medieval King's governed through officers of their household. There was no clear distinction between members of the government and the King's personal servants. Thus the same man might be responsible for acquiring food for the Court and for the King's Army.

      The King's leading advisers, noblemen and Bishops who either had the King's trust or were too powerful to ignore with trusted royal officers, acted as a Council. This was a smaller version of the Great Council which became the House of Lords.

      The tendency over time was for the Council to become too large to be effective, so it spun off new bodies like the Courts of Law to take over parts of the Royal business.

      By the Tudor period the Privy Council had been created as the effective executive body, but this also grew too large and in the 17th century informal gatherings of the King and his leading Ministers made policy.

      After the accession of King George I in 1714, who did not speak English, the King stopped attending meetings of Ministers which developed into the cabinet. The Ministers decided policy and when necessary got Parliament or the Privy Council to implement it.

      From at least Tudor times the leading commoners in the Privy Council (i.e. not peers) were usually M.P.'s. As Parliament grew more important Ministers, to be effective, had to have the support of both the King and the House of Commons. If either support was missing the Prime Minister would probably not survive in office very long.

      King George III tested the limits of Royal power quite thoroughly. He was hostile to political parties and determined to be a King. He first undermined the Ministry of the Duke of Newcastle and then replaced him with his favourite, the Earl of Bute. Bute was one of the least popular Prime Minister's in British history and soon lost all Parliamentary support.

      George staggered on and eventually found a Minister who could keep the House of Commons happy without upsetting the King. This was Lord North. As Americans may be aware King George and Lord North pursued a colonial policy that turned out to be not altogether to Britain's advantage.

      By the 1780's King George had run out of good options. He had to tolerate Prime Minister's like Rockingham and Shelburne whom he did not approve of. Eventually the King put the 26 year old William Pitt the Younger in office, who kept things running whilst the King's health deteriorated.

      Gradually the balance of power shifted so the King, who in theory employed the Prime Minister as his servant, had to act only as the Prime Minister advised him. As the power of the House of Commons grew, the position of the Prime Minister who had the support of the Commons became more indispensible to the King.

      Eventually, by the 20th century, a convention had grown up that the monarch must always act as advised by a Prime Minister who would take political responsibility for what the government did.

      I have discussed residual Royal powers in emergency situations before in the posts above so I will just say here that in normal circumstances the Prime Minister is the effective executive even though in strict law the Queen is.

      I will briefly mention that the Prime Minister was formerly first among equals and the Cabinet controlled the government. Under Tony Blair the Cabinet appears no longer to decide much. Blair behaves like an American President who can decide to do something even if all his cabinet members are opposed. We are back to the King gathering a few unelected cronies around to decide what to do.

      There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

      by Gary J on Mon Mar 21, 2005 at 04:03:06 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  "British elective dictatorship" (none)
             Have a look at "Blair is set for a third term - and it's a chilling prospect: Another big majority will mean a lurch towards elective dictatorship", by Max Hastings, in today's Guardian at,3604,1442165,00.html .
      •  The last monarch to sack a PM (none)
        The last monarch to sack a PM was William IV, who fired Ld. Melburne in 1832. That turned out to be a diaster.

        The Byng/King thing in Canada in 1926 and the Witlam
        "coup" in 1975 were both based on written constitituions. The 1867 BNA act and 1900 Austrailia  act respectively.

        Canada got control of it's constitution only in 1982, while Austrailia got control of it's in 1935.

        Both were allowed to become real countries in 1919, when the PM's of the autonomous commonwealths demanded admission to the Versilles confrence.

        •  I do not agree (none)
          Responsible government, in both Canada and Australia, relies on convention rather than the written constitutional texts. More recent Commonwealth constitutions do try to codify Responsible Government and the reserve powers in a written text, but that was not attempted for Canada and Australia.

          There is no doubt that the Monarch in the UK or a Governor General in Canada or Australia has the legal power to dismiss a Prime Minister. The former Prime Minister could not go to Court and get an order restoring him to office.

          The remedy for breaching a convention is political not legal. A Queen or a Governor General who has gone beyond what the politicians and people are prepared to accept would be in a very difficult position and might well have to leave office.

          British monarchs have been very reluctant to put themselves in a position where the Crown becomes 'the football of contending factions' (as Prime Minister Asquith warned King George V in a memorandum about the consequences of the King breaching his conbentional role). This does not mean that a future monarch might not take such action if a crisis arose.

          There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

          by Gary J on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 07:11:55 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  er, question? (none)
    The British do not actually have a constitution? Do they?
  •  Yay, English history! (none)
    Thanks for the kick-ass diary. Wish my AP Euro text was as interesting as this. Though, to be fair, my text book wasn't too bad.

    I love English political history, the whole bit with Charles is one of my favorite pieces from European history in general (that and the French Revolution- maybe I have a thing for headless monarchs). Best quote that I remember from my text- James I, lacking the 'commoner's touch', was asked to wave to a crowd during a parade or whatnot. Not so thrilled about the idea, he threathened to pull down his pants(breeches?) so they could "wave at my arse!"

    •  Great to hear from (none)
      a teenage fan of 17th century English history! It is a fabulous period, not least because of people like Pepys who gives us all such a good peep. It's got everything; civil war, fire, plague, revolution (2), regicide, and counter-revolution.  Amazing architects (Wren, Hawksmoor, Vanbrugh), scientists (Isaac Newton), musicians (Purcell, William Lawes) and poets (Donne, Marvell).

      Charles II is my absolutely favourite monarch (apart for his taste in music).  And what a hottie.

      •  There's that Sha-espeare guy, too, (none)
             whoops, loo-s li-e the letter "-" - ey is bro-en on my computer! Aaah!
             Oh well, you -now what I mean, Sha-espeare, William Sha-espeare. An overrated guy, but still worth chec-ing out.

             As for the 17th cent., I seem to remember a Queen Elizabeth as well, or maybe it was just Cate Blanchett.

             If Febble is elected Queen, she can be Queen Lizzie the Third.

             (But what is this fetishizing of Chuc- II ? !! He was entertainingly trashy, and let women act in plays, but destroyed Cromwell's republic etc.
             Or maybe some people li-e that.)

        •  Queen Elizabeth and Shakespeare (none)
          barely made it into the 17th century, but they have a toehold there.

          Cromwell was horrible.  He was a Puritan, and destroyed much of what was beautiful in England; his soldiers destroyed statues in churches music, dancing and theatre were banned.

          Charles II brought the fun back, kept out of the way of parliament, and managed to re-establish religious tolerance (he was a secret catholic, but didn't let on).  His brother James II nearly wrecked that, but by then, parliament had regained confidence, and organised the bloodless Glorious Revolution, by inviting William and Mary over from Holland to depose James.  Charles II enable modern Britain to happen IMO.

          •  Cromwell had horrible points, but (none)
                 he deserves credit for creating a republic long before US did. Also, I've read England had a pretty good economy and strong foreign policy during his days.

                 AND he refused to seize the crown for himself, which is to his credit.

                 But he did go too far with the theaters and enforced puritanism, etc. If we could have a modern-day Cromwell who could lead Britain to republican status but without banning theaters (or abortions, etc.), that might not be a bad thing.

                 (When I was illegally detained by the Old Bill during the anti-monarchy protest at the Queen's Golden Jubilee, one of my fellow detainees was a young Englishman who had a Cromwell t-shirt on; so the people of Britain, some of them, still revere his name...)

            •  Ah, well, you see (none)
              I'm not a republican.

              But I'd like to see the monarch slot occupied by good ordinary people, for a year at a time.  

              Or even a dog.  It doesn't matter as long as it doesn't have real power.

              Good for you getting detained.  I was a republican once. (not a Republican, you understand....)

              •  Dog save (none)
                     the Queen.
                     The Canine Regime.


                •  What of Empress Maud... (none)
                  or Mathilda (August 5, 1102 - September 10, 1167), "Mathildis Imperatrix Henrici regis filia et Anglorum domina"?

                  "But then I viddied that thinking is for the gloopy ones and the oomny ones use, like, inspiration and what Bog sends." -- Alex de Large

                  by rgilly on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 04:45:54 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Empress Maud (or Matilda) (none)
                    Daughter of King Henry I, who tried to make her the next Monarch. The Barons agreed but went back on it after the death of the King.

                    Stephen of Blois became King. The Empress started a civil war. She is not generaly considered to have made good her claim to the throne, but did rule for a time.

                    The civil war was eventually ended by an agreement that Stephen could remain King in his lifetime, but that Matilda's son Henry would be the next King.

                    From "Medieval Kings of England and their Times

                    King Henry I, 1100 to 1135

                    As able as his brother, Rufus, but with a keener sense of justice. The royal administrative corps really came into its own in his reign. The first seven years of Henry's rule was spent in protecting England and then conquering Normandy from his eldest brother, Duke Robert. He ruled with an iron fist like his father and looked secure both in England and on the Continent until 1120 when his only legitimate son and heir was killed in a naval tragedy. He settled the Welsh rebellion of his brother's reign and fortified the new borders of Wales with many castles. The Welsh princes generally recognized Henry's suzerainty, and Henry was happy with this show of obligation. The end of his reign was dominated by a succession crisis where Henry forced his barons to support his daughter, the Empress Matilda of Germany, as heir.

                    King Stephen, 1135 to 1141

                    The favourite nephew of Henry I, broke his oath and assumed the kingship of England with the assent of the barons of England and Normandy. His character soon showed severe flaws for a king and as the English put it, he was found "to be soft". From 1136 onwards crisis followed crisis and England and Normandy slipped into Civil War and Deheubarth was retaken from its Norman rulers.

                    Empress Matilda, 1141 to 1142

                    Only legitimate daughter of Henry I to whom the Crown was promised in her father's lifetime. On her father's death Stephen was elected. In 1139 her half brother, Earl Robert of Gloucester, and Miles Gloucester rebelled from King Stephen in her favour. Stephen was defeated by the rebels and Welsh and captured in February 1141. Subsequently Matilda, the widow of the Emperor of Germany, began her short reign as Empress of the English. Her ill temper and brutal manner soon exasperated many of her subjects and she was chased out of London. By the end of 1142 she had been reduced to controlling only the less prosperous North and West of England. King Stephen, released from captivity, continued his reign improving his lot in the more economically advanced Midlands and South East. Normandy was taken from Stephen by Matilda's second husband, Geoffrey of Anjou in 1144, both titles passing to their son, another Henry, in 1151".

                    There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

                    by Gary J on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 05:59:10 AM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

              •  "I'm not a republican." (none)
                Well, actually, few of us here at dailykos are.....

                (Relax.  I know what the word means.)

            •  Cromwells influence on the USA (4.00)
              Cromwell had a big infulence on how the USA evolved.

              The highly literate Gentry of Virgina were acutely aware of the possible parallels between their own war against England and the English Civil War just a a century before. in particular they were aware of the aftermath and the descent into Military Dictatorship.

              That is why Washington spent so much time discrediting successful militia commanders such as Stark who showed the kind of flair for war that led to Cromwell's emergence as a strongman.


          •  James II (none)
            James II was really asking for it! From what I recall, he seemed to have no problem offending his mostly Anglican constituents.  
          •  Charles II (none)
            Just a filthy papist:)  Oh wait, that was James II. Duck.
      •  English history (none)
        And John Locke! Probably one of the most important non-American men in American history. 17th century English history is fabulous. And you're right, it's a wonderful period- not only in the politics, but the leaps in science and literature. Though I do love American history, we don't get much in literature and philosophy until at least the 20th century. Because of that, I think my general European history course was a more interesting one than my current American history one.

        Ooh, and Elizabeth I is my favorite monarch. You've gotta give props to a women who can kick Philip II-ass like that. Philip must've had a serious inferiority complex after that- not only to have been devastatingly defeated, but to have been devestatingly defeated by a woman at that!

        •  Especially as ... (none)
          Queen Elizabeth I was Phillip II's sister-in-law.

          Henry VIII's religious and matrimonial adventures had complicated family relationships within the Tudor dynasty. His Catholic elder daughter Mary I of England (not to be confused with her equally Catholic cousin Mary I of Scotland) married Phillip II and he had been given a courtesy title of King of England.

          Elizabeth, as Mary's Protestant half-sister, had been in very severe personal danger before Mary's death brought Elizabeth to the throne.

          There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

          by Gary J on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 04:42:38 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Trial by peers (none)
    There was a right for peers to be tried by the House of Lords, but that was abolished in 1948.

    The way it worked can be seen from the case of Earl Ferrers, convicted of murder and hanged in 1760.

    There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

    by Gary J on Fri Apr 01, 2005 at 01:54:40 PM PST

  •  getting rid (none)
    of the house of lords is foolish.  Every government should have a house that serves only the nation as a whole.  After all  they did just save your collective and common asses on civil liberties did they not?

    So if you had, had your way you would have removed that impediment...

  •  WOW (none)
    What an informative diary! Linking now.
  •  I hate to be daft, but... (none)
    Tom DeLay is the closest thing we have to a prime minister in the United States.

    No, really, just compare the institutions.

    Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.

    by JimTXDem on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 04:49:41 AM PDT

  •  thanks (none)
    As a Brit now on this side of the duck pond I have to say that I loved this - well done.

    Interesting evolution in my own thinking - I was born old labor and cheerfully became new labor when our man Tony swept the conservatives out. I have never been particularly keen on the royals or the lords - until now.

    Call me alarmist (and maybe too many years under Shrub's rule have clouded by judgement) but right about now checks and balances that can't get voted out or impeached seem bloody useful.

    •  The Lords and HM (none)
      I have never been particularly keen on the royals or the lords - until now.

      I think they are extremely useful and it would be a mistake to let them go. Because they have no real "power" and no voters to please, they can act as a moral checks and balances system. The Queen's "leaked" opposition to the policies of the Thacher government and the present situation w/ the Lords "standing down" on Blair's route on civil liberities show that they still have a role that can be useful.

      I can't see the harm in them being around, at any rate.

      right about now checks and balances that can't get voted out or impeached seem bloody useful.

      Well we do have the Supremes FWIW (ie The Supreme Court of the United States) which can and have acted in matters of separation of powers. Of course, they have real power and can be manipulated politically, but they are notoriously short tempered wrt politicians trying to tell them what to do.

      They are a less reliable form of checks and balances on the whole than the Queen and the Lords, IMHO, but they are there. Hopefully they will not hear another case like Bush v Gore, but allow it to be decided in the state in question. They lost something by using their power in that way.

      JMHO tho.

  •  The Windsors... (none)
    (or is it the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas) can relocate to South Florida to the Magic Kingdom. Epcot has their United Kingdom Pavilion. They would feel right at home there, right?

    And the English who are snapping up Florida vacation homes due to the strength of the British pound (Euro?) against the dollar would once again feel right at home.

    Maybe even Blair could have Question Time at the Rose and Crown Pub!

    "But then I viddied that thinking is for the gloopy ones and the oomny ones use, like, inspiration and what Bog sends." -- Alex de Large

    by rgilly on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 05:06:25 AM PDT

    •  Well it depends (none)
      Phillip is actually "of Greece" and had no surname until he adopted his uncle's "Mountbatten" prior to his marriage to comply with British practice. Mountbatten's family changed it from "Battenburg" - like the cake - during World War I.

      So depending on which stance you take, our own dear Queen is in fact Betty Battenburg.

      •  Elizabeth Hanover aka Windsor, says I !!! LOL (none)
        The name Saxe-Coberg-Goethe comes from the marriage of Victoria to Albert. Since she outranked him (even when foreign titles were considered full "peers" in Britian...prior to 1918) in both German and UK titles....added w/ the issue of primogeniture, her name didn't change, nor did that of the House. IOW they were Albert and Victoria Hanover.

        Of course, when George V changed the name from X(even the heralds never seemed to figure out which name) to Windsor, the same would apply to the Sovereign monarch be they male or female. Liz outranks Phil...therefore he's just, in his words "a bloody ameboa"! LOL

        BTW, tho Philip was a Prince of Greece...he and his family have no real Greek connection. Their bloodlines and last name (whatever that might really be) is connected to the Danish and German royal/ducal lines. Philip's mother Alice was a Battenberg and his Andrew father was something else, so Phil's last name would be his father's, since Andrew outranked Alice due to proximity the line-of-succession to the thrones both of Greece and the UK.

        Anyway, since HM gave Phil the title "Duke of Edinbourgh", wouldn't her last name be Edinbourgh too if she didn't outrank him? "Last names" of royals tend to be taken from their Charles, William and Harry Wales as opposed to Windsor...if so, wouldn't she be Elizabeth Edinbourgh if he weren't Philip Windsor?

        LOL...just having a bit of smarty pants fun here. You couldn't make this drama up!

        •  Sorry... (none)
          That's not how it works.  The House was clearly the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.  Edward VII and George V were Princes of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, but not Princes of Hanover.

          Also, William's last name is "Windsor," even if he goes by "William Wales."

  •  Questions (none)
    This is one of the most interesting discussions I've ever seen here.  Thanks to everybody for their posts.

    Two questions.  One serious, one less so.  The serious one first:

    1. The Iraq war and Blair's cozying up to Bush are apparently very unpopular in Britain.  And yet there doesn't seem to be a viable way for people to express their unhappiness at the polls.  The Conservatives supported the war and are generally more pro-American than Labour.  The Liberal Democrats aren't likely to win.  It seems to me that this leaves a big part of British public opinion without an effective way to express their opinions through voting.  Something seems horribly out of sync.  Could anybody comment on this?

    2.  (The less serious question.)  How did "bloody" come to be a popular obscenity?
    •  The multiparty, one constituancy system (none)
      The British system is a one-constituancy system, as explained in the many posts above.

      Witthree national political parties, generally nobody can get a popular majority, and in the rare times they do, they generally wipe out the opposition.

      Thatcher's Tories never got more than 43% of the vote. In the spring of 1974, The Tories got more votes than Labour, yet the latter got the government anyway.

      Blair is unpopular, but he's considered the lesser of three evils.

      •  More like: (none)
        Blair is the lesser of the two likeliest evils, and will be less able to be evil if the non-evil guy gets more votes than the greater evil, even if he still gets fewer than the less evil Blair.

        That's the problem.

        •  Thanks (none)
          Thanks for the good answers.  Forgive me a couple more questions, and then I'll shut up.

          If too many people who previously voted for the less-evil guy (back before he became evil) decide to vote for the non-evil guy this time, isn't there at least a theoretical risk that the more-evil guy will wind up with a plurality of the vote?  I realize that right now that's probably not too likely, since the more-evil guy's party is in pretty bad shape.  But isn't it a concern in general?

          And a question about the thought processes of the "average" British voter (if there is such a beast).  Not a political junkie.  Suppose I think Blair is the greatest thing since sliced bread, but I think my Labour MP is a jerk.  Or vise versa.  Am I likely to think of my vote more as a vote for my local MP or as a vote in favor of a continued Labour government?  

          •  Yes, it's exactly the problem (none)
            For me, and for many, the choice is between Labour and Lib-Dems.

            Realistically this is a choice of two different evils:

            Voting Labour and getting Blair
            Voting Lib Dem and getting Howard.

            Other possibilities are:

            Voting Lib Dem and getting Kennedy (vanishingly unlikely given our electoral system and the distribution of the Lib-Dem vote)

            Voting Lib Dem and getting Blair, but giving him a bloody nose, and forcing an early resignation.

            For people considering Kennedy, the potential of this last possibility makes it a tempting option.  However, the potential penalty is hideous.  It's the prisoner's dilemma. I suspect that the worse the Tories are doing in the run-up to the election, the more people will vote Lib Dem, in the hope of the bloody nose outcome.

            Failing that, ways to get rid of Blair but keeping a Labour government are:

            1. putting up a candidate against Blair in his own constituency (but the difficulty will be getting support to coalesce around one protest candidate - however it's been done successfully before, though not with a PM to my knowledge)

            2. trusting to the arcane procedures of the Labour party.  However, Blair has said he will not fight a fourth election.  Even if he wins this one, there will be a lot of pressure on him to stand down in time for his successor to get a good run in government before the following election.  

            My prediction is that Labour will get a reduced, but still substantial, majority, and Blair will resign about 18 months later, to be succeeded by Brown.  Any Canadians agree?
          •  your second question (none)
            I think you think of your vote as a vote for Blair, even though in theory it is for your MP.  If your guy is really a jerk you might want to vote for a harmless near competitor.

            More often the PM is a jerk but you like your guy (I am in that position).

            I'll vote for my guy, even though Blair is a jerk.  I  then hope that my guy will vote against Blair in parliament (he does, frequently).

    •  A couple of answers (none)
      1. Previous Labour supporters disenchanted because of the Iraq war are likely to abstain or vote for another party that did not support it (a bit less likely depending on constituency). The Tories probably hit "bedrock" support at the 1997 election and have not really recovered.  Their vote tends to be "harder" and less likely to abstain or defect.

      2. From, the site for the Oxford English Dictionery:
      -- ORIGIN perhaps connected with the `bloods' or aristocratic rowdies of the 17th and 18th centuries; to be bloody drunk (= as drunk as a blood) meant `very drunk indeed'.

      The expression "drunk as a Lord" is obviously related.


    •  bloody words (none)
      More than you probabably  wanted to know about


    •  The latest projections show.. (none)
      that the Labour Party will lose a number of seats due to tactical voting in favour of the Liberal Democrats due to the Iraq war. Remember also that the Scottish Nationalist Party and the Welsh Nationalist Party (Plaid Cymru) both voted against the war with the Lib Dems. They also are expected to gain. The consequences will be serious for Blair - although sadly, even with these latest figures he will retain a majority .

      This latest forecast shows:

      Labour 355 Conservative 196 Lib Dem 63 (Lab Maj 66)

      This compares with the 2001 result of:

      Labour 413 Conservative 166 Lib Dem 52 (Lab Maj 169)

      (Source: UK Elect)

      A further strong showing by the Lib Dems in this election will further erode the Conservatives as the main opposition party and undermine their credibility, although it will not oust them from that position.

      Why it becomes serious for Blair is that he will lose the confidence of his colleagues in Parliament. He will have to tread carefully, taking no measures likely to offend them.  Not least, they will want to keep their seats at the next election, so they won't want more Blairism to jeapordise their position with the electorate.

      The latest polling (Financial Times) suggests that I overstated in the election diary last Friday the damage that the Tory campaign hd inflicted on itself. I am not sure and need to see figures over the coming two weeks.

      What I will say to the American readership is that the possibility of Blair being able to give Bush the unqualified support that he gave last time for further military excursions, such as an attack on Iran, looks less and less likely as this polling data begins to harden

      •  unqualified support (none)
        Thanks for the information.  Not to go off-topic or start an argument, but I have a feeling Bush isn't going to get unqualified support for an attack on Iran from certain other quarters, either.  Notably the U.S. military.
    •  sblood (none)
      "Sblood" is the first word in the first scene of the first act in Shakespeare's "Othello". It stands for "Christ's blood" and is thus a blasphemy. Today's use of "blood" and "bloody" stands in this tradition.

      As a matter of fact "Othello" was soon censured and banned by the Puritans. Shakespeare actually had to write a Puritan friendly version of "Othello" to be allowed to perform the play in London.

      Fortunately the Puritans eventually emigrated towards a new continent which shortly before had been discovered in the western hemisphere.

      This took the pressure off the court and Queen Elizabeth was able to lift the censorship.

      Does anybody know what happened to those religious emigrants? Are they still upset about theatre plays and arts in general?

      •  Um...yeah. (none)
        We got them to migrate a good bit further west and south, but we couldn't get them to budge any further. Say, for example, to Mars. Yes, they still hate the arts. They also do wacky things like try replacing "Hello" with "Heaveno" because the former, after all, contains the word "Hell".
  •  Thank You. (none)
    I have always been confused by the government system on the other side of the pond.  This helps immensely.

    "Freedom no longer frees you!"

    by Renegade Prole on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 06:15:01 AM PDT

  •  So let me get this straight... (none)
    ....11 Downing St. is NEXT DOOR to 10, not across the street? Good God, man, in what kind of country do you live?


    by Doug in SF on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 07:28:09 AM PDT

    •  Street numbering (none)
      An interesting social convention which will be re-emphasised  for thousands of Poor Bloody Infantry out canvassing in the UK Election.

      Houses which are along a street or road which is a thoroughfare are numbered so that odd numbers are along one side and even numbers along another. Houses around a street that doesn't lead onto another are numbered in consecutive order so that number 2 is next door to numebr 3 and the next house is number 4 and so on round so that the highest number is often exactly on the opposite side of the street to the lowest.

      Downing Street is not a throughfare so number 11 abuts onto Number 10.

      Other schemes may apply just for the hell of it in other localities.


      •  Don't forget (none)
        Most house numbers do not include a number 13 as this is regarded as unlucky.

        What do you mean what sort of country do we live in? Febble said it at the top of the innings. It is daft, utterly bloody daft. I rather like it  :)

  •  Good on you (again) Febble (none)
    Your guide ought to be standard text in schools--it's lively and accurate.

    And you're right, the Constitution IS daft when reduced to writing.

    There are three kinds of people: Those who see; those who see when they are shown; those who do not see.

    by Shadowthief on Mon Apr 04, 2005 at 07:51:07 AM PDT

  •  Evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet (none)
    Do attack ads (or personal attacks on candidates) occur in the UK?  Are they (or would they be) effective?

    This strikes me as one difference between Canadian and US politics at the moment.  While mudslinging seems to be well-established in the US, in Canada it tends to have the opposite effect:

    Attack ads can also backfire, however. If an ad is seen as going too far or being too personal the voters will turn against the party that put out the ad. One example of an attack ad backfiring was during the 1993 Canadian election when the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada attacked Liberal Party of Canada candidate Jean Chrétien by mocking his facial deformity. Outrage followed and the PCs were hurt badly in the polls.

    Certainly, it did the Ontario Conservatives no good to refer to Ontario Liberal Leader Dalton McGuinty as a Evil reptilian kitten-eater from another planet.

    •  Yes but not to the same devasting effect (none)
      as in the USA. Most of our leading politicians are well known. Our gutter press comb their background viciously as soon as they start to emerge so that there are few surprises during the election campaign and what mud there is will have been thrown before and merely repeated.

      Both Conservatives and Lib Dems are playing heavily on Blair being utterly untrustworthy and deceitful.

      There are always minor surprises in the events of an election that can have some significance. During the last, an indignant mother publicly accosted Blair outside a staged hospital photo call. He lost some support because she argued effectively that his stewardship of the National Health Service was no as good as he was claiming.

      In Rhyl, a few miles from where I am typing this, the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, got too close to the crowd barriers and a bloke lost his cool and had a go at him. Prescott, an ex-seaman, turned round and smacked a really good right swing at him. For twenty-four hours, the Conservatives went to town about this unseemly behaviour by a Minister of the Crown. They sensed a possible turning point in the election. It was. The British public regarded it as the only honest thing a politician had done during the whole campaign and, if it did Labour no good, then it certainly did them no harm.

      And it was a good right hook from a guy who looks useful in a rumble.

  •  Explain that Civil War thing, now? (none)
    You had some messiness in the 1600s, right? As I understand it the monarchy was overthrown, a democracy was set up (was that under Cromwell?), and then a few years later the monarchy was reinstated.
    Is that when it became largely symbolic and the power transferred to the people? I don't think so, as I get the impression King George was a pretty powerful figure at the time we were deciding we didn't like him anymore.

    P.S. Who exactly was "Bonnie Prince Charlie?"

    •  well... (none)
      The Commonwealth (1649-1660) was hardly a democracy in any meaningful sense.  Cromwell was essentially a military dictator.

      When Charles II was restored, he had, theoretically, as much power as his father had.  But he was very careful about using it.  His brother and successor, James II, was much less careful, and got hisself overthrown and a Dutch army invading to put his Dutch son-in-law on the throne (this was in 1688).  But William of Orange (the Dutch son-in-law) was canny and ambitious, and he managed to have a lot of power, as did his sister-in-law Queen Anne.  In 1714, when Queen Anne died without any kids, her distant German cousin Prince-Elector George Ludwig of Hannover became king.

      The Hanovers were much more cautious, and at first were heavily dependent on the Whigs to maintain power, but they still maintained a lot of power, especially in international relations.  George III, the first British born and raised of the Hanovers, had a lot more leeway, and attempted to revive royal power, but he mostly did that as a politician, by sponsoring a parliamentary party that supported him, rather than using the old means of royal power.  His long insanity, and his sons' debauched useless didn't help the monarchy much, but the monarchy retained considerably (though limited) power into the 19th century.  William IV (one of George III's debauched useless sons) actually fired the whig prime minister, Lord Melbourne, in 1834 and brought in a tory ministry.  Unfortunately for him, the Tories couldn't manage the Whig majority in the commons, and resigned after only a few months - the last time the monarch actually fired a ministry.  But even after that the monarch had considerable say over who got to form a government, and Victoria maintained strong opinions on foreign policy that had to, at least, be listened to.  But especially as the franchise broadened, the monarch's real power became less and less.  George V (r.1910-1936) was probably the first monarch to be like current monarchs and feel that he couldn't intervene in politics at all, though.

      Bonnie Prince Charlie, aka the Young Pretender, was the Jacobite pretender in the 18th century.  When James II got himself ousted by his son-in-law, he had an infant son by his second, Catholic, wife.  This son, James, became the "Old Pretender," and followers of the two were known as "Jacobites," after the Latin word for "James."  The Old Pretender and his son, Charles, the Young Pretender, made several attempts to claim the British thrones.  The Old Pretender tried with the "Fifteen" in 1715-16, but failed.  Then the Young Pretender tried again in the "Forty-five" of 1745-1746.  This was a big scare in England, especially as most of the army was in the Low Countries fighting the French at the time.  But ultimately, the pretender was beaten by Bloody Cumberland (the younger son of George II) at the Battle of Culloden in early 1746.  Bonnie Prince Charlie then made his romantic flight back to the Isle of Skye, assisted by Flora Macdonald and all that, while Cumberland bloodily killed off as many of his supporters in the Highlands as he could (there were a lot of Jacobites in the Highlands, mostly because they hated the Lowlands, I think).  The Jacobites ceased to be a serious political force, and the Jacobite pretenders soon died out - the Old Pretender died in 1766 in Rome, the Young Pretender, debauched and fat and not terribly romantic anymore, in 1788, having failed to produce a legitimate heir; and his younger brother Henry, who had become a Roman Catholic cardinal (Cardinal York), died at long last in 1807.  Thereafter, the Jacobite claim passed to various continental royal families that weren't terribly interested.

      •  Over the Sea to the Carolinas (none)
        Flora Macdonald (who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape) emigrated to the Americas with some thousand or so other Jacobite Highlanders having received a pardon from the crown and taken an oath of loyalty.

        During the American Revolution the Highlanders remained loyal to this oath and formed the backbone of armed Loyalist opposition to the seditious rebels in the Carolinas.

        One of the odder facts in the entangled histories of Britain and the USA.


  •  Well, it's good to know... (none)
    ...that your system is just as daft as ours, and works just as well-that is, pretty well considering how silly it is.
    •  Let me carefully correct an impression - (none)
      The system may be dafter than I have stated but, and this is important, it works very well. We seem to have more confidence in its mechanics, more trust in the fairness of its outcome and more confidence in the checks and balances that exist throughout the lifetime of the Parliamentary cycle than I sense that most US citizens have in their system.

      Please don't ask me how and why we have this confidence - but we do!

  •  Political Parties in Britain (none)
    For centuries political parties in Britain were purely private associations with no status or recognition in electoral law at all.

    Under recent legislation parties have to register and submit to some stringent checks on financial procedures. They are still however private associations regulated by law (but having certain privileges).

    To become a Party Member you need to contact a party, sign an application form and (usually) pay some kind of annual subscription. There is NOTHING in UK electoral practice similar to the US practice of `registering as' a party supporter with the electoral authorities and having your registration publicly listed.

    And there is nothing similar to the publicly regulated primaries for selection of candidates. Varying according to individual party statutes, paid up members have rights to participate in the selection of candidates for public offices contested by their party.

    Parties register with the Electoral commission. A listing of all registered UK parties is available on their website.

    There are currently 301 registered parties but it is known that about 60 new parties have applied for registration and will probably be registered in time for the upcoming General Election. Parties range through local groupings (south Tyneside Progressives) and semiserious nonsense parties (Official Monster Raving Loony Party) through to the seriously obsessive ( Revolutionary Communist Party Britain - Marxist-Lenninist ) and real contenders (such as the Green Party, and the internationally known Big Three).

    Parties can have a distinctive registered Logo which can appear on the ballot paper beside the names of candidates endorsed by that Party. No non-endorsed candidate, even if a supporter of that party, can use the logo.


  •  Who can vote in UK elections (none)
    Basically to register to vote in an UK Parliamentary election you have to be

    Resident in the UK (but see note on UK Citizens abroad)
    18 Years or over on the day of the election.
    An United Kingdom Citizen
    A citizen of the Republic of Ireland
    A citizen of a Commonwealth Country.

    And not to be under a specific disqualification (basically being a recent undischarged bankrupt; being actually incarcerated for a felony; being compulsorily detained in a mental hospital; or being a Peer of the Realm with voting rights in the Lords. Or the Monarch or Heir to the Throne.)

    That's right you don't have to be a citizen to be a voter. Canadians can vote according to UK Law in UK elections.  As can Pakistanis, Jamaicans, Nigerians  and Maltese, amongst others.

    Thanks to the calligraphic and other awkward activities of John Hancock and others US Citizens are excluded from this.  Tough.

    Registering to vote.
    All who are eligible to register are required by law to register. In theory you can be prosecuted for failing to register. In practice in 40 years political involvement I have never heard of this being done.

    The registration form is attached for your interest (.pdf document).

    When you are registered you are assigned to a polling district and allocated an unique electoral number valid for that registration year.

    There is a national review of electoral registration every year with the base date of 15 October. Most people re-confirm or register their recent changes at that time. The new register comes into force on 1 January and lasts for a year. You can update your registration (moving house and so on) at any time in the year but there is a time lag before the new registration becomes valid. The final date for an election on 5th May was 11th March.

    There is nothing comparable to the `registration drives' by political parties and interest groups that occur in US politics.

    UK citizens resident outside the UK can registered  to vote provided they were registered to vote in an UK constituency within the last 15 years. Other people who would qualify to vote if UK resident cant register as overseas voters - this has to be UK Citizens.


  •  Expensive Royalty (none)
    Actually, far from being expensive the Royal Family turns a profit for the country in every study ever done*. Throw in the brilliant way all Americans are Republican until the Queen stands in front of them (no-one bows faster than a Texan) and the excellent unintentional humour of Prince Phillip and you've got a great deal.

    * Not that I've actually checked them all

  •  Hey - just noticed your comment :) (none)

    The unassisted triple play I'm referring to was fodder for a rain delay commentary (the best kind :).  Ron Fairly and what's-his-name (eek -- he was one of the best Giants commentators in the last decade) brought it up.  Apparently it happened in the minors in Idaho or Montana.  Here's a description according to Fairly (I think):

    1st and 2nd, no outs.... Popup near second base.  Umpire calls infield fly rule, so batter is out.  Runner on first is running on the play and passes the runner on second, who is waiting just off the bag at second.  Umpire calls runner from first out for passing the other runner.  And to top it off, the popup hits the runner from second.  He's called out.  

    Now it's hard to believe this scenario, but these announcers said it happened, so it must have.  Right? :)  (And it was the minor leagues....)


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