August is the month for writing….

052It used to be the case that the summer vacation provided two or three months for serious writing.  Nowadays, because the House of Lords tends to sit until late July and the academic year starts in September (with plenty of work needed to prepare for it), it tends only to be August that is available.  Even then, there’s a fair amount of administration, supervision of PhDs and still some marking to be done.  Anyway, as soon as the Workshop of Parliamentary Scholars was over – see my earlier post – and the House rose, I was able to get on with some serious writing.  Rather to my pleasant surprise, I managed to get ahead of schedule.  I finished a conference paper and in the past 24 hours have submitted three manuscripts – one journal article (on the Fixed-term Parliaments Act) and two book chapters (one on the Coalition and the Conservatives, the other on Parliament for a volume on the UK constitution).  All being well, they will be appearing in 2015. 

Now that August is over, I will have to work round other commitments in order to get on with an article on prime ministerial succession and a number of chapters I have agreed to write – on Parliament during a period of coalition, the legislative process in the House of Lords, and the training of MPs.  I think that is all I am presently committed to writing, though I do have an upcoming keynote speech on sub-national legislatures. 

One reason I mention all this is by way of explanation for light blogging over the past month.  One might think that with my diary being fairly empty for the month, I would have more time to contribute posts, as well as being more active on Twitter.  The reality has been that I have been so absorbed by writing that I haven’t had much time to pen anything for the Blog.  Fortunately, the caption competition has kept readers engaged, rather splendidly so.  As for Twitter, I am not sure tweets to the effect of ‘writing’, ‘still writing’, ‘another few thousand words completed’, would be that exciting. 

At least completing the various projects means I will have something to write about as each one is published.  I now have five publications in the pipeline.  However, as yet, no new book.    Hmm, must think about remedying that.

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The August winner is…

PNTeaching2It’s now September, so I had better announce the winner of the August caption competition.  The entries were notable for their number and their quality.  There were some highly inventive as well as extremely witty contributions, so much so that it has been difficult selecting a winner.  The entries got off to a splendid start with MrJontyF’s offering.  barry winetrobe also offered an entry based on the books in the picture, apparently believing an element of flattery would make the entry an obvious contender.  (He was right.)   Others were based more on the people in the picture.  I loved seanjm72’s ‘so that’s 6 with sugar and 5 without..’.  Two were especially inventive.  ken wilkinson: ‘student: so this is your entry for the Turner Prize or can’t you be bothered to put the books back?’  AndrejNKv: ‘If Lord Norton stood very still, perhaps nobody would notice that the book pile had become structurally unsound’.  This evoked a nervous laugh, given that (as AndrejNKv may have noticed from observation) it is a little too close to the truth!  Any one of these, but not confined to them, could have emerged as the winner.  However, I have chosen the winner based on what I think fits most neatly with the picture. 

The winner is Alex M with: ‘All eyes begin to turn on the unfortunate soul who forgot to bring cake’.  Read it while looking at the picture and you can see why it pipped the other entries at the post.  If Alex M would like to get in touch, I can arrange to send a copy of one of my books, at least one he does already possess.

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August caption competition

PNTeaching2A combination of parliamentary duties and marking have kept me occupied.  Now I’m just embarking on my summer writing – see my earlier post – which will keep me busy this month.  Realising we are already well into August, I thought I had better introduce the latest caption competition.  Here’s a picture of me teaching – it’s taken from a seminar a couple of years ago.  As usual, the reader to provide what in my opinion is the most apt and entertaining caption will be the winner.  The prize will be one of my recent publications.  Good luck…

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MPs and scholars

BtfQIudCcAEfNs7I spent the weekend at Wroxton College – pictured right – in Oxfordshire, for the Eleventh Workshop of Parliamentary Scholars and Parliamentarians.  I organised it under the auspices of the Centre for Legislative Studies, as I have done for the previous ten Workshops.  The first – in 1994 – was held in Berlin, but the rest have been held in the ideal setting of Wroxton College, housed as it is in a Jacobean mansion – ancestral home of Lord North, Prime Minister under George III – in over fifty acres of wooded grounds.  Held on a biennial basis, it provides an opportunity for scholars to present findings likely to be of interest to parliamentarians.  It is co-sponsored by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), who inform their member branches of the event and hence facilitate the attendance of parliamentarians.

Each Workshop has been successful, but this was probably the most successful.  It attracted a record number of papers – you can see the list here - and the quantity was matched by quality.  Panels covered such topics as legislatures in developing nations, specific legislatures such as the Chinese NPC, engaging with citizens and the press, the Westminster system in context, and legislatures in Europe, and concluded with a plenary session addressing what constitutes an effective legislature.

Those attending were drawn from all five continents, with  MPs, officials or scholars from a range of Commonwealth nations (such as the UK, Australia, Kenya, and the West Indies), but also from nations as diverse as Jordan, Malta, Brazil, Bahrain, Burundi and Tonga.  It made for a fruitful exchange of views and experience, including in the final session.

The final announcement I made in closing the Workshop was that the Twelfth will be held in 2015, instead of 2016, in order to avoid clashing with the biennial International Political Science Association (IPSA) conference.  That means getting under way pretty soon in organising it….

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Hull’s finest: Class of ’14

Bs_zVsTIEAEBrxpThe graduation ceremony for Hull politics students took place last Wednesday.  The picture shows me with some of the British Politics and Legislative Studies (BPLS) graduates.  The results were the best we have ever achieved.

As there was not an honorary degree being awarded at the ceremony, I was invited to be the speaker.  My theme was that receiving a degree is not the end of a process, but rather the start of one.  The degree is the springboard for one’s future, but the university experience shapes who you are and how you face the world.  You may leave the campus, but you remain part of the university and the university remains part of you.  This I think is particularly the case with Hull, which attracts remarkable loyalty from its graduates.  They are as proud of the university as the university is proud of them.

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A new Magna Carta?

2014-07-11 13.53.21The Political and Constitutional Reform Committee of the House of Commons has published a report, A new Magna Carta? asking whether the UK needs a codified constitution.  It identifies three options: a non-statutory constitutional code (akin to the Cabinet Manual), a Constitutional Consolidation Act, and a written – by which it means an entrenched – constitution.

The report is neutral on the options – it identifies the arguments for and against and invites submissions.  However, the chair of the committee, Graham Allen, supports a written constitution and I was on the BBC Daily Politics programme yesterday to debate the issue with him.  The debate is essentially about what a constitution is designed to achieve.  Some see a constitution as a means of enshrining particular values and constraining public bodies and majority will (negative constitutionalism) while others see it as a means of ensuring the will of the people prevails (positive constitutionalism).  Research commissioned by the committee contends that the existing uncodified constitution ‘fails to give primacy to the sovereignty of the people’.   That is questionable and no basis for implementing a reform that would enshrine values above the will of the people.  Under our system, the will of the people can be expressed through Parliament – we are closer to a system of positive constitutionalism than are advocates of an entrenched constitution.

Given that a constitution enshrining particular values would require interpretation, and entrenchment would put its provisions beyond the reach of a simple majority in the two Houses of Parliament, we would witness political issues being resolved through a judicial rather than a political process.  There is an argument for that, but I believe in a system where political issues are resolved through debate by those elected to represent the people.   If people disagree with the outputs of Parliament, they can lobby for a new law to change the situation.  If Parliament is deficient as a medium for expressing and defending the interests of electors, that is a case for reforming Parliament, not an argument for an entrenched constitution.

Discussing a codified constitution is, in my view, something of a distraction from addressing flaws in our current arrangements.  And, ultimately, the most powerful protector and constraint is the political culture.

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July competition – the winner

UOH_1022 copyI can now reveal the winner of the July caption competition.  It was a difficult choice.  There were some splendid entries.  The number of winners could have run into double figures, but as I announced there would be a winner rather than winners – and dividing one book among several people would create some challenges – I have been disciplined and chosen what I regard as the best from an excellent field.

One or two eagle eyed readers (notably Dave Green and Rob Falconer) picked up on details in the picture that others overlooked.  However, there were clear themes, usually relating to lords – or a lord – and, how shall I put this, singing the praises of the lord.  I get the impression some readers think that to win they have to appeal to my vanity.  That is neither necessary nor sufficient.  The key criterion is that the caption has to be witty.  If it is witty and appeals to my vanity, then you may be on to a winner….

After long deliberation, I narrowed the entries down to two finalists.  They both picked up on Baroness Bottomley’s hand gesture and each seemed to fit especially well.  The winner is sbw24 with ‘And Lord Norton’s publications occupy this much space on my new bookshelf.’  (Mark Shephard had a similar idea, but I thought sbw24’s fitted best with the particular gesture.)   The runner-up is Alex M with ‘And the cake he brought to the interview was ‘this’ big!’ which combines a salient theme with the particular gesture.

If sbw24 would like to get in touch, a copy of Baroness Trumpington’s Coming Up Trumps will be on its way.  And the next time I see Alex M I will buy him a cake.

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