The semester has ended. Some people appear to think this mean academics can have a quieter time. If only. The only difference for me is that once the semester ends, life becomes somewhat more varied and peripatetic. I still have marking and administrative responsibilities – grading research projects, arranging placements – but they are complemented by a range of commitments. This week has been especially varied.
Monday began with a talk, on the role of the House of Lords, at Kesteven & Grantham Girls’ School. The school’s most famous alumnus is Margaret Roberts, later Margaret Thatcher. I got to Westminster in time to attend a packed meeting of the 1922 Committee, addressed by our second female PM. Getting through all the journalists in the corridor was a struggle in itself; as for the meeting itself, anyone used to being sardine-like in the tube has some idea of what it was like. I am a regular attender at the 1922, not least for academic purposes. Having written the history of the committee for its 90th anniversary, I am planning to write its centenary history. For that reason, attendance at this particular meeting was important.
On Tuesday, I was at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) for 0900 for the opening of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) Academic Seminar on Post-Legislative Scrutiny. It attracted a large audience drawn from a wide range of countries. I gave a short keynote address, emphasising the importance of post-legislative scrutiny. It is a public good and important to ensuring law is doing what it is expected to do. As soon as the session was over, I had to rush to get to Westminster in time to contribute to an informal seminar organised by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee in the Commons on executive-legislative relations. It was a two-hour meeting and as soon as it finished I had to get to another committee room for a regular meeting of the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber, of which I am convenor. It was then back to the IALS for the Academic Seminar, before returning to the House for chamber business.
Wednesdays are normally devoted to the Constitution Committee and other meetings, but this week I had an early start in order to get to Liverpool University for a conference on The Heath Premiership 1970-74. There were some interesting papers covering policies as well as Heath’s leadership. I gave a paper on Heath and party management, addressing how he dealt with the party organisation (Central Office, constituency parties, the 1922) and his relationship with party members, both in the country and Parliament. His poor personnel management contributed to his difficulty in getting measures through and his ultimate demise as party leader.
I returned to Hull on Wednesday evening in readiness for the University graduation ceremony on Thursday morning. I always attend the ceremony for politics graduands. On this occasion, I was also the presenting officer for the honorary graduand, Alan Johnson, former MP for Hull West and Hessle, Cabinet minister, and award-winning author. The picture shows me presenting him for his honorary degree. He has held so many offices – of the 13 years that Labour was in power, he was a minister for eleven of them – that most of my presentation was a recitation of the posts. After the ceremony and a formal lunch, there was a reception for graduates, always a pleasant occasion, not least to meet parents and family. Then, for the first time in the week, I was able to get on with work on campus.
Friday was an occasion for more travel, this time to Sheffield to speak at Tapton School. Having done two of my degrees at Sheffield, it was an occasion for memories. As with the visit to Grantham, I was speaking to the school’s sixth-form. The students proved an engaged audience, with a good part of the session taken up with informed and germane questions.
Once back in Hull, I was able to get under way with what I needed to complete over the weekend – a paper for a conference in Brussels and speeches for two debates in the Lords next Thursday, one of which I am leading. Never a dull moment.