Hanging in style…

My portrait has now arrived in its new home.  It is housed among other portraits in Wroxton Abbey (pictured below, left), the ancestral home of Lord North.

The Abbey – although a Jacobean mansion, it is still known as Wroxton Abbey because it is built on the site of an abbey – lies just outside Banbury and now forms the home of Wroxton College, the overseas campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University.  I have a long association with the College going back decades and regularly lecture as well as host conferences there.

The portrait hangs on the Regency Staircase (right, the portrait is in the centre), the main staircase in the Abbey leading up to the magnificent Regency Room.

One of the conferences I host at the Abbey is the biennial Workshop of Parliamentary Scholars and Parliamentarians, which draws parliamentarians and academics from twenty or more countries.  One of the features of the Workshop is a tour led by me of the Abbey, explaining the history and distinctive features of the building, including the artwork.  I shall have to think of an appropriate form of words to explain the addition to the collection…

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Caption competition: the winner

Time to announce the winner of the latest caption competition.  I fear Dean B may have been on tenterhooks for some time.  There were some splendid entries.  Some were related to the attempt to get people to wave hands rather than clap or were tea or cake related.  Those from craigieb10 (‘crank up the Prodigy and bust out some proper moves’) and Tony Sands (‘a tentative fan-dabi-dozi’) may require translation.  They are employing terms not to be found in Erskine May.  Some entries made me laugh out loud based on the distance of my hands from my body.  However, I am going to set a precedent by awarding the prize to a set of answers rather than one.  Dean B – who may be described as keen, though he tweeted that he was in fact desperate, to win – submitted five entries.  Three of them drew upon myths that I have variously sought to dispel and, given the ingenuity with which he drew out each one, I have decided that the three together win the prize:

‘Go ahead, apply the thumbscrews, I still won’t describe Westminster as the Mother of Parliaments.’

‘Eighteen months ago I was out here, but I will continue my hunger strike until every single newspaper acknowledges that Theresa May can’t just “call an election”‘.

‘Before we even start can I just say: this is my personal space.  Anyone getting any closer than this will write me a 2000-word essay on the subject of “Why Mhaira Black is not the youngest MP in 350 years”‘.

As regular readers will know, John Bright described England as the mother of Parliaments, a PM under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 now can ‘call for’ and not ‘call’ a general election, and Mhairi Black is the youngest MP to be elected since 1832.

If DeanB would like to get in touch, the prize will be on its way.

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Caption competition

At this time of year, I thought a caption competition may be in order to give readers a bit of light relief.   The picture is one taken at the recent launch of the Higher Education Commission report on the export of higher education, as detailed in my earlier post.  Having given an opening address, I subsequently took part in a panel discussion.  When I saw the picture, I thought it may make a good one for the caption competition.   I do have a habit of being expressive.  Suffice to say, it was not the only photograph I could have selected.

As usual, the winner will be the reader who in my opinion provides the entry that is the most witty and appropriate to the context.  The prize will be one of my recent publications.

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‘Challenging’ for the leadership…

I have made the point previously that rules and structures are not neutral in their effect.  Utilising one set of rules can result in a different outcome than if another set is employed.  In a previous post, I observed that if the Labour Party had the same rules as the Conservative Party for electing a leader, it is unlikely that Jeremy Corbyn would have been elected party leader.  (One doubts he would have made it to the final two candidates to be placed before the party members.)  Had the Labour Party the same rules as the Conservative Party for getting rid of a leader, Jeremy Corbyn would likely be out of the leadership.  In the PLP, a vote of no confidence in the leadership has no formal consequences.  In the Conservative Party, such a vote is definitive.

In 1990, Michael Heseltine stood against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher for the leadership of the Conservative Party.  His leadership ambitions had been well trailed.  Mrs Thatcher failed to get enough votes in the first ballot in order to be declared re-elected.  Media stories are now appearing suggesting that Boris Johnson may ‘challenge’  Theresa May for the party leadership.  The terminology is somewhat ambiguous, appearing to imply that there may be a battle similar to that of 1990, a blond, ambitious, publicity-seeking former senior minister challenging a female Prime Minister for the party leadership.  The problem with this is that since the Thatcher-Heseltine battle the rules have changed.  No one can stand directly against the party leader.  Party members will not be able to vote in a May v Johnson contest.   The party leader no longer comes up for annual (or indeed any) re-election.  A leader who wishes to continue in office can be removed only by a vote of no confidence of the party’s MPs.

For a vote of confidence to be held, 15% of Conservative MPs (which means, on current numbers, 48) must write to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee requesting such a vote.  If that number is reached, a vote is automatic.  The leader can address the 1922 before the vote takes place.  A vote of no confidence was triggered in 2003 when Iain Duncan Smith was leader.  Despite him making what was possibly his best speech as leader to the 1922, he lost the vote.  Under the rules, a leader who has lost the vote cannot then stand in the subsequent election.  Instead, new candidates are nominated.  If there is only one, that candidate is declared elected, as was the case in 2003 with Michael Howard.  If there are more than two candidates, eliminating ballots are held until only two remain and those two names then go before the party leadership.

If Boris Johnson wanted to challenge Theresa May for the party leadership, he would need to (a) persuade 48 MPs to write to Sir Graham Brady, Chairman of the 1922, to trigger a no confidence vote, (b) get a majority of Conservative MPs to vote for the motion of no confidence, (c) assuming he was not the sole candidate or one of only two nominated, get sufficient support among MPs to ensure he was in the final two to be put before the party membership, and (d) get a majority of party members to vote for him against the other candidate.

Does what happened in 1990 have any relevance to today under different rules?  The Heseltine challenge was seen by many as confirming that whoever wields the dagger rarely inherits the crown.  Challenging the leader is fraught.  A contended only has to fall at one of the four hurdles to be denied their goal.  Even if successful in removing a leader, it may result in someone else reaching the top of the greasy pole.

For those thinking the prize may be within their grasp, there is always the possibility of an ‘I forgot Goschen’ moment…

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The export of higher education: staying ahead?

In a previous post, I reported on the debate I initiated in the Lords in July on the value to the United Kingdom of the export of higher education.  Exporting HE, principally in the form of recruiting overseas students to study in a UK HE institution, is a major resource for the United Kingdom, not just in economic terms, but also in educational and political terms.  As I mentioned in my earlier post, the economic value is not confined to fee income from overseas students or the major contribution those students make to local economies, but encompasses trade.  Business people overseas who have studied in the UK are more likely to trade with the UK than those educated elsewhere.

The debate came ahead of the launch of the report of the Higher Education Commission on the value of HE as an export.  I chair the Commission and co-chair each inquiry.  The report, Staying Ahead – Are International Students Going Down Under?, can be read here.  It was launched to a packed meeting in the Attlee Suite in Portcullis House. It draws out not only the value of HE as an export, but also the serious challenges we face in recruiting overseas students.  We are losing out to our main competitors, not least Australia, hence the title of the report.  We need to take action if we are to maintain our competitive position in an increasingly intense market.  Our competitors are recruiting fairly aggressively, whereas in the UK Home Office policies are acting as a deterrent.  The report identifies what needs to be done if we are to retain and enhance our position globally and at time when the economic benefits are especially important.  As I stressed at the launch of the report, looking at the position now may not convey a sense of crisis.  Looking at it from a dynamic perspective – the trends in recruitment – then we can see that the need for action is pressing.

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Winner of the bank holiday competition…

After much deliberation, I can now reveal the result of the Bank Holiday caption competition.  Given the number of visitors to the site over the past week or so, the entries must have proved a draw or readers are eagerly awaiting the announcement of the winner.

There were some splendid entries, with some very imaginative contributions.  Tony Sands was clearly on a roll.  Some entries attracted a mix of emotions.  Alex M (‘It seem that I have received a large number of emails relating to the “fire risk” in my office’) raised a laugh, but a nervous one.  Those entries that related to library books elicited an attempt to remember the last occasion when I actually borrowed a book from the library – it must have been ten or twenty years ago, possibly closer to thirty.  The picture may hint at why I don’t need to go to the library.  Dean Bullen has recognised the value of flattery (‘I’m sure there’s something here somewhere that I didn’t write’) and, not for the first time, his entry came close to winning.

A couple were fairly close to the reality, one perhaps surprisingly so.  Peter Foster with ‘Lord Norton is still in his office at midnight and wondering which key to press next or should he just give up and go home’ would win the category for closest to real life.  More surprisingly, Neil M came up with a characteristically splendid entry ‘Keen to revive the best traditions of early 20th century cinema, professor celebrates reaching the interval of his seminar by rising through the floor of his office on a mighty Wurlizter’ that was not totally divorced from experience.   (It was also so good an entry that Mark Shephard decided to replicate it!)  I used to have a office chair that I could raise or lower, so whenever a class came in I was able to raise it so that I could see above the paperwork on the desk (much higher then than in the picture) and then lower it when the class left.  I miss that chair.

On this occasion, the prize is shared.  We have two winners.  Tony Sands may be pleased and suprised to know that he is one of them.  His entry of ‘“Bookish peer and academic seeks domestic help.  Duties include light dusting.”  Splendid that will do nicely’ met the ‘laugh out loud’ test.  (His entry of ‘Online update of 2019 Who’s Who Entry: Hobbies:  Lord Norton: Erm…’ was also a contender.)  The prize is shared with Matthew Kavanagh, whose entry – ‘The “paperless office” drive in the University of Hull Politics Department hits a snag’– was very funny.

If both would like to get in touch, their prizes will be despatched.

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Bank holiday caption competition

By popular demand (well, the request of Tony Sands) here is a another caption competition.  The photograph is one a colleague took recently of me while I was busy working as well as listening to whatever it was he was saying to me.  I am not sure it lends itself that well to a caption, but I often think that of pictures I post, only for readers to demonstrate their ingenuity with some brilliant responses.  As usual, the winner of the competition will be whoever posts the entry I deem the wittiest and most appropriate to the actual picture.  The prize will be one of my publications.

Let the entries roll in….

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