And the first winner of 2015 is….

B0I43-qIYAAFSR0I was spoilt for choice in selecting a winner for the first caption competition of 2015.   There were some splendid entries.  Some readers were very keen, submitting (not for the first time) more than one entry.  However, I have now selected a winner and a very close runner up.  The choice ultimately was between Andrew who offered:

Moderator: Psst, Lord Norton – as you’re presenting, where is the cake?

And a very late entry from Gerry McMahon with:

The Pet Shop Boys are still looking good in 2015.

Even I got that one.  I think.

In the end, I decided that Andrew was the winner: I liked the mix of what happens in my seminars with the posture in the picture.  Gerry McMahon gets the silver medal.  I would also add a commendation for the entry by NNJ Palo, which also made me laugh (The man behind the desk is thinking: ‘My working day has ended an hour ago.  When is he going to stop…?’) If Andrew would like to get in touch, a copy of The Voice of the Backbenchers will be on its way.

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2015 New Year caption competition

B0I43-qIYAAFSR0Given the popularity of the caption competition, I thought it appropriate to open the New Year with one.  The picture is one I posted earlier of me speaking in October at the Wales Governance Centre in Cardiff.  After I had posted it, a friend suggested it would make a good photograph for the caption competition.  So here it is and over to you.  As usual, the reader who provides what I consider the most apt and witty caption will win.  In past competitions, some readers have been especially eagle-eyed in utilising points of detail and some highly inventive.  The winner will receive one of my recent publications.

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Highlights of the blog 2014

1Happy New Year to all readers.  I have received the WordPress stats for the blog for 2014.  The five most read posts of the year were topped by one that I posted in April 2012 – The characteristics of being British.  It continues to attract views on a regular basis.  The post also contains the reasons why I believe we have reason to be proud to be British.  The second most read was my April post on Why did the House of Lords vote for same-sex marriage?  I am  contemplating developing the analysis into an academic article.  The fourth most visited was the recent post We live in an era of fixed-term Parliaments, which also attracted the highest number of views on one day.  The third and fifth were the August and February caption competitions respectively.  I suspect it comes as no surprise that the caption competitions are among the most viewed.  Talking of which, the first of 2015 will be coming shortly.

In terms of readers commenting on posts, I think it will come as no surprise that the top two  commentators were maude elwes and franksummers3ba, followed by tizres.  They were joined by D F Rostron and Tony Sands.  Readers were drawn from 124 countries, with the largest number coming, as one would expect, from the UK, but closely followed by the USA and Canada.

I hope readers have a successful 2015.  My aim will be to maintain or better the number of posts of 2014…

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Changing names

62137In the previous post on inappropriately named Acts, Croft raises a new dimension – perhaps I should have a competition to identify the most pointless Act of Parliament.  That may attract  good number of entries.  However, here I offer an addendum to the post.

In 2008 I served on the Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill.  This was later introduced as the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill, which completed its passage in 2010.  As initially introduced, it embodied several parts covering rather disparate topics, including the civil service, treaty ratification, and the House of Lords.  (It was substantially trimmed as a consequence of the parliamentary wash-up.)  When the relevant minister, Jack Straw, appeared before the Committee, I suggested it should be renamed the Constitution (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.  That was not meant altogether seriously, even though it did convey the nature of the Bill.  However, as already mentioned, the Bill was introduced under a new name.  Why?  Because the Government realised that there was no part of the constitution that was actually being renewed by the Bill!  The eventual title moved somewhat  in the direction of what I was suggesting….

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An Act by another name….

62137During the passage of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill I called attention to the fact that it was essentially three Bills in one – the short title was something of a giveaway.  However, I also noted that it was mistitled.  It was not about the transparency of lobbying.  The prescribed register was less transparent than under self-regulation and it was about status (lobbyists) and not activity (lobbying).  However, it is not the only piece of legislation that is misleading in title.  The Fixed-term Parliaments Act does not, strictly speaking, provide for fixed-term Parliaments, but rather semi-fixed Parliaments.  The Recall of MPs Bill, presently in the Lords, does not provide for recall as it tends to be understood where it already exists.  It does not so much recall an MP as provide that, in the light of a decision by the House of Commons or a court, a petition may trigger a by-election in which the incumbent can seek re-election.  There are just recent examples.  A great many Bills could come under the generic title of ‘The Something Must Be Done Bill’.

I suspect readers may be able to suggest other Acts that are misleadingly or inappropriately titled.

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We live in a new era of fixed-term Parliaments…

44101I have previously written about the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011.  What is notable is the extent to which its provisions were not that well appreciated at the time and still are not fully understood.  Even one academic article on the subject believed that the Queen retained some discretionary powers in respect of dissolution.  The Evening Standard this week carried an article conflating the two distinct provisions under which an early election may be triggered.  There are stories reporting that, if a minority Conservative government is formed next May, there may be a second election in the autumn.  These stories appear not to consider the conditions under which an early election may now be called.  Prime Ministerial discretion is not involved.   The prerogative power in respect of calling an election is gone.  The Queen retains no discretionary powers.

There are only three conditions under which a second election could take place next year or indeed at any point within the five-year term stipulated by the Act:

(1) If the House of Commons passes the motion ‘That this House has no confidence in Her Majesty’s Government’ and, if within 14 days, no government has been formed and gained a motion of confidence from the House.  The motion of no confidence requires only a simple majority to be carried.

(2) The House votes, by a two-thirds majority of all MPs (not simply a two-thirds of those voting), that there shall be an early election.

(3)  The Act itself is amended or replaced. (A simple repeal, not stipulating new conditions, would mean that Parliament would continue in perpetuity!)   The new Act could add prime ministerial discretion to or in place of the existing two condition and could confer on the Crown the power to decline the Prime Minister’s request.

Under the Act, the provisions are to be reviewed in 2020.  However, given the criticisms now being directed at the measure (not least a five, rather than four, year term), pressure for some change may become such as to prompt some change.

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And the winner is…

B3nSz7DIgAA1_UZThere were some good entries for the latest caption competition.  One of two readers seemed especially keen to win, judging by the sheer number of entries they submitted.  They were certainly some novel and imaginative entries.  I suspect Croft’s entry may have been motivated by fact that David Blunkett’s current guide dog is extremely large.  Rob Falconer’s was especially original (‘Britain certainly needs its own version of Mount Rushmore, but who can we get for the fourth head?’) and certainly met the criteria for the competition.  It was a serious contender.   Tony Sands maintained his strategy of working in an element of flattery (‘one of my succinct (and, a’hem famously brilliant) speeches’), believing, correctly, that this would make it a runner. I had a difficult choice between several entries and I realised that in some cases I was making choices between entries from the same person.  I was minded to give the prize to D F Rostron for the total number of his entries.  However, he wins anyway with a seasonal entry:

David Blunkett: How much do you think we will make if we go carol singing?

Given that my singing is such as to empty a theatre quicker than you can say ‘fire’, I know what the answer to the question would be.

If D F Rostron gets in touch, I will arrange to send his prize.

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