Being a Tory at University.

“Be an outcast. Be pleased to walk alone.”

Alice Walker

This post has been inspired by an article that was passed to me in the Telegraph about what it is like being a Conservative at University. It was an interesting question that I had to consider as my experience is certainly a strange one as for Tory students, there was a degree of toleration and there was a student society. But I still felt like an outcast. Then again, there is nothing wrong with being an outcast. Sometimes it serves you well.

When I first arrived at university, the only political party society was the Labour society but from what I had understood about universities prior to my arrival I was hardly surprised to see that be the case. There was a general Politics society which I joined and this is where I encountered by fellow Tory Students whom if I am honest I took an instant dislike to. So my arrival at university had taught me that while there were many Labour students who I might disagree with politically, they were far more pleasant company than the traditional allies my party leaning would dictate.

It was from having my friends on the left the title of this blog came about, I was described as the “Nice Tory” “Reasonable Tory” “A New Kind of Conservative.” That wasn’t to say we didn’t have our disagreements, but on those issues we did agree to disagree. Granted among some Labour students I was soon the “butt of the joke” and when invited to events I could be made to feel quite uncomfortable. I learned to distance myself from politics at university finding it becoming increasingly polarised the more I examined it. I had my friends, beyond that I wasn’t touching it or getting involved.

Towards the end of my first year there were calls to set up a Conservative society, I was naturally asked to put my signature towards the petition to see it established. I did, although on seeing the other names on the list I knew I wouldn’t be having much more involvement with the society beyond that. So I kept my distance, instead being elected to be an officer with my student union. Many feeling my leanings would serve me well in the post, although they failed to grasp it was apolitical.

My decision to stay away from the Tory society proved to be one of the best I had ever made while at University. Around this time a year ago, just as the Conservative Party Conference was about to begin pictures leaked to the media of my university’s Conservative Society on a night out with various slogans and pictures written on their shirts. While I am unsure of what action the university took against the students, the student union had the society disbanded almost instantly. I was horrified by the actions, although not surprised they had shown themselves as the people they truly were and confirmed my gut feeling towards them at my first meeting.

The point of this post is a simple one, being a Conservative at university is difficult. Many will call you a betrayer of students, call you out of touch and believe just because you are right wing you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth. Learn to ignore them, get a thick skin and be assured in your ideals and beliefs. Equally know that those who call themselves Conservatives might not be your friends and allies, do not flock to them because of your shared beliefs. Being alone at university it difficult, I know that, I understand that because I’ve experienced it. Stick to your ideals and don’t compromise them for the sake of others. There will be others who agree with you and you will get on with, give it time you’ll find each other.

If not listen to Alice Walker and keep it in mind whenever you feel alone.

The Democrats make their move.

“The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.”

Nancy Pelosi

Since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, there been little doubt in the minds of many. There would be an attempt to impeach him. There hasn’t been as an controversial President elected in modern memory, not winning the popular vote and being seen as decisive. There were a few things that were required to happen first, that the Democrats would have to win back the House of Representatives and second that there would need to be just cause.

When the Democrats won back the house in the midterms, all commentators noticed a remarked changed in Washington DC. Many had been expecting the house to be lost, the decision of Paul Ryan not to stand again was a death bell there but no one could have imagined just how many seats the Republicans lost. One of the conditions for impeachment proceedings to begin had been met.

Many had expected Robert Mueller’s report to provide the catalyst for the second to be met and it did, but the Democrats didn’t choose to go for it much to the surprise of many. Mueller in his report lay the groundwork for an impeachment case but stated that the remedy for prosecuting a President lay within the Constitution. By this he was referring to Congress’ power of impeachment.

This all happened in April, given Nancy Pelosi’s refusal to grant her committee chairs the authority to begin impeachment proceedings many had assumed that their predictions upon Donald Trump’s election was wrong (at least in his first term, assuming he had won a second). But that had assumed that the Democrats hadn’t been watching.

They had been watching, they believe that 2016 was stolen from them due to the interference of the Russians at the behest of Donald Trump’s campaign. Any efforts by the White House to gain information or an advantage from a foreign government for 2020 would not be allowed to stand. Trump believing he will be facing Biden in 14 months time has begun having discussions with Ukraine in regards to affairs involving Biden’s son.

The Democrats will not be allowing history to repeat itself and so now they are making their stand. Although it will ultimately doomed to fail, the Republicans will not hang their own President. There are a few questions that will need to be answered and can only be done so over time: Too little too late from the Democrats? Will impeachment rally Trump’s supporters together? Will these actions cost them the White House in 2020 and arguably more importantly the Senate?

One thing is for certain, events within the United States have suddenly become more interesting.

The Court Roars!

“It is impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us that there was any reason – let alone a good reason – to advise Her Majesty to prorogue Parliament for five weeks.”

Lady Hale, President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

In my second post I discussed the potential ramifications of the Supreme Court agreeing with the Court of Session on declaring unanimously that the advice given to the Queen by the Prime Minister was unlawful. I said that this case would be the UK’s version of Marbury vs Madison and I stand by what I wrote. This decision has shaken up the balance between the branches of UK governance, it now proves the executive can be blocked by the judiciary and by extension it could be argued so could the legislature. Observing the media coverage ignoring the political views behind the various statements, the underlying point being put forward by those who disagreed with the ruling was this: Could the Supreme Court do this?

The answer to that question for anyone who is unsure is yes. The Supreme Court through the power of judicial review has the right to do that on any case it wishes. However in the United Kingdom with its unwritten constitution, having the constitution change on a whim and powers based upon convention as opposed to recorded in law is troubling to many including myself. Has the time come to follow in the footsteps of our ally across the pond in writing a constitution establishing the powers and responsibilities of the branches of governance, including that of the monarch?

There are very clear advantages to having a written constitution, it sets out process and procedures for a great many matters of governance to the point where there can be no question over what it is each branch has responsibility for. In the case of addressing the fears of those upset by this decision of the Supreme Court, making it clear in writing that the role of the Court is one of being reactive as opposed to proactive. It would also explain formally the role of the monarch and show how much digression they have with their prerogative powers.

However it is the disadvantages of the written constitution as modelled by the United States is arguably the reason why the current unwritten constitution is valued so highly. The amendment process makes a fast change to the constitution impossible, creating a situation where if a need was required for a quick change it could not happen something the United Kingdom would certainly struggle with. However it could be tempered with a weaker amendment process than in the United States, yet I doubt many would seek to have a situation which mirrors the 18th and 21st amendments to the United States constitution. (The prohibition and reintroduction of alcohol.)

I am not arguing for a written constitution nor am I arguing for the constitution to stay unwritten and in a future post I will go over in a much greater detail the advantages and disadvantages of both. The point of this post is a simple one, the Supreme Court with this one decision has changed how governance in the United Kingdom happens in such a way that the UK hasn’t seen since the Glorious Revolution.

I for one am proud of the Supreme Court for making themselves heard and perhaps feared as an institution and they were right for the decision to have to be unanimous or else there would be cause for challenge in the future. The Court after all is neutral and cares little for politics, as Lady Hale stated at the beginnings of the case, it cares for constitutional matters. Therefore to those who were upset with the ruling, it goes without saying that the next ruling has all the potential of going the way you desire. The Court rules only on the merits of a case. Like John Marshall, Lady Hale has overseen the Supreme Court truly make its mark upon the United Kingdom, yet the ripples of this will only become clear with time.

The Bill of Rights

“Thank you for doing the branches of government. You mentioned the 22nd amendment would you mind going through them all very briefly?”

Anonymous

“The Constitution is the guide which I never will abandon.”

George Washington

Once more I am writing a post by request, I received the above message after I posted about the branches of the US Federal Government. Once more I am happy to answer that request. There are currently 27 amendments to the constitution, the first 10 are described collectively as the Bill of Rights, amendments 13,14 and 15 are referred to as the Civil War amendments and amendments 18 and 21 cancel each other out. This post will cover the first 10 amendments, the Bill of Rights.

1st Amendment – Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This means that Congress cannot limit freedom of speech, religion or the right to assemble.

2nd Amendment – A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

This amendment while seen as the right to carry a gun, has a deeper meaning effectively ensuring the right to revolution if required.

3rd Amendment – No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

It ensures the soldiers could not be quartered in private homes without the express permission of the owner. This was a response to the Quartering Acts that were passed by the British Parliament prior to the American Revolution.

4th Amendment – The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It establishes the need for search warrants for searches and seizures while also prohibiting unreasonable searches.

5th Amendment – No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The prohibiting of double jeopardy and the right to remain silent.

6th Amendment – In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

This grants anyone accused of a crime the right to a fair trial, the right to have someone defend them and to be able to know by what crime they have been accused and will be facing trial for.

7th Amendment – In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

This granted the right to be tried by a jury of their peers, in other words the accused could only be convicted by a jury of their peers.

8th Amendment – Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

This ensured that excessive bails could not be set nor fines and no sentence could be cruel or unusual, the latter part of this amendment is still a matter for debate among Americans.

9th Amendment – The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

This amendment while rather ambiguous has been commonly meant to mean that the power of government is limited upon the people. That there were certain rights not given in the constitution which the people had.

10th Amendment – The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The enforcement of federalism. That if the powers are not given to the federal government by the constitution, then governance falls to the states to decide upon. This is often referred to as the States’ Rights amendment.

The above amendments make up the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the constitution. Interestingly the 27th amendment to the constitution (the latest) was also proposed at the same time as the Bill of Rights but we not ratified by enough states until 1993. As I said in the introduction to this post I shall be going through other amendments in a later post so do keep an eye out for them.

The Suspended Assembly

“Men, once enemies, are now jointly governing in Northern Ireland. And although there have been several hitches, by and large it’s working well.”

Betty Williams

January 9th 2017. Over two and a half years ago and still the days go up. Northern Ireland has had no assembly since then. It is the second longest suspension in the history of the assembly although it has a long way to go yet of beating record of four and a half years. Northern Ireland is a troubled country but when Betty Williams made her quote which I have used above, it was true, it seemed to be going well. There was functional governance in Northern Ireland.

It is the unfortunate legacy left behind by Martin McGuinness prior to his death that the Assembly was suspended. He resigned his position as Deputy First Minister over the RHI scandal but the issue has bloomed into being more than just the RHI scandal. It has exposed fundamental divisions between Sinn Fein and the DUP which while have always been there were kept to the background for the good of Northern Ireland. As of writing, despite many efforts made by different politicians from the UK and Ireland there is no hope in sight for restoring the Assembly. Leaving the running of Northern Ireland to their civil service and with all funding having to be approved by Westminster leaving the situation extremely close to Home Rule. A situation that however dire no party within the current impasse wishes to reach.

Given how the executive of Northern Ireland was established, a power sharing executive, an early election will not break the deadlock between the DUP and Sinn Fein. It would be likely the parties would be the largest two and therefore the parties placed within the executive but neither will agree to currently work together. With the next election set for at the latest May 5th 2022, it is hoped that a solution could be found.

However given the deep differences between the parties this seems increasingly unlikely. The situation of Brexit and the Northern Ireland border has not helped matters entirely as Nationalists feel it threatens the Good Friday Agreement and Unionists refusing to be separated from the United Kingdom in any shape or form.

It is difficult to see a way out of this and the more time is spent without a functional assembly the harder will be become to put it back together. However those living in Northern Ireland while without politicians to make decisions at least have the civil service to keep it all ticking over until this great political spat is resolved one way or another.

The Race for a New Speaker

“There are more hooligans in the House of Commons than at a football match.”

Brian Clough

The words of Brian Clough could not be more true, having studied politics and spent so much time watching BBC Parliament that I know the channel number on freeview without a second thought, I have to agree with him entirely. The responsibility to police these hooligans better known as MPs is currently John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons, although not for much longer. He has announced he will step down from the chair at the next election or on October 31st whichever comes first. In doing so kicks off a very rare kind of election, the Race for a New Speaker.

The Speaker of the House of Commons is responsible for keeping order within the house and ensure that proceedings and rules are followed. The Speaker is a neutral MP in the house and is meant to ensure that all MPs whatever side of the house they sit on are heard equally. The Speaker also decides upon which amendments to bills will be put forward to MPs to vote on (this has caused controversey with the current Speaker).

The power of the Speaker is considerable should they need to use it and it is at their discretion as to when or when not to act. Other than the Government and Shadow Government, they are the most important MP in the house. And while they once came from a party on being dragged to the chair as is customary they must resign from that party and from that point on must remain forever neutral.

Traditionally there are a few perks to being the Speaker, you are given official robes to wear, an official office within the Houses of Parliament, a peerage (given a seat in the House of Lords) upon resignation and while you remain as Speaker by convention none of the main parties will stand a candidate against you. In theory one could remain in the chair for as long as they wanted (unless the House voted to remove you from the chair.)

What will happen to current Speaker John Bercow upon his resignation is unknown, as it is upon the government to appoint peers and they have made it clear they will not grant him one as in their view he was not neutral and merely disruptive to their efforts to secure the UK’s departure from the European Union. Whether or not John Bercow was a good and neutral speaker is up for individuals to decide.

Like all elections people put themselves forward as candidates and this is no different, any MP can put themselves forward for the election of the next Speaker and it will be up to their fellow MPs to decide whether or not they want them in the chair. As of writing there are a few MPs who have put their names forward for consideration to be the new Speaker, the current Mother of the House (longest serving female MP) Harriet Harman (Labour), Chris Bryant the Labour MP for Rhondda, Pete Wishart of the SNP and Sir Edward Leigh of the Conservatives.

In just over a month’s time there will be a new Speaker sitting in the chair, each of them leave a legacy. What will their’s be?

Explaining the United States

“I was reading your first post and found it very interesting, but I don’t know much about the US Government, could you do a post about it please?”

Anonymous

“It matters enormously to a successful democratic society like ours that we have three branches of government, each with some independence and some control over the other two. That’s set out in the Constitution.”

Sandra Day O’Connor

Today’s post comes from someone who contacted me asking me to explain the United States government in more detail after they had read my post examining the current case at the UK Supreme Court. This post won’t be an extremely in depth post, it will be an overview. If there is a wish for a more in depth look at the three branches I will write follow up posts on the three.

The United States is ultimately governed by their supreme law, the constitution, there it sets out how the federal government of the United States works and the powers they shall have. The framers of the constitution decided to spilt the power between three co-equal branches of government the President (Executive), Congress (Legislature) and Supreme Court (Judiciary). Each branch designed to fiercely guard the power it had while equally keeping the other two in line, it is important to understand the framers feared tyranny so did all that they could to prevent a single person holding it all.

Established in article 1 of the constitution, Congress’ role is to make laws. Representatives from the states to meet and to approve or deny new laws for the whole country. Congress can be broken down into two, first the House of Representatives and second the Senate. The House of Representatives is made of 435 members (+3 shadow members from Washington DC) and each state has its number of representatives determined by its population, the smallest state only having 1 and the largest California having 53. The House has the ultimate responsibility for the budget among other powers. The Senate is the upper house with each state being given two Senators making 100 Senators in total, the Senate has the responsibility for ratifying all treaties and executive appointments.

Established in article 2 is the executive, better known as the President is charged with the responsibility of enacting all laws passed by Congress. In addition to this the President is the Commander in Chief of all the United States’ military. This means that the President’s powers are considerable when it comes to foreign policy but limited by Congress with domestic powers. After the passing of the 22nd amendment the President is limited to a maximum of two terms in office. (There are some exceptions but that requires in depth discussion of the 22nd amendment.)

The final branch of government established in article 3 is the Supreme Court. Ultimately a body established to be the highest court in the land, it was the weakest branch of government (some believe it still is), until it in Marbury vs Madison (1803) it granted itself the power of judicial review, better known as the power to declare something unconstitutional. Whenever the executive and the legislature end up in conflict, it will fall upon the Supreme Court to sort it out, a classic example of a case being United States vs Richard Nixon (1974).

This is a quick run down of the three branches of government and an overview of their powers. If you wish for me to go into any further detail on anything I have covered in this post please get in touch.