The Hung Parliament

Yesterday, The United Kingdom held a general election for Parliament, called for by Prime Minister Theresa May.  With the results in for the most part (one seat remains in the ether apparently) it appears that there is a “hung parliament.”  For Americans (and non-parliamentarians) this may be a confusing phrase.  So I decided today to look into it and write about it.  If you happen to be british, and want to expand or correct something in my essay, feel free to leave a comment.  I’m always willing to learn, and I’m using primarily online sources right now, which can be a bit vague or misleading at times. If you are not British or American, I apologise for the americentric viewpoint of this essay.  I’m doing this from the viewpoint of an US citizen trying to understand British government. If you want to share how your government compares, I’m also interested in hearing it.

The UK is a democracy that works under a parliamentary model.  Which the US does as well, although we added our own twists on things.  There are some similarities between Parliament and Congress.  For example, its bicameral, although how representatives are elected to both houses is different.  Parliament’s two houses are the House of Lords and the House of Commons.  The House of Lords, as the title suggests is members of noble families and members of the clergy of the Church of England, and they are appointed, rather than elected.  The House of Commons on the other hand is an elected body.

Within the House of Commons, there are several parties.  Unlike in the US, the UK is not a two-party system in practice or theory.  There are several parties, and 650 seats.  A party with a majority of more than 50% of the vote is considered the head of the government.  However, when there is no sure majority the parliament is known as a “hung parliament”.  In this case, two or more parties will join together to form a coalition government.

This is different from the United States, which uses a simple Majority style.  The party with the most seats is head of the house in which they are in(currently the Republican Party).  They in turn elect the person who would hold the senior positions in the house (Speaker of the House; President Pro Tempore) In the UK, even if a party has more seats, it does not automatically give it power.  They have to have a strong majority, with over half of the votes.  Once that is settled (or a coalition/minority government is formed), the Queen will choose a Prime Minister from the party which holds the majority.

Its near impossible for the United States to have a similar situation.  If the Senate (with 100 members) was equally divided) they would still have the President of the Senate – the Vice President.  This would create a majority for one party or another.  The House has 435 members, which makes it hard to really have a 50/50 vote.  On the other hand the United States also has a hard-stuck two-party system which has denied many other views/parties into the mainstream campaigning.

Elections are held every five years as of 2011 in the UK unless a vote is taken to make a special election (as what happened this year) and receives a 2/3rd majority vote in the House of Commons. Prior to yesterday’s election, the Conservative party (sometimes known as Tories) had the majority, and thus their prime Minister was Theresa May.  The Prime Minister appoints the rest of the cabinet as well, which is the government formed.

With a hung Parliament we will have to see which parties will join to create the coalition government. Coalition governments usually come in two forms – a formal arrangement where the two parties join together to pass legislation and both hold roles in the cabinet/government, or an informal one where the smaller party agrees to support the larger parties agenda without a strong role in the government.  Reports so far seem to be Conservatives (who have 49% of the vote and still a technical majority) and the Democratic Union party (who has 1.5)  will be joining together to form an informal coalition of 50.5 percent of the vote.  An unlikely but also possible scenario is that a re-election in August might be made if the Conservatives can not form enough of a working majority to push for their agenda.

It should be interesting to see what happens in the coming months as Brexit negotiations begin and the new government formed by Minster May gets working.

It also shows an interesting look into what may happen in the future elections in the US.  The Conservative rule that seemed to be elected in the last few elections in various countries seems to be swinging to a more moderate stance.  This could affect the United States too as it comes to mid-term elections next year.

Wikipedia: Parliament of the United Kingdom

Wikipedia: General Election 2017 Results

Guardian:  What is a hung parliament

BBC: General Election what you need to know

CBS: What happens if the Senate splits 50-50

 

The Articles of The Confederation: Part 5

Ratification & Repeal

Once drafted, the Articles of Confederation were sent, as a pamphlet, along with a letter from the President of the Continental Congress: Henry Laurens to the 13 states.  They were all asked to look it over and be prepared to vote on it by March 10, 1778.  Most of the states had requests for alterations so the date got pushed back to July.  States started to send in their considerations for amendments to the Articles but in the end none of them were used.   Continue reading

The Articles of Confederation: Part 4

The Last Articles

Article 9

It gives Congress the following powers.

  • exclusive right to determine War/Peace (exceptions for Article 6)
  • Foreign Affairs such as ambassadors, treaties, etc.
  • Establishing courts to prosecute cases of piracy
  • Giving out senior ranks during wartime
  • The power to answer any disputes between states​

It also creates a system for how Congress will work.  They must meet often enough that no break between gathering is more than 6 months.  They also must record in a journal all the votes cast unless it’s a top-secret operation that requires that it not be public knowledge yet.  The idea was that Congress would be very open about what it did while in session.  It would send out monthly reports, including the vote rolls.  They also must put forth the journal should any delegate or state request it.

Congress was given very limited powers.  Most of the powers went to the states.  It reiterates this point by stating that no decision of congress on several matters (including war, debt and national security) shall be in effect unless 9 states (2/3) agree to it.    At this point in time the colonists who were forming their own country were afraid that a stronger government would abuse their powers, such as they saw Britain having done.

Later they would find that having too weak a central government caused problems as well.  One of the things the Constitution set out to do was correct the imbalance and make a stronger Federal government that wouldn’t be too strong to abuse its powers.

Article 10

This article allows for the states to take the powers of Congress into their own hands should congress be in recess when need arose.  It still required 9 states to agree to it, and if congress was in session, it would of course revert to Congress to have those powers.  I’m not entirely sure how well this article would work out in practice.  I tried researching this article to see if had ever been invoked but at the time of this posting, I haven’t found anything yet.

Article 11

I think this is my favorite part of the Articles of Confederation.  Article 11 is a side note to Canada letting them know they can come join the US if they get tired of Great Britain’s rule.  It basically says that they can come and join us and we’d be okay with that, but after them, everyone has got to be agreed on by at least 9 states (effective 2/3rd majority).

Considering this is not in the Constitution, I guess in ten years they gave up on the idea of the State of Canada.

According to the National Constitution Center, the US actually attempted to get Canada ceded over to them by the British in the Treaty of Paris.  As you can tell by the fact Canada is not part of the United States, the British did not agree. America tried to take over Canada twice – in the American Revolution (failed) and in the war of 1812 (Failed – and led to the White House being burned).  There was a poll done relatively recently and it should come as no surprise that not a large group of people feel that America and Canada should be one.  On either side of the border.

Article 12

This is an article that makes its way into the Constitution.  The US had lots of debts in its early years.  While at war, they needed supplies, had to have a way to pay the soldiers who fought for independence and otherwise fund their government.  This article pronounces that these debts will be recognized by the United States and the United States will pay them.

The Constitution notes that they will continue to recognize/pay these debts. It was important for the young nation to recognize what it owed to keep the allies it had made as well as keep the trust with any soldiers they may need to enlist in the future.  Failure to accept the debt would make trusting them a bit harder.

Article 13

This is the article that gives the document its power.  The declares that all the states shall abide by what had been decided in this congress of their representatives.  It does not allow for much change, which the Constitution does.  The only way to alter the document is for Congress to agree to it and for every state to agree to it.  The Constitution made a method for Amendments where Congress proposes/passes them, and a 2/3rd majority of the States can ratify them.  So in that it is more flexible to changing needs of the Nation.

Articles of Confederation – University of Minnesota Human Rights Library

Articles of Confederation – Revolutionary War.Net

When Canada was invited to join the United States – Constitution Center Blog

 

Accuracy or Story, That is the question

Recently I have been watching quite a few period pieces.  Some were complete fiction, others based on true events or actual people.  And its made me ponder the thin line between entertainment and bad accuracy.

There is of course a balance one must keep when doing a period piece.  The story has to be interesting, engaging, with the ups and downs that keep an audience enthralled.  Yet, at the same time, people like myself like to see historically accurate stories.

For some this is relatively easy, especially those that took place in recent years.  For example, Apollo 13 (1994) which is based on a real-life event that took place in April of 1970.  It’s not only one of my favorite films, but it is also one of the films I’ve seen a very real effort to keep things as real as possible without losing the entertainment value.  So while it’s not word-for-word, and they added a few dramatic arguments (after all, the events took place over a week and they have to pack that all into 2 hours), it’s still fairly accurate.  They even went as far as filming scenes in low gravity to make more realistic movement for the space scenes.

Another example is The White Queen (2013).  Now this film takes place in the 15th century during the war of the roses.  And it tends to go more towards creating a good story than depicting the actual events.  Not that I still didn’t enjoy it, but there were some things that happened in the mini-series a quick google search or a Wikipedia search could tell you happened differently.  And since my knowledge is not high on English history as much as it is American history I’m sure there were other moments that would drive my friends who are crazy.  Of course, it’s harder to be as specifically accurate when there is about 500 years and a lack of photographic evidence to really examine.  Facts from this period of time are constantly being reevaluated as new sources of information are found, or someone notices something in what has already been found no one really took note of before.  But there are some general facts to get straight.

I enjoyed the series, but mostly because of the cast, who did a brilliant job in making me not care that not all the facts were right.

So I suppose the question is – when you watch a film, mini-series or TV series based in a specific era, about real people, do you want more accuracy or more story telling?  Would inaccuracies done to make things easier to understand to a chosen demographic make you less willing to watch (for example, the costuming decisions in CW’s Reign)?

What’s your opinion?

The Articles of Confederation: Introduction

Introduction:

The Constitution of the United States was not the first attempt to organize our government once the United States declared Independance.  The original “constitution” was called the Articles of The Confederation and Perpetual Union or Articles of Confederation for short.  For simplicity I will refer to it as The Articles in this essay series.

I’ve been doing this series a little backwards, starting with the Constitution’s amendments, then the Constitution itself and now the forerunner document, but if you are reading this after the fact, you may be starting here.  So it all depends on if you are going in tag order, chronological order or in the order the documents were written.  Welcome to my journey of amatuer history commentary.

But lets get back on topic. When the young nation first declared independence, it was quickly seen that something needed to be done about forming a new government to replace the one they had rejected. The influences on this document started long before independance.

Continue reading

The Constitution: Article 7 & Conclusion

Article 7 is a bit of a misnomer, its more of a conclusion (hence the title of this post.  It merely states that a majority of 9 states out of the 13 then involved would be required to ratify it before it was made officially law.  9 is 2/3rds of the original 13 states, a standard that continues today with amendments needing to pass 2/3rds of the States.  That is currently 33 states, since we now have a total of 50.

Of course, given that it is the constitution, it was prefered that all states would ratify it (which they eventually did)  Otherwise some states may still have been under the governing of the Articles of Confederation, which would be very awkward when trying to make laws, or making governing decisions between states.  It also was a political move to make the states ratify it early to be able to be on the decision-making team when it came to alterations (Amendments) and putting together the details that the constitution left vague. Continue reading

The Constitution: Article Five

Article Five is unique because it only has one section.  It also has only one job: To explain how we can alter the constitution.

To change the constitution to suit the evolving needs of its citizenship, Congress can pass Amendments.  Amendments must be passed by two-thirds majority of both houses, and then present it to the legislatures of the states.  It must be ratified by 3/4ths of the states before it can be accepted into law.

There are currently 27 Amendments that have been ratified as part of the constitution.  Several amendments have been proposed but not voted on, others have been voted on and not quite made the cut vote wise.  There are even a few amendments that missed ratification due to a time limit and lack of state ratifications.

Some examples of failed or still pending Amendments include:

  • The Equal Rights Amendment
    First introduced in 1923 by Alice Paul, this amendment keeps poping up as society seems reluctant to catch up with equal rights in reality rather then theory.  It got as far as being ratfied by 35 states, falling short by 3 by the deadline of the 1972 edition.  It has still come up for a vote in Congress in recent years
  • The “First” Amendment.
    When the Bill of rights was proposed, there were actually 12 amendments, not 10. 11 of those Amendments have been ratitifed as Amendments 1-10, and 27 (which took the longest of any amendment to be ratified). It dealt with the size of congress, and basically deals in thousands when we have millions of citizens now so it doesn’t really fit the current needs of the population.
  • The Nobility Amendment
    This is still on the books to be ratified, but doesn’t really come up often.  It was a restriction on American’s ability to hold international nobility titles.  Basically it came down to Americans could not receive any gifts, income, title from a foreign government without the permission of Congress. Otherwise they must surrender their citizenship to the US
  • The Corwin Amendment
    While James Buchanan was president, an amendment came up that actually protects slavery, and would have made it unconstitutional to do away with slavery.  Its still technically out there to be ratified despite the 13th Amendment which makes it moot and unconstitutional.  Its one of two Amendments that the President actually signed (again, Presidents really have no input in Amendments offically).  The other is the 13th, which was signed by Buchanan’s successor Abraham Lincoln.
  • Child Labor Amendment
    This Amendment would have regulated child labor and made it a federal issue, removing the power from the States.  It has been ratified by 28 states.
  • District of Columbia Amendment
    This amendment would have granted DC representation in Congress.  It wasn’t ratified before the 7 year limit posed on it was reached.
  • 1876 – Anti-Congress Amendment
    As you can well imagine, this one never passed Congress.  The Amendment would have abolished the Senate.

Most Amendment proposals don’t make it out of their respective house.  The last amendment to be ratified was the 27th, which was one of the original 12 amendments made in  1789. It was ratified in 1992, 203 years later.

Further Reading

The Amendment Series

Constitution Center – Top Ten Amendments that haven’t made it (Yet)

US Consitiution.net – Failed Amendments

Lexis Nexis – Failed Amendments