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Seminar Abstract

Arthur Spirling, Harvard Department of Goverment

"Ministerial Responsiveness in Westminster Systems"

Time: 12:30 pm on Wednesday, May 1, 2013
Place: Savery 409

Abstract: Westminster systems feature a strong government and a weak opposition, but the origins of this arrangement--the tacit acquiesence to reduced minority rights by non-government parties in the late 19th Century House of Commons--present a profound puzzle to researchers. We argue that oppositions voluntarily surrendered initiation and amendment rights, making parliamentary business more efficient for governments, in exchange for more certain opportunities to hold cabinet ministers to account. We gather a new data set comprising half-a-million parliamentary speeches and biographical information on over 8000 MPs to investigate our claims. We estimate the parameters of a novel Markov-chain model of parliamentary discourse to measure ministerial `responsiveness' over time, and present findings supporting our case. In particular, we show that the period 1880­-1902 (culminating in Balfour's `railway timetable') was critical for the emergence of this characteristically adversarial part of the Westminster System.