"Ministerial Responsiveness in Westminster Systems: Institutional Choices and House of Commons Debate, 1832--1915"
Professor Spirling is the John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences. His primary field is political methodology, and his work has dealt particularly with quantitative methods for studying legislatures. His current substantive focus is British political development, especially the House of Commons in the period 1832–1918. With co-authors, he is working with the History of Parliament Trust to bring digitized legislative records into the public domain. His work has appeared in scholarly journals, including the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, and the Journal of the American Statistical Association.
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.
Last modified Sunday, May 19, 2013 - 10:40pm