Washminster

Washminster
Washminster

Friday, 28 February 2014

LBJ - Hugh Sidey


One of the oral histories recently broadcast by C-SPAN was that given by Hugh Sidey. It was absolutely fascinating. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. A wonderful complement to some of the biographies of the former President and Senate Majority Leader. (Robert A Caro; Randall B Woods; Robert Dallek; Irwin & Debi Unger)

The Video can be viewed here.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

LBJ - Oral Histories

This year C-SPAN has been running a series of programmes about LBJ - in the form of programmes where people who knew him & worked with him, shared their memories. A series well worth watching!


Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Monday, 24 February 2014

John Dingell to retire

The longest serving member of the House of Representatives (currently, AND in House history) is announcing his retirement. John Dingell has served in the House since 1955. He was elected in a special election for the seat his father had held since 1932. Whilst studying for his law degree he served as a Capitol elevator operator.

Memories


Forty years ago today, I attended a meeting in Walsall at which the Leader of the Opposition of the time, Harold Wilson, spoke. A week later he was Prime Minister, after an eventful general election and a weekend in which Ted Heath attempted to put together a coalition in order to remain in power.

I'd been introduced to politics four years previously. During the general election of 1970 my father had taken me to a number of political meetings. I met Roy Jenkins and George Brown - leading figures in the Labour Party at the time. (Jenkins signed my autograph book, Brown refused to - he was defeated at the election - coincidence????) My father was never active himself, but gave me the opportunity to explore politics. My interest continued during the years of the Heath Government - I followed closely the moves towards Britain's entry into the EEC (now the EU). As I was the first male in my family for at least three generations not to go straight from school down the mines - I took a keen interest in the Miner's Strike which led to the calling of the 1974 General Election. At that election my parents let me go to some of the local meetings - where I met Bruce George (who I was later to work with) and Geoff Edge (who became my local MP - and who encouraged my interest in politics (and Milton Keynes - where he had been an Open University lecturer and councillor)). These two young would-be MPs both gave me useful advice and I shall always be grateful to both of them.

On the Sunday before the election, there was the rally in Walsall Town Hall. Geoff & Bruce spoke - as did the other Walsall candidate - John Stonehouse. Harold Wilson was the main speaker. For me February 24th has always been seen as my political "birthday". I'd taken an interest before then, but afterwards, I became truly involved. Although too young to join the Labour Party, I helped give out leaflets (and in the October 1974 election helped cut up copies of the electoral register to paste onto cards for the "Get Out the Vote" activities on election day - I'm glad technology has moved on!)

For me 1974 was a momentous year. Sadly my Grandfather passed away on March 31st. We had been down in South Wales as his end neared. I'd seen him for the last time in the afternoon, & my mother stayed on at the hospital until he died a couple of hours later.  She remained with my grandmother as my father drove my sister and I back home to Aldridge. I guess I'm one of the few people who can remember exactly where they were at the moment the local government map was massively redrawn. At midnight old counties disappeared - and new ones emerged, as did many councils. It was exactly midnight as we crossed the border from Wales into England (quite possibly we were the last people to leave the historic county of Monmouthshire - which at that moment became Gwent). I learned a lot about my grandfather's story in the subsequent weeks - which further radicalised me. He had been a coalminer - who suffered long periods of unemployment in the 1930s.

My interest in politics extended to US politics - and the year was dominated by the unfolding Watergate story. Then in August Nixon finally resigned (& I spent hours glued to the TV)!. In Britain we had a second general election - and I had my first time as a candidate!

During the election Ted Heath came to Aldridge for a question and answer session. I was offered a ticket by someone I had met during the February election when I had attended meetings of all the major parties. (I'm convinced that he thought that I might be persuaded out of my preference for Labour!). At the invite-only meeting Ted Heath was asked questions which were all along the lines of "tell us how wonderful you are, Mr Heath?". As a very nervous young lad of 14 I stuttered out a question about the EEC, which while hardly piercing, was not sycophantic. The next day I was told that my question got onto the late night regional news summary. The Labour Candidate in our school mock-election, immediately stood down and I was made the Labour candidate - making my first speech in the school hall. If I recall, I pushed the vote for Labour up from 10 (the result in February) to 113. The rest is - as they say - history. (if not a particularly glorious one!!!!).

November 21 saw the Birmingham bombings. We were less than 10 miles away. One of the girls in my class had a sister who had been in Birmingham that evening, but had moved onto another pub. It was a shocking time. That news overshadowed another piece of local news. One of the three Labour MPs for Walsall was missing, believed drowned off Miami Beach. John Stonehouse had been the most senior of the three Labour MPs elected for Walsall constituencies in 1974. He had been a former minister. I was genuinely saddened. I hadn't got to know him as I had Bruce George and Geoff Edge. He was more aloof, but I had briefly met him. The next shock was to come on Christmas Eve. In the newspapers was the report that he had turned up in Australia. The local police thought they might have discovered the infamous Lord Lucan - instead it was the missing MP.

So for me, 1974 has a lot of memories - was it really 40 years ago!!!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

One Minute Speeches

In the House of Representatives, an opportunity is given to members to raise matters before the House, and indeed the whole nation (The remarks are recorded in the "Congressional Record" and broadcast on C-SPAN). CQ's "American Congressional Dictionary" describes One Minute Speeches as "Addresses by House members on any subject but limited to one minute each, usually permitted at the beginning of a daily session after the chaplain's prayer and approval of the Journal. They are a customary practice, not a right granted by rule. Consequently, recognition for one-minute speeches requires unanimous consent and is entirely within the Speaker's discretion."

They can be used to raise any issue. Sometimes this part of the day can be rather tedious - as members of each party use it to make a point on an issue of current partisan dispute. Speakers are lined up by the parties' leaderships - and more heat than light is produced. At other times (and frequently enough to have hooked me on the sessions!) there are some real nuggets. I hope to share some in the future.

This speech was made a few days ago - and illustrates show the speeches work, and how little nuggets of information can be shared in order to make an important point.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Abolishing Rights?


Yesterday's post dealt with the difficulties that most national constitutions place in the way of Constitutional Reform. The reason is simple - abolishing safeguards against the abuse of powers, or taking away citizens' rights - should only be done if the clear will of the people is for such a change. (Sadly people will vote to destroy their own safeguards and rights - but that's up to them).

In Britain, changes don't need the approval of the people. While legislation is a major source of the British Constitution - it is not the only one. Even then, as Lord Hailsham pointed out in 1976 (significantly, when he was an un-elected member of the House of Lords - in Opposition; he was less concerned about the concept when he held the power) - Britain can be an "elective dictatorship" - great power is concentrated in the hands of people who can have received less than half the votes cast in a general election - and the support of an even smaller proportion of the total electorate.

Two (relatively) recent developments have sought to safeguard rights (the Human Rights Act of 1998) and to give an opportunity to challenge decisions in the Courts on the grounds that a decision has not been taken properly (Judicial Review).

The current government is seeking to reduce the effectiveness of these. Having to abide by the principles that we have argued for others (Britain played a key role in drafting the European Convention on Human Rights), and having decisions made by public officials struck down because they haven't been taken in accordance with the principles of good practice - is inconvenient!

For a politically neutral (they are produced by the House of Commons Library) explanation and analysis of proposals for change - follow these links.

Human Rights Act

Judicial Review

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Amending the Constitution


In most states, special procedures are required to change key features of the Constitution. Take a look at the "barriers" to amendment which some Constitutions put up.

US Constitution - Art V

"The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate."

French Constitution Art 89

"The President of the Republic, on a proposal by the Prime Minister, and Members of Parliament alike shall have the right to initiate amendment of the Constitution.
 
A government or a Member's bill to amend the Constitution shall be passed by the two assemblies in identical terms. The amendment shall have effect after approval by referendum.

However, a government bill to amend the Constitution shall not be submitted to referendum where the President of the Republic decides to submit it to Parliament convened in Congress; the government bill to amend the Constitution shall then be approved only if it is adopted by a three-fifths majority of the votes cast. The Bureau of the Congress shall be that of the National Assembly.
No amendment procedure shall be commenced or continued where the integrity of the territory is jeopardized.

The republican form of government shall not be the object of an amendment."

But in the United Kingdom - no such requirements are in place. Parliament could amend ANY rule or principle of the, so-called 'unwritten constitution', through an Act of Parliament. A Judicial decision could also alter the workings of the British Constitution. Conventions - an important 'source' of the Constitution - change or even develop or die through the actions of individuals.

See tomorrow's post (19th February) about current proposals for UK Constitutional Reform.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Petitions to the European Parliament


EU citizens or residents of the EU may submit a petition to the European Parliament on a subject which comes within the EU’s remit.

The petition may present a request or a complaint concerning the application of EU law or it may appeal to the European Parliament to adopt a position on a specific matter.
Such petitions give the European Parliament the opportunity to draw attention to any infringement of a European citizen's rights by the authorities in any  member state or local authorities or by any other EU institution.

It is also possible for organisations and associations to petition the European Parliament

For more information on how to petition the European Parliament:
http://www.europarl.europa.eu/aboutparliament/en/00533cec74/Petitions.html

This useful piece of information came from the "New Europeans" website - for further information about the group and their campaigns go to - http://neweuropeans.net/

Saturday, 15 February 2014

What rights do EU migrants ACTUALLY get?

 
There is a "Senior European Experts Group" which is an independent body consisting of former high-ranking British diplomats and civil servants, including several former UK ambassadors to the EU, and former officials of the institutions of the EU. It has published the following briefing note on rights of migrants.
 
"Around 13.6 million EU nationals live in another Member State of whom 6.5 million are known to be in employment (the latter does not include those who are self-employed). In addition, a substantial number of EU nationals work in another Member State but do not live there. Because of this crossborder movement of workers, the EU has social security rules that are designed to protect migrant workers from being disadvantaged by working away from home.
 
The basic principle is one of non-discrimination: migrant workers from another Member State should be treated broadly like other nationals for the purposes of employment, social security, health and other public services. In the absence of any single EU social security system, each country has its own social security and other rules reflecting its particular circumstances, which means in practice that the application of the EU’s principles varies from one Member State to another. EU anti-discrimination provisions benefit the (at least) one million Britons who live elsewhere in the EU and those who are working in another Member State temporarily. It is important to note that the rules refer to migrant workers and their dependants, they do not create unlimited rights to claim benefits or other public services for those not in employment or self-employment."
 
To read more, click here.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Valentine's day

For Valentine's Day, I share you with you a song that I really like. Partially in English (it was apparently written for an American girl that Michel Polnareff had fallen for) and mostly in French, it combine a superb tune with some heartfelt lyrics.



I found a wonderful blog, which has lots about a number of singers, which I'd like to quote - the original blog is here.

"The song is again one of Polnareff’s “woe is me” unrequited love songs.  Polnareff is addressing his song to a young woman who is totally disinterested in him, despite him declaring that he is crazy about her.  He wants her to love him, but instead she makes fun, remains silent or simply looks bored.  The situation may seem hopeless and faced with her indifference Polnareff wants to disappear into the night, but by morning he has regained his confidence and is hopeful that everything could change today.  It doesn’t sound hopeful but, o my, what a way to get other girls to feel sorry for him and to love him for showing his vulnerability.  A sure fire winner, I’d say!
For those who don’t speak French at all, Polnareff sings ‘je suis fou de vous’ – fou is the masculine French word for crazy, mad, insane." 

The lyrics -

Love me, please love me, je suis fou de vous
Pourquoi vous moquez-vous chaque jour
De mon pauvre amour.
Love me, please love me je suis fou de vous
Vraiment prenez-vous tant de plaisir
A me voir souffrir.

Si j'en crois votre silence
Vos yeux pleins d'ennui
Nul espoir n'est permis.
Pourtant je veux jouer ma chance
Même si même si je devais y brûler ma vie.

Love me, please love me je suis fou de vous
Mais vous moquerez-vous toujours

De mon pauvre amour.

Devant tant d'indifférence parfois j'ai envie
De me fondre dans la nuit.
Au matin je reprends confiance
Je me dis je me dis
Tout pourrait changer aujourd'hui.

Love me, please love me je suis fou de vous
Pourtant votre lointaine froideur
Déchire mon cœur.

Love me, please love me je suis fou de vous
Mais vous vous moquerez-vous toujours
De mes larmes d'amour.


Michel Polnareff was a big French star from the 1960s onwards. I first heard him on the French internet radio station Chante France, and now have two of his albums - "Les premieres annees de Michel Polnareff" and "Live at the Roxy" - both are available on iTunes or Amazon.


Thursday, 13 February 2014

PMQs


Prime Minister's Question Time is worth watching in person. The atmosphere can be felt in the chamber. There is excitement and some excellent humour displayed. Yet I must admit that I have come to dislike it intensely. In my opinion, the sooner it is abolished, the better! I can't bear to watch it (and I'm a political junkie!!!).

My objection is that it achieves little in terms of holding the government to account. It's an opportunity to score points - hoping that the electorate will be impressed. I fear (and I go canvassing, and hear complaints from voters - and I hear the same from some of my students) that it puts them off.

The low esteem of PMQs is confirmed in a report from the Hansard Society. I recommend reading it.

It is available at  http://www.hansardsociety.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Tuned-in-or-Turned-off-Public-attitudes-to-PMQs.pdf

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Building Bigger Prisons - is it the answer?


When the prison population grows - how should we respond?

By looking again at our penal policy?
By asking ourselves why so many people are committing offences for which they risk imprisonment? By looking at alternatives to prison?
By considering whether there are more effective ways to dissuade people from committing crimes?
By building more, and bigger prisons?

Sometimes a serious consideration of the objectives of criminal law and of punishment are forgotten whilst a knee jerk reaction sets in. I'd urge all citizens - and our politicians to think about what objectives we as a society should have.

There are some excellent books about the subject. I remember at University studying Ted Honderich's thought provoking book on punishment.




The House of Commons Library has published a standard note - "Building prisons: the bigger, the better?"  It considers the advantages and disadvantages of new, bigger prisons and is available here.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Around the World in a day!


Yesterday I attended a meeting hosted by the British Library on campaigning in the 2012 US Presidential Election - then attended a European Citizens' Dialogue at the Royal Institution - and finally headed to Parliament for a meeting about the First World War! The range of Washminster's interests in a day! (US; UK & EU).

The first meeting allowed for an exchange of views about techniques in US campaigning - which has a real relevance this side of the pond since such ideas often cross the Atlantic. One theme was that we should not be blinded by the technology - it merely allows for more effective campaigning of the type that has existed since mass democracy arrived. It is still a matter of contacting voters - particularly those who are sympathetic to your views - and getting them out to vote.

The European Citizens' Dialogue was an event for the public. Citizens were able to put questions and ideas to and receive answers from a Commissioner, Viviane Reding, and a UK Government Minister, David Lidington, the Minister for Europe. There was a useful exchange of views. A video and further information is due (at the time of writing this post on 11th February 06-13am) to be available here.

The parliamentary meeting was put on by the British Council to launch its report "Remember the World as well as the War" - about the First World War. It was a fascinating meeting, with speakers describing the research around the world about peoples' knowledge and views of the significance of that conflict. The report is well worth reading, and I learnt a lot. It is available here.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Recent News From the EU


MEPs approved European Commission proposals to revise EU air passenger rights rules. The text approved by the EP would force airlines to be less restrictive in carry-on baggage policies and would make it harder for airlines to avoid paying compensation for delays and cancellations. The revised rules clarify the term 'extraordinary circumstances', which airlines used to get out of paying compensation for delayed or cancelled flights. 

The text adopted by MEPs would mean personal belongings such as coats, handbags or items purchased at the airport would not count toward their maximum cabin baggage allowance. Also, passengers would be entitled to: €300 for journeys of 3,500km or less which were delayed more than three hours. €400 for journeys between 3,500 and 6,000km which were delayed more than five hours. €600 for journeys of 6,000km or more which were delayed more than seven hours.  

 (From EU News Roundup - the European Movement)

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Consumer Advice


Back in the 1970s some councils put resources and great efforts into helping consumers deal with those who would try to fleece them. I believe that that was the right thing to do. If you believe in the positive value of competition - information is key to its effectiveness. Bad traders and scammers get pushed out and honest, reputable businesses that respect their consumers can thrive. {though 'Gresham's law' does note the tendency for the bad to drive out the good - free markets on their own - in practice, don't deliver the access to information needed for markets to function properly}.

Sadly most Trading Standards Departments are a shadow of their former selves - and well resourced, convenient, consumer information centres are now a thing of the past. Sadly the interests of those who would deny information and protection to consumers have triumphed.

Some services are provided by overstretched bodies such as the Citizens Advice Bureaux, and Trading Standards Departments (County or Unitary Authorities) do still exist. Complaints can be made about wrongful behaviour - and I'd urge people not to suffer in silence - but give Trading Standards Departments the information and evidence they need to put bad traders out of business. The Office of Fair Trading can investigate bad practice. You can read how the OFT and Trading Standards departments worked together to deal with bad practice by
Weatherseal
United Carpets Group and Hope & Nixon ('Floorstogo' website)
Hamsard (who were breaching competition law in relation to the supply of prescription medicines to care homes throughout England.)

There's an excellent set of resources available at http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/professionals/education/education_resources.htm

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

National Voter Registration Day


How should a people be governed, and by whom? That's one of the great questions which has dominated human history. Democracy is imperfect, but as Churchill once said - "democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried."

The vote is both a responsibility of a citizen (We have the responsibility for choosing who makes the decisions - and for holding them to account for they way they have carried out the tasks we delegate to them) and a prize for which many have been prepared to sacrifice their liberty and even life.

Today is the first "National Voter Registration Day" in the UK - and it is intended to celebrate it on this day each year hereafter. A number of organisations are encouraging as many people as possible to register. If you haven't registered yet - please do so. A form should have been sent to your property in late summer, early autumn last year - but if you have moved, you might have missed it.

If you have any questions about whether you are registered - get in touch with the Electoral registration Office at your District or Borough Council. You can pop in your post code at http://www.aboutmyvote.co.uk/ & you can get the needed form and where it needs to be sent.

For more information about NVRD go to - http://bitetheballot.co.uk/nvrd/

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

The Extent of Corruption


An hour or so after I posted yesterday, the European Commission published a report on the extent of corruption within the European Union and its member states. The report looks at the provisions in each country to address the problem. It can be consulted as an EU wide report, or by each individual country.

The report identifies issues and specific measures to tackle corruption. It's worth looking at for a number of purposes -
  • to see the extent of corruption in particular States
  • to see the legal structure in place in each State
  • to identify the differing techniques used to address corruption
  • to see particular areas that individual States need to address

Monday, 3 February 2014

Is "good government" possible?


Ronald Reagan once stated (actually I think he kept on saying it!) that "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem." It's a view that many people hold today. I have to say right from the start - it is not a view I share.

Yet we hear so much about cost overruns; corruption; blunders; if not sheer incompetence. It's not limited to a particular government; or even system of government - I subscribe to The Guardian (UK); Le Monde (France); New York Times (UK); and "European Voice" (EU). Very different systems are reported upon - but the stories are so familiar.

Is it a question of complexity? Our modern world is so complicated - that it may be impossible for any institutions to attempt to keep everything working at the same time. Some people argue that only unrestricted market forces can bring about the optimum results. Frankly, that seems to me to be complete rubbish. History is full of examples of the follies and disasters brought about by unregulated markets. If you want scandals, swindles; abuse of power - read any economic history. I remember reading Professor Galbraith's argument that modern economic history demonstrates a recurring cycle - scandal & crashes (from the South Sea Bubble to...applying his thesis - the Banking crisis of recent years), followed by government intervention to save the system and regulations to stop the same thing happening again - followed inevitably by demands for the relaxing of regulations - leading to new scandals and crashes. Public officials are (rightly) held to much higher ethical standards than business requires.

Certainly complexity is one of a (series) of problems - but can it explain the role of abuse of power and scandal?

I think that we have to accept the first part of Lord Acton's dictum that "POWER TENDS TO CORRUPT, absolute power corrupts absolutely." There are various ways that systems can seek to temper the downside of Human Nature.

Constitutional Law has its role to play. A constitution can set limits on power, and rules which invalidate actions which breach the Constitution. Most states have a single document which sets out the main rules. However that single document is not the complete statement of constitutional law. The US Constitution has been interpreted and applied by the Courts, particularly the US Supreme Court. Constitutional conventions can exist. Until Franklin Roosevelt ran for a third term it was a convention that Presidents served no more than two terms. He broke it, and a constitutional amendment was subsequently passed. Legal remedies may work (but may not be safe in the hands of clever lawyers), but sometimes other pressures encourage compliance. "Conventions" in the UK play this role - they are not legally enforceable, but constitutional actors regard themselves bound by the convention. They are effective when they mean that the cost of breaking the convention outweighs any short term advantage. The Queen could refuse to give the Royal Assent to a bill passed by Parliament (was she tempted when the Hunting Bill was passed?) - but the cost would be the loss of the unchallenged role that the Crown plays.

Ethics rules can play a role. While we might complain about our current politicians being a bunch of rogues - they are actually 'cleaner' than most generations in history. Many scandals of the last 40 years involve behaviour that, thanks to ethics rules, are forbidden - previously these practices were regarded as normal political behaviour.

"Accountability" is a requirement that can reduce scandal and show up incompetence. There is an important role for investigative committees - in Congress committees play an important role in questioning decisions; and requiring officials and others to justify their actions. Within constraints the Departmental Select Committees in the House of Commons can do the same. They are aided by professional support bodies - the GAO (Government Accountability Office) in the USA and the NAO (National Audit Office) in the UK.

In England MPs and Councillors can ask questions of officials carrying out policies; and the decision makers who have adopted policies - and demand answers. Sometimes the press can play a role in uncovering sharp practices and incompetence. There are also various organisations seeking to hold decision makers to account - such as the USA's Common Cause.

We don't live in a perfect world - and Human Nature can be deeply flawed - but in democracies - where power belongs to its citizens - we each have a responsibility (to ourselves and to others) to see that power is accountable to us.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

American Hustle


I have to be honest - I didn't even read any reviews of this film. The title itself could have been designed to switch my "off" button. Then a newspaper article about Congress mentioned that the film was set around a congressional scandal called "Abscam", suddenly I was interested. For my whips study, one of the challenges for 'whips' that I identified was scandal - in their pastoral role whips have to deal with the aftermath of scandal, and a number have involved certain whips themselves. Abscam was important for my studies because it created a major problem for the institution of Congress - with the first expulsion of a member for a very long time; and a number of members going to jail. Some of the characters had been members of the whips organizations. My current work into the 94th Congress also involved members of that Congress' freshman group. I had to go and watch the film!

I went on Friday (after watching "12 Years a Slave" a film I will discuss in a forthcoming post). I thoroughly recommend "American Hustle". It was a satisfying film on a number of levels.

There are some super "comedy" moments in this film. "Comedy" is probably my favourite genre - and this is an entertaining film. Secondly, I like the soundtrack. I'm a big Duke Ellington fan, and homage was made to him. As a teenager in the late seventies the "contemporary" music in the film was of my era. (I've bought the soundtrack!)

On a deeper level this was a film about the psychology of individuals attempting to manipulate others. An understanding of behaviour is essential for both politics and law - and while there is more in this "review" for my Law Students - on that ground alone law and politics students should pay careful attention to this film.

At an even deeper level this film is about the abuse of power. As Acton said - "Power tends to corrupt...absolute power corrupts absolutely". This is a story of corruption and abuse of power. The people ensnared in this sting operation, may not have even regarded themselves as corrupt. They (at least the politicians involved) may have considered that they were helping their constituents - that the money involved was necessary to ensure that they could continue helping their constituents (running for office was costly then - it is even more so then - and without election or re-election you can do little). But it was corrupt - and the message I stress to my law students - and to anyone else who will listen - is that the human mind is very good at persuading itself that what is in the interests of the individual is also in the best interests of everyone else. Blindness towards one's own wrongdoing is horrifyingly widespread. The "expenses scandal" at Westminster proved that. I was working there during the period of revelations - and spoke to people who just couldn't understand that what they had done - which seemed reasonable and justified to them - was seen by everyone else as outrageous.

The film also raises the issue of "entrapment". Would the people convicted have committed the crimes - if they hadn't been invited and encouraged to do so by undercover law enforcement officers? The whole issue of entrapment is something for law students to reflect upon. I remember looking at the issue while I was studying for my law degree - and the issue is rarely far from the news (even this week the UK news has involved the activities of undercover police officers and there role in the "crimes" of groups they infiltrated).

So - well worth the price of a cinema ticket. Of course, I wanted to get a bit more background - so consulted contemporary reports of the scandal (a reason why I'm so pleased that I was persuaded to subscribe to the New York Times (digital), which gives access to that paper's archives). I also bought and have almost finished "The Sting Man: The True Story Behind the Film American Hustle" by Robert W Greene. I read it using the Kindle App on my iPad - but saw it was on sale this morning at the Waterstones bookshop in Midsummer Place, Milton Keynes.

Of course the film has taken some liberties. Characters are merged - and the character's names have been changed, but as I think I'll be going back to see it again.