Monday, 30 September 2013

Welfare Reform

In recent weeks just about everybody and their uncle has had advice for the Labour leader - Ed Miliband - in response to his poor showing in the opinion polls which suggest that less than 1 in 5 voters can envisage Ed as Prime Minister of the UK. 

One of the suggestions doing the rounds is that Labour should bring its 'big beasts' back into front-line politics - well known faces like Alistair Darling, John Reid, and David Blunkett's names have all been mentioned. 

Now to my mind that would be a backward step, but that doesn't mean that Ed should listen to what the 'old guard' has to say - for example here's a strong yet sensible point of view on the need for Labour to challenge the 'benefits culture' which Chris Mullin felt strongly enough about - to put pen to paper, so to speak - back in 1999.

Yet all these years later Labour is still struggling with the need to come up with a sensible policy on welfare reform - having neglected the issue almost entirely during its 13 years in government between 1999 and 2010.

If I had my way, I would increase short-term unemployment benefits - by reducing the benefits paid to those who have been out of work continuously for years - through both good times and bad.  

Because that's the point that Chris Mullin was driving at in his diary all those years ago - yet the party leadership failed to act and even now Labour has opposed every single one of the Coalition Government's  welfare measures while claiming - somewhat disingenuously - still to be in favour of reform. 

Progress Report (6 April 2013)

I thought I'd publish a previous post form the blog site - from little more than a year ago - when I wrote about the Labour party reviewing policies on welfare reform and the benefits culture.

Now if anything useful has come out of this policy review process, then you're much better informed than me - though I am keeping my ear to the ground.   

Benefits Culture (4 January 2012)

I read somewhere the other day that the Labour party is reviewing its policy on what is commonly referred to as - the 'benefits culture'.

Apparently the party is going to take a tougher, much more realistic stance - and agree that there is a significant problem - in the sense that relatively large numbers of people would stay on benefits their whole lives - if you let them.

Me, I'd turn off the benefits tap after a period of time - 3 or 5 years at the very most seems reasonable, generous even, to me.

After that if you're not making some kind of contribution to society - the music simply has to stop - even if that means hard choices because that's what life is all about.

So it seems that Labour is finally catching up with what one of their own MPs - Chris Mullin - had to say back in 1999.

Even at a time of relative full-employment Chris Mullin's could see that the benefits culture was a big challenge for Labour to tackle - yet it failed to do so over its 13 years in government - when in fact the problem got worse.

So it's good to see the people's party waking up, thinking differently and - potentially - taking a new approach.

Better late than never - as the say.

Hand-Up v Hand-Out (September 28th 2011)

Listening to the proceedings at the 2011 Labour party conference convinces me of one thing - people attending these events hear only what they want to hear - and all too often leave their brains at the door.

Take the 'darling' of the conference so far - young Rory Weal - who made a good, if somewhat deluded, speech about the importance of the welfare state.

Young Rory has now been 'cursed' - by being tagged as Labour's answer to William Hague - another precocious 16-year old conference virgin from the days of Margaret Thatcher.

Rory's back story was that the welfare state is a good thing - which it clearly is - and vital in the case of his own family - who were down on their luck for a while, but are now back on their feet.

Good for Rory - and his mum and sister - but if he doesn't mind me puncturing his balloon too much - that's hardly the point.

The real point is that too many people have been on welfare benefits for far too long - not the majority but very significant numbers - for whom a 'hand-up' has become a 'hand-out'.

A way of life which they settle into and don't want to change - because they have no hope or aspiration to make anything more of themselves - or their children - and a lifetime on benefit will do fine - thank you very much.

And if you don't believe me - then read this entry from Chris Mullin's diary from 11 June 1999 - which is taken from his book - 'A Walk On Part'.

"Friday 11 June 1999


The surgery lasted three hours. Full of people locked into the benefit culture. Three were threatened with the loss of disability benefit on the grounds they were no longer deemed to be disabled.

Two were men in the mid-fifties and one a woman of only thirty who had never worked in her life. They all huffed and puffed about the wickedness of it all, but increasingly I find it hard to sympathise. They all seemed to have given up on life and could not envisage living without benefit.

The woman claimed a combination of gynaecological problems and stress. So far as the stress was concerned, I couldn't resist suggesting that work was the best antidote. The men, one of whom was middle class and seemed to be recovering from a nervous breakdown, both used the phrase 'I have worked all my life'.

When probed, that turned out to mean in one case until the age of forty-two and, in the other, until the age of about fifty-three. As if that somehow entitled them to take a holiday, funded by the taxpayer, for the remaining one or two decades of their working life.

The forty-two year old, who was the most indignant and laid claim to a vast range of symptoms, also used the phrase 'I am a socialist', which I find often features in conversations of this kind. This definition of socialism never seems to place any burden on the person laying claim to it.

On the contrary, it usually implies entitlement to live for the rest of his life at the expense of his fellow citizens. Am I getting too cynical? Have I been in too long in this job?

The more I reflect the more I am certain we are right to challenge the benefit culture, however painful that maybe to some of our natural supporters."

Chris Mullin was of course a Labour MP from 1997 to 2010 - a period of relatively full-employment - during which the Labour government never really got to grips with its declared intention of reforming the welfare state.

While people are free to disagree with the coalition government and its plans - the fact is that the Labour government failed to make any serious reforms - during 13 years of unbroken rule.

Even though MPs like Chris Mullin (not a mad right-winger) were acutely aware of the scale of the problem - and the need to do something about it - from very early on.

Greek Perks

If you ever wondered why the Greek economy was in need of a big bail-out from the European Union - here's a story from the BBC web site which helps to explain how public spending in certain areas was allowed to escalate out of control.

Now awarding civil servants an extra six days holiday a year just for using a computer sounds completely bonkers - as does the practice of paying employees a bonus just for turning up for work.

But I remember a somewhat similar agreement being struck in Scotland not that long ago - by Edinburgh District Council in the early 1990s, if I recall correctly - under which the Council awarded an extra 3 days annual leave as part of a new local agreement on the use of 'new technology'.

The local agreement applied only to 'white collar' workers - not 'blue collar' or manual workers and the unions representing these groups of staff (NUPE, GMB and TGWU) all regarded the move as a complete waste of money - as well as unfair on their own members. 

So while while the holiday perks of Greek civil servants might cause you to scratch your head in amazement - maybe there's some truth after all in that old description of Edinburgh as the Athens of the North

Greek civil servants lose holiday perks for computer use

Greek Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the annual leave perk belonged to another era

The Greek authorities have scrapped six days of extra holiday awarded to civil servants for using computers, as part of its austerity drive.

The privilege was granted in 1989 to all who worked on a computer for more than five hours a day.

However, Reform Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, speaking on Greek TV, said the custom "belonged to another era",

The decision comes as part of the government's reform of the public sector in a bid to meet bailout terms.

Greece received two bailouts from the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) totalling about 240bn euros (£200bn; $318bn) on the condition that the government imposes cuts and implements restructuring.

The working hours saved by scrapping the computer leave would be the equivalent of an extra 5,000 employees, Mr Mitsotakis told Skai TV on Thursday.

He described it as "small, yet symbolic" step in modernising an outdated civil service. Mr Mitsotakis is the man in charge of overhauling public institutions.

Other perks that have already been scrapped include a bonus for showing up to work and passing on a dead father's pension to his unmarried daughters.

In July, the Greek parliament approved plans to reform the public sector, placing up to 25,000 public sector workers into a mobility pool by the end of the year, when they will either face redeployment or redundancy.

The Greek economy has shrunk further than any other in Europe, with an employment rate of 27%.

Football Crazy

I was struck by the lack of moral outrage in parts of the footballing world after the Rangers player - Ian Black - was fined £7,500 and handed a 10 match suspension (7 of which are suspended) by the Scottish Football Association (SFA).

The player admitted a long history of betting on football games - despite the fact that the SFA  operates a zero tolerance approach to gambling - which restricts players from betting on any football match anywhere in the world.

So it was no surprise that Ian Black was handed a hefty fine and ban after admitting charges of betting on three football matches on his then-registered club not to win - and betting on a further 10 football matches that involved his own club.

The player's bets on a further 147 football matches resulted in Black receiving a 'warning' about his future conduct.

Football in Scotland attracts more than its fair share of 'head cases' - and it needs a 'laddish' gambling culture getting a hold of the game about as much as it needs another hole in its head. 



I read this article which appeared in the Times the other day - written by a chap called Martin Bright who used to be the Political Editor of the New Statesman, a vaguely left wing, Labour supporting magazine.

I have to say it had the ring of truth about it - because the factionalised side of the Labour Party is a very nasty party, quite capable of victimising people in this way - as the Damian McBride affair showed only too well.

Moral compass, my arse!

I lost my job because I stood up to the Brownites

Damian Bride’s memoir brought back memories of how I was forced out of the New Statesman

By Martin Bright

I read Damian McBride’s account of his time as Gordon Brown’s political hitman with a sense of horror and terrible recognition. As Political Editor of the New Statesman, known at the time as the house journal of Labour’s Brownite faction, I had a ringside seat during one of the most brutal and poisonous periods of recent political history.

During the Blair Government I enjoyed complete freedom to sound off and to run investigations, even when these targeted senior government figures and allies of the Prime Minister. I received regular briefings from “the two Eds” — Balls and Miliband — about supposed Blairite outrages and the endless negotiations for the succession.

Everything changed when Gordon Brown took over as leader. From that point on, nothing short of absolute loyalty would be tolerated. At first I used to laugh about it with the Editor, John Kampfner. Every call from a Brownite demanding a shift in the editorial line made us all the more determined not to play ball. We took particular pleasure in ignoring the increasingly desperate pleas from the magazine’s owner, Geoffrey Robinson, the MP for Coventry and a personal friend of Brown’s.

The 2008 London mayoral contest was the turning point when the gloves came off. I had been asked by Channel 4 to present aDispatches investigation into Ken Livingstone and within weeks of beginning the research I knew our findings would be damaging. We uncovered a small coterie of unelected advisers from a tiny fringe group, Socialist Action, who effectively ran London as Mr Livingstone’s personal fiefdom. The Mayor’s stance on radical Islam and his relationship with Hugo Ch├ívez were also challenged. Within Brownite circles the programme was seen as a gross act of betrayal.

When the film was broadcast, Geoffrey Robinson took me aside and told me I should not have collaborated with Channel 4 or written for the Evening Standard, urging voters not to put Mr Livingstone back in power. I asked if he was threatening me. He laughed.

Shortly after this incident another Brownite, the caricature mockney thug Charlie Whelan, decided to threaten my wife, also a journalist, at a press awards ceremony. Rather than offer his congratulations for the nomination she had received, the charmless spinner yelled that he was going to get her husband sacked for his treachery.

By now, the atmosphere at the New Statesman was intolerable. John Kampfner, who supported me over the Livingstone film, was under increasing pressure to stick to the Brownite line. Eventually his position became impossible and he resigned. High hopes for the new multi-millionaire owner Mike Danson were dashed when he threw in his lot with the Brownites and effectively gave Mr Robinson control over the appointment of the new Editor.

I tried to hang on but I knew the game was up when I went for lunch with a former Fleet Street editor who told me that Patrick Hennessy, the Brownite political editor of the Sunday Telegraph, had been approached for the editorship and was told his first task would be to fire me.

When I eventually left the New Statesman in early 2009, it felt like a huge weight had lifted from my shoulders. Sure enough, the magazine became slavishly loyal to Mr Brown (much good that it did him) and went on to champion the rise of his political heir, Ed Milband.

What I went through was nothing compared with the treatment meted out to bigger targets such as John Reid, Charles Clarke, Ivan Lewis and, most shamefully of all, Alistair Darling. Did Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband know what was going on? As the McBride revelations demonstrate, plausible deniability was built into the system.

My story is a mere footnote of the Brown premiership but it is symptomatic of precisely the poison Damian McBride has identified in his confessional memoir. Imagine a country in Eastern Europe or Africa where the prime minister’s friend, an MP and millionaire owner of a prominent weekly magazine, removed the editor and political editor after they refused to print the government line. You would be rightly outraged. Well, it happened here.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Small Change

If this BBC report is anything to go by, the Labour Party leader - Ed Miliband - already has his answer from the trade unions - 'You change if you want to, but we plan to have our cake and eat it at the same time'.

Because the inevitable logic of any 'opting in' system for party donations from ordinary trade union members - is a move to One Member One Vote (OMOV) which can only result in one thing - a big reduction in the level of influence wielded by Britain's union bosses (Bubs) when it comes to internal Labour Party affairs. 

But judging by Paul Kenny's comments the Bubs are not going to give up without a fight - and to my mind that's all too predictable because too many of them like to act like 'armchair politicians' instead of standing up for the interests of their members.    

Labour conference: Union warnings to Miliband on reforms

Len McCluskey's Unite union is Labour's biggest financial backer

Union leaders have told Ed Miliband at the Labour conference they will retain their voice in the party, despite moves to reform their relationship.

Paul Kenny, leader of the GMB, which has slashed its funding of the party, said the unions would not bin 100 years of shared history for a "gimmick".

Unite leader Len McCluskey said: "No one is pushing us out of our party".

Mr Miliband wants union members to opt into party membership rather than be automatically affiliated.

The Labour leader's proposals, due to be debated at a special conference in London next Spring, have caused anger among some in the trade union movement, even though they are likely to affect individual members only at this stage.'Wealthy outsiders'

It is not thought likely issues such as the ability of union leaders to cast votes on the behalf of their members at the party's annual conference - the so-called "block vote" - will be addressed until after the 2015 general election,

"Labour has no God-given right to exist - it can only exist if it speaks for ordinary working people” - Len McCluskeyUnite general secretary

The proposed changes were the subject of a short debate on the first day of the Labour Party conference in Brighton.

Mr Kenny was given the job of speaking on behalf of the 14 trade unions affiliated to Labour.

He said: "The desire to expand party membership is a shared one, but let nobody be under any illusion that as collective organisations, the removal or sale of our collective voice is not on the agenda.

"We are certainly not going to accept any advice on democracy and transparency from the people who brought us the cash for honours scandals, or whose activities are funded by cash from wealthy outsiders who refuse to give to the party but prefer to lay cuckoos in CLP (Constituency Labour Party) nests.

"We can expand ad infinitum the number of people we bring into the tent, but if what they say is ignored, as has been the case in the past, in favour of dinner party babble, then why bother?

"Be assured, the collective voices of millions of working people and their families, and 100 years of shared history, will not be washed away or sold for an election gimmick."'Zero hours'

The GMB leader received a standing ovation from union leaders inside the hall.

Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, Labour's biggest financial backer, also made it clear that any reforms must not dilute the movement's voice within the party it created a century ago.

Speaking at a Daily Mirror/Unite fringe meeting, he "No one is pushing us out of our party."

"My challenge to Ed Miliband is to make it clear that the Labour Party is the party of ordinary working people, is the party of organised Labour.

"Labour has no God-given right to exist. It can only exist if it speaks for ordinary working people, so instead of the challenge always being heaped on trade unions or ordinary workers, my challenge to our party is to demonstrate that you are on our side."

He also attacked the "evil" of flexible labour markets and "zero hour contracts" - and he urged Labour shadow ministers to "stand up" to the right wing press.

The meeting also heard from a young single mother who relies on food banks to feed her family, a disabled woman who faces benefit cuts and a 107-year-old North London woman, Hetty Bower, who warned about a return to the poverty of the pre-welfare state era.

South Lanarkshire

I have been looking through some of my previous FOI requests to South Lanarkshire Council and do you know what jumped out?

The fact that many of these were 'answered' - if that's the correct word - by none other than Linda Hardie, the Council's former director of finance. 

Now Linda Hardie left South Lanarkshire's employment under very controversial circumstances - and probably not of her own making - given what I've learned about the Council in recent years. 

So, wouldn't it be wonderful if Linda now came forward - and ignored any unlawful 'gagging clauses' surrounding her departure - to become a whistleblower in relation to equal pay and Freedom of Information. 

Gagging Clauses (15 March 2013)

In recent weeks there has been much comment about the NHS and the practice of senior officials being shown the door - often in controversial circumstances - but with hugely generous exit packages.

More often than not these publicly funded exit packages are accompanied by 'gagging clauses' - which effectively prevent people speaking out about the circumstances surrounding their departure - a practice that is the exact opposite of open and transparent government.

So I thought it would be useful to reproduce a previous post from the blog site on the departure of the former Finance Director - of South Lanarkshire Council.

I think it would be a great public service if senior officials in this situation - like Linda Hardie -  came forward to tell their side of the story - because these 'gagging clauses' are offensive to common sense and have no place in any of our public services.

South Lanarkshire Council is up in the UK Supreme Court soon - over its refusal to disclose pay information ordered by the Scottish Information Commissioner - and the Court of Session, Scotland's highest civil court.

I'll have more to say on that subject in the next few days.

Mired in Scandal (6 August 2012)

Well done to the Daily Record for exposing another disgraceful chapter in the life of South Lanarkshire Council.

Here's a story which appeared in the paper last week - and shines a light on the controversial departure of the council's finance chief in April 2011.

To my mind spending £500,000 on a early retirement package for a senior council official - is an obscene waste of public money.

Yet the council fails to offer a proper explanation for its actions and simply brushes aside the criticisms of Scotland's public spending watchdog - Audit Scotland.

If you ask me it's high time the Scottish Government took a long hard look at what's going on inside South Lanarkshire Council - which looks increasingly arrogant and out of control.

Golden goodbye scandal: Council chief pocketed £500k severance package.. after receiving £63k garden leave pay

The Daily Record revealed yesterday the severance package had been paid to finance chief Linda Hardie by Labour-led South Lanarkshire Council.

The council who gave a £500,000 payoff to a boss who “retired” at 50 have been savaged by a financial watchdog for paying her another £63,000 to stay at home.

The Daily Record revealed yesterday the severance package had been paid to finance chief Linda Hardie by Labour-led South Lanarkshire Council.

Hardie’s department lost £100,000 of taxpayers’ money to a fraud scam and made £38million worth of “arithmetical errors” in budget cuts.

Now we can reveal the council have been criticised by the public spending watchdog for allowing Hardie to spend six months on her full £127,000-a-year salary before picking up her massive package.

A report for Audit Scotland says: “There is no documentary evidence to demonstrate value for money for the full pay provided from 18 October, 2010, to 18 April, 2011.”

The report also reveals that Hardie’s deal was approved only by her fellow paid officials, contrary to Audit Scotland’s guidelines, which say elected councillors should be involved in early retirement packages.

That has prompted questions about who exactly is running the council, who are fighting a costly legal battle against their own female staff over equal pay.

Local SNP MSP Christina McKelvie said: “Given that they are dragging their heels over equal pay claims, how could they justify using scarce resources to award such a staggering payoff?

Council leader Eddie McAvoy has some serious questions to answer. Why is it that decisions about early retirement appear to have been left to council management?

Did McAvoy have any knowledge of this golden goodbye and does he think it was appropriate or necessary? The buck stops with the administration, and they now must explain what steps they are taking to avoid such obscene payoffs in future.”

SNP ministers are also demanding answers from the council about the payoff – which saw Hardie receive £106,000 severance plus £427,000 paid into her pension.

McAvoy was abroad on holiday and could not be contacted for comment.

A council spokesman said: “The council followed early retirement approval procedures as detailed in standing orders. The retirement provision was in line with the contract of employment and with general employment law and pension regulations.”


It would take half a century for the average female worker fighting South Lanarkshire Council for equal pay to earn the £500,000 payoff handed to finance chief Linda Hardie.

Hardie took early retirement aged just 50 in April last year but the details of her package have only emerged now.

One dinner lady of 55, who is among those fighting for equal pay, earns £10,000 a year for a 30-hour week – but Hardie will get six times that in pension.

The woman, who did not want to be named, said: “When I saw what she was getting, it made me sick to the pit of my stomach.

“If I worked every day for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t earn the money she has walked away with.

“The council have done everything they can to stop us getting a fair deal and just hand over cash like that to someone who made a hash of her job.”

The council are refusing to accept an employment tribunal’s ruling that they must offer the women, including cleaners and dinner ladies, equal pay.

The worker added: “All the money that is being used to fight us is also a waste of taxpayers’ cash because we are not giving up until we win.”

What Rubbish!

Malcolm Rifkind works himself up into a state of high dudgeon in this article which appeared in the Guardian recently.

The subject of Rifkind's wrath - which is both powerful and humorous - is Sir Simon Jenkins,   a regular columnist in the Guardian newspaper.

For me it's Rifkind who has the better of the argument - but you can decide for yourself since the opinions of both knight os the realm are set out below.   

What rubbish, Sir Simon! Our intelligence agencies are not outside the law

By Malcolm Rifkind 

Real issues arise out of the Snowden affair, but British security laws keep us safe without intruding on citizens' freedoms

Edward Snowden in Moscow. 'It is not surprising that there has been more debate about Snowden and Prism in the United States than in the UK.' Photograph: Itar-Tass

I usually am impressed by Simon Jenkins, but his polemic in today's Guardian on the Edward Snowden affair was well below par and full of howlers. If his emails are like that he can relax. No intelligence agency will waste its time trying to read them.

He repeats the original accusation that GCHQ used the Americans'Prism programme to "circumvent" British law. If he had done his homework he would be aware that the intelligence and security committee, which I chair, has investigated that very claim, seen GCHQ's secret files, and been able to report to parliament that GCHQ had legal warrants from the secretary of state in every case.

He praises the Americans for having laws that protect privacy unless there is "due process", and then suggests that Britain has no such requirement. Absolute rubbish. Our intelligence agencies have to go through a similar lengthy legal procedure before they can examine any British citizen's email or phone conversations – and only get permission if it is deemed necessary to stop terrorism or prevent serious crime. Such warrants are also subject to retrospective inspection by the intelligence commissioners, who are independent judges.

He accuses the US of "aping the totalitarian regimes it professed to guard against" in its collection of intelligence data. Does he believe that there are Russian and Chinese judges and parliamentary committees that are independent of those countries' governments and empowered to examine the secret files of their intelligence agencies, as we have in both the US and the UK?

His finest diatribe is to accuse "parliament, the courts and most of the media", as well as "Britons generally", of being indifferent to privacy and liberty because they refuse to treat GCHQ, MI6 and MI5 as public enemies. The whole nation, it appears, has got it wrong. Only Simon Jenkins and the Guardian care about these things.

And then Sir Simon (as he is actually called) says it is all the fault of "the British establishment", which will not "get excited" on these matters. Sir Simon, you are part of the British establishment, as I am reminded every time I read your excellent contributions to Country Life.

There are real issues that do arise out of the Snowden affair, in Britain as elsewhere. Even if the intelligence agencies always act within the law, it must be right for that law to be reviewed from time to time to see whether the safeguards are adequate. Sometimes they are not. The intelligence and security committee criticised the government's original proposals for closed proceedings in civil actions as being wider than was necessary. We have criticised some of the provisions in the proposedcommunications data bill.

There has also been a crucial need for greater powers for the committee. That has now been conceded by the government. As of this autumn, the intelligence agencies can no longer refuse it any information it seeks. We now have the statutory power to investigate MI6, MI5 andGCHQ operations, which we did not have in the past. Our budget is being almost doubled to £1.3m and our staff are being greatly strengthened.

It is not surprising that there has been more debate about Snowden andPrism in the United States than in the UK. Snowden is an American who worked with the National Security Agency. Prism is a US intelligence capability, not a British one.

On Tempora, it has been well known that the fibre optic cables that carry a significant proportion of the world's communications pass close to the British coastline and could provide intelligence opportunities. The reality is that the British public are well aware that its intelligence agencies have neither the time nor the remotest interest in the emails or telephone conversations of well over 99% of the population who are neither potential terrorists nor serious criminals. Modern computer technologies do permit the separation of those that are of interest from the vast majority that are not.

Our system is not perfect. There are occasions when the intelligence obtained may be of such little value as not to justify the diminution in privacy associated with obtaining it.

But I have yet to hear of any other country, either democratic or authoritarian, that has both significant intelligence agencies and a more effective and extensive system of independent oversight than the UK and the US. If you know any, Sir Simon, tell us who they are.

Edward Snowden has started a global debate. So why the silence in Britain?
We're subject to huge unwarranted surveillance – but Westminster's useful idiots are more likely to sanction than criticise it

By Simon Jenkins

Perhaps this trust in the authority of the state ‘is embedded in the class system, aided by the vague glamour of James Bond'. Photograph: Cine Text/Allstar/Sportsphoto

The Brazilian president cancels a state visit to Washington. The German justice minister talks of "a Hollywood nightmare". His chancellor, Angela Merkel, ponders offering Edward Snowden asylum. The EU may even end the "safe harbour" directive which would force US-based computer servers to relocate to European regulation. Russians and Chinese, so often accused of cyber-espionage, hop with glee.

In response, an embarrassed Barack Obama pleads for debate and a review of the Patriot Acts. Al Gore refers to the Snowden revelations as "obscenely outrageous". The rightwing John McCain declares a review "entirely appropriate". The Senate holds public hearings and summons security chiefs, who squirm like mafia bosses on the run. America's once dominant internet giants, with 80% of the globe under their sway, now face "Balkanised" regulation round the world as nation states seek to repatriate digital sovereignty.

And in Britain? Nothing. From parliament, the courts, and most of the media, nothing. Snowden, the most significant whistleblower of modern times, briefly amused London when he turned scarlet pimpernel in the summer; then the capital was intrigued when David Miranda was seized by Heathrow police on bogus "terrorism" charges. But the British establishment cannot get excited. It hates whistleblowers, regarding them as not proper chaps.

Nothing better illustrates the gulf that sometimes opens between British and American concepts of democracy. Congress is no puppet of the executive. The US may be brutal in its treatment of leakers such as Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, but the fourth amendment lurks deep in its culture, protecting privacy from the state without due process and "probable cause". Britain has no such amendment.

What moved Americans about Snowden was not just the scale of NSA hoovering of data – though polls indicate strong aversion – but the lying to Congress. Snowden, a Republican former soldier, was simply shocked at the clear collapse of congressional and judicial oversight. The US had lurched into aping precisely the totalitarian regimes it professed to guard against.

Any reading of the Snowden material suggests that US and British agents were up to the same tricks. They were sharing data throughPrism, plainly circumventing each country's domestic oversight regimes. Britain's Tempora programme, involving the mass tapping of fibre-optic cables belonging to BT, Verizon, Vodafone and others, meant that GCHQ was possibly a bigger intelligence gatherer even than the NSA, a key player in what Snowden called "the largest programme of suspicion-less surveillance in human history". Its value to the US is evidenced by the £100m the country pays for its surveillance services.

An estimated 850,000 American officials and contractors are thought to have access to this material. Though every activity is said to require the warrant of a US court and a "senior minister" in Britain, this is palpably absurd. There are millions of dips each year, a vast trawl of data. While the NSA is supposedly overseen by a foreign intelligence surveillance court – now exposed as ineffective through being secret – GCHQ professes "a light oversight regime compared with the US". Its overseers are patsies.

Yet none of this seems to turn a hair in London. While Washington has been tearing itself apart, dismissive remarks by William Hague in the Commons and Lady Warsi in the Lords could have passed muster in Andropov's supreme soviet. Hague said merely that everything was "authorised, necessary, proportionate and targeted". National security was not for discussion. British oversight was "probably the strongest … anywhere in the world". This remark – contradicted by GCHQ itself – went unchallenged.

Meanwhile Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, head of the intelligence and security committee and supposed champion of citizens against state intrusion, positively grovelled towards GCHQ. He said we should all defer to "those involved in intelligence work". He even cancelled a public hearing with the security chiefs for fear of embarrassing them.

For Labour, Yvette Cooper claimed obscurely she "long believed in stronger oversight" but she was drowned by a dad's army of former defence and home secretaries, such as Lord Reid, Lord King and Jack Straw. All rallied to the securocrats' banner in shrill unison. I sometimes think these people would bring back the rack, the whip and the gallows if "vital for national security".

The reality is that Britons generally have little trouble with the authority of the state. The historian of espionage, Ben McIntyre, has suggested that this trust is embedded in the class system, aided by the vague glamour of James Bond and George Smiley. GCHQ, he says, is seen as "a club of amiable gentlemen in shabby tweed jackets," probably still fighting the Nazis. Like all toffs, this officer class may behave badly, but its heart is in the right place. It keeps the evil foreigner at bay. Besides, as Hague says, "the law-abiding citizen has nothing to be worried about".

A few people still hold to the futurist ideology that all things digital are benign. Since I see the digital revolution as one of means not ends, I am less convinced. A huge industry has shrunk the globe and vastly increased transparency, but it is poised to corrupt the very freedoms it professes to advance. The market is no guard against it, only democratic oversight. If that fails, as it has, everything is at risk.

The UK reaction to Snowden may in part be an awareness of cant and hypocrisy. All governments have played fast and loose with privacy. Besides, half the world is still intoxicated by the novelty of social media. If the NSA bugs Brazilian oil companies during licence talks, so what? Everyone does it. Perhaps we should just calm down.

This might pass muster if we were merely letting sleeping dogs lie. These lying dogs are not sleeping. The need for the state to acquire and guard some secrets is not in question. But such a claim has been blown out of all proportion. We have created a monster that has overwhelmed the defences put in place to regulate it. I suspect neither Hague nor Rifkind had any clue of the Prism and Tempora programmes. They are the useful idiots of the security classes. But if they thought it best to believe everything the security services told them, they should now be the wiser. They should know, as do their American counterparts, that they were duped.

Britons are not only subject to massive unwarranted surveillance, surveillance that is insecure and unaccountable. They are also at the mercy of intrusive institutions which, for the time being, their politicians will not and cannot control. When push comes to shove, 
Americans do this better.