The home of free speech closes down for NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden

If you care about privacy, try self-censorship

The news that the Government is trying to prevent whistleblower Edward Snowden from travelling to this country by telling airlines not to accept him as a passenger has made me furious.

Initially, his revelations about online spying made me upset and angry and I applauded his bravery in speaking out and alerting ordinary people to the scale of secret surveillance. The idea of mass eavesdropping, of a government agency monitoring hundreds of thousands of innocent people's emails, seemed worrying, especially as – as usual – our leaders were quick to point out that this kind of thing is "essential" if we want to fight terrorism.

Let's be clear, it was politicians who decided we were fighting a "war on terror", but in the internet age it's a battle you stand little chance of monitoring in any meaningful way. Modern wars are not won in a single battle; they drag on for decades, and morph into other conflicts. Cyberspace is like a huge soup, and the chance of snaring anything really important is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack.

Over the years, I've campaigned against ID cards, and I used to believe that personal privacy was a highly prized right. Now, in the age of emails, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, why get exercised? We routinely offer up far too much information in the name of making friends and expressing our opinions. Every time you buy something online, your privacy is compromised. Online banking is another vulnerable area. Spam is a plague, the pernicious by-product of any online activity.

My generation wants passwords, privacy, the right to remain silent and deny access to all but a select few. But young people today are willing to confide in total strangers. The world is their club, and over the past few months I've come to accept that this is a far better way forward.

Use the internet and accept you're being monitored. Send a text and expect it to be hacked or read by a stranger. If you really care about privacy, try self-censorship. Mr Snowden's revelations, while a shocking confirmation, don't contain anything we didn't already suspect.

When criminals wise up to the fact that their emails are being monitored, they will just choose another form of communication. I am not at all confident that MPs can be trusted to allow monitoring only when it is "in the national interest". These are the same people who accept dinners and freebies from lobby groups; the same people who accept party donations from companies that lend money at crippling rates to the poorest in our society; the same people whose personal standing in the community has never been so low – a new survey shows that only one in five of us trusts MPs to tell the truth. In short, we distrust most politicians, so whatever they say about protecting our interests you can take with a pinch of salt. The least they can do is let Mr Snowden visit Britain, where freedom of speech was once cherished.


It seems extraordinarily unfair that Michael Douglas will not win an Oscar for his portrayal of Liberace in Behind the Candelabra, because it went out on US television, after movie chiefs thought the subject material too risky. Steven Soderbergh has said that this is his last film, but I hope he can be persuaded to change his mind, because I don't think I have spent such an entertaining couple of hours in a cinema for a very long time. Matt Damon is equally impressive as Liberace's lover, and the film invites us into a world of cruelty, manipulation and gloriously kitsch excess without ever being judgemental or patronising. It's a shame that the Liberace museum in Las Vegas has closed. It would have done well out of this excellent movie, and the replicas of Liberace's rhinestone-encrusted rings were very good value. Michael is said to have made silly remarks about catching throat cancer from oral sex, but after this performance, I'd forgive him.

Animated opera

Walt Disney couldn't draw and even his signature was created by studio artists. Does that matter, when he was responsible for some of the most memorable storytelling of the 20th century? Philip Glass's disappointing new opera at English National Opera focuses on the last months of Disney's life when he was dying of lung cancer, and Christopher Purves sings beautifully in the leading role. The Perfect American is engrossing, in spite of Glass's score which contains nothing on a par with his music for Cocteau's Beauty and the Beast or The Hours. The staging, projections and costumes are of the highest order, a miracle considering all the copyright issues preventing the use of Disney animation. So while we learn nothing new, there's plenty to marvel at.

Doing thyme

Home Secretary Theresa May should eat dinner at the Clink Cymru restaurant, inside Cardiff prison. She could enjoy seasonal dishes like wild boar ragoût and pick up food for thought about how to reduce reoffending rates, currently about 47 per cent nationally. But a year after release from Cardiff jail, only 12.5 per cent of the prisoners who worked in the Clink Cymru had got into trouble with the law. As well as learning practical skills, prisoners work towards NVQ qualifications, and are paid £14 for a 40-hour week. On release, they are helped to find work and mentored for up to a year. A recent survey shows that 44 per cent of us cannot cook five different meals by the age of 18. Learning to cook teaches so many valuable things: maths, literacy, the ability to work with others and self-esteem. Why aren't cooking classes compulsory from the age of eight?

Healthy profit

When my sister was dying of cancer in 2006, struggling on a mixed ward in Hillingdon Hospital, emollient Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt went on television and radio promising that Labour would prioritise the phasing out of mixed wards. She ordered a review, which revealed that 31 out of 172 NHS trusts were still operating them, in spite of government pledges. Andrew Lansley was still trying to deal with the problem in 2011, when it emerged that 11,000 NHS patients were treated in mixed-sex wards in one month alone. He introduced fines of £250 per patient per day in April that year, but critics wondered if fines would change a management mindset that often put the patient last. Now, Patricia Hewitt has landed a lovely new job as a board member of private healthcare provider Bupa, and will earn £52,000 for 10 meetings a year. During her time in office, she allowed creeping privatisation of the NHS. Why should she earn a living out of knowledge she acquired while on the public payroll? Ministers should be banned from cashing in on contacts they made while in office.