Friday 26 May 2017

Making My Vote Count, part 3

They say a week is a long time in politics, but in my experience politics also moves very slowly.

The Christian Peoples Alliance candidate has finally put his email address up on the Who Can I Vote For website, so of course I have emailed him. The Green Party candidate still hasn’t put his email address up there, so I still cannot contact him.

I have still not had any replies to my emails from any of the other candidates and it’s now just under two weeks until the election.

We have had election leaflets pushed through our front door though. One each from the Labour and Liberal Democrats candidates on Monday, one from the Conservative candidate on Wednesday, and one from the UKIP candidate today. None of these leaflets come even close to answering my questions. The UKIP candidate does have her email address on her leaflet so I have been able to finally email her today.

The Labour candidate’s leaflet said she will, if re-elected, “Revitalise our cash-starved health service ensuring it stays free, safe and reliable.” She doesn’t say how she will achieve this very lofty aim, nor does she say what she has previously done as our MP to support and “revitalise” the NHS. Her leaflet is high on highly emotional language and low on measurable promises.

The Liberal Democrats candidate’s leaflet talks a lot about Brexit, over half of his A4 leaflet is given over to what he claims to do around Brexit. His leaflet makes no direct promise for the NHS, but he does pledge to merge social care and NHS services in my borough, and “better funding arrangements”. Though he doesn’t state what these would be and were they would come from.

The Conservative candidate’s leaflet makes no reference to the NHS at all. Obviously this is of no concern to him. His leaflet does make three promises: 1, to support Theresa May in all her Brexit negotiations; 2, to “empower” local communities to take “action” on litter, dog mess and anti-social behaviour; 3, to “champion” the self-employed and small business owners. I cannot see any of these helping the NHS out of its current crisis or resolving our shortage of nurses.

The UKIP candidate’s leaflet had five pledges on it and one of them applied to the NHS. It was called “NHS Before Foreign Aid”, and stated, “Fund 20,000 nurses and 10,000 GPs; Scrap hospital parking fees.” She doesn’t say were these extra nurses and GPs will come from, seeing as there are already shortfalls in both professions, and one of her other pledges is “Cut Immigration”. If we can’t recruitment nurses and doctors from other countries we’re only going to add to the shortage, we’re certainly not training enough. She says nothing about NHS funding. She implies that the foreign aid budget will be spent on the NHS. Last year’s foreign budget was £12.1 billion (1). Last year NHS Trusts were underfunded by £2.4 billion (2) and by 2020 the NHS is expected to hand back £20 billions of funding in “efficiency” savings (2). The head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, has said that the NHS needs an extra £10 billion just to keep going (2). Also, Britain is in the top thirty richest countries in the world (3), why can’t we fully fund both the NHS and foreign aid?

I would to love to put these questions to the above candidates, ask them to fully explain what they mean and what they would actually do, but I can’t. None of them have replied to my email, so far I have been unable to find any local hustings were I could put my questions to the candidates, and no one has knocked on my front door conversing for my vote, certainly not any of the candidates. Neither of the local Labour or Conservative party websites list any opportunities to meet their candidates (The other four parties standing don’t even have local party websites, or none that I can find).

All the contact I’ve received from my local candidates, who all want me to vote for them, has been four, small leaflets. All of these leaflets are high on emotive language and low on facts and measurable promises. All of these leaflets were controlled by the candidates, they say what the candidates want to say. None of them even came close to answering my questions to them (4).

The basic MP’s salary is £74,962 (5). None of these candidates seem to be even putting in half the work to earn this high salary. Why should I vote for any of them?

Drew Payne

Saturday 20 May 2017

The Computer Says No

Who could have failed not to notice that the NHS was the victim of a cyber attack, last weekend? It was been splashed across our media that 40 NHS organisations and many GP practices were hit by this cyber attack (1).

The story broke on last Friday (12th May), ransomware hit computers worldwide, ransomware encrypts (locks down) all the files on a computer and the hackers demand a ransom payment to unlock it, in this case it £230, but that payment was demanded for each computer not just for one organisation. The ransomware used a weakness in the Windows XP operating system at attack these computers (2), meaning older computers using this old operating system were more vulnerable.

Very quickly, over the weekend, our newspapers pointed the finger of blame, and it wasn’t at the hackers who created this ransomware. The Daily Mail quickly blamed managers for ignoring “warnings” (3). The Times claimed that failings in the NHS allowed the hackers to “walk in” (4). The Sun too blamed the NHS for being the victim of this attack and claimed patients’ record were in danger (5). Everywhere there were stories about the patient misery this cyber attack caused.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, on Sunday, also pointed the finger at the NHS. She said the NHS “must learn” from this attack, and claimed that Jeremy Hunt (Health Secretary) had already instructed NHS trusts not to use Windows XP (6).

From reading all these reports you could be forgiven for thinking that this cyber attack only affected NHS computers, but that isn’t true. This cyber attack affected 200,000 victims in 150 different countries (7). Those affected by it included the Spanish telecommunications giant Telef√≥nica, who owns the O2 network (8), Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s national railway service,  French carmaker Renault, a local authority in Sweden (9), and the Nissan car plant in Sunderland (10). I didn’t notice the tabloids or our government waging their fingers of blame at any of these companies or organisations.

But why was the NHS so vulnerable to this cyber attack?

Support for Windows XP ended on the 8th April 2014 (11). Basically, Microsoft no longer issues up dates for it, updates that could protect against this sort of attack. Now the NHS had an agreement with Microsoft, it would pay Microsoft a flat fee, each year, and Microsoft would provide the software the NHS needed and keep it updated (12). In 2010, shortly after the Conservatives came back into government, in coalition, that agreement was suddenly cancelled (12). This moved the responsibility and cost of buying software and updates onto individual NHS organisations.

In 2011 the government cancelled the NHS IT system (13). This system was principally for patient records, but its cancellation meant individual Trusts had the responsibility for buying their own IT systems. This gave us different Trusts with different IT systems, many of them not compatible, and also again put the responsibility for maintaining these systems back onto the individual Trusts.

In 2014 the government warned NHS trusts that they needed to move away from Windows XP (14). On 8th April 2014, the Cabinet Office issued a letter to all NHS Trusts telling them to “migrate” away from Windows XP (15), or if they couldn’t then to take out a Premier Services Agreement (PSA) with Microsoft, which each Trust would have to pay for themselves. The government did purchase 12 months of Custom Support, but Trusts would have to have a PSA to access it and Custom Support finished in April 2015. After then Trusts were left alone to make their own arrangements, and there was no extra money to help Trusts buy upgrades or even whole new computer operating systems for all their computers, which is never cheap.

NHS IT has never been the best, it has always lagged behind other industries. Since 2010, though, NHS funding has been cut, in real terms. Since 2010, NHS funding has only risen by 0.9% each year (16), less than inflation, and far less than the rising demand on the NHS and rising healthcare costs. Faced with increasing demand and increasing costs NHS managers had no choice but to reduce spending on capital projects, such as updating computers.

Jeremy Hunt was nowhere to be found over the weekend of the cyber attack (But they say Hunt never works weekends). It was left to Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, to give the Government’s response to this latest NHS crisis, on the Sunday, instead of the Minister of Health. Hunt was door-stepped by the BBC on Monday morning but refused to answer any questions (17). He later gave an interview to the BBC (18) were he too wagged the finger of blame, claiming “lessons will be learned.” Under repeated questioning, Hunt denied that the cyber attack was due to underfunding of the NHS, and at one point tried to say the hackers actually targeted to NHS.

What seems to have coloured the response to this cyber attack is the opportunity to bash the NHS. So much of our media used it as a chance to attack the NHS, claiming it was the fault of managers and that “warnings” were deliberately ignored. The government was quick to point the finger of blame at the NHS, implying that they had done everything they could and the fault for the attack lay with NHS Trusts. Very few people sat back and asked the real questions about why the NHS was so vulnerable, why was the NHS still using such out of date software?

Again the NHS was vulnerable because of it chronic underfunding, it the same course that lead underpinned last winter’s crisis (19), and yet it was ignored again by our media and politicians. It seems that it is far easier to bash the NHS than admit a very uncomfortable truth.

Drew Payne

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Making My Vote Count, part 2

Well, so far my attempt to engage with my local candidates has fallen at almost the first fence, I cannot contact most of them.

There are six candidates standing in my constituency:
  • Labour (standing MP)
  • Conservative
  • Liberal Democrats
  • Green Party
  •  UKIP
  • Christian Peoples Alliance

Only two of them, the Labour candidate and the Liberal Democrats one, has their email address on the Who Can I Vote For website. The Conservative candidate has his twitter account listed there, but only that, and the others have no contact details. A Google search got me the Facebook page for the Green Party candidate, but nothing else.

So I have emailed the Labour and Liberal Democrats candidate on the 11th May with my questions, still no reply from either of them. I have tweeted the Conservative candidate and Facebook’d the Green Party candidate, asking both of them why their email addresses aren’t available. I have no way to contact the other two candidates.

These people want me to vote for them and yet they do not make it possible for me to engage with them. It feels as if they don’t want to hear from me but they expect me to vote for them just because I agree with their political party. Is it me or does this seem very lazy politics?

Drew Payne

Update – Thursday 18th May

What a difference three days make. Today I found that both the Conservative and the Christian Peoples Alliance candidates have their email addresses on the Who Can I Vote For website. Naturally I have emailed them both with my questions.

The Green Party candidate has now got a link to his LinkedIn page there, but still no email address. His LinkedIn page tells me that he is an “IT Specialist”, whatever that is, but there is still no way to contact him directly.

The UKIP candidate only has a link to her personal website there, but the link doesn’t work. Click on it and you’re taken to a web page saying the Server Can’t Be Found. So I have even less chance of contacting her.

The Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates still haven’t replied to my email, even though it’s now a week since I emailed them.

This still leaves me feeling very cynical, do these people even want to engage with me, a voter? Yet also, was this election called so suddenly and quickly that it has caught all the political parties off guard, even the Conservatives; or is this what living in a safe Labour seat feels like, the other candidates are only half-heartedly fighting this election, at best.

Oh well, two steps forward...

Drew Payne