Did The Russians Just Hack Our NHS?

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Our NHS is under attack – and not by the Evil Tories, for once!

Newspaper and television news networks are now reporting a major cyber attack targeting NHS England hospitals – apparently all systems are down and an emergency has been declared to initiate backup/recovery processes.

From the Guardian:

A number of hospitals have been hit by a large scale cyber attack, NHS England has confirmed.

Hospitals across the country appear to have been simultaneously hit by a bug in their IT systems, leading to many diverting emergency patients. NHS England said it was aware of the problem and would release more details soon.

Meanwhile doctors have been posting on Twitter about what has been happening to their systems.

A screen grab of a instant message conversation circulated by one doctor says: “So our hospital is down … We got a message saying your computers are now under their control and pay a certain amount of money. And now everything is gone.”

This is obviously potentially very serious, with possible impacts on patient care – apparently local NHS hospitals are reverting to pen and paper, while tweeting that patients should avoid going to A&E.

Was this a coordinated attack by a foreign power, or is it simply the case of a dozy NHS office admin clicking a dodgy link in an email and falling prey to a traditional money-grubbing scam?

(The answer is almost certainly the latter – this time. NHS Digital itself has confirmed that the generic ransomware attack was not specifically targeted at the health service, as a number of other organisations in multiple regions and sectors are affected; so the outraged NHS priests and priestesses on Twitter calling for the execution or maiming of these hackers can probably stand down now).

But since politicians and armchair pundits have been quick to blame Russia for everything else that hasn’t gone their way lately, I’m sure that Vladimir Putin’s name will be put forward as the man behind this craven attack on Our Blessed NHS.

But Putin should be careful – while Britain and the international community will apparently sit on our hands and dither while he invades Ukraine and drags his country ever further backward toward nationalist authoritarianism, provoking a fight with the NHS might be a step too far.

Even Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party election manifesto reserves the right to use nuclear weapons, with great cautionin extremis. Well, since the National Health Service is the closest thing we now have to a religion in secular Britain, attacking Our Blessed NHS may be the one hostile act by a foreign power that could still rouse half the country to press the red “launch” button and fire off some Trident missiles.

But when the dust settles, it may be worth considering that yet another drawback of having a monolithic national healthcare system serving all 65 million people in Britain is that it represents a singular target for mischief-makers and hostile foreign powers alike.

Presumably GCHQ and other agencies are constantly on the case protecting Britain’s national energy grid and other core infrastructure. But as a country have we been so busy singing endless hymns of praise to “Our NHS” that we neglected to realise that it has also potentially become our national security Achilles heel?

At this grave time, let us all repeat the Pledge of Allegiance to Aneurin Bevan’s glorious creation, our country’s pride and joy:

I pledge allegiance to the logo of Our #NHS
The envy of the world
One health system, indivisible
With increasingly poor healthcare outcomes for all

And when NHS England has fixed the problem and we have all made ourselves feel good by cheering on the saintly people who work in the world’s fifth largest bureaucracy, maybe we can have a sensible conversation about breaking up the NHS monopoly – for the good of all patients and, apparently, our national security too.

 

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Stik’s Street Art, Like His Life Story, Is Moving. But This Worship Of The NHS Is Dangerous

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In secular Britain, the only things left to worship are ourselves, government and the NHS. And boy, do we do it well

Here is an interesting variant on the usual deification of the NHS we are used to seeing and hearing from the organisation’s cult-like defenders.

From the Hackney Citizen:

Stik, the once-homeless graffiti artist, whose stick-like figures adorn the streets of East London and beyond, has announced that a full set of his NHS Sleeping Baby print is to be auctioned at Christie’s later this month.

The prints, expected to sell for £2,000 to £3,000 as a set of four, will raise money for the Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust Art Charitable Fund.

This is not the first time Stik has used his art to help the hospital. The original ‘Sleeping Baby’ mural can be seen in the garden of Homerton Hospital itself, and last year Stik sold £50,000 worth of prints of the image with all the proceeds going to the Homerton Hospital’s art room.

The iconic image of a sleeping baby, painted in Stik’s usual style of block colour and thick-black lines, has since been adopted as a symbol by NHS workers. “It represents the vulnerability of the NHS and the feeling of fondness we have for it. The NHS is our baby and we have to protect it,” Stik says.

During the recent junior doctors strikes, the image was printed on placards with slogans such as ‘Hands off our NHS’ and ‘The NHS is our baby’.

To be clear: doing anything to raise money for hospitals is a selfless and noble act, to be applauded. That much is great. What is troubling are the sentiments expressed which accompany the philanthropic act – in this case, an almost slavelike devotion not to the idea of healthcare, hospitals or the work of medical professionals, but rather to one specific organisation, government department and method of healthcare delivery.

Speaking about the NHS as a vulnerable infant, almost like the Christ child, is not healthy behaviour. Nor is placing ourselves in the position of loving parents to this baby, charged with protecting it from all harm (though it does make a refreshing change from portraying ourselves as the children, being tended to by the watchful parent of big government).

Equally offensive is the way that NHS cultists presume to speak for everyone in the country, and routinely pontificate about things like “the feeling of fondness we have for it”. Oh do we, now? I’m fairly certain that NHS-loving drones are indeed in the majority, but I would also wager that there is a not insignificant number of people who fully support the idea of universal healthcare and are very grateful to doctors and nurses, but who have very little attachment to Britain’s unique model of centralised, government-owned delivery.

And yet the NHS cultists, much like the Princess Diana cultists nearly two decades ago, have the nerve to speak on behalf of us all. They declare on our behalf just how much we love the NHS and will fight to protect it from change, just as the Diana cultists wept into every passing television camera, sang along to Elton John and declared the entire nation to be in mourning.

Stik is a gifted artist, and many people find his murals poignant and beautiful. But we should not allow our respect for an artist and sympathy with his powerful life story to cause us to unquestioningly swallow NHS propaganda, hook, line and sinker. Other countries, without an NHS of their own, manage to build and operate hospitals too. Many of them provide their citizens with healthcare free at the point of use. Many also help the homeless, or indeed anyone in urgent need of medical care. Believe it or not, generosity, compassion and public spiritedness are not uniquely British values.

Whether we are allowing Stik to lead us in worship of the fifth biggest employer in the world, childishly painting the NHS logo on our faces, wearing it on our clothes or propelling a schmaltzy NHS Choir ballad to the Christmas No. 1 slot in the charts, in each cases we are disengaging our brains and allowing ourselves to be swept up in a cult rather than thinking rationally. Maybe the NHS was just what Britain needed back when we were struggling to pick ourselves up from the rubble of the second world war. But 68 years later, even in this age of globalisation, no other country has chosen to copy our approach. Not one. Shouldn’t that tell us something?

Faith is important*, but it is generally best applied to the spiritual realm. In the temporal realm here on Earth, we are able to look at evidence, test hypotheses and innovate new solutions when old ideas and ways of working become obsolete. Nowhere is this more true than the field of medicine. If we or a loved one were gravely ill, few of us would put our trust in a faith healer or wait for a divine miracle alone to provide a cure. Indeed, we tend to scorn and even prosecute those who do so.

And yet when it comes to the system of healthcare delivery we choose for our country, we proudly spurn new information and cling desperately to the familiar, seizing on any news story which confirms our present pro-NHS biases while simply ignoring heretical contrary evidence. In other words, we act entirely through (misplaced) faith, not reason.

Of course we should all hope that Stik’s Sleeping Baby prints raise much money for the Homerton University Hospital NHS Trust when they are auctioned – nobody disputes the worthiness of the cause. But in post-religious, increasingly secular Britain, we should be very wary of what we choose to fill the void once occupied by the Church. The human urge to worship has clearly not been vanquished, and venerating the NHS as we currently do is terrible for us, and calamitous for our flailing healthcare system.

 

* Long-time readers will recall that I am a Roman Catholic

 

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The Immaturity And Cynicism Of The NHS Junior Doctors’ Dispute

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The junior doctors lost the moral high ground when they decided to portray a debate about pay and conditions as a high-minded effort to “save the NHS”

James Kirkup has a great piece in the Telegraph in which he charges that the junior doctors’ dispute has reached an impasse not because of government intransigence but because many junior doctors are arguing an inherently political case from a position of naivety and political inexperience, and so will not concede the validity of any opinions other than their own.

Read the whole thing. But it is worth noting these excerpts in particular:

Some of this is about basic competence. The doctors and their leaders have done a very poor job of explaining why they are striking, offering a range of confused and changing justifications. Many doctors seem unaware of the position taken in negotiations on their behalf by their trade union (short summary: if the Government had agreed to pay more for Saturday working, the BMA would have settled and there’d be no strikes) and believe their strike is not about money.

This in itself is quite damning. All the high-minded talk about patient safety and “tired doctors making mistakes” suddenly begins to look a wee bit cynical when it turns out that the BMA would have taken the deal if only there was more money on offer. Was the extra pay all going to be spent on Pro Plus and Red Bull? Unlikely.

But this is the really interesting point:

Yet the doctors’ failure of understanding goes beyond tactics into something more fundamental, an unwillingness or perhaps just an inability to appreciate that politics is about reconciling the diverse interests and desires, that no one gets things all their own way.

Simply they don’t understand the conflict they’re in. Many, engaged in politics for the first time, cannot understand why the Government will not do exactly as they want; for them it’s unthinkable that others would not accept the doctors’ word on how to fund and structure the NHS as final. Any course of action but theirs is not just unacceptable but immoral.

As for those on the other side of this dispute, there is apparently no possibility that their motives could be honourable. Throughout this dispute I’ve not yet seen a junior doctor admit even the possibility that Jeremy Hunt, NHS Employers, David Dalton, Bruce Keogh or any of the main players on the employer side might also be acting in good faith, doing things they believe necessary and in the public interest.

Instead, Mr Hunt and his officials are routinely accused of venality and self-interest, and worse. I keep a little file of choice emails and tweets from doctors. It contains evidence of members of the profession making statements in public forums that Mr Hunt is psychopathic or suffering from various other clinical conditions. (There were also a number of homophobic slurs aimed at Mr Hunt, but that was a senior consultant, not a junior.) I can only conclude that the doctors concerned are so convinced of their own righteousness that they cannot admit that those who take a contrary view are anything but immoral.

Here we have Labour’s self-righteousness syndrome all over again, but this time the patient is not a political party but a large and vocal special interest group within the public sector. Just as was the case with those convinced that the Tories are evil vampires and that Ed Miliband was heading for victory in last year’s general election, so the junior doctors and their supporters seem convinced that the government is motivated purely out of malice, and that they are unambiguously in the right. And we all know what happened on May 7th.

Kirkup continues:

Other doctors display an almost touching lack of insight into how some aspects of their own working lives (a job for life, steep pay progression, huge pensions) are simply unobtainable dreams for most workers, even those who also got good A-levels and spent years studying at good universities.  One junior doctor (again, I won’t name him) last week reprimanded me for writing about doctors’ £1 million pension pots on the grounds that the retirement such funds deliver is “comfortable” but “not extravagant”.

Likewise the tendency to overlook (or simply not know) the fact that many of their problems (antisocial hours, weekend working, growing workloads and static or falling workforces) are common to many other professions and trades, many of whom do not enjoy the same benefits as doctors.

What the junior doctors (and those who support them) fail to understand is that nearly every public sector industrial action is fought on the grounds of public safety while really being about something else. Relatively well paid people (compared to the average wage) walking off the job in a dispute about money and working hours does not elicit as much public sympathy as casting themselves as the only people willing to take on the government on a grave matter of public safety, so simple self-interest dictates that any union (including the BMA and junior doctors) will emphasise the latter over the former.

Consider: how many striking junior doctors living in London would have tutted with frustration during the last tube strike called by the RMT, and fumed to their friends that tube drivers are incredibly well paid, should be grateful for what they have and get back to work, Night Tube be damned? The RMT’s dispute was based in large part on safety concerns, just like the junior doctors. Are the tube drivers lying while the junior doctors are telling the truth? Is there something inherently more virtuous in a doctor than a train driver?

This, too, is worrying:

Spare a thought here for the impact this outlook has on the doctors themselves.  Having become so utterly convinced of the rightness of their cause, many suffer genuine distress when their cause meets resistance or challenge.  Some, sadly, are not robust enough to encounter such pressures without experiencing genuine harm. That harm should weigh heavily on the consciences of the BMA leaders who have encouraged young and politically-inexperienced people to seek out confrontation in the harsh arena of public debate.

This rings alarm bells, because it is the same way that we now speak of Safe Space-dwelling students, grown adults who by adopting a toxic ideology have come to see themselves as perpetually vulnerable victims in constant need of protection from higher authorities. One could take this sentence – “some, sadly, are not robust enough to encounter such pressures without experiencing genuine harm” – and apply it equally to those wobbly-lipped students who are now killing academic freedom and free speech on our university campuses.

In fact, we may now be witnessing the first major conflict between the Safe Space generation (many junior doctors have only recently graduated university) and the realities of the labour market and public sector wage restraint – only everything is made doubly toxic because the dispute involves the one subject about which almost no Briton is capable of thinking rationally: the NHS.

This blog contends that the mere fact that national collective bargaining is still making headlines in 2016 rather than 1976 shows that Thatcher’s work is far from finished, and that if we were not still lumbered with a national health service we would not be facing the prospect of an all-out national walkout by healthcare professionals. After all, nothing about public healthcare mandates that it must be provided through a monolithic state-owned organisation, despite the best efforts of NHS apologists to pretend that our options are the status quo or the American system.

Maybe the doctors holding candles in an overwrought silent vigil for the NHS (see cover picture) are entirely genuine. Maybe they have convinced themselves that this dispute really is purely about patient safety and “saving the NHS”, and nothing more. But the junior doctors can no longer plausibly claim that this is about patient safety, or “saving the NHS”, because we now know that these are side issues brought cynically into the debate by the BMA and credulous activists in a well worn attempt to drum up public support.

This does not mean that each one of the Conservative government’s intended reforms are sensible. The idea of a 24-hour NHS is more slogan than policy, while statistics about weekend deaths have been cynically misrepresented – that much we can concede to the BMA. But when your pay dispute is with one of the largest organisations in the world, and by far the largest employer in Britain, then everyone who pays for that service gets to have a say, including (or even especially) a government elected partly on a manifesto to make changes to that health service, whether or not those changes happen to be smart. By taking the public coin the NHS is inherently political, and those working for it cannot complain when those outside the organisation seek to wield their own influence.

And from a purely tactical standpoint, James Kirkup is right – the junior doctors and their representatives in the BMA have bungled this dispute badly. With their overwrought, hysterical claims that a new national contract will somehow be the end of the NHS when it turned out that the final sticking point in the negotiations was over nothing more noble than Saturday pay, their credibility is squandered. And neither they nor their supporters should not escape censure for their part in what is to come.

 

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Love Our NHS? Prove It With Your Vote In The EU Referendum, Part 3

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The Remain campaign are going to tell lots of apocalyptic, scaremongering and false tales about how leaving the European Union would destroy the NHS. But that does not mean that Brexit campaigners should stoop to their level

Vote Leave are going all-in with their risible, childish lies about saving £350 million a week in the event of Brexit, and offering the money as a sacrifice to Our Blessed NHS instead.

This is – to use the nicest words possible – completely amateurish and stupid.

Conservatives – especially real ones who aren’t all that keen on the state being a monopolistic provider of healthcare – don’t make very plausible knights in shining armour when it comes to defending the NHS, especially in the minds of voters conditioned by years of hand-wringing left-wing rhetoric that the Evil Tories are perpetually one step away from turning poor people away from hospital.

Besides, the high figure of £350 million fails the common sense test even for the lowest of low information voters. The risible suggestion will do nothing to persuade those who already mindlessly worship the NHS like some kind of secular new age religion and fear that Brexit will hurt their idol, while it offends the more intelligent voter by treating them as though they are stupid.

Richard North, much like this blog, is not having it any more:

What is unlikely to impress, to any one who has the first idea of the issues, is the sort of slogan shown above – the £350 million claim. Vote Leave know it isn’t true. That makes it a lie. Why they go ahead with a deliberate lie, I don’t know. They must think there is some advantage to it.

I find the lie offensive. But then the other side is lying as well. I also find that offensive, but it doesn’t worry me. In fact, I welcome it – it shows weakness, reduces their credibility and gives us leverage. It does worry me when our own side lies – for exactly the same reasons: it shows weakness, reduces our credibility and it gives the other side leverage.

Throughout my campaigning career, I’ve made a point of seeking accuracy – as best I can. For the very opposite reasons that the lie is a bad idea. It shows strength, it increases our credibility and it denies the other side leverage.

In other words, accuracy is the embodiment of good campaigning. The lie is the opposite. That matters. We don’t. We need people to grow up and realise that. There is far too much at stake for us to be playing these silly games.

For libertarians and conservatarians, one of the most depressing aspects of nearly all the Leave campaigns is the idea that any money saved through Brexit (and the sums we are talking are likely to be so small in either direction as to be insignificant) should not be handed back to the taxpayer in the form of tax cuts, but merely re-allocated to some other area of the state which is crying out for more funding.

Apparently there is precisely zero demand in this country for a campaign, or politicians, who dare to suggest that we should aim to reduce government expenditure in one area not to free up cash for another, but rather to return the money to the people who earned it and who create value in the first place. Therefore it is unsurprising that the NHS proved too shiny and appealing a target for the dilettantes at Vote Leave to resist. They know we worship the NHS uncritically, and so they think that we will be highly susceptible to any messages which link Brexit with the idea of helping the NHS.

Unfortunately, they also lack the intelligence to realise that making this campaign about our socialised healthcare system means fighting the EU referendum campaign on ground which is uniquely favourable to the mostly Remain-supporting Left. And there is simply no way that a Brexit campaign supported mostly by those on the Right wins a “Who Loves The NHS Most?” contest against the arrayed forces of the Labour Party and every virtue-signalling keyboard warrior in the country.

As this blog recently pointed out:

Whether we vote to leave the European Union or remain in the burning building, the NHS will continue to exist. We can’t seem to shake it. And it will continue to churn out moderately priced but increasingly substandard levels of care while nearly the entire population gathers round to uncritically praise the holy creation of St. Aneurin Bevan of Tredegar from dawn to dusk. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will change.

Do you really believe Britain Stronger in Europe when they suggest that “medical innovation” will cease or be harmed if Britain leaves the political construct known as the European Union? Exactly what is it about forsaking a foreign flag, anthem and parliament which will slow down the cure for Alzheimer’s?

Or do you seriously buy this idea that Brexit means that we can throw up a brand new hospital in every major British city within a year, and keep on doing that until the NHS is not only our largest employer but our only employer?

Don’t be taken in by this execrable, manipulative, transparently idiotic nonsense from the major Leave and Remain campaigns, all of which seem to be managed by B-student politicos and all of which are operating on the hopeful assumption that you are a frightened, credulous simpleton.

In order to have a shot at winning the referendum on 23 June, Brexit supporters must stop getting sidetracked by glitzy distractions like promising to funnel non-existent money towards the NHS, and focus instead on neutralising many voters’ fear of the potential economic impact of Brexit.

As Dr. North correctly points out:

The least important people in the referendum campaign are those of us who have already made up their minds which way they are going to vote, and will not change their minds under any circumstances.

[..] Those who matter are the people who are undecided or who think they have a position but are genuinely open to persuasion. Those are the people who will decide the referendum.

The EU is by no means beloved. If the Brexit campaign could only negate all of the mostly baseless economic fears surrounding Brexit, they would win the referendum by a landslide. But to do so means communicating a Brexit plan which clearly de-risks the process and shows people that it is quite possible to leave the political construct known as the European Union while still participating fully in regional and global trade.

Every day that those with the biggest platforms and media profiles waste their time making implausible and unconvincing promises about the NHS – hostile ground where the fighting is hugely favourable to the pro-EU Left – is a day which is not spent promoting a clear Brexit plan and neutralising the one issue (economic concerns) which is preventing this decision from being a landslide 65-35 in favour of leaving the EU.

In other words, fighting this referendum with Vote Leave hogging the limelight on the Brexit side is like – well, Geoffrey Howe (of all people) said it best in his 1990 resignation speech in the House of Commons:

It is rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.

With a captain like Boris Johnson and the hotshots at Vote Leave, all bizarrely exhorting us to leave the European Union in order to Save Our NHS, who needs a Remain campaign anyway?

 

More on the attempts by both sides to weaponise the NHS for the coming EU referendum here and here.

 

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Love Our NHS? Prove It With Your Vote In The EU Referendum, Continued

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If you are deciding how to vote in the EU referendum based on what the rival campaigns are telling you is best for the NHS, you’re doing it wrong

The stupidity and incompetence of the Vote Leave  campaign reached such desperate lows today that at this point, I can no longer really blame anyone who has not been paying much attention to the EU debate thus far if they end up voting Remain. Heck, if I hadn’t been writing about politics every day and following the debate for years, I might well do the same.

After all, why put your trust in the Leave campaign, the people proposing a departure from the status quo, when the leaders of Vote Leave are conducting their campaign with all the political aptitude of the slow sibling from a well-connected family whose parents were grasping around trying to find something productive for them to do with their lives, and gave them the fate of our country to play with.

And so today we get this much-trumpeted open letter from “more than fifty” healthcare workers, telling us that only by voting Leave can we Save Our NHS.

The letter reads:

Dear Sir,

The NHS is a great British institution that families rely on in times of need. But as it slips into financial crisis the NHS itself needs some urgent attention.

The NHS is being asked to make huge cuts at a time of rising demand. Patients are having to wait longer for treatment, hospital deficits are increasing and doctors are on strike after being told they must take a pay cut. The Government must accept responsibility for this – they have starved the NHS of necessary funding for too long.

If we Vote Leave on 23 June we will be able to spend more on our priorities like the NHS. If we put the billions that currently go to EU bureaucrats into the NHS instead it would hugely improve patient care. For example, the £350 million a week we hand to Brussels is similar to the entire yearly Cancer Drugs Fund budget.

As healthcare professionals who have worked for the NHS for years we believe that the best choice in the EU referendum is to Vote Leave on June 23rd and save the NHS.

List of signatories

Well, I suppose it’s marginally better than the ludicrous suggestion that we use the money we supposedly save to whack up a brand new fully staffed hospital every week until there are ten mega hospitals in every town and ninety percent of us are employed by the NHS.

But still, what a bunch of utter nonsense this letter (and the decision to campaign off the back of it) is. Not only does this fail the “common sense” test, it fails the “does anyone at Vote Leave have any measurable brain activity at all” test.

The NHS is one of the largest organisations in the entire world, and the fifth largest employer with over 1.7 million people on the payroll. Rounding up fifty NHS workers to put their names to a letter supporting either Brexit or the Remain campaign means absolutely nothing – one could just as easily circulate a letter and get fifty signatures from NHS employees who believe they have been abducted by aliens, demanding a massive budget appropriation to build space lasers to keep us safe.

Furthermore, it would be utterly naive to base a geopolitical and constitutional decision like Brexit on the gut feeling of a bunch of people who not only work in an entirely unrelated field, but who toil for an organisation so large and all-powerful that it positively screams “vested interest” and “deeply ingrained bias in favour of the status quo”.

Besides, a bunch of predominantly conservative politicians and activists not known for their doe-eyed devotion to the NHS suddenly going prancing around the country acting like the health service’s greatest defenders is not going to fool anyone. By a huge majority, the most committed devotees of the NHS are the same people who will unthinkingly vote to stay “in Europe” come hell or high water. Worshipping at the altar of Nye Bevan doesn’t do great things for one’s critical reasoning skills, after all.

All of this time spent repeating the risible notion that only by voting Leave can we Save Our Blessed NHS is time that could be spent – oh, I don’t know, maybe promoting a comprehensive plan for a safe Brexit with the minimum of disruption. A plan which would instantly negate 90% of David Cameron’s fear-based Remain campaign and really bring this campaign to life.

But why do that, when Matthew Elliot and Dominic Cummings are more than happy presiding over their children’s finger-painting exercise of a campaign, preaching to the already converted and singularly failing to tackle any of the counterarguments quite rightly thrown in their faces by David Cameron and Britain Stronger in Europe?

Fortunately there is another shadow Leave campaign – an underground resistance, if you will – who are intent on fighting this referendum with facts, and who understand that the public rightly expect those who advocate for Brexit to have put some thought into what Brexit should look like.

I am never more excited and hopeful for the future of this country than I am when I read their work. Please follow The Leave Alliance, share their articles and (if you are able) donate to their all-important fundraising efforts. Every pound raised helps to spread the message further.

Semi-Partisan Politics will be diverting any kind contributions made to this site to The Leave Alliance from now until the conclusion of the campaign.

 

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