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Twitter NHS backlash good for Obama

Posted on 14 August 2009 | 3:08pm

When I occasionally rage at the culture of negativity in the UK media, it is often the coverage of the NHS I have in mind. Every hour of every day, wonderful things happen in the NHS, thanks to the terrific people who work in it and above all because of the basic idea at its heart – free universal health care at the point of delivery, regardless of ability to pay. It really is one of Labour’s, and one of Britain’s, greatest achievements.

Yes, mistakes happen, and things go wrong, but what is annoying for supporters of the NHS is that we tend only to hear about it then. I am therefore loving the spontaneous support for the NHS being expressed on Twitter as a result of the attacks being mounted by the rabid right in the States as they seek to block Barack Obama’s effforts to deliver better health care for the many not the few.

Go back and read the debates when the post-war Labour government was taking on the huge vested interests opposed to its creation and you will better understand some of the ‘arguments’ being put by the right against Obama. Or at least you will better see that they have always resorted to smears and misrepresentations.

American politics can be brutal, and as I remember Bill Clinton once saying, the right are far more brutal and aggressive in their arguments than the left, basically because progressives tend to be nicer people. But the way some of the arguments about the NHS are being used (or mis-used) is shocking even by the standards of the rabids.

It has been terrific to see all the support for the NHS being expressed in the #welovethenhs campaign on twitter. Sometimes things only get properly defended when they come under unfair attack, and that is what is happening now. Most British people have reason to love the NHS. I love the NHS for helping to bring our three children into the world, and for looking after my Dad so well when he had various illnesses in his final years.

I hope Obama’s people are tracking the way the debate is going here. The myths have to be challenged, and the lie tactics exposed, to allow him to get back on the front foot in this debate. It matters for him, obviously, and it matters for Americans.  But it matters for politics around the world that Obama does well, on the basis of his values and arguments, not the myths spread about them.

So keep on twittering. Twitter’s finest hour was widely reckoned to be the way people used it to communicate what was happening in Iran recently. Since when things have gone backwards. Is it my holiday glow that makes me think this is a more important Twitter moment – when people showed they were not just going to let a destructive right wing use myths about the NHS to stop progressive change from happening? I hope not.

The vested interests against Obama will be well-funded, well-organised and unscrupulous. But the kind of uprising there has been against their tactics and arguments could be good news for social media, and good news for Obama.

Meanwhile, does anyone know Bruce Springsteen? I wonder if he would do a ‘born in the NHS’ cover based on ‘born in the USA’?

p.s. … congratulations to my son Rory who won the Campbell family classic on Mont Ventoux today. We did the Malaucene side and I got a one minute start per extra year and extra kilo I have over him. That came to 30 years and 27 kilos, so I set off 57 minutes ahead of him. Despite my doing a Malaucene side personal best of 2 hours 15, he won by racing up in 1.15, which is impressive, and so reached the top three minutes ahead of me. If only I had taken his offer of an hour!!

p.p.s. – last reminder for Burnley fans that ‘Burnley Are Back’ is on BBC1 in the North West at 7.30 tonight, and nationally on BBC2 some time in the middle of the night.

  • SJ Smith

    “..attacks being mounted by the rabid right in the States as they seek to block Barack Obama’s efforts to deliver better health care for the many not the few.”

    The whole debate in a beautifully put nutshell. Couldn’t agree more.

  • Craig, Oxfordshire

    Obama has to win this one. Yes for his future – but for the good of the US and their allies as a whole. The other factor for me is how worryingly similar to Fox News our mainstream media have become. The Mail, Express, Torygraph, Sun, Star, Standard… all of them supporting Conservative views by publishing heinous lies.

    The NHS is our Country’s crowning Glory.

    The thing is Alastair, this shows the Tories in their inglorious truth also. Dan Hannan’s comments only emphasise the importance of outing Dave’s rag-tag bag of Thatcherite apologists and destroying the myth that the Tories care anything for decency or public services. I pray Labour can get an organised attack on the go after this…

  • Stevie Hall

    Impressed you thought of all that while cycling up a mountain. Agree with Clinton’s point – the Right worry less about whether what they say is true

  • Georgie

    I love the NHS because it saved my life after an accident, my Mum’s life after she had breast cancer, and my dad’s life after prostate cancer.

  • Colin

    The danger is that we overlook the issues we have with the NHS and take a siege mentality to the debate. It shouldn’t be about Left and Right.

    It should be about what initiatives will help the NHS move forward to continue doing good work it undoubtedly does. At the same time we need initiatives to address the problems.

    Why can’t it be free at the source for those who need it AND chargeable via insurance for those who can afford it and want to pay extra for a different level/type of service?

  • Pete

    Yes well covered Mr. C. But what is at the core of this debate is whether we can retain a vestige of a socialist agenda at the core of a modern Britain. Too much has gone and so much will be hard to regain. If this follows then there is no hope. And still that “s” word is too scary for your ex-colleagues in the busted New Labour project to articulate or embrace. At a time when the wreckage of the financial system points only too clearly where the project of de-regulation, voodoo “free”-enterprise and trickle-down economics has led, isn’t there anyone brave enough to advocate a return to a sensible, balanced, socially-biased agenda?

  • Thomas Rossetti

    If the NHS works so well, why is it so hard to get treatment from an NHS dentist? Why, also is there a funding crisis for the NHS in 2011?

  • gary Enefer

    The Americans have always wanted the best for the few (and not the majority)
    This is the misguided belief in the so-called American dream – I’ll make it but thousands won’t. Full credit must be given to the President but he has a job on his hands of absolutely mammoth proportions – Americans are complaining that they don’t want National Insurance taken from their paycheques.

    All of the publicity has made me really,really proud to be British. Go to hell americans!

  • Jonathan Turner

    I used to work in the NHS.

    I agree that the debate in the US has become hysterical, and often ill-informed. However, I think we too in Britain are often ill-informed about other countries health care systems and similar myths abound here about what might happen if we changed our system.

    I feel that we sometimes adopt a rather self-congratulatory tone about our health system simply because it is free to all at the point of delivery. But other healthcare systems in Europe often deliver similar access to healthcare, with better outcomes.

    Probably, the US system is not one to emulate. It leaves too many people without decent care. But to hold up structural reform to the NHS on the basis of a principle alone does not, to me, seem wise if the outcomes are less satisfactory than they could be.

    Yes, I agree that the NHS has improved under Labour – one would expect so given the amount of money that has been poured in. Of course many people are pleased with the service they receive. There are many excellent people working in the health service. Nevertheless, there is much room for improvement, in terms of quality of care and using money efficiently.

    My key point is that we should not be complacent about our health service, and that we should not be constrained from improving it by very fixed ideas about how it is funded and how universal access is achieved. People are right to be concerned about reforms, but we need to recognise the difference between rational concerns and scare-stories generated by those with vested interests.

  • Charles

    12000 people register on a twitter campain and you portray it as universal support for the NHS

    In Western Europe there are many health systems which cost less and have better outcomes

    The principle of the NHS is right but the world has moved on since the 1940s. A more realistic debate rather than than how much we love the nhs would be about the nations’ health and how to make it better. Have any of the 12000 tried to get an nhs dentist recently? Have any of their relatives caught mrsa in a dirty hospital? So much money has been spent and so much wasted

    Nobody reports in this country have low Obama’s ratings have become. The only way his bill will pass is with considerable watering down

    Finally how sad is it when anyone questions the NHS in this country the only response the left has is:

    ‘you are insulting the 1.4 million NHS workers’ or ‘you are being unpatriotic’

    Pathetic – what we need is an honest debate rather than this common mudslinging

  • Charlie

    Labour’s policy of repressing individuality of thought amongst its MPs was enforced ruthlessly by yourself during your 15 minutes of fame.

    It would seem that the Tories do not stifle individuality of opinion in the same way.

    Hat-Tip Paul Waugh for the following:

    “…..Tories will also be heartened by Lansley’s defence of Dan Hannan’s right to put his own case. “We don’t extend discipline in parties to censorship of people’s views. We encourage free speech in the Conservative party. It’s just that David Cameron and I don’t happen to agree with Dan Hannan,” he said.”

  • Alina Palimaru

    All good points, Alastair. But I am less optimistic at this point regarding US health care reform. I have already heard policy experts proclaim “RIP health care reform”. If the brutal, obnoxiously loud, and false right-wing campaign will not kill reform, it will at least result in such watered down stipulations that they won’t make any difference to this perverted system whatsoever.

    It is noteworthy, though, that if Obama does fail to reform health care, it’s not a loss incurred on policy substance… rather, one inflicted by the right’s vicious lies, Fox’s retarded headlines, single-digit IQ talk show hosts, and hateful, hysterical suburban hockey moms… Eeeewww!!

  • Dawn

    Totally agree with you on the NHS and Obama debate. The right wing cannot be allowed to win here.

  • Trevor Malcolm, Portsmouth Hampshire


    Reflecting on the comment you published on 20 July; that quote from Katharine T. She queried, “don’t you feel special that your disappearance (albeit, temporary; just a couple of days, back then) causes a furore?”

    Made me wonder, yes, I guess it must do. Special. Never had that experience myself. Can’t say as I want it, either. Becoming famous = Big, BIG mistake, I fear. For example, all those dreadful, unwashed, total strangers, thinking they’re your “friends” – ghastly prospect. No wonder you need to indulge in such lengthy holidays, then. And visiting exotic places where the natives have never heard of Alastair Campbell, either

    Pre-holiday, yourself, the National Mind Champion of the Year 2009, riling good-naturedly at the Labour Party’s foremost national treasure, (although some still prefer to call him “Mr Prescott” of course), I felt so sad JP’s “GoFourth” needed more cash, he damn near convinced me to purchase a book he was flogging, a snip at £15 – a book, one wot he rote all by ‘imself, bless him

    Such a Gifted Boy, thin-skinned and over-sensitive, with a disposition akin to that of some Poet Laureate, residing in the Lake District – but not slim enough to be mistaken for “wasting away” – yet still suffering decades of feeling oft unappreciated. A Man Misunderstood, poor wretch

    Besides, once your ongoing, traditional, wholesome family fun of “re-discovering proper holidays” project (eventually) nears its completion, Mr Prescott’s first question to you, will coincidentally, be the same as ours, ie “how much did you miss us all, then? Be honest, say, on a scale of one to ten?”

    Thus pre-warned, still time enough for your best persuasive Self, to conjure up a credible answer that re-connects you to the brethren upon your return to home, sweet Hampstead home

    ” … OMG, Dad; they want WHAT?! An honest opinion from a spin-doctor? Jeez, sounds like “chill-pill” taking-time”

    Well, at least you already got your daughter, Grace’s opinion

    Stay calm, and win back the hearts and the minds of us all, just like Diana, Princess of Wales used to do, never to be forgotten

    Portsmouth, Hampshire


  • Mark \’Elvis\’ Wright

    What’s great about the US healthcare debate is that it’s focused minds here in the UK on the very same issue. We in the UK, and in particular Labour, have something against which to define ourselves. If the Labour strategists are doing their jobs properly (I’m not convinced they are) they will ally the current US healthcare system to a future Tory government.

    The problems in America have made many realise the NHS is something worth fighting for. An argument, and therefore the narrative of that argument, is at its strongest when defined against a clear alternative.

    Whether the current strategists in the Labour ranks are able to put their heads toegther to capitalise on this sentiment is another thing…

    But this current debate in The States can do Labour, and our NHS, no harm at all.


    Mark ‘Elvis’ Wright

  • Brian Hughes

    Given that he’s had to backtrack in the face of the powerful American health insurance lobby, it doesn’t seem that this campaign has helped the President much. It’s also got the potential to harm Labour.

    By gifting David Cameron the opportunity to speak about an area where he genuinely has changed Tory policy, it gives him the chance to imply that they’ve changed from the “nasty party” in many other ways as well.

    The analogy with Tory allegations that Labour hadn’t changed in 1996/7 may not be exact but that campaign backfired and helped to boost Tony Blair’s reputation as a reformer. Just as there were loads of Labour people who still supported Clause 4 then there are loads of Tories who’d like to break up the NHS. But in neither case do their views reflect party policy.

    If this really did originate from party strategists then someone needs to teach them some history. In addition to studying the failures of the Tory campaign in 96/7 they could well learn about how the Conservatives actively supported the NHS for thirty years after its foundation.

    Perhaps then they’d heed the “keep off this topic” notices….

  • Alina Palimaru

    To Mark Wright,

    I completely agree with you regarding Labour’s strategy! Especially that if you read the Tories’ health policy papers, they make no effort to hide their sympathies for the US health care model!! The Tories would like to bring more private health suppliers to the table, increase contracting for services, and implement a reimbursement system that is a boon to big pharma… These guys are not good news for Britain!

    Good points, Mark!

  • Ricky Sharma

    Congrats to Burnley! Next stop: Europe…