Graham Linehan’s We Love the NHS campaign shows political power of Twitter
The Father Ted creator’s NHS Twitter campaign has far-reaching impact, as Gordon Brown and David Cameron join the fray
When he started the 'We love the NHS' campaign on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon, comedy writer Graham Linehan could hardly have predicted just how much his desire to defend the British health service against politically motivated criticism from the US would chime with that of the British public. Tens of thousands of supportive tweets later, the ramifications of what he started "as a counterweight against the lies of the American right" have reached well beyond cyberspace.
Tory leader David Cameron and the shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley have fallen over themselves to criticise Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, who toured the Fox News chat shows earlier this week denigrating the British health service. Indeed, Linehan's prediction, made exclusively to The First Post on Wednesday night, that "Daniel Hannan is about to find out the hard way that you attack the NHS at your peril", appears to be coming true.
Hannan has been dismissed by Cameron as an "eccentric" whose views are out of step with the party as a whole, while Timothy Kirkhope, the leader of the Conservative group in Europe and therefore the MEP's day-to-day boss, has indicated that he would like to see the media-courting member for South East England disciplined for his running-down of the NHS. Kirkhope said the chief whip in Brussels would give Hannan a "stern talking-to". As for shadow health spokesman Lansley, he called Hannan "negative, distorted and partial" for telling American viewers that he "wouldn't wish [the NHS] on anybody".
Since Linehan, creator of Father Ted and The It Crowd, first talked to The First Post on Wednesday, both Gordon and Sarah Brown have joined the Twitter campaign. The PM wrote: "NHS often makes the difference between pain and comfort, despair and hope, life and death" while his wife posted a more heartfelt "#welovetheNHS more than words can say".
Though Linehan told Channel 4 News last night that the PM’s tweet "was kind of embarrassing - it just sounded like political babble", the Labour party is cockahoop that Hannan's intervention and the Twitter campaign have given them an issue on which to put clear blue water between Labour and the Tories.
Meanwhile Linehan is understandably evangelical about the power of the micro-blogging service. He told The First Post: "I think Twitter is a useful tool for this kind of action. I very much enjoy debunking the opinions of Luddite broadsheet columnists such Jackie Ashley [who attacked Twitter in the Guardian] who see fit to disparage the service even though they obviously have absolutely no idea what it is. Though I can sympathise with people like Jackie - it must be terrifying to see the world changing so quickly and have no idea what exactly those changes mean, especially when it's supposedly your job to be on top of things!"