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Linehan attacks American 'lies' over NHS

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 14 August 2009

The man who led the British backlash to American criticism of the NHS speaks to Channel 4 News about his impromptu campaign on Twitter.

Graham Linehan

Graham Linehan, who co-wrote television comedy Father Ted, started the campaign on Twitter by coming up with the idea of a #welovetheNHS hash tag.

The tag captured the imaginations of thousands of people, and soon became the most popular subject on the networking website.

Linehan said that the idea of showing support for the NHS came from a desire to counter the "lies" being spread in the US.

President Obama’s plans to reform the heathcare system in America have been attacked in the US by those who have warned of adopting a system similar to the NHS.

Linehan told Channel 4 News: "The healthcare debate in the America has been hi-jacked by some very loud and obnoxious people who have a financial interest in keeping the status quo.

"They are being helped by some of the worst blow-hards you can imagine – Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly. There are raising the temperature of the debate to a dangerous level.

"Glenn Beck thinks he can spread lies and no-one will notice but it is a very connected world now."

Linehan has more than 25,000 followers on Twitter, and his campaign soon took off after celebrities Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross backed support with their own tweets.

He said: "I think this show of support can provide ammunition for those people who are fighting back against the scare stories in America.

"Everyone has a story about the NHS helping them in some way. It's important to us, we may slag it off a lot but it's ours. The lesson for any future government who might want to mess with things is to step carefully – change the NHS at your peril.

"If the American Right had not used such ridiculous arguments to get their point across it wouldn't have taken off like it did – but by saying things like Stephen Hawking wouldn't have lived under the NHS…it's like if you criticise your parents. You can do it – but if someone else does it you will murder them.

"There are a lot more shades to this subject than Fox News would have you believe.

"The most important thing to remember about the Right in America is that they hate Obama more than anything, the idea that he could be successful on his healthcare plans is not acceptable to them."

Such was the success of Linehan's hash tag that he soon found Gordon Brown showing support, although he did not think the Prime Minister's tweet came that naturally.

He said: "Gordon Brown's Twitter was kind of embarrassing; it just sounded like political babble. He doesn't understand yet what Twitter is. It is the kind of platform where political cant can really be exposed under a very harsh light."

He also criticised MEP Daniel Hannam for appearing on Glenn Beck's show, saying that he had "stabbed the NHS in the back".

He added: "With Twitter everyone is a broadcaster, in terms of their own life. A lot of people have criticised it for being superficial, but the more interesting the people on Twitter are, the more interesting the service is.

"Twitter stepped up to the plate over the NHS. Like in Iran, where it provided a human face for the protests there. I have been getting annoyed by think pieces in newspapers who criticised the service but don't really know how it works – they use their laptops predominantly as a light."

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