Second day for #welovetheNHS

Yesterday we brought you news about the bizarre battle between American rightwingers spreading misinformation about the NHS, and British users of the NHS who were actually quite proud of it.

24 hours later and Tweetminster (which monitors the twitter updates of MPs and PPCs and provides a service where you can search them) reports

65 #welovethenhs tweets from MPs & PPCS. 8 from @UKLabour MPs & 4 PPCs, 3 from @LibDems MPs & 3 PPCs, 1 from @Conservatives PPC

Our own Nick_Clegg was amongst them, as was Prime Minister Brown (whose tweet looks like it’s had help from a speechwriter):

NHS often makes the difference between pain and comfort, despair and hope, life and death. Thanks for always being there.

Judged by how fast these memes gather pace, both Clegg and Brown responded pretty late actually. Taking part was a no-brainer, almost everyone on Twitter was doing it, and it took a day for them to get into it.

On google, Lib Dems have dominated the search for the last day: google #welovetheNHS and LDV’s post from yesterday still comes fairly near the top – we were second after Twitter itself for quite a while. Put in the spaces and the top blog is Charlotte Gore’s acid response to the campaign. Charlotte raises a very valid point of course, that if it hadn’t been for completely overblown, factually wrong criticisms of the NHS from America, it’s hard to imagine that the entire UK twitter-base would have spontaneously exploded into unequivocal support for the institution.

Our own Mark Pack reports that the origin of the storm of support was sitcom writer Graham Linehan, although we’re a little a baffled at his assertion that Pack doesn’t look a character from the IT Crowd. Whatever can he mean? [/deadpan]

Comedy songwriter Mitch Benn pointed out in the middle of the night that a US guy seemed to think that all of the tweets were coming from the army of bureaucrats who run the NHS. And as I type he’s heading into the Now Show recording studio to sing a song about – we’ll find out on Friday night at 6.30pm and Saturday at 12.30pm whether it makes the final cut.

And a few Lib Dem bloggers have weighed in too:


Here at LDV, #welovetheNHS

One of Obama’s key pledges in the US Presidential elections was major healthcare reforms.  The US is a deeply divided nation on health as in many other policy areas – it is simultaneously home to some of the planet’s best hospitals, the best research in medical advances and the best healthcare practioners – and also home to some of the worst poverty and barriers to healthcare, the worst developed-world child mortality rates.

Without being facetious, almost all of my knowledge of the American healthcare system comes from my knowledge of US TV.  And whilst House has access to an amazing battery of diagnostic tests, and Grey’s Anatomy shows how competitive training programmes for surgery are, Chicago’s ER is full of hobos having their toes cut off with nail clippers after losing them to frostbite in the snow.

46 million Americans are without healthcare insurance, and so have no access to the top-notch hospitals and treatment, resorting instead to the nailclippers at ER.  By no stretch of the imagination are they all tramps.

By trying to address these problems, Obama is picking battles with some very resistant establishments, including highly profitable insurance companies with an essentially closed market. And in doing so, he has stirred up some hornets nests of misinformation claims.

Among these are a number of claims about just how awful the NHS is – as a model of “socialised healthcare” that some Americans want to avoid.  They include the bizarre claim that Stephen Hawking would be dead if he had to suffer with NHS level care – all the more bizarre to anyone who knows that Dr Hawking is not, in fact, American and is very happy with the life saving treatment he receives on the NHS.

The strange claims for UK healthcare have prompted an online campaign on Twitter of people talking about the excellent care they have received and marking their words with the tag #welovetheNHS.

It’s one of the great shibboleths of UK politics. Everyone knows there are still improvements to be made in the NHS, but when some upstart colony starts critising it on the basis of misunderstood facts, we should all leap to its defence.

A few other posts on blogs I have read in the last few days make interesting reading:  on the ObamaLondon blog, LDV’s friend Karin Robinson is doing her bit to debunk some myths.  And Jonathan Calder’s Liberal England provides an historical perspective of the UK’s own battles to introduce “socialised healthcare” in the 1910s:

“If the Insurance Bill becomes law it will be advisable for us to leave England.”

Meanwhile the Evening News is warning that “we shall never boast of freedom again if we let this measure past,” and writing feelingly of “these days of highly paid servants”.

The cost of employer insurance for domestic staff is uppermost in many minds.

Some things never change.

Revamp for Prater Raines sites

An email arrives from web guru and Lib Dem county councillor Tim Prater, who is the public-facing half of Prater Raines, the hugely successful company that now supply local websites to a large proportion of the nation’s Liberal Democrat local parties, council groups and MPs. (The full, awesome list, from Aberconwy to Yorkshire and the Humber is here). It’s no small boast that they probably run more political websites than anyone else in the country.

They have a good track record of innovating and keeping content going online. But things have changed in the seven years since they first started to provide their content management system to the party, and they are now proposing a major upgrade to the service they offer.

On the cards is new, better control over layout and appearance, a greater ability to change the front page, and more contemporary “reveal” and top-down menus. Web 2.0 aspects and integration with a vast array of social networks will work better; on the management side, the user interface will also improve so that managing these websites gets better, easier and faster.

Crucially, they’ve promised to make sure that any changes they make don’t clash with the general election, as and when it comes. The initial plan is to launch “Foci2″ around Christmas.

But before they do that, in true Liberal Democrat style, they are launching a consultation to ask users what it is they would want from a new, improved system:

We want your ideas. What would you do to improve your site? And would you be prepared to do some “beta testing” of the new site as we develop it before release so that you can tell us what you like, and what needs improving?

To send us your views and ideas, please email us at <!–
document.write('‘ + sto_user + ‘@’ +sto_dom + ‘‘)
//–>foci2 – (this is spam bot hidden email address, replace .hat. with @ and remove for the real one) – we’ll take them all on board, but will prioritise. Some will be ideas to include for a site relaunch, some to be added later, and some we may want to talk about – and we’ll do so. If you have views on what currently works well for you, what doesn’t, and what you wish it could do, please tell us!

And if you could help with user testing – either from home or by meeting us in person and working through the beta site – then we’d also like to hear from you. We’ll be at Federal Conference and hope to see you then, but will also set up meetings across the country in the next few months to fully test the new site with real people before we go live.

Do remember some of the problems with some Prater Raines sites are “horse-to-water” problems. One of the key strengths – and weaknesses – of the system they sell is that beyond providing a platform, it’s up to the client local party what they put on their website. So if your criticisms relate to updating, or to content, of a specific site, then those things are probably not something that Prater Raines can help with.

When twitter gets… heated

A friend sends me a link to a news story about a spat between two councillors – one being interviewed on the radio, and the other responding simultaneously – and robustly – via Twitter.

The story is here – but don’t click it if mild profanity might offend.

Like so many things, there’s the funny side of the story, which is why the link was sent, and the salutary lesson. In this case the lesson is that twitter is very informal and can sometimes encourage the use of, erm, unparliamentary language. And should you be an elected representative, swearing can land you in trouble. Councillors are routinely reported to the Standards Board for swearing at or about each other. So while the country likes to pretend that all politicians are paragons of virtue who never allow even the least unsavoury expression to pass their lips, remember to use the same level of language however and to whomever you communicate.

If you are on Twitter and you can’t remember whether you swear there or not, then Cursebird can rapidly tell you how much you swear and just how offensive you are. I apparently “swear like a teacher’s pet.” Cursebird maintains a league table of the sort of swearwords that would make a trooper blush, so don’t click here until you have shepherded your womenfolk, children, pets and servants out of room and you are sure none will be offended.

And whilst you’ve got the room to yourself, here’s one more link to the sort of content that might get you into trouble. Earlier today, Iain Dale posted a video of how to conduct a testicular exam, following the news that a favourite footballer of his had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. This disease is a big killer of men in their late teens and twenties (along with suicide and road accidents) so I have no qualms about helping as many people as possible hear about. Not least since testicular cancer can easily be treated if caught in the early stages.

Top RSS tips for local campaigners

The attentive amongst you will have spotted amongst the 30 tips from m’colleague Mark Park for aspirant politicians:

Subscribe to at least 20 sites using an RSS reader, 10 of which are not party political. Using an RSS (feed) reader is a huge time-saver and an effective way of keeping up with news and information. But there’s no point just being an expert on party politics if you want to be an elected official.

RSS readers are many and various – my favoured one is Google Reader – and having just returned from engaging in another of Mark’s tips, a week without an internet connection – mine is currently recording thousands of unread posts. Clearly I need to make progress on project inbox zero.

But here are some tips for RSS feeds for local campaigners:

  1. allows individuals to report problems in their street to their local council, wherever they live in the country. You can click on a map, upload a photo to show what’s wrong, and the website reports it directly to the relevant local authority. But for local campaigners… you can get a feed. Click the “Local alerts” link at the top page, key in a post code and choose whether you want a geographical radius, a council ward or all the reports for your local authority. Handy to see the sorts of things happening at a street level in your area – and sometimes gives you helpful ideas for focus leaflets.
  2. Like Fix My Street, is a MySociety project, but this one is based around Hansard, the official record of parliamentary proceedings.  You can get oodles of feeds, but the most  useful ones are the ones for your local MPs.  What are they saying?  What questions are they asking? How do they vote?  Keeping tabs on them is just a few clicks away.
  3. Just as handy, and also from the MySociety stable is  This site lets people submit Freedom of Information requests, and then tracks the responses.  There are feeds for each public body, including your local councils.  By following the link for Nottingham City, I know now that the city council owns nearly 2,000 empty commercial premises and that far more people applied for voluntary redundancy than were allowed to go.  Just think what you can learn about your local council!
  4. Flickr groups – I have the feed for the Nottingham pool of images uploaded to the Flickr website. Shortly after pretty much any interesting public event, there’s a series of interesting pictures of them.  Few of them are useful politically, but they brighten my day and give me interesting new ways of looking at my city. Some of them would be great in a FOCUS leaflet – but if you’re going to do that, make certain you have the appropriate permission from the photographer to use their image.

Other suggestions to populate your RSS reader – do any local politicians of any colour have blogs?  You can track twitter searches as an RSS feed – so set up searches with references to your name, or your town, and see what people are tweeting about. What feeds do your local press and radio offer?

And finally – if you’re going to be out and about leafleting regularly, it’s helpful to know what the weather will do.  You can get a feed of the MET Office’s Severe Weather Warnings and there’s the ever useful IsItGoingToRainToday.

Interesting use of YouTube

A current Lords parliamentary inquiry is allowing YouTube submissions from members of the public.  The inquiry is on the topic of how people engage with the work of the House of Lords and Parliament more generally.

One such member of the public who has shared her views is, erm, Jo Swinson, in an excellent short video that addresses many of their questions.

You can see the video for yourself here on the Parliamentary YouTube channel, along with many other interesting shorts, including information about the clock that chimes Big Ben.

Open letter to Speaker Martin over #MPexpenses

Fifty-six Lib Dem PPCs have put their name to an open letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin:

Dear Mr Speaker, 

As Parliament continues to be dragged down by the allowance system, and its rules, the role of those in public service across the country is being undermined. 

We are Liberal Democrat candidates seeking to be elected to Parliament and yet we find ourselves disappointed, and frustrated, at the way in which this matter is being handled. Every day our residents are telling us loudly that this must stop and this must stop now. 

Three things stand out:

• The resistance to the releasing of these documents and the attempt to exclude Parliament from the Freedom of Information requirements 

• The way in which Norman Baker and Kate Hoey were treated when they sought to raise legitimate concerns 

• The fact that, through you, Parliament could now release the information into the public domain and cut short this parade of drip-fed news and empower MPs and citizens through a new transparent relationship. 

It is vital that Parliament must become transparent and accountable now. We call on you, as Speaker of the House, to do everything within your power to force the full publication of all expenses immediately. We also call on you to accept the independent review of MPs expenses and salaries chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly. 

If you are unable to do this we then ask you to consider your position. Time is running out for politicians of all parties to repair the damage to our democracy. 

Yours sincerely 

56 Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidates
Ed Fordham, Hampstead and Kilburn
Sal Brinton, Watford
Andrew Simpson, Northampton North
Bridget Fox, Islington South & Finsbury
Duncan Borrowman, Old Bexley and Sidcup
Steve Goddard, Oxford East
Adrian Collett, Aldershot
Adam Carew, East Hampshire
Gareth Epps, Reading East
Sally Morgan, Central Devon
Sue Doughty, Guildford
Rebecca Hunt. Chatham & Aylesford
Sarah Carr, Hereford and South Herefordshire 
Guy Voizey Canterbury and Whitstable 
Jo Shaw, Holborn and St Pancras
Liz Leffman, Meon Vallley 
Merlene Emerson, Hammersmith
Sandy Walkington, St Albans 
Richard Burt, West Worcestershire
Caroline Pigeon, Vauxhall
Kevin Lang, Edinburgh North & Leith
Andrew Dakers, Brentford and Isleworth
Andrew Duffield,Hexham
David Kendall, Brentwood and Ongar
Ann Haigh, Epping Forest
Simon Wright, Norwich South
Liz Simpson, Tonbridge and Malling
Sam Webber, Bromley and Chislehurst
Rabi Martins – Luton North
Greg Stone, Newcastle East
Theo Butt-Philip, Bridgwater and West Somerset
Dave Radcliffe, Birmingham Selly Oak
Richard Clein, Sefton Central
Mike Cox, Uxbridge and South Ruislip
Andy Stamp, Gillingham & Rainham
Stephen Lloyd, Eastbourne & Willingdon
Mark Blackburn, Westminster North
Denis Healy, Hull North
Robin Lawrence, Wolverhampton South West
Alex Feakes, Lewisham and West Penge
Andrew Falconer, Brighton Pavilion
Dave McBride, Orpington
Nigel Quinton, Hitchin & Harpenden
Alan Beddow, Warwick and Leamington
David Goodall, Southampton Itchen
Ryk Downes, Leeds Central
Chris Took, Ashford
Peter Wilcock, Saffron Walden
Karen Hamilton, Birmingham Perry Barr
Qurban Hussain, Luton South
Keith Angus, Hackney North and Stoke Newington
Stephen Robinson, Chelmsford
Mike Bell, Weston-super-Mare 
Dave Raval, Hackney South and Shoreditch
Fred Mackintosh, Edinburgh South
Munira Wilson, Feltham and Heston
Paul Zukowskyj, Welwyn Hatfield

The letter is here, on Facebook. No word yet whether the Speaker is also on Facebook. Although Jonathan Calder has found his blog.

New collection of leaflets

A strategically hashtagged tweet brings an interesting new site to the attention of The Voice. It is being built by people with some connection to MySociety, who are responsible for the excellent non-partisan sites intended to improve how politics works, such as WriteToThem, PublicWhip and FixMyStreet.

The new site is intended as a repository of the leaflets that are routinely delivered by local political activists day in, day out up and down the country.  Whilst similar sites have tried to do this before – particularly for the bigger by-elections – no-one has really got a site together that works quite as well as new one before us today.  Built from a modern web perspective, it allows the grand publique to upload whatever is pushed through their letterboxes, and to tag it and comment on it.

Its first snag is that it’s only just arrived, and so far sums up the state of British political campaigning – in this election period – in just five leaflets, which are the only ones to have been submitted so far.  But their site is open to all and they are keen to see many more leaflets uploaded. The more there are, the more interesting the site will become.

Liberal Democrats are often accused of inconsistency from one area to another, so it will be interesting to see how national patterns emerge from all parties.  One of the first leaflets to be uploaded featured a Labour opposition criticising a Lib Dem council for losing money in Iceland.  I’m almost tempted to see how those Labour words go down on my own authority, where a Labour controlled authority lost the second highest amount in the country to the crisis.  Do Nottingham Labour believe, like Cambridge Labour, that the money is unrecoverable? Or that losing it is a sign of mis-management?

Finally from a Lib Dem perspective, there’s the name of the new site: The Straight Choice.  Ouch.  A blog post attributes the name directly to the Bermondsey by-election controversy, and links to the Wikipedia page about the battle.  Happily the Wikipedia page (at time of writing) is rather more LibDem friendly than the way the episode is described on their own blogpost.

For all that, the site will be useful once people start using it, so I urge our readers here to send in whatever leaflets they have knocking about.

See also: Matt Wardman’s review